Clémence x. Clémentine
Against the Couple Form
“No more mothers, women and girls, let’s destroy the families!”
was an invitation to
the gesture of breaking the expected chains of events,
to release the compressed potentialities.
It was a blow to the fucked up love affairs, to
It was a call at overcoming the couple as elementary unit in the
— Tiqqun, “How to?”
CLÉMENCE X. CLEMENTINE
AND ASSOCIATES FROM THE
INFINITE VENOM GIRL GANG
Libidinal flows cut through the social world. Amorous and sexual relations
do not exist in some domain safely taped off from the rest of
society. Rather they are constituent elements of nearly every aspect
of social life. Desire flows and circulates amongst places of employment,
intellectual debates, political organizing, artistic circles, playgrounds,
and cemeteries. The elderly patient grabs at the breast of
a nurse hunched over him. A governmental official strips his newly
hired intern down to her leopard print thong during an important
briefing in his office. The incarcerated man holds his hand up to the
glass of the visiting booth, attempting to touch his wife after twenty
years of their bodily separation. These flows of libidinal desire operate
within and amongst broader social mechanisms, such that they
help animate the dynamics of economic and political life. Often a
locus of politics, desire permeates the so-called “public” terrain.
Patriarchy incessantly subjects these flows of desire to a system of
organization, a logic that subverts the desiring flows against themselves.
This channeling and organization of sex and amorous relations
I will refer to as the logic of the couple — that which funnels,
simplifies, and reduces amorous desire to the needs of patriarchy
within the capitalist mode of production. This logic assumes that
women have but a single site for the fulfillment of their social and
sexual desires, that being a romantic relationship with a man. The
couple functions as the threshold, the admission fee, the golden key
that allows a woman to participate in the social world. The couple
promises that, upon entering its grasp, one will no longer suffer from
alienation, from isolation, from boredom, from rootlessness. The
couple grants a woman personhood and social visibility. She obtains
a title, a temporality, a space through the couple. Marriage enshrines
this logic and its perpetuation of the specific form assumed by patriarchy
The action and the discourse within patriarchal social relations emerge
from a group of men interested in each other. In intellectual, political,
or artistic circles, a cadre of men often monopolize the ability
to participate in the production of events or ideas, which is not to
say that they do anything particularly interesting. Patriarchy has
systematically excluded women from the action and the discourse,
consigning them as a class to perform the unwaged work of social
reproduction. Rather than an essentialist concept, the category of
woman stems from a gendered mode of exploitation and relegates
certain types of labor to a private, unwaged sphere. While women
busily work waged jobs in addition to performing domestic work,
men create the sphere of public life in order to insulate themselves
from coming to terms with their banality and superfluity.
Men grant women access to the action and the discourse by developing
sexual relations with men from this circle. Un-coupled women,
those loose dogs, remain on the periphery, always at a distance from
the space where debates, projects, and events are played out. The
couple acts as a social form that requires women, in order to participate
in whatever practice or domain they desire, to attach themselves
to men via the couple mechanism. The couple-form often constitutes
the single device that protects a woman from the misogyny
of a group of men. Who’s that? Oh, I think it is Zach’s girlfriend, Ben’s ex.
Women become known for their relationships to men, not for their
contributions to intellectual or political life. Women’s lives diminish
to their roles as the wife of R or the mistress of J, not poets, theorists,
or revolutionaries in their own right.
Women choose different strategies when faced with patriarchal social
relations and the logic of the couple. A woman who goes after
a man with power in a certain milieu. A woman who always needs
a man around and will take whatever she can get. A woman who
revels in the confidence of being so-and-so’s girlfriend. A woman
who cheerfully sits on the “girlfriend couch” during band practice. A
woman who is depressed during the stretches in between boyfriends.
A woman who views the man she is with as a mirror of her own prowess.
A woman who holds out for a man impressive enough to advance
her. A woman whose intellectual labor is monopolized by staying up
late writing apologetic emails to her boyfriend rather than drafting
her own poems, theory, or architectural plans.
