I am writing as a lesbian-feminist activist who started studying the theoretical aspects of alternative relationships in 2000 and their realities in 2004. In that sense, this article is more of a field report and makes no claims to be exhaustive or objective. Rather, the activists whose portraits I have sketched, and their concepts and actions should serve as a documentation of and an inspiration for all those searching for signs of non-monogamous life in our mono-normative society. Interviews with six activists and my own experiences were my primary sources.
The friend hopper: Albertine in the 1990s
Albertine is 49 years old and has been non-monogamous since she was 17. "My ideal lifestyle hasn't changed since then, and that's more of a deciding factor for me than the number of women I am kissing." Her description of her ideal lifestyle: "I want more from my friends and less from my relationships than most people do." As a young adult, she found a similarly-minded community and thus had no trouble realising her concept early on:
The women's centre from 1981 to 1985 was like the golden age of innocence, it was a group-oriented culture where we could find new definitions for our lives and the ways we wanted to live them. And the definitions were completely open. And that applied to relationships as well. Practically speaking, that wasn't true for everyone at the centre ... but there were four young women who weren't interested in traditional, monogamous relationship structures. So there was a lot of experimentation in our small group. And the group was more important than any love affairs between individuals. We didn't make a big distinction between "love" or "sex" or "something else" because the connection was already there. For that reason, Albertine and others had no incentive to become politically active. In their social environment, alternative relationship forms were a matter of course (Anna is living in a similar situation nowadays--see "The Octopuses" below). It wasn't until someone wanted a 'proper monogamous relationship' and friends disappeared from Albertine's life with their newest sweethearts that it became clear to her that many didn't share or understand her views. She subsequently devised the concept of 'friend hopper.'
In order to solve my dilemma with friends I lost to their relationships and to cope with my resentment and jealousy ... I said to myself: I am a friend hopper- I simply change my friends like others their relationships. That I don't have to chase after that very woman who had just fallen in love and disappeared. But instead ... I think to myself "Then I'll just look for someone new, just like the others do with love!"
Albertine sought contact with other lesbians who wanted to live without couple relationships. She met one at the Berliner Lesbenwoche [Berlin Lesbian Week] at an activity for single lesbians. With her , she organized meetings and workshops and wrote a pamphlet against the expectations of salvation that many have for love. The pamphlet was read aloud by friends in a feminist art performance and broadcast on feminist video news.
There were many reasons for the end of Albertine's activist phase: the organizers of the Lesbenfruhlingstreffen [Lesbian Spring Gathering]--one of the largest events in the feminist lesbian movement in Germany--didn't include her workshop for a second year in the programme, and
... then the activities were over. Because I didn't want to talk about relationships so much and how they could function, but rather how one can live comfortably WITHOUT relationships.... I had also talked with so many people about this subject during this time on different occasions. And it got boring quickly, because those without a girlfriend...