top of page

149. Relationship Anarchist: Renya NeoNorton

Nicole: Welcome to Modern Anarchy, the podcast, exploring sex, relationships, and liberation. I'm your host, Nicole.

On today's episode, we have Reyna Neo Norton. Join us for a research interview on the practice of relationship anarchy. Dear listener, I am so excited to be sharing these episodes with you. For my dissertation on relationship anarchy, I had so many amazing conversations with relationship anarchists.

The research study was a qualitative, phenomenological study exploring the practice of relationship anarchy. And so I would have a series of questions, and then take that same series of questions and interview multiple relationship anarchists. And damn, the conversations were so expansive, and I was learning, and as I was having them, I was just thinking, wow, this would be amazing content for the podcast. Of course, the IRB, research, confidentiality, all of that was a protected experience for the people who came on to that. But! I thought, why don't we continue this research? So I opened up, on my website, there's a page for relationship anarchy research, and I have the questions that I started off my original dissertation with there for you, dear listener, to answer.

Relationship anarchy is not defined by the theorist, it is defined by the people, and so I am excited to be in co collaboration with all of you and all of your beautiful brains and big hearts. As we craft the meaning of this phenomena together. So, dear listener, if you're interested, I would love for you to go to the website, fill out your answers, contribute to the research, share your voice, and there's also the opportunity to have a one on one dialogue with me where we would have a semi structured conversation around these questions.

Now, all of that content is preparing for a book that I am planning to write on relationship anarchy. And that book will be coming a handful of years down the line, y'all. I have to get out of grad school first. I'm still in that. Uh, but that is on the horizon. And so all of these lovely conversations that I'm having are for the book, and then select interviews from that will actually be released on the podcast.

Like today's guest, this is one of the interviews for my upcoming book that is released for all of you to hear. And I'm just so excited for you to hear this because, again, all these conversations really shaped me. The power of community. I know so many of us are spread out around and are looking for more people who are talking about relationship anarchy, talking about power structures, and how we can bring more love, mutual aid into our communities, and so I'm just delighted to be a person in this movement that is sharing and creating the space for us to have these conversations, and For all of you, dear listeners that are sending these podcasts, these episodes to your friends that are having listening parties.

I heard about that recently. Wow. I'm so touched. Oh, I mean, y'all, this is some grassroots advocacy, some grassroots pleasure activism, and we're changing hearts and minds through these conversations. And so I just want to say how much I love you. Dear listener, you know, what a joy to be here. I'm just so thankful for you for tuning in each week and for supporting me and supporting the podcast and being a part of this damn pleasure revolution.

All right, dear listener, check out the show notes if you're interested in contributing to the research here, and I really hope that you enjoy today's conversation. With that, I am sending you all of my love and Let's tune in to today's episode. So then the first question I like to ask each guest is, how would you introduce yourself to the listeners?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, so, my name is Renya. My pronouns are they, them. My gender is a fuck. Not in the, like, act of fucking, but more in, like, all of the complicated word, ways we use the word fuck, like, grammatically. Like, that's, like, what my gender is. Uh, I'm an anarchist therapist, writer, organizer, YouTuber, um, storyteller. I guess also I'm embedded in communities, like, we don't see these communities.

In this dialogue between us, but it's, like, heavily informing, like, everything I'll say.

Nicole: So. Of course. I'm really excited to have you today and get to talk further about relationship anarchy. Yeah, I'm excited too. Yeah. So, the first question of the research I wanted to start with is, how would you define relationship anarchy for you?

Renya NeoNorton: I guess what comes up to me is a question of, like, theory or practice. Uh, I think with relationship anarchy, side note, something I've been doing recently is really engaging in the work of envisioning utopia, like what that is and how we can like co create that and this idea of like it always being on the horizon.

And so the more we move towards that, the further away, like it's always on the horizon. Right. And so with relationship anarchy, there's this like messy way that we like necessarily need to practice it in our current system that. There's all these pressures on us and our relationships where we're not able to do the things we might otherwise choose to do.

And then there's like relationship anarchy, like the utopian theory of like being able to freely relate and being able to like, have the time and energy to devote to the relationships we care about. And so what I would say for me is like relationship anarchy is very based in like an anarchist politic, like.

It is a way of applying anarchist values and principles into our personal relationships with ourselves and with the people we care about. So, in this context, our relationships are constantly emerging as we have ongoing conversations about What are we doing here? And is this a fit for us? And what changes would we like to make?

Et cetera. Mm hmm.

Nicole: Yeah, I appreciate that distinction between, you know, the practicality of living under the systems that we're in right now versus the utopian dream, right? And how we're actively working within the systems towards that. But there is that differential until we get to that space, right? Of, of what's the practicality under these systems to actually get there.

Thank You know, get closer to that each day. Yeah. Mm hmm. And so, tell me a little bit more about what that looks like in practice. How is that lived out? How do you live relationship anarchy?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. I think for me, it is Maybe I'll start with before I was a relationship anarchist. Before I was a relationship anarchist, I had this sense of, like, a limit on many of my relationships based on the category that that relationship fell into.

