Two weeks ago, I attended “Loud Love: Relationship Strategies to Change the World,” an ‘unconference’ on relationships in rural central Virginia. It was a really powerful and cool experience, and I want to share with you some of the tools I learned–including tools to increase knowledge of others and yourself, and to help sustain long-term relationships. I want to share these tools with you because I think they are really important and useful to everyone, in all manner of relationships–not just to the sort of people who go off to a weekend conference on polyamory organized by a bunch of hippies in the woods. I also want to share them with you because I really do think better interpersonal relationship skills can help change the world, and in the conclusion I’ll muse a little on how.
The first thing you need to realize is that we’re not only talking about romantic relationships. Yes, many-to-most of the attendees (including myself) are practicing or interested in polyamory (having more than one sexual & loving relationship at the same time, with the full knowledge, consent, and good will of all involved). However, one thing I’ve come to realize as I’ve dived deeper into polyamory over the past few years is that we make a mistake when we reserve the word “relationship” for a romantic partnership.
After all, a relationship is simply a relation between two things. You have relationships with your friends, your family members, your colleagues. You also have relationships with your job, your house, your environment. To go a little more meta, you even have a relationship with other people’s relationships with one another! (For example, if you have two friends who you think are both swell people but are terrible as a couple, then you have a good relationship with both of them but a bad relationship with their relationship.) All of these relationships need attention. I think Dean Spade put it really well:
One of my goals in thinking about redefining the way we view relationships is to try to treat the people I date more like I treat my friends—try to be respectful and thoughtful and have boundaries and reasonable expectations—and to try to treat my friends more like my dates—to give them special attention, honor my commitments to them, be consistent, and invest deeply in our futures together.