Solo, Polyamorous, and Seeking Healthy Community

One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.

Abraham Maslow

We all have a need for consistency and community. What Abraham Maslow classified as ‘belongingness’ is one of our biggest sources of security. And,  while many individuals find this most commonly through partnership on the Relationship Escalator, Solo Polyamorists- who eschew the escalator model- look to their greater community and chosen family in order to meet that need for security and safety.

A big part of my journey in Solo Polyamory has been in seeking out that community and looking for ways to meet that need outside of an escalator relationship. The plural nature of polyamory lends itself well to this- at first glance, at least- with all the interconnected relations and interweaving of people. I, like many, have found myself at times falling into that old trope of “You’re poly, I’m poly, we have so much in common!” We don’t always choose the best family.

Just as one uses discernment — or not — when seeking out romantic, intimate, and sexual relationships, it would seem to make sense to also use that same discernment to choose carefully the community one engages with, right? However, as the saying goes, common sense is hardly common. Survival instincts can sometimes override common sense, and it is possible to settle with a close fit where the places of misalignment seem they can be tolerable.

There is most definitely a risk of falling into old patterns of habits and behaviors when choosing community.

Five years into it, and I reflect on how so much of my journey in Solo Polyamory has been about reclaiming a sense of independent identity. I grew up with mixed levels of security, and- for all my independent spirit- I struggled to find security as a young adult without a partnership. The conscious choice to do polyamory without a primary relationship was, in part, me challenging myself to step out of codependency habits and into an experience of interdependence.

I discovered that the long ingrained patterns of codependency still occasionally showed up within the survival-driven community-building I’ve endeavored to engage in. More recently I have found an ever clearer line between the relationships that feel nourishing and energizing, and the relationships which feel draining and depleting.

IMG_20161205_143322045This year so far has seen me diving into deep introspection around this. The cocooning winter hibernation has provided the perfect space for grounding into a deeper understanding of my self and what I need. I am someone who hasn’t experienced much security in my adult life, and many relationships- both romantic and social- have been ones that I’ve engaged in in part as a survival strategy, to build networks wherein I might find a safety net. And when I’ve found a dynamic that feels good, I’ve leaned in heavily, perhaps too much at times, in search of that security I crave.

But I have yet to really achieve that reliable safety net. So far what I’ve done hasn’t been working for me. 

I found it’s easy to fall into a trap of spending all one’s time trying to please others, out of a fear of potentially losing them if you don’t please them. But that’s putting the community before the individual, and when that happens, your individual health suffers.

When you put your self aside in order to please others, you aren’t honoring your individual needs and desires; you’re surrendering autonomy to the whims of others- and replacing an old co-dependency on one with a new co-dependency on many. And, it’s possible to go from reforming self identity to fit one partner’s expectations, to trying to fit a community’s expectation.

That can be healthy and empowering if the community is one formed of individuals who are engaging in self awareness and growth and celebrate diversity of individuality. It can be potent and liberating if the community embraces consent, compassion, empathy and forgiveness. However, if a community is mired in draining, limiting, fear-based behaviors, if the community lacks cohesiveness in shared values or tolerates abusive behaviors, it may end up generating new self-identities that limit self expression and freedom. It’s easy to feel small in that. And when people allow themselves to be small in their own lives, that’s when they might experience depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts.

And yes, I speak from my own experience here.

When people appear to be something other than good and decent, it is only because they are reacting to stress, pain, or the deprivation of basic human needs such as security, love, and self-esteem.

Abraham Maslow

So what do we solo polyamorists do?

For us who are polyamorous and queer, our family may not be a source of security. For many of us who are solo, we don’t necessarily experience our romantic and sexual relationships as the most grounded source of connection in our lives; the communities we choose are often fluid and changeable themselves.

My recent experiences have led me to believe it is paramount to figure out the compatibility between one’s self, and a community of friendship- whether that is entangled with one’s polycule, or not. Do your core values align? How do you deal with conflict? And- to what degree are people able to be independent in their relationships?

I’m examining this in many areas of relating in my life. It’s important to note that I’m not deeming a person (or group) to be toxic, but rather, the dynamic that exists between people- which they both participate in- that can be draining. ‘Toxicity’, while being an evocative and charged description I sometimes lean on, is really a judgement and story about a feeling, one which often comes with finger pointing and blame. 