So, a friend. There were limits to what friendship entailed. A romantic partner. There were limits to what that entailed. As well as, like, Uh, like a floor of like, you can't fall below this floor and I felt just this intense pressure of like, having to maneuver and reshape my relationships to fit these like, societal norms and scripts and so relationship anarchy in the way that I practice it is like.

Okay, there's maybe this stuff that we're coming in with that's part of it. Right? Like, we can't just get rid of the stuff, but we can bring it into the conversation, be very intentional about how we engage with that stuff. If we're moving beyond it. What is that looking like? And sort of like. Constructing for ourselves, like what this one to one relationship is, as well as like how we're embedded in a wider community.

Nicole: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. And when you were moving through the world and experiencing those limits, how did that feel?

Renya NeoNorton: Oh, there was a lot of shame. It felt horrible. And, uh, yeah, it felt like there was something wrong with me, um, coming up against these, like, societal things. And Yeah, I think really working through, like, working through that and, like, realizing, like, wait, I am actually not the problem here.

Like, the problem is how these, because it's like, there's no reason why things have to be this way. And so my desires, which are outside of the bounds of, like, what is considered an acceptable desire, like, it's actually okay to, like, engage with those things. Mm hmm. And yeah, so, like, sort of removing those limits.

It's like, it's not like I'm fulfilling every relationship to the fullest extent of whatever that could possibly be, but it's like, now we can actually have a conversation, right?

Nicole: Right. So creating that space, though, for the possibilities, right? I always like to use the metaphor of the blank canvas. We're kind of like, Letting go of the paint by numbers situation to have this really blank, wide, expansive canvas.

And, and what do you want to draw on that? Which is also maybe some of the complexities of the practice in some ways, right? When you have such freedom, but also like you're saying, going through the world, feeling like, Oh, this is, I'm going to use this word intentionally. And I think as relationship anarchists, we don't do this, but.

Just a friend. This is just a friend, right? Yeah. And so I'm curious if you have any personal examples you'd be willing to share about some relationships you've navigated that sort of limitation and the discomfort in.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, I think less a specific example, more like a recurring type of situation that I experienced was when I noticed myself getting close to people, I almost had the sense of like, are they going to be like the one?

Oh, yeah. And it's like, it was like a lot because I felt like this pressure of like someone needs to be like. This one that I really can see myself with and really like feel seen by and so I would like start to pull away when I noticed like, Oh, like this person's not perfect. And what that meant was like, I kind of had all of these various types of intimacies that were just based on what this relationship actually.

Was rather than expecting it to be like, this perfect, like, completion of the self, but yeah, like, I, like, struggled to develop those intimacies beyond a certain amount where it felt like there would be cutting off other possibilities.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Does that make sense? Yeah, it does. I think it immediately makes me just think about the cultural scripts that we live in and how that impacts our psyches, right?

I mean, the one, right? This idea of the person and if it doesn't fit into this exact puzzle piece. We need to remove them to create space for the person that is going to fit in that puzzle piece. But it's just so interesting. And obviously, you know, that practice of the one is a cultural framework that a lot of people live under and find pleasure under.

But I think it's impossible to, to, to not name here that that is a cultural practice and there are other cultures that do not practice the ideology and the framework of. Right. And so just taking that larger frame to remember that that's a cultural ideology that we've all been indoctrinated with, whether we choose to practice it or try to practice something different.

It's a reality of particularly the Western framework that we're living under our systems. And so it makes sense that living under those systems, that would be such an ingrained. Peace like in the same way that we have internalized homophobia, internalized racism, right? We have this internalized sense of the one because of these systems.

But when we take that larger cultural context, this is not what all cultures have done. Whether we choose to practice the one or not is It's completely up to all of us, right? But it's something that I do think we have to take that larger question to of, is this a framework I want to have as a value for myself?

Right? That questioning of the system.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. And I think it's wrapped up in heterosexuality of like, man and woman sort of like, completing Each other in this way of, like, each being the others one and it's also wrapped up in, like, the sort of nuclear family model and, like, the reproduction of class and labor.

And so I find myself in this position often where it's like, individual people should have agency and make decisions based on what they feel is best for themselves. And also politically, like, this is something to sort of, like, you know, Break apart and, you know, create other opportunities and other possibilities.

Nicole: Absolutely. I feel you in that tension between like the freedom to practice and the deeper political implications of what all it means because it does have implications in terms of how you dole out your resources. And mutual aid and other things like that. And so it does have these real political implications for whether you see yourself as in this one dyad versus, oh, a community.

And I think that sometimes people even, you know, what we're talking about right now doesn't preclude people from practicing monogamy, in my opinion, right? You could let go of this idea of the one. and still practice sexual fidelity and choose to have sex with one person. Cool, do that, right? But what I, I believe what maybe we're talking about is this more expansive understanding of community.