The logic of the couple mediates a woman’s relationship to herself
and her relationships to other women. In the production of herself
as a woman, she remains constantly aware of the need to make herself
desirable, to make herself worthy of a man’s desire, to be fit for a
man’s love. The go on, girl! You’re worth it! dimension of contemporary
female subjectivation has coded women’s individual servitude as their
self-realization. Post-1950s waves of feminism have reconfigured
women’s position in capitalism and in relation to men without necessarily
making it any less oppressive. The pseudo-empowerment of
women to sleep around, wear lipstick, and buy themselves chocolate
if they want to does not amount to any significant change to their
structural exploitation. Do the femme fatale, the burlesque dancer,
the woman executive have a man, or does a man have her? A woman
may completely internalize the demands of the couple, reproducing
herself as attractive, desired, and sought after - traits that must be
produced - even while railing against the sexually predatory male.
The logic of the couple has strengthened the single woman’s direct
relationship to the commodity, the imperative to produce herself as
a commodity. Just as in the sphere of circulation — where allegedly
buyers and sellers exchange equivalents — the single woman trades
hours of primping, toning, and plucking for the ability to be purchased
by a man at the meat market. The couple mediates relations
between women to the extent that they interact not to deepen their
connection to each other, but to gossip about boys, to process their
relationships with men, to trade technologies of femininity whereby
they can improve their status with men. In this way, the couple-form
haunts women when alone or with other women.
One must not dissociate the desire for a sexual relationship with
a man from patriarchy’s stacked deck. Who are these boyfriends?
What does a woman think having one will get her? In short, everything.
The couple stands in for desire itself, after enshrined, funneled,
and reduced to a single object by patriarchy. Rather than
sprouting yearnings for negation or overcoming, young girls plan
their weddings while still in kindergarten. Why does a woman sell
out for some wank? She gives herself over to the couple in the hope
of mitigating her alienation and increasing her sense of “security,” in
the same way that a citizen gives herself over to a repressive state
that she trusts to keep her secure. While perhaps not visible at the
outset, the couple will further alienate and isolate her. She will have
to answer to her husband in addition to her boss, entering into a
relation of hyper-exploitation. Comrade Valerie Solanas heeds the
atomizing function of the couple: “Our society is not a community,
but merely a collection of isolated family units. Desperately insecure,
fearing his woman will leave him if she is exposed to other men
or to anything remotely resembling life, the male seeks to isolate
her from other men and from what little civilization there is, so he
moves her out to the suburbs, a collection of self-absorbed couples
and their kids.”1 How much can a woman forgive? How much does
she let slide? How long does she tolerate things being amiss, rotten,
fucked up? She avoids breaking up at great costs because disobeying
the logic of the couple will stymie her access to the precise mechanisms
that supposedly save her from this contemptuous existence.
The semblance of care and a promise of future solidarity convince
her to stay in unsatisfying, pathetic circumstances.
The couple functions as both the problem and its solution. If not
this one, she just needs another boyfriend, one that will treat her
better. A woman may feel the nausea of ambivalence, of being caught
between obsession with phallic power and revulsion from it. She
does not know which is greater, the melancholia of the couple or
the melancholia of denouncing it as a social form. Most opt for the
sadness of the couple over the alienation of being cut loose from its
grasp. Capital lends a shoulder at every turn, suggesting you watch a
rom-com with your girlfriends when heartbroken or providing endless
ways to personalize your wedding dress. Similar to the framework
of electoral politics that limits the scope of critique to the
wrong people being in office, the couple-form attributes women’s
problems to dating the wrong man rather than to the couple itself.
As long as she stays invested in the idea of romantic love as salvation,
1 Valerie Solanas, SCUM Manifesto (New York: Verso Books, 2004) 48.
50 CLÉMENCE X. CLEMENTINE AGAINST THE COUPLE-FORM 51
as the guiding principle against isolation and towards fulfillment,
she remains tied to the couple-form.
