The Relationship Anarchist Cookbook
There’s a can of peanut butter in the cabinet. It’s great and all, but what I also love is hummus. My love for hummus doesn’t negate my love for peanut butter, nor does it temper my insufferable lust for Nutella. The relationships that I have with each of these foods are mostly separate, although peanut butter and Nutella come together on my sandwiches while hummus is only related by virtue of being a consumable, protein-packed, tasty food. All of us might have the good fortune of uniting at mealtime, and when we do, there isn’t any hostility. I normally don’t mistake one for the other (unless it’s a matter of proximity and I dunk my bread into the wrong container) because I know that each of these foods has a unique taste, one that derives from the ingredients that constitute their wholeness.
That is why ripping the label off of a Nutella jar and sticking it on the peanut butter jar won’t change its contents. Even though the jar has the “Nutella” label on it, it’s still peanut butter. Heaven knows that unless I become uber-successful at alchemy, the chances of either jar transforming into hummus are zilch; even with a label swap, what’s inside the jar will still be what I eat. Also, the combined flavors of certain foods (like Nutella and peanut butter) may be divine, while others might not taste so great if they're blended together. Then again, it depends on what your taste buds make of it.
This metaphor only begins to explain why labeling relationships confuses the hell out of me.
I am a relationship anarchist. In other words, I don’t conform my relationships to the cultural scripts, expectations, or norms that are considered “default” settings by society. I believe that relationships should be founded upon respect and the shared desires of all parties involved. I believe that honesty, consent, and communication are the pillars of any successful relationship, be it monogamous or otherwise. When combined, these three qualities can create to a skeleton key to the heart so that we can open up to our true desires. By attuning to those desires, we can pursue the mutual pleasure that a relationship has to offer so long that everyone involved is not only satisfied, but genuinely happy.
Each relationship is unique and varies in intimacy. For instance, you Quail Bell Fledglings and I have a relationship; we’re currently affiliated because you’re reading my words. If a stranger and I walk past each other on the street, we are very loosely affiliated because we’re both on the same street. Granted, our relationship is not intimate at all and the most intimate that it would ever get would be a polite smile of acknowledgement. Since that street would probably be on Long Island, even that polite smile is a far stretch from what would actually happen. (Spoiler: Nothing except maybe a downward glance or a slight glare. Smiling? How suspicious… )
Like food, each person has their own flavor that may or may not combine well with other people/flavors. Unlike food, people have emotions. Most of the time, relationships are far too complex to be reduced to ingredients because the human brain is the “most complex structure in the known universe.” Please give emphasis to the word “known” because that word indicates that only science as it is known by today's humans said so. (Then again, science has been discovering the true complexity of certain animal brains.) Considering the vastness of the multiversal universe, the likelihood of far more complicated structures and intelligent life existing somewhere else is inconceivably high. While certain species tend to participate in certain mating behaviors and relationship styles, researchers have been consistently discovering that much of the animal kingdom isn’t as naturally monogamous as they previously thought. Don’t even get me started on the multitude of ways that relationship norms have evolved and varied in civilizations all throughout time. By no means does the inter-relational cruelty of the past rationalize, justify, or excuse some of the toxic behaviors that are commonplace in modern relationships. If human beings are so complicated, then the complexity must be compounded when not just one but two human are involved. That’s why some humans can remain in monogamous relationships with both people feeling completely fulfilled and happy to be that way. It’s also why others can’t.
Love is a spectrum and it manifests itself in many forms, including absence. Calling someone your “significant other” doesn’t make them significant if all they are doing is filling in a blank. Just because someone labels you as their partner doesn’t mean that they actually love you. If a relationship is already volatile, getting married won’t remedy those problems. If anything, marriage will only amplify those problems because it legally binds you to that person. It’s a contract that can only be broken with lots of money and hard decisions. While a spouse might remain physically monogamous in their marriage, they aren’t being faithful if they are consumed by longing for someone else. That legal contract didn’t guarantee that the relationship would be loving and equitable.
Relationship anarchy promotes valuing relationships based on their quality, something that titles may or may not factor into, depending on the people in the relationship. I'm not doubting that relationship titles are usually an important indicator of a relationship’s perceived importance. Some people hesitate to label people “friends” or even “acquaintances” so there’s a large degree of subjectivity at play. However, labels can also be nothing more than a flimsy cover-up, which is why relationship titles alone shouldn’t dictate a relationship's place on a hierarchical system of importance. That "hierarchy" of importance is best determined by a relationship's individual features and depth. As a relationship anarchist, I reject the notion of relationship hierarchies and respect each individual relationship that may or may not be significant in my life. The relationships that offer the most love and support are the ones that I treasure the most.
Long ago, my friend once said in reference to romantic relationships, “People have relationships all of the time. They just don’t call them that, but they’re still relationships.”
With that said, the lack of a relationship title doesn’t justify being insensitive and inconsiderate. The absence of an official title doesn’t excuse bad behavior directed toward another person. Many selfish people deliberately refrain from titling their relationships to avoid being held to certain standards of decency. For instance, let’s say that you’ve been “seeing” someone for a while. You’re both sexual with each other and sleep over at each other’s houses, cuddling all night and being all romantic. Over time, you’ve formed a close friendship and spend most of your days together. And that's why it would be perfectly reasonable for you to be distraught if they suddenly fell off the face of the earth without warning, perhaps on a whim or because they “met someone” who won the “steady” title. Lacking a labeled relationship doesn’t pardon that person from sending mixed signals or being affectionate toward someone one moment and distant the next. Candid communication about whether or not each person consents to the terms of a relationship could avoid shattering hearts and bloodying the hands of those trying to pick up the shards. It’s also a great way to ensure that any disrespectful treatment can't be pardoned on the grounds that the relationship didn’t have a certain label.
Don’t even get me started on the term “single” because that one deserves its own rant. Regardless of the people I’m with, I’m always one person, a member of humankind. Other people don’t define others. I’m not “taken” or “spoken for” because I am the sole keeper my body, my heart, and a mind that speaks for itself.
Relationships are unique and should be valued based on quality. Love flourishes to its full capacity when the people in a given relationship are happy and fulfilled, not by whether or not it abides by societal sanctions. Relationships should be fulfilling for all who engage in them. When a relationship doesn’t have any potential to make you feel positive or fulfilled and appears one-sided, is it worth the maintenance if the other person isn't willing to put forth the effort to show that they care? A label can mean so much, but it might just be the visible tip of an emotional iceberg. It’s what dwells beneath the surface that truly matters.
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