Like you are in a community of relationships that we are, you know, responsible to for caretaking and, and for our identity and all of that.

Renya NeoNorton: Yes. Yes. For people who can't see I'm nodding a lot.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly. Go ahead.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. It's, it's not so much about cutting off this person who you value. It's about being embedded in networks of relationships so that we're not cut off, isolated with this one person.

I think that also goes back to like instances of harm and abuse of like, if we're so tightly connected with this one and our other connections are like looser or further away, There's not always someone to turn to when something bad is happening.

Nicole: Absolutely. Right. Particularly in more taboo topics like sexuality and other things too.

And that is such a privatized conversation. There's no ongoing conversations about, you know, what is abuse or these other things that are happening, like you said, because it's so enclosed rather than having a community of people that you turn to.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. And they don't all need to know each other.

Nicole: Right, exactly.

I'm curious what that looks like in praxis though, and I think from my research I've learned that, you know, it's abundant in the ways that you can practice this and how it gets, you know, fleshed out in the ways that you want to spend your time and energy and love with people. So maybe a better question would be like, what does this look like in your life?

How do you do this with your relationships?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, so I will say. I currently have a mix of one to one connections that feel really close and intimate and negotiated, and then I have some other one to one connections that are maybe less close, um, but still, like, feel good in various ways, and One thing I lack, and I really attribute this to COVID and it really frustrates me, is more like casual, like, see someone, say hello type of conversations.

And I think also when you look at the way that our, like, cities are structured and our sort of like physical infrastructure is not set up to encourage this type of like, more casual interaction. So I want to point to that as a lack that's very noticeable. I have other types of relationships in community spaces and organizing spaces where there's like a group and we get together to either create some sort of change or to do some sort of activity together.

And to me, that's like, it's really important to have a group where the focus is on like doing a thing. And so you can gather for that reason. And the purpose is not solely I think connection happens best when it's not like The sole purpose of why we're together and so yeah, so when I work with folks, I'll often start to have these conversations of like, what are you passionate about?

What is something you want to be like, putting time into that? You can connect with other people through that.

Nicole: Absolutely. Yeah. Finding something that you're passionate about that can bring you together with people rather than that extreme pressure, which is how we date, right? Which is funny when you think about it, like, are you the one, you know, are you the friend?

Are you the person, you know, versus, oh, what's this collective thing we're both passionate about and excited for? for that. We could come together and, and I really appreciate you naming, you know, pointing the arrow to the systems that it's not just your fault, right? That you're not finding these people to connect with.

It's rare to find spaces where this is, you know, integrated into our society where we can meet people for pieces like this. I, I even started to think about, you know, in Chicago, how going to the beaches and the parks have recently, you know, they've. Made it paid parking, right? So now we're just talking about, like, even a public space, you have to pay to get access to, to make it there to even, you know, like, so all these systems are actively in the way of us finding this, which reminds me just of what you were talking about earlier of what it means to live currently now versus the ideal utopian where, what would it be like if we had more community spaces that weren't religious, because that's definitely one, and not everyone wants to do that, great if you do, but right?

Like, what would it mean to have more community spaces that weren't under that context?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah.

Nicole: Yeah. And so, I'm curious then, why do you practice relationship anarchy?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, I think for me it goes back to this conversation of like, possibilities and limits. I really just want to be intentional with myself and with my relationships and so being able to actually say like, Oh, what is best for us based on our relationship and not like, we have to follow this thing that maybe neither of us fully agree with, but we're like, not wanting to have the conversation.

So it's easier to use it and I'm the person who's like, no, let's, let's talk about it. So I think that's why, and I think also. I came to anarchy, political anarchy, before relationship anarchy, and so for me, it was like, it's just about consistency, like applying the same values and perspectives throughout all of my ways of showing up in the world.

Nicole: Mm hmm. Yeah. And I see the connection, but could you just draw a little bit more of how the principles of anarchy generally apply to this practice for you?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. So, I'll just name a few. So there's an anarchist principle called, I think it's like freedom of association, where it's this political model of like, we are collectively deciding who we want to be in community with and who we want to be politically organizing with and like who we're wanting to support.

And that's a mutual process. And so if the relationship isn't working, someone can say, This isn't working. And I think similarly with relationship anarchy, this freedom of association, it's like, we're making those decisions together. I think that's one. I think of consent as like a big one. Anarchy is, in my mind, the political theory that most is encouraging of like a wider consent practice.

I think also of transparency, accountability, accountability. As being heavily interconnected with that and as things like I'm wanting in my relationships. And so I think of that also is connected with relationship anarchy. So, and then also of like co creating something new and something that is different from maybe like what we've been given as like sort of the right way to be is like we actually can decide for ourselves and exercise our agency.

And so all of these things are like parallel processes of the same values applied. On a personal or a social scale, and then also on a political organizational scale.

