Guest Author: Dr. Meg Barker
We live in a time of deep uncertainty about romantic relationships. There has never been greater pressure than there is now to be a free and independent individual seeking personal fulfilment and pursuing our goals in life. At the same time, romantic relationships have been hailed ‘the new religion’ with the decline of spiritual beliefs and local communities, and with working life becoming more precarious for many of us. We turn to relationships to provide us with belonging, security, friendship, love, passion, and self-validation at the same time as wanting to remain free enough to follow our own dreams. It is no wonder, then, that we struggle with romantic relationships.
We generally respond to this uncertainty in one of two ways: either we turn back to old rules of relationships which people followed in the past or we try to develop new rules of relationships which might fit our situation better. In both cases there is a danger that such rules will become something that we cling to desperately, in order to avoid the distress of painful relationships or of being without such a relationship. Grasping onto the rules like this often makes things worse rather than better as we aren’t flexible enough to adapt to changing circumstances or to make different commitments at different times or in different relationships.
My book, Rewriting the Rules, explores the old and new rules of relationships in a number of areas. For example, in the chapter on monogamy we start by exploring what it means to apply the ‘old rules’ in a world where people often have many close friendships and connect with new people all the time, and where sexual possibilities are available constantly over the internet. Then we turn to those who are writing their own rules in ways that open monogamy up, to additional sexual or romantic partners, for example. In the chapter on sex, we look at ideas about what makes ‘proper’ sex, and pressures to remain passionately sexual throughout a relationship, and we consider people and communities who have different kinds of sex – or no sex. In the chapter on gender we examine the conventional ‘Mars and Venus’ way of understanding problems in relationships and then consider other ways of viewing gender as something that may be more flexible and diverse, and other possible explanations for relationship differences.
In each case, we see that it can be problematic, in these uncertain times, to cling to any rules too tightly: whether those be the more conventional rules that we learnt growing up, or the new rules that are being proposed by various groups and communities. An alternative possibility is put forward: that of embracing uncertainty. What would it be like to recognise that relationships simply are uncertain things? That our desires and needs change over time? That being together is an ongoing conversation? That we connect with many different people in our lives in different ways? Some of these possibilities take the pressure off love relationships to be everything to us, challenging the idea of The One perfect person who will make our life complete. Suggestions are made about how we might do things differently in relation to getting together, relationship conflict, making commitments, and breaking up. Instead of seeing relationships as all good or all bad, we could hold onto the inevitable similarities and differences between us, and the fact that we are inevitably both free and in relationship together.
If we were honest perhaps we would all tick the relationship box which says ‘it’s complicated’, but recognising this can offer much more relief than trying to present a perfect picture of ourselves and our relationships to others. It can open up all kinds of possibilities for love, sex and relationships.
You can grab “Rewriting the Rules” at
Author’s Bio: Dr. Meg Barker is a Senior Lecturer at The Open University – an online University in the UK – and also a psychotherapist specialising in sex and relationship therapy. Meg has been researching relationships and sexuality for over a decade and has published numerous academic books and papers on these topics, particularly in relation to openly non-monogamous relationships, sadomasochism, and bisexuality. Meg is co-editor of the journal Psychology & Sexuality, and co-organises the Critical Sexology group in the UK, as well as the organisation, BiUK, who produced The Bisexuality Report in 2012 and ran the first international academic conference on bisexuality in 2010. Meg has recently won an erotic award for their work which includes several books for therapists and other health practitioners on topics such as gender, sexuality and mindfulness. Rewriting the Rules is Meg’s first book for a general audience and you can follow the blog accompanying the book on http://rewritingtherules.wordpress.com/ and can connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.