As another facet of the couple-as-solution, the discourses surrounding
austerity measures and neoliberal restructuring frame the couple
as a remedy for poverty. One reads tales of young people shifting
between poverty and prison as a result of single parenting, especially
absent fathers, as if the restitution of the couple could remedy the
poverty and structural racism produced by capitalism. State bureaucrats
tell women that the couple and the family that it anchors
have replaced social assistance programs: you don’t need help with
childcare or food stamps; you need a man! The surest way out of
poverty is to get married! While many women might never have access
to employment, those who do work for a wage face a gendered
discrepancy in earnings, likely forcing them to rely on male wages to
support their children. These economic mechanisms preserve the
vehemence of the couple-form as a trap for women within capitalism,
which masks unwaged labor as acts of love and care.
The logic of the couple has replaced the logic of god. Turn on the radio
and one can hear innumerable accounts of the absolute position
of the couple: you are the only thing that matters, I cannot go on living
without you — or more evocatively — Every breath you take / And every
move you make / I’ll be watching you. Most love songs contain or start
with “I” but the “I” is in fact everyone kneeling beneath the generalized
social form of the couple. The male gaze has replaced the divine
gaze. As Artaud has asked us “To Have Done with the Judgment of
God” (Pour en finir avec le jugement de dieu), let us be done with the
judgment of men.2
Surveying these dynamics, one might wonder if women can opt out
of the couple, perhaps through an exploration of promiscuous affairs.
This option may not go far enough. Do not mistake polyamory for a
post-couple paradigm. Polyamory is a multiplication of the logic of
2 Antonin Artaud, “To Have Done with the Judgment of God (Pour en finir
avec le jugement de dieu)” in Selected Writings, ed. Susan Sontag (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1988).
the couple, not its destruction. Casual sex, primary partners, physical
and emotional availability, and other such distinctions contain
amorous relations within the negotiation of the couple. Polyamory
opens up couple-like formations without the formal commitment
of the couple, expanding its territoriality and octopus-like tentacles
that suck desire into the logic of the couple. Polyamorous or promiscuous
relationships function as strategies for women to navigate
patriarchal social relations rather than break with or negate them.
The logic of the couple penetrates queer relationships as well as
straight ones. Homonormativity and gay assimilation have fashioned
queer relationships in the shape of straight coupledom. Rather than
a subversion of heterosexual social relations, assimilationist, liberal
homosexuals have fought for the right to fit into the logic of the
couple — to get married, to wear a wedding dress, to create familial
nuclei able to protect property relations. Homosexuals perpetuate
heterosexual norms and phallocracy through categorizations and
role-play, which further codify desires and constitute sex within the
logic of phallic centrality and authority. Same sex couples do not
escape either the territoriality imposed on desire or the couple’s reinforcement
and faithfulness to repressive social relations.
Dismantling the logic of the couple does not indicate distaste for love,
but rather a critique of directing love towards a specific object. One
must contextualize the couple-form within patriarchy, as so-called
“love” arrives to us through the apparatus of gender. Denouncing
the couple does not mean shunning giddiness, love letters written
in tiny cursive with quill pens, or the feeling of the sidewalk being a
trampoline. Rather, critiquing the couple involves an analysis of the
way that patriarchy has recuperated women’s desire for solidarity, for
intimacy, for excitement, for negation, for the event into a consolidation
of phallic power and the accumulation of capital.
Who would not arrive at this conclusion: patriarchy and capitalism
thwart any possibility to love in a way that liberates oneself from the
logic of the couple or from one’s own oppression. To liberate love
necessarily involves the abolition of patriarchy and capitalism. One
cannot opt in or out of these structural relations, and the struggle
against them will be a collective, historical project.
In this pathetic, stillborn world, we do have feelings. Sometimes we
look at someone and think we are in love with them. We must crush
the illusion that romance is or will be an avenue for liberation. We
must divest from romantic relationships as means through which
we might access a better world than this one. In realizing that their
economies and conventions are part and parcel of the continuing
soft disaster of our lives, we will leave behind all hitherto existing
couples. New and perhaps unknown forms of feminist organizing
present the only possible frontier for love.