Nicole: Yeah, as you were talking, I was starting to think about the relationship escalator, right? Again, these various scripts that we're all writing, presuming this is the way to be.

And, and what does it mean in terms of anarchist philosophy to be critical and examine the power structures that are implicit in these things, right?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, and I'm just making this connection now, but the relationship escalator sort of has parallel connotations with like a hustle, like a grind mindset and capitalism where, yeah, it's like you start wherever you start and then you put all this time and energy into like having more wealth.

That's like, you're going up this escalator of what is considered successful in our capitalist society, and it's so parallel with the relationship escalator, right?

Nicole: Yeah. Or just going through, you know, the education system to be, you know, in this. Escalator of, okay, you do high school, then you're supposed to do the undergrad, then you're supposed to do the gra, you know, you're supposed to do this, this, this.

And even within that, you know, you're, you're dreaming as a, maybe a little high schooler of like what majors are possible. And you're like, Oh, okay. Maybe there's five, 30, 50 majors, you know, and then you get outside of the system. You're like, wow, uh, there are an infinite number of jobs that do not directly track to this.

Right. So getting on like these various ways that the systems kind of create these, let alone the idea of like deconstruct the system, not even being on the paradigm. Right, right, right. But like just these different ways that we're growing up with these cultural scripts of you hit this marker, then this marker, then this marker.

And once you get that doctorate degree, you're going to be happy. Right. And like, who sold us that who, who, who told us this versus actually questioning all of it to say, is this actually what. I want, or is this what I've been sold to want, right?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, you know, I think we grew up in a society that dominates us, dominates our desires, that we might really believe we want something, but we've never really had the time and space to want something else, and so that becomes something we, like, inherit or soak up from society.

I know you've talked before about narrative therapy. I'm also like, oh, being into narrative therapy. Yeah. And what I think it with these like, sort of escalators or linear models is it's like, you are in a path and you're sort of shuttled through to the end of it, whereas an alternative is to think of narratives as being just like this relationship energy model we're describing of sort of like, Matrixes or networks of interlocking narratives that we can sort of move freely between.

Nicole: Mm hmm. And what I really appreciate about narrative therapy too is the location within the cultural context. I feel like that sometimes I was studying existential therapy and felt like that was just like loft, like completely forgot as a part of the discourse. So I really appreciated that the narrative therapy.

Places it within the cultural context, right? Because again, when we're talking about our internal desires and what we feel like we want in these practices, I think originally when I was coming into this space, I would ask myself the question of, am I innately more, you know, polyamorous or monogamous and asking myself that question.

But it's been really interesting just to think about the cultural practices of this, right? If you exist in a culture, and there are cultures that do this, where it is non monogamous or whatever label we want to use, you know, more relationship anarchist framework, you grow up in that society and that's what you want because that's what everyone else is doing.

And, and we keep asking ourselves this like individual, what, what, what am I oriented towards? What am I oriented towards? And I'm. Just wanting to push that deeper question of, uh, we are the products of our environment and it's a yes. And of course, we have the empowerment to choose within that. But I think that if we don't take that critical context to what we are naturally oriented towards, you know, I think we see examples of that where.

At least in my past, right, being attracted to masculine presenting people who cry, right? Oh, gross, right? I have to take a critical examination to that of, wow, what sort of patriarchal influences created this desire for this, you know, certain archetype of a person? And so I just, I just continue to want to push on this individualistic, like, what's my orientation?

What's my this? To maybe a yes and framework of don't forget. The influences of your culture and how when they sell you certain things, you're going to think that's what you want, but it's much more complex than that, right? Yes. Yeah.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. And I think this for me also is like heavily connected to identity.

Sure. And how we identify with our desires and the perspectives that we sort of soak in from society. And it's like we're just using the narratives and the language that we have. And so it would be a little silly to say, well, we need to step outside of society because we can't do that. But what we can say is like, okay, there's there's this.

thing over here. And there's like all of these different reactions to that thing. And I can sort of like piece through these and work through like how I'm like feeling or reacting towards that and have some some mix of like identity categories that symbolize that who our people are. But also knowing for us that it's like still more complicated than that.

Because yeah, I think as you're saying the archetypes. Are the alternative like the alternative is that we exist in these archetypes and we exist in our relationships as representations of archetypes. It's very inauthentic.

Nicole: Yeah, flattened, right? Rather than the complexity of all of it. And so I think when we're asking these questions of how much are we influenced by culture, it makes me ask deeper questions about free will, you know, just like dot, dot, dot, dot, dot.

And I, I like the yes and framework of the, you know, we can be aware of this and continue to work within our power to choose. But a yes and to the influence of culture. And so I don't think it's a complete negation of free will, but a much more complex answer to the nature nurture question.

