Charlotte MacGregor comments on Dr. Meg Barker’s talk: “Rewriting the Rules of Relationships”

Dr. Meg Barker took us on a fascinating journey that began with an exploration of some of the problems with the Old Rules of relationships, highlighted some New Rules and asked what a less rule-based world of relationships would look like.
The Old Rules. To some extent we are probably all familiar with some of the Old Rules, which are based on heterosexual, monogamous relationships: the idea that the norm is largely straight and aiming headlong automatically into a one-on-one status quo. Although Meg highlighted this as the Old Rules it was clear that they form the foundations of many present assumptions around what being a success in the relationship stakes is all about. They are based on gender inequalities, an obvious issue, and the discourse around objects and possessions is a transparent flaw. The Old Rules also create a gap between lack and desire, on an individual level and on a social level, for people, or groups of people, that do not feel they either want to or do not fall into the boundaries of these rules.
Uncertain Times. The Old Rules have been around for a while and to some extent their proponents might refer to the stability they provide in their defence. However, we are living in times where there is less degree of automatic progression along a linear relationship trajectory between birth and death. Meg highlighted how this results in uncertainty, that the existential tension between freedom and belonging is being played out in relationships.
New Rules? So what might an alternative look like? Meg described rules that already exist that fall outside of the status quo space, including swinging, open relationships and polyamory. However, these rules are still based around ideas of hetero-normativity and often they split sex from love and other relationships. The New Rules are still negotiated from a position of searching for a degree of certainty, rather than embracing uncertainty.
Beyond Constraints It is to a world beyond demarcated role definitions and functions that Meg beckoned our thinking, relationships with fewer borders or sense of enclosure, with multiple loves based on meeting different mutual purposes but with no sense of ownership or restriction and no requirement for enduring commitment. Whether such an attitude can be maintained or is desirable was questioned by some in the audience, who wondered about issues of jealousy and stability. Whether we can have ‘expectation-free’ relationships was also discussed and whether having some level of expectation was indeed helpful was also considered. As Meg agreed, these issues remain areas for further deliberation and I am sure that we all took away our own particular areas for further reflection.

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