For those who have accepted the couple-form as a sham, as unable
to allow the circulation of desire, war, and play, we make the following
recommendations. Make no mistake: we are not advocating a
subcultural, individualist, lifestylist, or voluntarist response to the
couple-form, nor do we blame women who must remain in couples
for their material survival. We are, however, committed to praxis.
These may be some of the forms that the struggle against the couple
will assume, coinciding with a broader movement towards the abolition
of ourselves as women.
Pour menstrual blood on wedding gowns. Send tigers into engagement
Make love. Anything can be sex. The body is rich and varied in its
parts and sensations. So many ecstasies have yet to be felt. Get away
from the genital organization of “sexuality.”
Couple-bust, which Solanas describes: “SCUM will couple-bust —
barge into mixed (male-female) couples, wherever they are, and bust
Wrest yourself from the grasp of the couple’s arms (i.e. love jail).
Go out the front door and get caught up in a crowd. Hang out with
3 Solanas, SCUM, 72.
plants and animals. Get into space. Replace the dyad, the pair, the
two halves that make a whole with third, fourth, n not-necessarilyhuman
terms: The three of them and that pack of wolves and that shrub!
The commune! The snow! The tea cups! The knives! The creatures!
Blast open the contents of the lover: I didn’t want to kiss you per se. I
wanted everything that you were an entrance into: the smell of cigars, the
doors of the city opening to me, samosas, your aunt’s house in the countryside,
the sense that I could walk around with my eyes closed and nothing would
Go out for anti-seductive strolls, a disinterested cruising that vibes
on everything except sex. Or as Guy Hocquenghem writes, “if I
leave my house every night to find another queer by cruising the
places where other queers hang around, I am nothing but a proletarian
of my desire who no longer enjoys the air or the earth and whose
masochism is reduced to an assembly line. In my entire life, I have
only ever really met what I was not trying to seduce.”4
Animate other modes of social organization with love and eroticism.
Have a seminar, a reading group, a political party, a street gang, a rock
garden more satisfying than two people in a bed ever could be. Love
in such a way as “to annihilate the outworn, neurotic, and egoistic
categories of subject and object,” as Mario Mieli suggests.5
Interrogate and challenge the ways that the logic of the couple constructs
families. Reconsider the bounds of the family and whom one
visits over holidays. Rethink social bonds outside of the couple tie,
the blood tie, the legal tie.
Construct autonomous feminist spaces where women produce their
own action and discourse. Banish the mediation by men of relationships
between women. Prevent a single relationship from alienating
oneself from the processes that contribute to liberation and the
4 Guy Hocquenghem, The Screwball Asses (New York: Semiotext(e), 2010) 51.
5 Mario Mieli, Homosexuality and Liberation: Elements of a Gay Critique
(London: Gay Men’s Press, 1980) 56.
abolition of capitalism and patriarchy. Let no single bond stand in
the way of friendship, organizing, and advancing the interests of the
Make intelligible the movement of history and revolutionary praxis
as the only possible love story.
We do not mourn the decomposition of the couple-form. We like to
think of it as a blessing, a gift from the future. We consider the abolition
of the boyfriend and the husband part of the historical movement
superseding capitalism and patriarchy. As comrade Dominique
Karamazov has written, the constellation of social relations after
capitalism will take on a drastically different character: “As communism
generalizes free access to goods, and amongst other things
transforms and increases the space available for living in, it destroys
the foundations and economic function of the family. Also, as it is
the realization of the human community, it destroys the need for a
refuge within that community.”6 As a historically bounded relation,
the internal contradictions of the couple-form will one day arrive
at their conclusion, and love will no longer know the territoriality
of promises, gender, or subject. In addition to our struggles in the
streets and at the printing presses, we open up an additional front
against coupledom. Feminist struggle remains the ever-enticing horizon
I strapped my boyfriend with homemade explosives and blew him
up. His flesh spread everywhere. So did my affection. I’m sick of
love. Let’s fall in politics.
6 Dominique Karamazov, “Misère du Féminisme” in La Guerre Sociale, No.
2 (Paris, 1978) trans. Jean Weir as The Poverty of Feminism (London: Elephant