When we use the word toxic to describe how we feel about something, we judge that feeling. Instead, consider that any number of people (including yourself) can play into a relationship becoming toxic. What’s more, there’s the possibility that a dynamic can change when the people in the relationship change their behavior; very nourishing connections can become draining, and likewise draining connections can once again become nourishing.

“The longer you are in an echo chamber the shittier your coping skills become.”
~ Paul Verge

So what do we do? In the echo-chambers of sub-culture communities, how can you tell the difference between the draining, ‘toxic’ dynamics, and the ones that are nourishing? Here’s my checklist for evaluating a relationship dynamic, be it with a person, or a community:

snake-mamba-green-mamba-toxic-38268Signs this relationship dynamic might currently be Draining for me:

  • I make a lot of excuses for this person’s behaviour.
  • I experience feeling exhausted/drained/tired/lethargic in their company or after spending time with them.
  • I perceive that I seem to be doing a lot of the emotional heavy lifting in this relationship.
  • I don’t feel that this person appreciates what I do.
  • This person seems to have a lot of ‘drama’ in them and around them.
  • I’m afraid to confront this person because of their possible reaction (but I’m not afraid of confrontation in general).
    I feel really lost and abandoned if this person isn’t communicating with me.
  • Communication with this person seems to be very one way.
  • Communication with this person seems to be limited in topic range.
  • I don’t feel I can be totally myself with this person, I need to pretend some things about me are different, or hide some aspect of myself.
  • I feel like the ideas this person holds onto are stuck in an echo chamber, and they resist considering alternative perspectives.
  • I feel like I need to make myself ‘small’ in order to please this person, or at least, not anger them.

 

Signs this relationship dynamic is currently Energising for me:

  • I have no fear in talking to or approaching this person.
  • We make our way through difficult conversations without escalating conflict between us.
  • I feel heard and appreciated by this person.
  • I experience two way communication with this person.
  • I am excited for this person to meet other friends, and for friends to meet them.
  • I feel energised, refreshed, possibly inspired, after my interactions with this person.
  • We are able to mutually hold emotional space for one another.
  • We talk about and explore many different topics together.
  • I don’t feel a need to hide any part of myself, I can be totally authentic.
  • I feel like I can present alternative ideas and perspectives to this person without being shut down or shut out.
  • I feel very empowered by this dynamic, and I notice the other person also feels this way.

I read something recently about being in an abusive relationship. One of the questions posed was, “Do you find yourself making excuses for, or justifying, your partner’s harmful behaviour?” I look at this question in the framing of my relationships, and I can see how, in about half of the most compelling relationships I have been in, I’ve taken steps to defend or justify a partner’s hurtful behaviour towards others. This pulls me into some serious self-examination around why I feel the need to defend hurtful behaviour- and what boundaries do I need to consider in future relationships whereby I won’t find myself doing so again?

So, what do you do when you realise a dynamic is no longer fulfilling? There’s many things. Here’s a few that have been working for me:

Strategies for Shifting from Draining To Energising:

  • Check in with your core needs and desires– are they being met, and if not, what could you do to refocus on them?
  • Create boundaries that are loving and compassionate, that nourish your needs and create spaces where you feel energised.
  • Take a time out from the dynamic to allow for recalibration.
  • Examine what your core values are, and consider how you could bring them to life in your day-to-day world more.
  • Diversify your social circle.
  • Spend time doing things you love and invite people in your life to join you doing them.

No matter how great the sex is (or has been), no relationship is worth tolerating a draining, unfullfilling dynamic in the emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of the relationship- and my inner good girl has defended one too many people who ended up doing me more harm than good.

I’ve learned that the longer we tolerate relationships that don’t feed and inspire our spirits and hearts, the more weighed down we feel. Solo polyamorists need their communities as a core element of security, stability and anchoring in their lives- not just as an emergency survival strategy, but as a long term relationship- and we each deserve to find communities of friends and lovers who will respect our independent spirits, and hold us steady through the rough times.

For me, I’m on my way. I’m excited for 2017 becoming the year where I redefine how I relate to the communities I’ve participated in, and choose to engage with. I’m stoked for the new boundaries I’m creating that make space for me to show up fully. The biggest piece: I realised I can’t keep playing small in order to make others feel better: I’m here to love in big ways, and invite everyone to join me in being big and bold in the ways they love. And perhaps, if we can all love in big and bold ways, we’ll grow a community with much deeper roots, stronger foundations, and dynamics that enrich and enliven us all.

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Polyamory, Trauma, and Unmet Needs: Facing the Hydra

hercules-hydra2

Trauma
The result of experiences that overwhelm a person’s ability to cope.