Renya NeoNorton: Uh, my stance on free will is that it's preferable to believe in free will, whether or not it actually exists, it helps to think you have it.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. So we'll work with the positive frame. Yeah, and, uh. One of my other questions, too, with the research is, and I know we're hitting on this in a couple of different ways, so it might sound a little redundant, but just going through the different questions, um, how does relationship anarchy impact your, uh, practice of intimacy?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, good question. So, when I tend to think of my different intimate relationships, I tend to think of that in terms of intimacy. So, like, what does intimacy mean in this context? How do we express intimacy? And rather than thinking of different labels, like friend versus partner versus colleague, thinking of it in terms of, like, sort of this, like, 3 dimensional, like, intimacy sort of.

Perspective of like, how close are we and like, how is that expressed and like, you know, what, how do we understand that. And I find that the more intimate I feel with someone often that's supported by having conversations about our intimacy, whereas like, People I might be less familiar with have less intimacy around.

There's less intentionality, which is fine because we can't talk with everybody about every possible thing.

Nicole: Right. Yeah. So many different questions from here. Even that last one. How do you understand that hierarchy and the distribution of our limited time and energy? I think that's a really juicy question for relationship anarchists.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, I think it's messy in practice. Right. And I think. My response to this question is less focused on do a relationship like this or deconstruct hierarchy in this way and more about like, this is why relationship anarchy needs to be connected to like a political movement around, like, making space to have more types of relationships.

More time available possible. So things like having to cohabitate with someone and having these like single family homes or these like small apartments where we might be sharing a room. It's like, there's no way to deconstruct hierarchy without having a revolution that fundamentally changes how wealth is distributed, right?

Like, the fact that, like, I have to think about my economic future with One or two or however many people, of course, that's going to impact my other relationships. That's not like a moral failure on my part. That's a systemic thing that we need to organize to change.

Nicole: Absolutely. I appreciate that response.

I think that that's a part of the discourse that needs to be hit on, right? Is when are you going to have time to build these relationships when you're working? multiple jobs, right? And or if you are dating people from different, you know, class opportunities, right? If I'm dating someone with a manager who has the flexibility to just get off whenever they want off of their workday compared to my other partners who work that really structured nine to five, that changes what sort of intimacy and time and the frequency of all of that, right?

So other than bogging ourselves down with, Oh, we're struggling with this. It's like, Actually, these systems are directly impacting our ability to experience more intimacy and more love in an expansive way. And so, if we even just pin it back to that idea of having more spaces where we could do this, more things to come together.

I mean, that's part of this question rather than a critique on ourselves.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, yeah. And the other thing I want to point to in this conversation of hierarchy is, Disability, uh, because we have a privatized health care system that will leave us deeply in debt. We often need to depend on a few other people for a lot of care and support and it's fundamentally unbalanced.

And also you look at the nuclear family as like parents also are required almost to do this for their young people. And if we have certain social changes like universal health care and Abolishing the family is like a complicated, like, what would you put in its place? But say, like, universal child care as like a starting point, right?

Then. We have so much more capacity to build these relationships when we're like fundamentally like not so sinking all of our resources into like surviving and doing basic care for each other, right? Like, if the systems are providing care for us that we like, it's much easier when you. We're coming together and all of our resources can come together and we can provide care on like a massive scale and then in our intimate relationships, we can be more like, okay, I have more to give exactly.

Nicole: Exactly. Right. Yeah. I mean, I, yeah, there's so much I could say about that. And the, the, the ways that that system impacts people's access to pleasure, right? How are you supposed to have pleasure when you're surviving under these systems? And we're not meant to to raise, you know, what, whatever you end up doing.

We are not meant to raise kids in a nuclear family where you don't have the support of community. Again, I don't care what you're doing with your sexual fidelity or not. We're not meant to raise in two person diads. You are meant to raise kids in a community so that you are not exhausted, right? Like that, like in the way just, uh, so my heart just goes out to so many people that are, are living under that sort of frame.

Um, and I think also I just. Want to name the complexities of what we're talking about, right? Of course, disability, time, energy, all of that. And I'm also just thinking about the difficulties of having language to name your desires, to know your desires, to have relationships where there's that level of communication because you're a therapist, I'm a therapist, part of our job is communication, naming feelings, getting more comfortable with all of that.

And like my supervisor would say, the system of capitalism actively runs on putting people into this cog in the machine again, where they're. Nine to five or plus more right is actively doing these sort of labor tasks where we're not building the skills to be able to have communication with people in our life, right?

So part of this is also just having the skills to be able to name what you want, have communication, self regulate all of that. And when we're living under this system where those values and skills are not. Actually created enough space to live into part of the system. Conversation is also that like people aren't going to have the skills to name this without a massive restructuring of these systems.

And we have the privilege of our careers to do this. Plus all of, I don't know about you, my massive amounts of debt that goes into this, but, um, it's given us the skills, right? To be able to have these conversations in a way that I previously didn't have before going into this field.

Renya NeoNorton: Yes, also deeply in debt.

