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Clara Barnhurst

As an established relationship anarchist, I have a number of intense friendships that accompany my monogamous romantic relationship. It’s a thing I broached early with my fiancée when we started seeing each other, “We need more than one outlet. It’s not healthy to rely entirely on one person.” She agreed, but didn’t do as I do. Having the discussion was enough.

Relationship anarchy is a new term for me. It was coined by feminist Andie Nordgren in her 2012 manifesto on the topic. Like most anarchist ideals, the core idea is that we reject established ideas and let each individual instance define itself. In this case, relationships aren’t placed in categories such as friends, romantic, etc. And like all anarchist ideas, there is no firmly defined form: it’s left to the individuals involved.

The core notion is simple enough: we don’t focus on a single human for love and support unless we do. There are many relationships involved, or not. Some or all of those relationships might be romantic. In my case, it’s not polyamorous. But it can be.

The inclusion of platonic closeness isn’t unique to relationship anarchy. Polyamory has that covered, but there is a connotation that sex is involved in polyamorous relationships. It’s a semantic point but it matters to some. I’m an anarchist politically anyway, so adopting anarchy in my relationship status feels natural.


Queer relationships assume considerably less than the cisgender, heterosexual ones society is biased towards. When you consider how much information we get about cishet relationships all the time, it makes sense that us queer folk end up assuming so little by comparison. Cishet folks ‘know’ how it’s supposed to go, for better or worse. Toxic or not. And queer relationships aren’t immune to becoming toxic; we get there without so many assumptions. We aren’t told how it should be, that doesn’t mean we’re automatically healthier.

What the lack of assumption does mean is queer relationships lend themselves to relationship anarchy. Without a preset of assumptions to default to, we tend to allow the relationship to define itself as we go — which is exactly how anarchy works. Of course, we can and do apply cishet assumptions to the relationship.

To take a recent example of how relationship anarchy as a philosophy has enhanced my life, I had one of my closest connections proposition me a few days ago. I was sad to have to turn her down; my relationship with my fiancée includes a boundary on sexual activity that I could have raised with her, but where I’m on the asexual spectrum anyway I would have struggled with that. Which is what I told her.

She was pretty embarrassed, but I wasn’t phased by the ask: I know her well enough to not be surprised by the question (though it was super validating and flattering). What keeping our relationship undefined by societal standards did for me there was I was able to accept her added closeness while maintaining the existing boundary with my fiancée. Our relationship has taken a new turn — one I want to explore without the sex. And why not? We all need more than one outlet. It’s not healthy to just have one be all, end all. Or at least, it’s not healthy to only ever have the one option.

My fiancée is happy to make me her be all, end all. I’m happy for her to do that and I would be happy for her to take on another intense relationship. It doesn’t matter. What matters to me is she has that option to take. And she knows it’s there. She’ll take it if she wants to. We’ll talk about it if she does. Our relationship will change, but life is change and it’s silly to assume our relationships don’t change as we live.


I suppose it’s the acceptance that relationships change is the foundation of my version of relationship anarchy. It also means that I’m less threatened by losing people, though I haven’t quite worked out how to lose folks and use my other close connections to ameliorate the loss. It’s certainly easier to lose when you have other close connections to lean on. Nobody is my be all, end all but nobody is expendable either.

Some folks might be happy with the term ‘chosen family’ when discussing the close connections I describe. I use the term from time to time, but I personally struggle to count chosen family in the category of person that I wouldn’t be somehow weirded out should they proposition me. It’s more complicated than that.

Going back to my friend, she found the boundary fine once she got past the initial embarrassment. She’s an established poly queer and that she’s totally gay for me is OK. She understands how boundaries work through that lens and it doesn’t matter how she gets there. What matters is we find a boundary and are happy with it.

The point is, a true anarchist is content to allow the individual to find their own way. My friend is still my friend. Our connection is closer for sharing with me. Me sharing my boundary brought me closer to her even though I had to turn her down. The sharing mattered, the outcome of that specific discussion didn’t.

At the end of the day, we all have these weirdoes to live around and we end up loving some of them. How we love them is tricky. How our love is expressed is even trickier. Anarchy works for me because I don’t like assumptions, but I accept that not everyone works that way. But that’s the point, isn’t it? We use the things we have to hand. As long as everyone is finding their boundaries together, it doesn’t matter how we get there.


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