Out Like a Lamb: Day 15: Relationships and Lurv

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Human beings affiliate with each other for a variety of reasons, from building houses to playing sports. But when we talk about “relationships” we are usually talking about people who affiliate with each other for mutual pleasure, intimacy, and conversation. Sex, of course, is a focus of many of these relationships. Another subset of relationships get defined as “romantic,” which is a vague term I admit I don’t quite understand. For the purposes of this short post, though, “romantic” will refer to a relationship that is particularly intense, though it should not be located apart from friendship.

My personal approach to relationships and sexual affinity can be named as a practice of “relationship anarchy.” Though this is a somewhat broad and nettlesome word, it accurately describes the kinds of attitudes and practices I want to take in any given relationship as well as series of collective values that I want to see actualized on a general level. In other words, it’s a personal set of concerns and ethics while also being, I think, a loose norm towards which we should work in society as a whole. In any case, let’s see what this so-called “relationship anarchy” implies. (Keeping in mind that this is my own interpretation of a set of ideas that already existed)

At its most basic level, relationship anarchy recognizes that, while our time and space might be limited as people (and this will connect what I’m saying to broader social goals around the built environment and economic/ecological systems), our capacity to give and receive love is not. To me, it has a close cousin in the term “free love,” though the latter term has been somewhat compromised by notions of generalized promiscuity—even if that was not its original intent. Romantic and sexual love should be organized by mutual agreements and personal preference, with relationships being structures made to serve people rather than vice/versa. And every relationship is a structure that needs to be custom-built because every person at every time is a unique being. So relationship anarchy includes, depends on, an openness to change and flexibility, which makes it a challenge to implement in times where people have to work for a wage in order to survive. Our friendships and interactions with people often suffer because of worries over money and other basic subsistence concerns, complicated by the fact that we’re raised to see relationships as institutionalized, exclusive, and regulated by state bodies.

So here we have a set of basic principles: relationships are experimental, open to the future, value each member’s welfare rather than the relationship as such, and are negotiated from norms each person can assent to rather than abstractly imposed ones. I don’t say that relationship anarchy implies an absence of norms because the principles behind it are themselves norms, albeit ones that permit a more flexible idea of how people can interact with each other within a relationship of x people and those who are outside that x.

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Now we can move onto how the current, capitalist urban environment (since that’s the one I’m most familiar with) infringes on our ability to carry out these ethics. For example, say one of my partners came with me to a new city to work, while another partner met me later on and lives in a different part of the city. Even if we decide that it might be in our best interests to move into a shared space or to reduce the distance between us, rental markets and discriminatory practices put that kind of movement out of reach for many people. Lack of access to adequate food resources, time spent on commuting or in jobs that make us anxious, and the constant imposition of a built environment meant to facilitate life for people in heteronormative, monogamous consumer units (marriages, cohabitation, etc.) make realizing these ideas difficult. This is not to mention the difficulties incurred by people who fall in love or form relationships across national borders or who create relationships that are socially dangerous. I’ve attracted unfriendly stares and experienced a great deal of nervous tension when walking outside with a partner, for instance, and other people, especially those who are economically marginalized and racialized, experience far, far more heinous acts of violence.

The reality is that, although relationship anarchy could be considered by itself as an abstract blueprint for how to navigate personal affinities, its general realization depends on a social and political revolution as well as an overhaul of how economic goods are produced and distributed. Realizing this connection and working for it while also practicing good relationship ethics is vital because it will help those ethics from collapsing into a harsh moralization weaponized against anyone who doesn’t accept your standards. In the end, people’s flourishing is more important than any once conception or practice of loving and living together. None of us are complete units as individuals—to be complete is to be part of a healthy and freely chosen community, which starts at the most intimate level. But when you take a larger look, these principles lead to nothing less than the abolition of the current society and the construction of a better one.

Next three posts will be:

March 27: Politics and me. Basically about how I’ve grown through and into revolutionary politics and the kinds of projects I’d like to work on.

March 28: Femme-fatale, as I like to call it. Basically talking about what femme aesthetics and self-naming has to do with me, and why it matters on a broader scale (or doesn’t, wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise).

March 29: Third, I’ll be talking about body image issues and the ways I try to dress and trim my hair to look the way I want. How is this conditioned by coercion? We’ll find out!

Political and Personal Partnerships

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Happy birthday to Lenin as well! All we’re missing is the cat.

