New article on valuing different kinds of relationships equally

I recently did an interview for a great piece that appeared on The Establishment over the weekend about Relationship Anarchy. Relationship Anarchy is one of the terms that’s emerged in recent years for a relationship style that involves things like:

  • Valuing different kinds of relationships at a similar level (whether they are romantic, collegiate, platonic, family, sexual, etc.)
  • Negotiated mutually agreed-upon ways of doing things rather than conforming to a strict set of relationship rules.
  • Prioritising the freedom and independence of individuals and relationships rather than a sense of people belonging to each other, or relationships being constrained or limited due to their label or cultural assumptions (e.g. about what a friendship or romantic relationship should be like).

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If you want to think more about your own relationship styles you might want to check out this relationship user guide zine that Justin Hancock and I recently put together. Justin and I are also currently working on a joint website about sex and relationship advice: coming soon!

Here’s the start of the RA article with a link to where you can read the rest if you’re enjoying it…

Relationship Anarchy Takes The Judgment Out Of Love

by Clare Wiley

Mel Mariposa Cassidy has lots of partners in her life. There’s the boyfriend who lives nearby in her East Vancouver neighborhood, and the partner who’s a few hours away on Vancouver Island. Then there’s the man who lives in the U.S.—they don’t see each other very often, but he’s the one who feels most like a soulmate. And that’s not to mention Mel’s closest friend—a woman she describes as her “platonic-ish life partner.” Meanwhile, she lives with her best friend, an ex-lover who’s listed as her emergency contact.

But Mel isn’t polyamorous. She’s a relationship anarchist—meaning she doesn’t distinguish between the romantic, sexual, and platonic relationships in her life. Members of the community she belongs to have decided that traditional monogamy, and often polyamory, aren’t working for them. They want less structure, fewer hierarchies. And so they’ve committed to a model that’s at once simple and radical: They give all their relationships equal footing.

Mel has an ongoing conversation with each of her partners to continuously discuss and examine the partnership, establishing what everyone wants to get out of it. She also makes sure that everyone’s clear that no one person is privileged above any other.

“It allows me to be very true to where I’m at in any given moment,” Mel says. “So if I’m not feeling like I want to have a date with someone, then I can just say ‘hey you know what, I want to have more time alone right now.’ It’s about finding that common ground from moment to moment. There’s a lot less complacency in relationship anarchy.”

The term “relationship anarchy” was coined by the Swedish activist and creative Andie Nordgren. In 2012, she wrote the Relationship Anarchy manifesto, laying out guidelines for a radically different approach to relationships. These include “Love and respect instead of entitlement” and “Heterosexism is rampant out there, but don’t let fear lead you.” Other guidelines declare “Trust is better” and “Build for the lovely unexpected,” which encourages followers to be spontaneous.

“In RA, the idea is that all kinds of relationships are important,” says Dr. Meg-John Barker, a relationship anarchist as well as a senior psychology lecturer and sex and gender therapist. “You don’t privilege romantic or sexual relationships over other kinds, such as platonic relationships. RA also tends to strongly emphasize the freedom of those involved, and ongoing negotiation of the relationship, whereas some versions of polyamory are more rules or contract based.” Read more…

 

 

 

New zine – queer relationships

I just spent the whole weekend and two excellent events on relationships: Queer polyday in Leicester, and the Polyamory, Consensual Non-Monogamy and Relationship Anarchy day in Manchester.

For my bits of the days I put together a zine bringing together some of my thoughts on relationships from the last decade or so, and asking what I hope are a useful set of questions about our relationships – whether or not we see ourselves, or our relationships, as queer.

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The zine takes as a starting point the word queer, and the different possible meanings of that term. Then it applies these different meanings to relationships to ask the question ‘what does a queer relationship look like?’ Particular it explores the cultural acceptability of different kinds of relationships, different relationship labels, the idea of relationships being on multiple dimensions, and what it’s like to shift from the question of what relationships we have, to how we do them.