I want to share something very personal with you- and I’m scared. I’m nervous that people may read this and project themselves into the story. I’m afraid that people’s own trauma might be triggered by this. What I hope is that sharing this very personal thing might help me find some healing- and perhaps, if you’ve been through something similar, it might help you find some healing to know that you are not alone. So, here goes.

There’s a story from my matrilineal ancestors in Ancient Greece, of the demigod hero Heracles- son of Zeus- who faces the Hydra, a giant multi-headed serpent with venomous blood who has terrorised villages. Heracles uses his sword to cut off one of the serpent’s heads- but in its place grow two new heads, and when he cut off one of those, two heads more. Heracles fights with futility against the serpent who spawns exponentially more heads for each that are severed, and grows more venomous and more monstrous as the battle wages on. Realising he cannot win the battle alone, Heracles calls for help from his nephew, who holds a torch to each severed stump to prevent new heads from growing, and thus through the power of sword and fire, Hydra is defeated.

In Mythological symbolism, the Hydra was seen to be the embodiment of the archetype of the venomous feminine. Raised by quick-to-jealousy goddess Hera, her entire purpose was to kill and destroy Heracles, and prevent his possible ascension to Mount Olympus. Joseph Campbell would identify this part of the Heraclean legend as part of the Road of Trials in his Hero’s Journey. An arduous, almost impossible task, that makes him stronger and teaches him the strength he will need in order to triumph in a future challenge.

shattered glassI have this crucible, this road of trials that I traverse. Some time ago, something happened to me that was not okay- not for my body, nor my psyche. It haunted me, raged in my dreams, and drove me to build walls between myself and others. I’ve been ‘brave’ to process through this- and to do so privately and silently whilst elsewhere a different story is spun has been one of the most painful experiences of my life, an experience that has taken me to the precipice of a darkness and hopelessness in myself that I do not ever wish to see again. My hope is that by sharing something of what I have held silent, that perhaps I may find ease.

My crucible is the quest for peace with my own personal Hydra- a many headed serpent formed from both the inner and outer mechanisms in my life that continue to fuel an experience of compounding trauma.

“As soon as you concern yourself with the “good” and “bad” of your fellows, you create an opening in your heart for maliciousness to enter. Testing, competing with, and criticizing others weakens and defeats you.”

~ Morihei Ueshiba, The Art of Peace

The proverbial Hydra I fight appeared in my life some time ago now. The catalyst for it was a sexual experience. For the first few weeks, I existed in a state of confusion, almost like I wasn’t in my body. My dreams were filled with flashbacks I couldn’t understand, I found it challenging to engage sexually unless I was intoxicated. I don’t remember now what my outward behaviour was like at this time- it’s a blur- but friends noticed I was behaving differently, irrationally. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me, and that my life was unravelling and I couldn’t comprehend why. Slowly, with the support of friends, lovers, therapists and counsellors, I began to piece together an understanding of what had happened to me, and I exploded with rage and sorrow.

There are no ‘villains’ in this. Only, as one friend might put it, a series of painfully tragic expressions of unmet needs.

I was so embarrassed by the rage I felt; I thought I had made so much progress in finding my inner Zen until then. I was chastised by some for my anger- couldn’t I see how much it was hurting the other people who had been in that situation with me? I felt like I was losing my mind; I asked for space, and I asked for help- but I didn’t know what would help me, other than finding space away from everyone and everything that was associated with that experience. Sleeping at night meant relying on pills and sometimes alcohol to numb my mind that couldn’t let go of the screams I was suppressing.

I was ashamed of myself, of my inability to cope with this new experience. I sunk into the depths of depression, a cavern I still work on escaping from. I worked hard to give my sorrow healthy expression through my writing, and others told me this replaying things in my mind all the time was not going to help. So I suppressed the sorrow, I isolated myself, I silenced myself in the hopes of finding peace- I tried to cut off the head of the Hydra… and it grew two more.

shadowsEven today, after months of processing through this, my body feels heavy and foreign to me as I write, and my hands shake and vibrate with emotion as I sob from this deep heartache. I have cocooned to find healing, to defeat this Hydra through my own self-work, and many times I have courageously emerged from that cocoon only to find that it has grown more venemous in my absence.

