Readings on relationship anarchy (and related things)

The short instructional manifesto for relationship anarchy, by Andie Nordgren (2006)

“Relationship anarchy questions the idea that love is a limited resource that can only be real if restricted to a couple.”

“Don’t rank and compare people and relationships — cherish the individual and your connection to them. One person in your life does not need to be named primary for the relationship to be real. Each relationship is independent, and a relationship between autonomous individuals.”

“A great trick is the ‘fake it til’ you make it’ strategy — when you are feeling strong and inspired, think about how you would like to see yourself act.”

“Talk to and seek support from others who challenge norms […].”

“Sometimes people have so much going on inside themselves that there’s just no energy left to reach out and care for others. Create the kind of relationship where withdrawing is both supported and quickly forgiven.”

Relationship anarchy vs. nonhierarchical polyamory, by The Thinking Aro (2014)

“Relationship anarchy is not about romance or sex, although it can include either one or both, so a relationship anarchist’s partnerships and important, intimate relationships are not going to be limited to their romantic, sexual, or romantic-sexual partners.”

“A relationship anarchist is not only someone who rejects hierarchy amongst partners but amongst romantic vs. nonromantic relationships. An RA could make a nonromantic friend their partner. Even without sex in the picture. An RA could take all of those romantically coded ‘partner’ behaviors — committed cohabitation, child rearing, financial interdependence, integration of partner into family of origin, etc — and perform them with a nonromantic/nonsexual partner instead of or in addition to a romantic and/or sexual partner.”

Thinking Relationship Anarchy from a Queer Feminist Approach, by Roma De las Heras Gómez (2018)

“[Relationship anarchy] rejects categories such as ‘couple’, ‘lover’, or ‘just friends’, in which the hegemonic relationships model compartmentalizes emotional bonds, and separates them according to their content: sexual, romantic, both of them, or neither of them. In this sense, RA rejects two aspects: on one hand, the meanings and contents that the hegemonic relationship hierarchy attributes to the personal bonds (what fits into each box: ‘friends’, ‘lovers’, ‘couple’, etc.); on the other hand, the distribution of social roles (prestige and structural function) that are assigned to each bond according to the category where they fit (the place in hegemonic social structure for a couple, friends, etc.).”

Why you should drop the ‘e’ in ethical non-monogamy, by Claire Louise Travers (2021)

“When we use the ethical prefix, we concede that non-monogamy is inherently unethical, and suggests that we have developed ways to make it morally neutral through self-improvement and hardwork. And this, is false.”

“I’m sure we would all hope that those engaged in any interpersonal relationship would strive for honesty, authenticity or equality; no matter their relationship structure or format. But one’s relationship dynamic or identity is not more or less valid by their ability to do this perfectly. Even within the non-monogamous communities, the use of ‘ethical’, holds with it a sense of entitlement or ‘higher than’ which is inescapable.”

Gay Liberation Front: Manifesto (London, 1971, revised 1978)

“… though we don’t lay down rules or tell gay people how they should behave in bed or in their relationships, we do want them to question society’s blueprint for the couple. The blueprint says ‘we two against the world’, and that can be protective and comforting. But it can also be suffocating, leading to neurotic dependence and underlying hostility, the emotional dishonesty of staying in the comfy safety of the home and garden, the security and narrowness of the life built for two, with the secret guilt of fancying someone else while remaining in thrall to the idea that true love lasts a lifetime – as though there were a ration of relationships, and to want more than one were greedy. Not that sexual fidelity is necessarily wrong; what is wrong is the in-turned emotional exclusiveness of the couple which stunts the partners so they can no longer operate at all as independent beings in society. People need a variety of relationships in order to develop and grow, and to learn about other human beings.

“It is especially important for gay people to stop copying straight – we are the ones who have the best opportunities to create a new lifestyle and if we don’t, no one else will. Also, we need one another more than straight people do, because we are equals suffering under an insidious oppression from a society too primitive to come to terms with the freedom we represent. Singly, or isolated in couples, we are weak – the way society wants us to be. Society cannot put us down so easily if we fuse together. We have to get together, understand one another, live together.”

