It was suggested to me a few years ago that ‘relationship anarchy’ might suit me better: a philosophy where friendships can be as important as other relationships, where the emphasis is on autonomy, trust and building your own commitments and configurations. There are no rules. That sounded great; because even romantic love, for me, does not necessarily involve sex. I am in love with someone whom I’ve known for over twenty years. That love is requited. But he is married and they choose to be monogamous. We have friend dates. His wife is a friend of mine, she is aware of our feelings. She also knows we choose not act on them. She trusts.
But for the most strident of relationship anarchists, the ‘no rules’ philosophy apparently ‘permits’ cheating. No one is owned by anyone else, and no one owes anyone any explanation.
So what about the children?
Anarchist or not, I believe in treating people as people, not objects. I believe that agency, responsibility and honesty create the context for free and informed consent. This freedom is a part of my ethics, but also integral to the relationship anarchy philosophy. It’s not just about the individual, it’s not just about freedom for the self. It’s about freedom for the evolution of relationships and the people in the relationships. All people. My relationship anarchy is ethical, although I believe that because RA espouses this freedom by definition, calling it ‘ethical’ relationship anarchy is pretty redundant.
In my adult relationships, I certainly ascribe to the philosophy of relationship anarchy. Every relationship is unique, no one relationship ‘hierarchically higher’ simply by definition than another. But I do have a primary relationship. A relationship which comes first, by definition. It is with my children. My children, who are not yet capable of managing their agency with responsibility and are therefore not capable of defining boundaries, mainly because well, they haven’t developed their pre-frontal cortex yet. They objectify me, because that’s what they need to do to survive. They have not freely consented to being in a relationship with me; it is something that will come later, as they evolve into adulthood.
So what about the children?
The father and I could choose to go our separate ways, but we would still be invested in the well-being of one another, simply because of the role we play in the children’s lives. We are entangled, by choice. At least for the foreseeable future.
Our commitment to one another holds, even though we haven’t had a sexual relationship in years. To the outside world–who knows nothing of this–we might even pass as a regular couple. Mom, Dad, two kids. We are free to be with others in any configuration, but we take each others’ wishes into account. But we don’t treat each other as parents; that is simply a label. Although many of our conversations are about parenting, we treat each other as free people. Our relationship is full of trust, freedom and customised commitments.
A romantic relationship I have is tangle free. And yet this partner is also committed to the well-being of the kids. he loves them. Were we to go our separate ways, I believe he has a strong enough connection to them, to continue the relationship with them. He is entangled, by choice, to them (but not to me). Our commitment is on a day-by-day basis, and has been for almost three years.
Some say that even to be entangled by choice, and maintain that one is an anarchist is a delusion because the adherence to an anarchic relationship philosophy is dependent on the limits of one’s desire. They say, to choose away certain options because you place children’s interests above your own self-interest, is a choice to live with rules, a choice to prioritise certain relationships. Yet to my mind, I do not place my children above my own self-interest. Commitment to my children is not a sacrifice, my commitment to them is in my interest. I choose it.
So what about the children?
I co-create an intentional family with them uppermost in my mind. My partners, my friends and yes, even blood relatives are evaluated in accordance with this relationship. Some are no longer part of my life for this reason. I sacrifice no sense of self for this, because being mother is part of who I am. Unlike my job, or my bank balance, it is an important part of my identity. My own peace of mind and joy comes with knowledge that our relationships fit lovingly together for the benefit of the children, in an intricate and ever increasing network. That we find the ways where each individual can uniquely enrich the relationships in our network. They are fluid, pinned in the principles of love, trust and freedom. People are free to come and go; even me, although I can’t envisage a time when I would ever exercise that freedom.
My relationships morph and evolve with the needs of every person, but especially with the needs of my children. Because they have less ability to clearly communicate their needs, less awareness of why they are feeling what they are feeling. We discuss with them and about them, often. And sometimes those relationship cogs just don’t fit either immediately or after a period of time, for a variety of reasons, even if I would like them too. That’s ok. Those relationships choose to wheel their way elsewhere, where they fit more happily with others. Perhaps with those who are not mothers, or who choose to express their motherhood differently.
Unlike the monogamous world I grew up in, I do not believe that more than one intimate relationship is immoral. I do not believe that pain experienced from growth, is something to be avoided at all costs. I believe in respect, compassion and sex positivity. These are things which I hope, I transmit to my children. Whilst still respecting them and listening to their needs. I teach my children that love is and can be abundant whether they choose to express it monogamously, or not. But I also teach them that love is not the only ingredient for a successful healthy relationship. And that sometimes, in the name of respecting everyone’s freedom, it’s wiser to say goodbye.