Something I have grown weary of in polyamory is the insular nature of the community. As a friend puts it, “In Monogamy, if I have a bad break up, or an iffy one night stand, I can just wipe the slate clean and start fresh with someone new, and move on with my life, processing what happened at my own pace.” In polyamory- the community being smaller, and the relationships being frequently interwoven- this is not so straightforward; the same people show up again, and again. One either needs to find a way to coexist peacefully through the painful emotions, or withdraw completely from an entire social network in order to retreat from an individual.

This is one of the shadow sides of polyamory that doesn’t get the air-time it deserves: as much as the interconnecting relationships can foster connections and offer a sense of community, when you withdraw to look after yourself, all of that can change. Those connections can so quickly drop away as everyone moves on with their lives, dating new people- and while you are withdrawn in your emotional safety zone, projections and stories and hurt feelings grow in the void. There is all the cliqueiness of high school, alongside all the more complex conflict that can emerge between grown adults.

love-heart-love-feeling-girl-wings-sunset-freedom-sky-horizonMy brave, brave heart is so tired and seeks rest, seeks peace. There are well-meaning, kind souls who wish to help, who wish to support healing, but with my own voice having been silent, they’ve had no means of knowing the hurt, the sorrow, the life-arresting and emotionally paralyzing trauma that I’ve been through.

There are moments when the discordant anger I feel is overwhelming- and I write and work harder at what I do, because I don’t want to let the anger win. I refuse to let the anger- or the trauma- become the defining feature of who I am. And, while I haven’t wanted to ‘burden’ others with my pain or my story, in recent months I’ve been learning the deep value of being vulnerable and allowing my emotional state to be seen.

“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”

~Sun Tsu,  The Art of War

I’m afraid sometimes. I’m scared that people will think differently of me if I let go of my silence and share openly about my experience. I’m concerned my friends will try to take on the fight for me, to hold that flame to the Hydra’s body, and put themselves in harm’s way. I don’t want to let anger dictate my actions; I know what it’s like to be a slave to it and lash out at others. I don’t desire to be that person. But I also know that I can’t fight this Hydra- and find lasting healing- alone any more.

Too often in relationships we compromise, walk the other way, withdraw ourselves from the places that might hold land-mines for us- but compromise isn’t peace. I realise now that one of the biggest mistakes I made in my life was compromising my own commitment to my self: ignoring red flags, forgiving deal breakers, falling into fantasies of polyamorous perfection, and not being firm when my boundaries were repeatedly bumped up against- and, continuing to come back because I thought, in some twisted way, forgiving those actions meant connection, and symbolised Love. I compromised in an attempt to ‘keep everyone happy’ and maintain the status quo.

I’m sure there are many people in my life I have rubbed the wrong way. I’m certain that the very nature of who I am and how I do relationships has put people on edge- including other polyamorous people. I seek to live my life courageously and authentically, and I’m fortunate to make my home in a part of the world where that is possible, and where there is wider acceptance of alternate lifestyles. I know, however, there will still be people who will judge, who will misunderstand me- whether it’s my polyamory, my queerness, my ethnic heritage, my cultural background, my physical limitations, my trauma- we all project our own stories onto others, and there is little I can do to change that. Instead, what I am able to do is to seek kindness and compassion in myself, to nurture my emotional muscles for empathy, and to send love to those whose words and actions have (intentionally or unintentionally) brought about more hurt for me.

I believe in a culture of consent and for me, that’s synonymous with a culture of compassion, nurturance, and empathy.

friendship

There’s so much in this that I still hold back on speaking to, out of respect for the pain of others, the trauma that can be triggered when such things are spoken of. Even in those lowest moments when the stress and anxiety has drawn me to contemplate how I could end my life, I’ve made a choice to be silent and to spare others from pain- yet in silence others can project their own pain in a myriad of ways, and truth can seem to evaporate.

I choose to not react from a place that would be oppressive. In any challenge such as this, we have a choice: to go to war, or to go to peace. I don’t have to live from my pain and my anger. Though they are a part of me, so too are kindness, love, and compassion, and so I choose to live from those. That choice is a daily one, one I’m admittedly not always effective at playing out, but this is the choice that has helped me to find healing.

In my youth I realised that the  ‘bullies’ who would push me around at school were people who were hurting too, and didn’t have help to understand and heal from their pain. I still believe this to be true. Anyone inadvertently crossing boundaries and shirking responsibility is hurting, a victim of a society that tells us its acceptable to cross boundaries and shirk responsibility. Anyone lashing out in anger and bitterness is a person in deep pain; the target of their venom is often not even the root cause of their anguish. They might try so hard to pull down and destroy others, only to find their hurt magnified. They need our love, our compassion, and our support for healing the deeper wounds they carry.