The Ethics of Relationship Anarchy, by Ole Martin Moen & Aleksander Sørlie (2022)

“… according to Nordgren, we should not treat the people in our lives as tokens of various types of relationships. We should strive to be attentive to the people that we care about as the unique human beings that they, in fact, are. Based on the particular facts that pertain to each given relationship, including the values, needs, and aspirations of those involved, we should “design [our] own commitments with the people around [us]” (2006).

“What might ‘designing our commitments’ in this sense involve? Consider the following Relationship Anarchist Smorgasbord (Fig 1), which sketches some of the central areas of relationship involvement as well as indicting some of the “design” options within each area:

Being a Second Lover Means Loving Yourself First, by adrienne maree brown (2017)

“I really enjoy being the other woman in a transparent scenario. I love doing my own work all week and having someone show up to romance and touch me and then go home. I love knowing my lovers have stability and support and home, that I am only responsible for my/our pleasure.”

“Being second is very different from what I grew up learning about mistresses/affairs – the goal is not to steal your lover from their partner. You aren’t diminutive or pining. You’re satisfied.”

“And, in alignment, your lover’s goal isn’t to keep you a secret, or to become first in your life, to displace your work or other lovers or other commitments. […] Ideally, they’re as grateful for your pre-existing commitments as you are for theirs.”


One key difference between polyam and RA is that the polycule of an RA person would include both platonic and romantic relationships. Though an RA person probably wouldn’t use the term “polycule”.

Last updated 29 Oct 2023

Defy them all

“These internal tyrants, whether they be in the form of public opinion or what will mother say, or brother, father, aunt, or relative of any sort; what will Mrs. Grundy, Mr. Comstock, the employer, the Board of Education say? All these busybodies, moral detectives, jailers of the human spirit, what will they say? Until woman has learned to defy them all, to stand firmly on her own ground and to insist upon her own unrestricted freedom, to listen to the voice of her nature, whether it call for life’s greatest treasure, love for a man, or her most glorious privilege, the right to give birth to a child, she cannot call herself emancipated. How many emancipated women are brave enough to acknowledge that the voice of love is calling, wildly beating against their breasts, demanding to be heard, to be satisfied.”

—Emma Goldman (1911), The Tragedy of Woman’s Emancipation

Social organisation without authority

Colin Ward (1966), Anarchism as a Theory of Organization:

“[…] ‘anarchy’ means the absence of government, the absence of authority. Can there be social organisation without authority, without government? The anarchists claim that there can be, and they also claim that it is desirable that there should be.

“Anyone can see that there are at least two kinds of organisation. There is the kind which is forced on you, the kind which is run from above, and there is the kind which is run from below, which can’t force you to do anything, and which you are free to join or free to leave alone. We could say that the anarchists are people who want to transform all kinds of human organisation into the kind of purely voluntary association where people can pull out and start one of their own if they don’t like it. I […] attempted to enunciate four principles behind an anarchist theory of organisation: that they should be

“(1) voluntary, (2) functional, (3) temporary, and (4) small.

“They should be voluntary for obvious reasons. There is no point in our advocating individual freedom and responsibility if we are going to advocate organisations for which membership is mandatory.

“They should be functional and temporary precisely because permanence is one of those factors which harden the arteries of an organisation, giving it a vested interest in its own survival, in serving the interests of office-holders rather than its function.

“They should be small precisely because in small face-to-face groups, the bureaucratising and hierarchical tendencies inherent in organisations have least opportunity to develop.”

Emma Goldman on equal rights

“The demand for equal rights in every vocation of life is just and fair; but, after all, the most vital right is the right to love and be loved. Indeed, if partial emancipation is to become a complete and true emancipation of woman, it will have to do away with the ridiculous notion that to be loved, to be sweetheart and mother, is synonymous with being slave or subordinate. It will have to do away with the absurd notion of the dualism of the sexes, or that man and woman represent two antagonistic worlds.”

“.. woman’s freedom is closely allied with man’s freedom, and many of my so-called emancipated sisters seem to overlook the fact that a child born in freedom needs the love and devotion of each human being about him, man as well as woman. Unfortunately, it is this narrow conception of human relations that has brought about a great tragedy in the lives of the modern man and woman.”

From over there.