You can download the zine here. It prints out best in booklet form, but fine to read it as a pdf on an e-reader or computer also.

Polyamory book reviews: Useful ideas for all relationships

(Also published over on Polyamory in the News)

I was excited to be asked by the excellent people at Thorntree Press to review two new books about polyamory: Franklin Veaux’s memoir – The Game Changer – and Elisabeth Sheff’s edited collection of poly lives – Stories from the Polycule. These books are particularly interesting given that the authors – Franklin and Elisabeth – have previously been responsible for two of the most important books on polyamory in recent years: One is probably the best self-help style book on polyamory currently available, and the other is the most in-depth academic study of polyamorous families to date. The former is More Than Two by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert – the same title as Franklin’s successful blog. The latter is The Polyamorist Next Door by Elisabeth Sheff who writes the Psychology Today column of the same name.

So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read the latest outputs by these two authors. On reading them I found that they were just as interesting as the books that preceded them. To summarise briefly, The Game Changer is an in-depth exploration of one person’s experience of shifting from a fairly hierarchical to a more egalitarian version of polyamory. Stories from the Polycule is an accessible collection of all kinds of experiences of open non-monogamy.

Together these books provide both a rich description of one person’s lived experience of polyamory, as well as a sense of the diversity of experiences that are possible within open non-monogamy. This is important because many popular accounts of polyamory tend to focus on rather similar narratives. As with many marginalised groups, poly people generally tell a public story which challenges common prejudices against them. So, for example, we often hear poly stories that contradict the stereotypes that polyamory is all about sex (by focusing on love), that it’s doomed to failure (by focusing on long term relationships), and that it’s weird (by focusing on the kinds of poly that are closest to monogamy).

This is very understandable in a world where poly people are still stigmatised and afforded few legal rights. However it means that the accounts we hear can be rather shallow, sterile, and samey. It was very refreshing – therefore – to read Franklin’s story of both the pains and pleasures of polyamory and alternatives to more conventional forms of poly; and to read about the ups and downs of poly, the sexual side of relationships, and the multiplicity of possible constellations, in Elisabeth’s collection.

These books offer exciting alternatives to the ‘one true way’ versions of polyamory that can be found in some poly communities, and the search for a universal explanation for why people are poly that are often found in academic work on the subject.

I’ll now go on to say a bit more about each book in turn, with a particular focus on why I think they offer something to our understanding of all relationships, not just polyamorous ones.

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Non/monogamy

There’s a new talk by me up on the Pink Therapy YouTube channel. Plus a whole load more really interesting talks from their recent conference.

Monogamy

Since Rewriting the Rules was published I sometimes get asked to do email interviews with journalists on various topics. Some of these get published in an edited form and some never see the light of day, so I thought I’d post some of the original interviews here.

Here’s one I did on monogamy:

Are we hardwired to be monogamous or is it a social construct that is arguably unnatural?

Like most aspects of human experience our relationships styles are biopsychosocial. It’s not a matter of nature or nurture, hardwiring or social construct. Rather the way we form relationships is influenced by a complex web of biological, psychological and social aspects which would be impossible to disentangle.

Certainly the diversity of relationship styles across humans and other animals suggests that it is very unlikely that any one kind of style (monogamous or non-monogamous) is ‘hard-wired’ from the start. However, the processes of our bodies and brains certainly operate together with the experiences we have through life and the messages we receive from the culture around us to shape the ways in which we experience love, desire, and so on.

How hard or misleading do you think it is to live with the view that boy meets girl, they fall in love, get married, remain faithful and live happily ever after?

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Open Relationships Revisited

Applying the concept of openness to all relationships in various ways.

Content warning: relationship conflict and abusive relationships are touched on briefly in this post.

