RA Takeaways Part 1
Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Love is abundant, and every relationship is unique
"Relationship anarchy questions the idea that love is a limited resource that can only be real if restricted to a couple. You have capacity to love more than one person, and one relationship and the love felt for that person does not diminish love felt for another. 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.” -- Andie Nordgren
“How different things might be if, rather than saying "I think I'm in love," we were saying "I've connected with someone in a way that makes me think I'm on the way to knowing love." Or if instead of saying "I am in love" we say "I am loving" or "I will love." Our patterns around romantic love are unlikely to change if we do not change our language.”
― bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions
I was pleased with myself for setting up several ready blog post topics with the intro to RA several weeks ago - easy, right? I had no idea how long it would take me to delve into just this first piece! It might take several posts all by itself (why didn’t I think of that before?) There are a few big ideas for me here, and the first one is…how do you even define love?!
Over the past few years I’ve examined and even curtailed my use of the word “love,” regarding people at least, because I’m leery of how it will be interpreted and I’m trying to be more intentional and specific about what I really mean when I feel the urge to use it. I’m not alone, apparently, in my confusion. English infuriatingly uses “love” for a multitude of meanings, not to mention a variety of cultural connotations, unlike many other languages (e.g. Greek has four, Tamil five, and Sanskrit a jaw-dropping 96!). No wonder we’re confused!
Still, no one seems to question the capacity to love more than one child or sibling, or loving both crossword puzzles and sailing. It’s romantic love that we have the scarcity issue with, so I’m going to assume that’s the love Nordgren is questioning being a limited resource. And sexual attraction frequently gets lumped in with romantic “desire to attach emotionally,” further complicating the issue.
But here’s where the definitions get tricky again. In the second quote above, bell hooks is emphasizing actions over a state of being. Action and doing take time and energy, and those are not limitless resources. As humans we have a finite capacity as far as physics goes. There are only so many close, connected relationships we can maintain, and where we choose to use that energy is a form of prioritization. But I think Nordgren is talking about the zero sum assumption we bring to romantic relationships, and challenging that assumption excited me, opening up a vast array of potential connections that hadn’t even been on my radar before.
It was fairly easy to jump over the sexual exclusivity barrier, partly because I found others just beginning to explore that, too, and was able to have helpful conversations when it felt weird about whether that was something we really didn’t like or whether it was just bumping up against the ingrained cultural scripts.
We have this idea that if we have a romantic partner and we start to feel a romantic pull toward someone else, we must’ve “lost” our desire for our partner. Plenty of us have experienced dual romantic pulls (Esther Perel discusses this in depth in The State of Affairs) so the ability isn’t the issue so much as the social constructs that stigmatize that experience. But for whatever reason, I found that my desire to have a strong emotional connection tended to gravitate toward one person or another. It was freeing to enjoy caring, mutually satisfying sexual relationships that didn’t have an intense emotional piece, but I started to wonder if I was “emotionally monogamous” or if that was just my current experience. Turns out it was the latter. I now do have two emotionally connected relationships that also involve romance and sex (in the broadest sense of the word; there’s another definition to unpack), and I don’t experience one as more important or “primary” than the other. I still use the word “love” sparingly, but thinking through and discussing how and when I use it across many contexts has been an enlightening process.