I haven’t yet ‘defeated’ my Hydra. My healing journey continues. I acknowledge the very real, very destabilizing effect this has had on my life, the opportunities and invitations I have had to turn down because I haven’t had the internal resources to face anything beyond my bedroom walls. Many who see me may only see the shiney happy side of me, and not the consistent storm that leaves me feeling so often lost. Those dear few whom I have trusted to hold space for my breakdowns, they reflect back to me the courage they see, that they witness someone able to face life challenges with conscious determination. I hold hope that one day, I will find lasting peace against this Hydra.

We all have a choice. You have a choice, in whatever battles you find yourself fighting, the Hydras you duel in your own lives, in your own relationships: you have a choice. Please don’t sink into a stalemate of silence; it doesn’t allow an opening for peace. Please don’t rage at the serpents heads with swords; you will only cause more pain. Peace is the only way everyone can heal. And that means addressing each piece of the pain, one by one, and cauterizing the wound so that no more pain can grow. That, takes time. It takes patience. It takes asking a friend (or friends) for help.

bravery

Musings on Metamours

post-party legs shot with a former metamour, and dear friend

coordinating party outfits with a former metamour, and dear friend

“Metamour” (noun)
The partner of your partner.

Within the realm of honest non monogamy- and polyamory especially- I think that the significance of the metamour relationship is too often overlooked and underplayed. It is strangely too easy to ignore the awesomeness of having your partners bond, and to be oblivious to the multitudes of relationships that come hand in hand when you are in multiple relationships with other people in multiple relationships. And, when metamours find themselves in opposition to one another, it can endanger multiple intimate relationships.

I’ve noticed that, when forging metamour relationships, many people focus on “getting along” first and foremost. It seems to be a too-common trope, especially amongst people still fresh to polyamory, that if you aren’t sexually attracted to them, then your metamour needs to be enthusiastically tolerated. I find that a little disappointing, personally. I’ve been there and tried that- tolerating my metamour- and I noticed that, for me, it affected my relationship with the shared partner.

At a very fundamental level, I believe we are all in relationship to one another. Even with the people we haven’t met yet. And, the moment you start engaging with someone who has multiple relationships, you are forging your own relationships to those relations. It’s kinda unavoidable.

How do you prefer to organise your relationships?

How do you prefer to organise your relationships?

I’ve become what would be termed a “Kitchen Table Polyamorist” (as opposed to the compartmentalised “Kitchen Cupboard” style of polyamory, or Parallel Polyamory where you know about your metamours but don’t talk about them). I enjoy not just meeting my partners’ other partners, I also desire to form friendships with them and have an enthusiastically positive relationship with them. And that kind of friendship can’t be forced, or feel obligated, it’s something I desire to be authentic.

Reality check: you won’t like all your metamours, and they won’t all like you. And, when that happens it will suck, and you may well find yourself wrestling with your inner Perfect Poly Person and try to force yourself to like them. You might have metamours who end up (directly or indirectly) hurting you- even in ways that have nothing to do with your partner- and that pain may still be felt long after the relationship you shared is done (been there, done that).

You might have partners who refuse or are resistant to meeting your other partners, their own metamours. Your partners won’t always get along, and may even hate one another without ever meeting. Over the years, you may experience the really not-so great metamours, the ones who stalk you at work and harass you day and night, who assault and bully you.

friendshipBut what if your metamours were like your family, and you could purr and snuggle with them with as much ease as you do your partners? Dance with them at festivals? Laugh together into the wee hours of the night? Conspire about what shirt to buy your shared partner, and collaborate on birthday surprises?

What if you could even share a home with a metamour (independently of your partners) and develop loving and close familial bonds with them? What if they became not just metamours, but deeply connected friends?

Any healthy relationship is founded on knowing your mutual needs, wants, and desires. My advice is to treat your metamour not as metamour, but as a whole person. They are an entire human being, and you can embrace that there is the possibility of knowing them beyond the scope of the partner you share. Maybe all you’ll ever do together is go for tea- if that’s so, then I humbly suggest to make sure you don’t just talk about your partner. Ask them about themselves. Learn what things they love, what make them tick, what they loathe, what excites them. In short, explore what it’s like to get to know them just as you might with any potential friend, lover, colleague or acquaintance; don’t limit them to the label of ‘metamour’.