Nicole: Cheers

Renya NeoNorton: yeah, I think to me that connects with like education and having early support to like have language, have a sort of framework of like our nervous systems and like what comes up with that and like how to like move through different difficult emotions. Yeah, like I think of, I don't know what the average like reading level is, but it's like 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th grade, something like that.

Like, and then when you think about like people's capacities for navigating consent based conversations or changes in relationships, like, yeah, I think. We're talking about these changes. I think the starting point for me is like time, like people need time. And then we can start looking into like, okay, like how do we genuinely support people being able to relate in a way that's like authentic and connected with self and connected with others?

Because in our current system, I think a big part of the appeal of current models is that you don't have to think so much about it.

Nicole: Yes. A B C D easy, easy. Right. But I think. We say easy because the simplicity, but that's not the reality of the lived experience of the pain. People, you know, all the different pains that we see with divorce and, uh, sexless marriages and just, uh, just so many different pieces under the system of pain, uh, that we could talk about.

But yeah, one of my friends is a, uh, High school teacher. And I just remember talking to him and he was like, yeah, like, how do I get people to be passionate about geometry? And I'm like, that's a good question. Like, I don't know. I feel like there are much larger issues in our world, which is maybe relational skills, right?

Uh, then, okay, this triangle has a 35 degree angle here with this and that. And, and Hey, maybe as AI and other. AI continue to expand. Maybe we'll be less interested in teaching geometry and stuff and could actually implement more social, relational, somatic based skill building into our education models. I think that would be exciting, but maybe I just don't understand the larger implications of how geometry is an essential subject for academia.

Maybe I just don't get it.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, I think geometry is pretty important and I think it's important to, like, maintain skills and not overly rely on technology because if I don't. It might fail. It might not be around forever. It might lead us astray. Um, so I think having the skills underlying, like the other tools we have.

Nicole: Sure, yeah. If you're going to be an engineer, you need to know in physics and all that too. So, very true. Very true. And I also want to ask, too, the next question, which is, What difficulties have you experienced practicing relationship anarchy?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, difficulties. I think the first thing that comes to mind for me is like, A lot of people are personally offended by the way I live my life.

Um, not a lot, not a lot of people, but enough to the point where it's like noticeable of like, because you don't think this is possible, you're going to make it my problem. I've had that a few times and that's one thing. I think the other thing is also not everyone's going to be there for the conversation.

Like some people might want to, but due to all of the systemic factors we've talked about, like. People don't always have the capacity to fully engage in this way, and so having to, like, reduce capacity or say goodbye to certain folks because There just isn't room for the conversation right now. And I think it's like, in the grand scheme of things, it's okay, but it's also like a space of grief.

Nicole: Mm hmm. Yeah. And potentially isolating, I'll at least name from my own experience, right? It's feels lonely to sometimes move through the world and feel like we're sharing these things that are so central to the way that we move through the world and, and to feel we're not understood. Right?

Renya NeoNorton: Mm hmm. Yeah, I think the pain of being misunderstood, which, if we're honest, I think pretty much everyone feels the pain of not being understood, but I think being intentional, being mindful of how we're showing up, we might be more conscious of it, which might mean that it's more challenging because we're more aware of this pain we're experiencing.

Nicole: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. I have one of my post it notes. Uh Yeah, so the four existential givens that we have to process with our death. Existence, isolation, and meaning, right? So just even thinking about the isolation, uh, we're all up here in our own thoughts, as much as even if we shared every single thought that we were having, right, with anybody, which is impossible, we'd still experience that isolation of the limitation of our language to actually name our internal experience.

experience, right? So no matter what we're doing through the world, we are experiencing isolation constantly in our existential givens. But right, if you add these other pieces onto it might get even deeper in terms of finding other people who can understand and get it. And I know that a lot of people have just so much, um, negative connotation associated with the word anarchy and or lived experience with people who are practicing and living fallibility of our humanness with the label relationship anarchy, right, and creating maybe associations within the common culture of this sort of never makes commitments, so individualistic, right, which is maybe more relationship libertarianism.

But, you know, the reality is that whether people understand the term or have negative connotations, that it can be hard to kind of navigate who do I, who's actually hearing me enough to have this conversation? Slash, should I, you know, kind of leave this at the surface level and decide to spend my time and energy in different spaces with someone who can hear me more?

I mean, that's a lot to kind of navigate through the world.

Renya NeoNorton: It is a lot. I think Lacan called this like the mirror stage, which is when we realize like we have a self and it's like distinct from other selves. And my sense around this is like, no one will fully understand us. And that's actually okay. Like, that's actually for the best, because we have this special, unique relationship with ourselves, and this is, I think, the thing I would say, whether or not someone is relationship anarchist that I've, like, learned in this process, is, like, you have a relationship with yourself, and we forget that, because we give so much to, like, these outside expectations and relationships, and But we have this relationship with ourselves that no one really gets because no one's had all of the experiences we've had.

