If you’re new to non-monogamy, one of the things that’s hard to wrap your head around is all the jargon that doesn’t exist in monocentric relationships. When it comes to relationship anarchy vs solo polyamory, you’ll often see them referred to as if they are one and the same thing. So what exactly is the difference – and is it possible to be both? Here’s my take on these autonomous relationship identities.
Polyamory is a form of ethically non-monogamous relationships, where people have concurrent romantic and sexual relationships. There are many different forms of polyamory, some that are hierarchical with one couple as the ‘primary’ relationship with additional secondary partners, and others that are non-hierarchical and egalitarian.
Solo polyamory is different from other non-monogamous structures as it places the individual at the heart of their structure. Rather than looking for another person to be their primary or ‘nesting’ (cohabiting) partner, they see themselves as their own primary partner. They’re autonomous and non-hierarchical about their partnerships, treating them all equally. They may live alone, with friends, flatmates, family or they may live part-time with their different partners, especially if their work takes them to different locations throughout the year.
The key principle that applies to solo polyamory is avoiding the steps that our monocentric culture expects an intimate relationship to follow in order to show that it is ‘real’ – such as moving in, marriage and babies. This is commonly referred to as the ‘relationship escalator,’ a term coined by the author Amy Gahran. In her book Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life, Gahran surveyed 1,500 people about their unconventional intimate relationships and how people have freed themselves and their partnerships from these traditions.
Solo polyamory is not the same as being single and polyamorous, although this is a common mistake. It doesn’t mean dating around but never committing to anyone. It’s specifically about people who don’t have any desire to live and combine finances with any of their partners. If you’re currently single but one day hope to find a partner with whom you can have these things, that’s wonderful (you do you) – but that is not being solo polyam.
Historically, I’ve really struggled to prioritise my own wants and needs in a romantic relationship. Too often, I’ve made my partner’s needs the priority, seeing this as an ‘act of love.’ However, this isn’t healthy for me or the relationship. By being solo polyam, I’m slowly shifting that dynamic by seeing myself as my primary partner. I’m finding it to be a really effective way of ensuring I’m not sacrificing my personal journey.
I’ve also been married twice and lived with three partners in the past twenty years, so the idea of approaching relationships without this ‘escalator’ concept is hugely appealing to me. My only expectation with my partners is that they are honest, caring and communicative. I’m not looking for our relationship to prove anything to anyone else, so no more marriages or mortgages simply because that is what is expected to prove a relationship is ‘real.’
Firstly, let’s talk about anarchy. If your only reference points for this word are images of the Sex Pistols and violent protests, you probably have negative associations with this word. Does it surprise you that both Mahatma Gandhi and Oscar Wilde were anarchists? Then I recommend taking a moment to read what anarchism is.
Right, now onto relationships. In 2006, a relationship anarchy manifesto was published by Andie Nordgren, a non-binary Swedish gaming producer. They took anarchist principles and applied them to relationships, challenging the idea that a romantic partner should always be prioritised above everyone else, which is a key component of our monocentric culture (something that’s often referred to as couple’s privilege).
The relationship anarchy manifesto is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. It encourages everyone to respect both their autonomy and that of others. To not try and control people we love or expect them to compromise their needs to suit our needs. To build our own models for commitment instead of following the structure that society offers as our only option. I recommend giving it a read – it’s brief but very inspiring.
When it comes to relationship anarchy vs solo polyamory, one of the biggest differences is that relationship anarchy is not polyamory. While it’s often associated with the world of non-monogamy, it is possible to be a relationship anarchist if you’re only interested in having one romantic/sexual partner. The majority of interpretations of the RA manifesto extends to include all your relationships (with family, friends, co-workers, flatmates etc), not just your romantic partners. So you can have one intimate partner but they wouldn’t by default be the person you always prioritise. They would be equal to everyone else in your life and you wouldn’t expect them to always make you their priority either.
Can you be a solo poly relationship anarchist?
Absolutely. While solo polyamory is specifically about how you structure your sexual/romantic connections, relationship anarchy extends beyond this to include all the people in your life. As both practices are centred around autonomy, they complement each other in a very cohesive way. So for me, I identify as solo polyam because it helps to clarify that I’m not looking for a primary or nesting partner. In addition to this, I also follow the principles of relationship anarchy in my overall life and will sometimes opt to prioritise the needs of my friends, flatmates or family over those of my romantic partners because all of these people are equally important to me.
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