A decade ago I started studying three topics that have pretty much defined my career: open non-monogamy, BDSM, and bisexuality. I just checked my CV and found that my first academic publication in these areas came out in 2004: an interview with the ever-fabulous Jen Yockney of Bi Community News for the Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review (now appropriately renamed the Psychology of Sexualities Review). That was quickly followed by an interview, in the same publication, with the equally wonderful Dossie Easton, about her writing on kink and polyamory.

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Me and Jen Yockney more recently

It’d taken me six years since finishing my PhD to start researching these topics. My first paper based on my PhD (on a different topic) had been rejected with cruel comments from one reviewer. So I decided that academic research wasn’t for me and to focus on teaching, which I really enjoyed. I still have major issues with that side of academia. But then I started to read about gender and sexuality for my teaching, and to attend more interdisciplinary conferences. I realised that it was possible – perhaps even beneficial – to research topics that were personally relevant.

Although I can’t say that this guiding principle has made for a completely easy ride (to say the least!), I have learnt a huge amount from researching polyamorous, BDSM, and bi communities. My work has always been led by the question of what we (i.e. everybody) can learn from such communities, rather than the more traditional psychological question of how they can be explained. The answers I’ve explored have focused on the benefits of more open approaches to relationships rules around monogamy, the consensual arrangements that kinky folk use in their sexual activities, and non-binary understandings of sexual attraction (i.e. not just attraction to either ‘the same’ or ‘the opposite’ gender).

Recently I’ve been reflecting on the directions that my thinking about relationships has taken in the last few years. I realised that these themes of openness, consent, and non-binary are still very present, but in different forms. Previously I’d just thought of openness in the context of non-monogamy, consent in the context of (kinky) sex, and non-binary in the context of sexuality.

I thought I’d write a couple of blog posts to explain the ways in which my thinking has expanded out lately, considering the benefits of applying openness and consent to our relationships in a much broader way. Regarding non-binary I have a much longer piece of writing bubbling away about what happens when we apply this concept beyond sexuality and gender to our ways of relating, feeling, and thinking.

I’ll spend the rest of this post on openness.

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Non-monogamous relationships

Since Rewriting the Rules was published I sometimes get asked to do email interviews with journalists on various topics. Some of these get published in an edited form and some never see the light of day, so I thought I’d post some of the original interviews here.

Here’s one on non-monogamous relationships.

I understand that there has been a couple of recent books ( yours and Catherine Hakim´s ) discussing the attitudes about infidelity  in the UK? Do you think that is just a coincidence or is it a sign of the times?

It definitely feels like a current topic with many books and movies raising questions about the challenges of being in long term relationships and about how we deal with infidelity when it occurs.

Catherine Hakim’s book looks at the recent trend of dating websites for people who are looking for lovers outside their marriage. My book explores all of the many ways in which people at the moment are rewriting the rules of their relationships.

I think that the ‘rules’ about infidelity are being questioned right now for a combination of reasons. First, as people live longer what is meant by a ‘long term’ relationship becomes potentially much longer than it was in previously. Secondly, people are now looking for a lot more from a partner or spouse than they might have done in the past. It is common for people to expect such relationships to remain romantic and sexual throughout as well as providing a close friendship, a sense of belonging and security, and personal validation. This can be a great deal of pressure to put on one person, and that is a big part of the reason why people often end up looking elsewhere and having infidelities.

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Savage advice on monogamish relationships

Dan Savage did this presentation to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas on monogamy, non-monogamy and monogamish relationships. Lots of interesting ideas in there, and he quotes Rewriting the Rules at the end! How to make sure that our relationships – of whatever kind – are not ‘disasters waiting to happen’.

 

 

Monogamy and the Rules of Love

Last night there was an interesting Radio 4 documentary on the diversity of romantic relationship structures around today. One of the experts is the excellent Esther Perel – author of Mating in Captivity.

Available to listen again here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b038c0fj

There was also a discussion of the same issue in advance of this programme on Radio 2 earlier that day:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b038h034

The marvellous Laurie Penny reflected on the topic in the Guardian today:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/20/polyamorous-shows-no-traditional-way-live