No one's putting it together the way we're putting it together. And even if we say the words, People are going to interpret it a little different, so really thinking of this as not a curse, but as this beautiful thing that we get to share that we let people in selectively, but it's fundamentally for us.

Nicole: Absolutely. And then I'm also thinking for me, like, ooh, what to play with too, right? Like you can play with this space of, Creating the narratives with someone. Do I want to come in as this powerful Dom that comes into the space and I'm choosing which parts that you get to hear of my internal psyche, right?

So I think, like you said, that framework, and this is also where I push back on the existential theories. It's always, it's pretty negative at times, right? Um, maybe depending on how you look at it, but, uh. Isolation, right? It puts it in such a negative framework rather than maybe the positive associations of being able to play with that of like, okay, so I have all this internal experience.

Which parts do I want to let you see and then actually play with the juiciness of that, right?

Renya NeoNorton: There's this quote I really love, I think, from A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari. Since each of us was several, there was already quite a crowd. Which I think points to, like, how there's always multiplicity within all of us.

And when we bring that more to the forefront by having this relationship with our self or multiple selves, then we can be intentional and say, like, This outside connection is more for like this part of me or these few parts of me. And I can have many different connections that we're nurturing many different parts of each other.

So I think the other part of what I value of relationship anarchy is that I get to be many different people and not just one person.

Nicole: Absolutely. They bring out the different relationships, parts of yourself, and, and just the ways that our sense of identity is created by these relationships, right? I think we, we definitely talked about the cultural context shaping us, but beyond the cultural context, we all internalize different relationships, right?

And so I've definitely done a lot of work in talking about relationships as mirrors, right? As well, right? We have that mirror to the self, but also when we look out at the world and our friends and the way that they were. bond to us that shows us parts of ourselves, which again, the free will question who, you know, where is, where is the self and, and the self exist in all of our existential realities of the narrative and how we construct it, you know, complex stuff, but just thinking about how these relationships again, highlight different sides of ourselves, um, accentuate different things.

And that being the joy of it all for me, like you said. Yeah, me too. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which is directly leading us into the next question of, What are the joys that you've experienced of relationship anarchy?

Renya NeoNorton: That is a great question. Mm hmm. Yeah, I think for me, being able to really process and reduce a lot of shame about ways I wanted to be in the world, And thinking through, like, how to make that actually possible instead of this, like, well, I won't die.

It's bad if I even think about this, which I think was where I maybe had been previously. Yeah. Yeah, I think of authenticity. I think of openness. I think of freedom, agency. I think of just being very intentional in many different ways how I show up. Yeah, and I think of, like, I think of also, like, having joy for the people I'm close to, connecting with other people, connecting with themselves, instead of this feeling of, like, possessiveness or competition.

But instead I can just be like, I love that for you. And like, that's all there is to it.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly. Which I could imagine was a journey, right? To get to that space.

Renya NeoNorton: Oh, yeah. Yeah. And it, it was almost like I had the sense of jealousy or this like competition because I thought I was supposed to like that.

I was like, oh, I'm going to do this because I just expected to like, I'm just supposed to. And it was like, not even this is not even how I authentically was feeling prior to that expectation. It was like, because this is this is an expectation. This is how I'm reading my experiences and I didn't have to do that.

Nicole: Right. Which is hence the beauty of, you know, different words. I'm thinking about the Serif Whorf hypothesis, I think it is. I remember learning about this way back. Just the ways that language shapes our thoughts, right? And so until we have language and paradigms to kind of understand these experiences we're feeling, which are Firstly, somatic, right?

You're maybe feeling some sort of experience in the body. And we might interpret that as jealousy or other things until we have another framework, other words, other stories and narratives to kind of collect onto, right? Maybe a word like compersion, right? These other sort of things that create more space for our psyche to interpret the stimulus of whatever we're feeling in the body in a different way.


Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. And what was that? The Sara something?

Nicole: I think it's the Sarif Whorf Whorf hypothesis.

Renya NeoNorton: Okay. Yeah. I definitely connect to that. I think this is something I've learned, like, in my work with folks is, like, the words we use to describe an experience then further create that experience. So we might be having, like, a neutral sensation, then we put a name on it, and then it creates this, like, cascade.

Effect of, like, it becoming more and more that thing. And if you sort of, um, get into the experience, you can sort of just cascade off into some other direction. If you have a different understanding of it.

Nicole: Yeah, I'm seeing the connection to narrative therapy right there, right? Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And I'm also curious, moving towards the next question, what is it that you wish other people knew about relationship anarchy?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah. I think

Nicole: I mean, besides everything we just said for the last hour, right?

Renya NeoNorton: The thing I would like people to be Most aware of when it comes to relationship anarchy is that it is a process and not a end result. Right so we're not so much saying, here's a list of ways you're supposed to be in a relationship.

Go out and do this. But more, this is a process of discovery of yourself, of being authentic to your desires, of making space for conversations. And so the way I practice relationship anarchy now, and the way I'm going to practice it in 5, 10, 20 years, is all going to be different, because I will change in that time.