I was recently finishing up Lumpen: The Autobiography of Ed Mead and was impressed by the amount of time Mead dedicates to matters of love and partnership. Given how much of his life was spent in revolutionary activity, I found this somewhat unexpected. People would be picking up this book to learn about his militant exploits, not descriptions of his lovers and friendships, after all. Still, it led me to think more carefully about the topic of how to handle personal partnerships when you claim to pursue revolutionary politics. Given that I have more than three years of experience with my current partner (and comrade blogger!), I felt it fitting to record my reflections.

Relationships are Never Worth Preserving for Their Own Sake

This is a play on the idea that the Marxist party––or any political form or relation––is not worth valuing in itself. Rather, it’s a tool, an apparatus that has a particular purpose and needs to be embedded in its organic base. A partnership between two people is a means of providing mutual support, emotional and often sexual fulfillment, and an environment where all members can grow and change in a healthy way. Love is the point, not one exact form that needs to be protected like a sacred object. This can cause huge problems for people who stay together far longer than they should or see their partners in a fixed way and can’t accommodate personal evolution. Relationships should be treated seriously, just like political work, but always with the correct goal in mind: mutual support and fulfillment of each person. Fervent attachment to the idea of a relationship can lead to abuses and hurts far worse than mere separation. Not to say that separation isn’t also incredibly damaging in many cases, but even the latter is often made more arduous simply because each person was attached to one particular form of a relationship rather than, truly, to the loved ones in all their complexity.

The Ownership Model Produces Jealousy and Venom

The bourgeois nuclear family has countless ardent defenders. These suburban paladins will ascribe all kinds of magical fetishistic powers to the Victorian family, and to them I say humbug. Call me the Wedding Scrooge if you must, but the reality is that classical marriage is founded on a property relationship: the woman becomes the object of exchange, transferred from her father’s family to that of her husband. Western marriage rituals are all rooted in this financial reality, not to mention the fact that marriage usually happens within your own class and serves to solidify your economic position. Our white dresses and cakes and mirror balls conceal the slick tentacles of corruption and mixed motives. I don’t mean to demean marriage itself––I’m married and don’t mind it much––but it’s important to recognize that the entire legal apparatus around marriage is constructed because it is a property relationship, one built for lawyers, jewellers, and life insurance agents as much as the loving partners. Every love marriage in capitalism is afflicted by money relations, which saddens me profoundly.

A fetish for ownership and possession also rests at the root of a lot of jealousy and dishonesty within relationships. I personally struggle with feelings of professional envy, especially when my partner is able to take advantage of opportunities that I don’t have. At the same time, I recognize that jealousy and resentment are antithetical to a loving bond, not to mention the politically correct way to treat a fellow traveller with whom you are also in love. As Spinoza emphasized, feelings of resentment and schadenfreude are symptoms of minds that are sickened by what he called sad affects, products of our irrational imagination. Putting down your partner because you feel envious or distressed just diminishes yourself––it puts you at a distance from one of your greatest allies and probably hurts your health as much as your heart. Partners often stand hand in hand to flourish together, but at times their paths diverge and they have to allow their significant others to grow. This relates back to point 1. The central point is: you don’t own your partner, their time, or their other relationships. Honesty and open criticism are your friends, not secrecy and turning narc on one another.

Sharing Politics: Criticism, Struggle and Unity

Though I would never demand that my partner mirror my exact politics––that would be neither possible nor healthy––I do believe that it’s important for partnerships to rest on a foundation of shared values and interests. Because of that, it’s difficult to imagine myself in a relationship with a liberal or, god forbid, a reactionary. Desire works its designs in strange and ambiguous ways, but a lasting and healthy partnership is probably impossible across a cavernous political gap. A partnership, after all, has to be an environment that ensures that each member doesn’t have to waste their energy suppressing themselves or fighting with their significant other.

At the moment, my notion of an ideal relationship between two subjects who are just as political as they are amorous is that they are able to debate and struggle with each other without losing a common foundation of respect and principles. Engaging the other member of the partnership, criticizing them when necessary, and being willing to receive open criticism, are all crucial for staving off the spectre of secrecy, gossip, and backbiting. In political discussions with my partner, although I often take a teaching role because of my slightly more advanced comprehension of political ideology, I have to be aware that her own experiences and knowledge are likely to surpass mine in certain areas, and to be humble before her on such questions. Nothing ever works out perfectly, but the fact that we have a strong friendship and good communication in general enables our little talks to be more productive and meaningful than they otherwise might be.

Conclusion

I’m quite young and do not have the iron-tested experience of many people I know. Still, I think I’ve had a long enough time to reflect and am attentive enough to offer some insight into those reflections. Just as no political party or work of art will be pure, so the relationship is constantly incomplete and imperfect, always pushing its member s towards new heights of solidarity. I’m quite thankful to my partner for the time we’ve had together, and strongly believe we’ll have our best times in the future.