My relationships will change, the world around me will change, right? So, Don't be afraid by having to live up to any particular set of ideas or standards or expectations. Really connect with what you are hoping for. And also, that does mean we need to be open to growth. And that can come through reading, that can come through listening to podcasts, that can come through conversations.

But I think being open to change. It's a process and so when we're in a process that feels good, that is the best feeling in the world.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's why I've really enjoyed the word practicing, right? It's a practice. There is no end to that. you know, journey. It reminds me a lot of my yoga practice, right?

It's something that has changed every single time I show up on the mat and is continually changing, right? And it's no final destination. And so creating that space, like you said, for a practice or a process and the unfolding that that is with change being the only inevitable we can. promise will happen, right?

It is changed. So lean into that one. But it's also why I am so thankful to be doing this research, right? Because we have this hour to connect and, you know, I have my things that I've learned, but you have your lived experience. And then together, we come to bring the wisdom we both have and create something new and.

For all the listeners, hopefully, you know, the things that we've shared have got them thinking about, you know, how does this apply to their life? Where do they disagree? Where do they want to contribute to the conversation? Because it is that collective movement in terms of anarchy and decentralizing power.

And so I'm deeply thankful for having this space with you to, you know, bring ourselves together and co create something really special.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, me too. Thank you so much for inviting me into this space that you've created and curated in a very intentional way.

Nicole: Yeah, of course. It's a joy. Yeah. And before we go to our closing question, I always like to hold a little bit of space for each guest just to, you know, feel into, is there anything else you wanted to say to the listeners?

Otherwise, I can guide us toward one last closing question.

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, um, something relating to what we were just talking about, I'll like bring in this idea of like a practice. I'm currently working on a lengthy video essay on the myth of Sisyphus and how a therapist might work with Sisyphus. And in Albert Camus The Myth of Sisyphus, there's this famous line.

One must imagine Sisyphus happy, but I actually really love just the line before that, which is the struggle towards the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. I think that's like, why we could imagine that Sisyphus is happy is because. It is the process of continually rolling the boulder up the hill that you actually are content with never reaching the top, but just being engaged in this continual emergent process.

And so, because many of the things we care about are not things we can just say. Snap our fingers. And then that's how it's, it's a process of we set out, we do the best we can, and we sort of just see how things go from there and make changes as we go. Mm-Hmm. .

Nicole: Yeah. Enjoying the journey, right? Not the destination, the process, the unfolding of that.

Right. And just even that example speaks so much to the frame, right? Is Sisyphus miserable or is he enjoying that process and happy? Right? So much of the frame of I'm sure you understand to write that narrative therapy. What's the story we're telling ourselves in this, but yeah, learning to live into the joy of the messiness of that journey.

Yeah. Well, if it feels good to you now, I can guide us towards our closing question. Great. So then my closing question for every guest on the podcast, not just the special series on relationship anarchy is what is one thing. That you wish other people knew was more normal.

Renya NeoNorton: Everything.

Nicole: Yes. Anarchist. Tell me why you think that.

Renya NeoNorton: Well, I think like when we are wrapped up in the narrative of our own suffering and our struggle and our isolation, we get cut off from the universal human experiences and how tied in our stories and our struggles are with other people. Another concept I'm developing is the the meme. I'm not like other girls.

I'm sure you're familiar my work through of this is like it is both true that I am NOT like other girls because I'm a special girl and I'm unique and I have my own lived experiences But also I am just like other girls because other girls are just like me and we all go through girlhood together So what I would say what is more normal?

Everything you're experiencing is a flavor of a common experience that we're all having. And so, whatever it is, like, there are other people dealing with something similar. And you don't have to go through this alone. Yeah,

yeah. I think that's creating more space for the yes and in our lives.

Yes, I'm unique and I have a set of shared experiences with other people.

Nicole: Right. And holding that then I think is a sign of the emotional maturity, right? To hold both of those and know both of those as true at the same time. Yeah. Yeah. Well, it was such a pleasure to have you today and get to hear all about relationship anarchy.

Renya NeoNorton: Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. It's a pleasure to be here.

Nicole: Mm hmm. Where would you want to plug for everybody that, you know, is connecting with you and wants to learn more about the work that you're doing?

Renya NeoNorton: Yeah, thanks for asking. So, I am making YouTube videos under my practice name, Come Together Counseling, so that would be a good place to start. Um, I'm also practicing therapy in Pennsylvania, so if anyone hears this and would be interested in that.

You can go to my website, cometogethercounseling. net. Great.

Nicole: Thank you for joining us today and all of the listeners. Yeah, thanks. If you enjoyed today's episode, then leave us a five star review wherever you listen to your podcast. Bye! And head on over to ModernAnarchyPodcast. com to get resources and learn more about all the things we talked about on today's episode.

I want to thank you for tuning in and I will see you all next week.


bottom of page