And, if you are reading this, and are struggling with a metamour, then I invite you to consider the following:

  • What story or judgements might you have about this individual? Where has that come from?
  • Are you picking up red-flags? (Red flags are important, don’t let your inner PPP push them aside- talk about them with your partner, and/or address them with your metamour.)
  • What could you do to reach out, and connect with your metamour in a meaningful way?

One day, I know I might find myself again with a metamour who I am not all that enthusiastic about, one who I have reservations about, or who just rubs me the wrong way. I’m not sure what I will do in that case, but I do notice that the practice of unconditional positive regard has helped me get over pre-judgements about people, reduce my experience of jealousy, enhance my capacity for compersion, and that I have better relationships in my life today, in general, than I did two, five, ten years ago.

At electroswing with two of my favorite humans- who also happen to be my metamours. Photo by Geo Anomeleye Shutter& Spore VFX

At electroswing with two of my favorite humans- who also happen to be my metamours. Photo by Geo Anomeleye Shutter& Spore VFX, cropped with permission.

My metamours today are women who I love, am inspired by, share the dance floor with, and purr like kittens with. I have great memories of driving an overheating GM van back from Burning Man, with my metamour and I switching off driving and navigating as we refilled the coolant every hour and our partner napped in the back. Yes, we do all the ridiculous things you might expect, we conspire for birthdays and surprises, and while my sexuality with women remains with question marks, yes there are a few who I’ve made out with. Most of the time I’ve spent with my metamours has nothing to do with our shared partners though; it’s been about us building our own connection. And, yes, sometimes they intimidate me, but mostly, they inspire me.

My metamours have taught me about new possibilities in unconditional love, and through the growing kinship, I find a sisterhood and healthy relationship with women that I’ve never had before in my life. There are still some metamours I haven’t met, and some who I yearn to know more. And I have tremendous gratitude for all of them, because I know that it ain’t always this good.

There is a full spectrum of relationship possibility open to you, you get to choose together what kind of relationship you forge with your metamours! 

Navigating Non Escalator Relationships

aka “So, you’re in a non-escalator relationship- what now?”
(dedicated to ‘Alexander’)

no-escalatorThe most common script that we follow in relationships is that of the Relationship Escalator. And that’s a model that works for a lot of people. But, increasingly, people- especially in the non-monogamous community- are challenging that default script and exploring what it means to have relationships that are not on the Escalator.

And, let’s be honest- most relationships you will experience in your life (including platonic ones) are not on an Escalator.

Non-escalator relationships can be short term and casual, and they can also be long term, emotionally invested relationships. They are build-your-own-lunch-box relationships, relationships a la carte. But, how do people in non escalator relationships measure the investment? How do they read emotional commitment, security, and the ongoing life of the relationship, when they aren’t defaulting to the regular milestones of dating, moving in, getting married, and so forth?

58ddb1c5ae37f0734abdebfdc58a08b0Something I’ve both experienced and witnessed in my explorations of this non-escalator paradigm, is that when we don’t talk about this stuff, and instead fill in the blanks based on a default set of assumptions we carry about the other person, then we end up either trying to control the relationships we are in, or being controlled by it. And neither of those options is much fun. Personally, I would rather see Relationships be spaces of freedom.

I think it is important to remember that we aren’t following a script, we are co-creating a relationship. All relationships have the possibility of being an ongoing conversation- and Non-Escalator relationships more so, because there’s no script to default to when there’s uncertainty (though, we might try to). Radical relationships, in general, are about making conscious choices about relating.

Awesome-quote-Running-awayWhen you’re Solo, and looking for non escalator relationships only, there can be a fear that the “RE” established people you meet are only dating you to get a temporary fix. You wonder if they are using you- consciously perhaps but unconsciously more likely- to spice up their sex life or let out their frustrations, or exercise some otherwise unrealised disfunction or fantasy. I’ve personally had a recurring fear of becoming part of the ‘Disneyland Relationship’ where the married family person goes to a fun-loving singleton to escape the reality of their responsibilities. It’s depleting to your self-relationship to feel used. So, us non-escalator folks look for certain things as marks of commitment and emotional investment- things that say “Yup, this person’s going to come back for another date!” and “This person recognizes and respects who I am.”

The Relationship Escalator has implicit marks of commitment and investment- each floor reached symbolises deeper intertwining, like moving in together, sharing finances, getting married, having children. And, when people are on an escalator in their relationship, when they are invested in the concept that their relationship has a set destination, they will go to great lengths to troubleshoot and address the conflicts and areas where intimacy has been lost. They’ll go to therapists and counsellors and do the work to figure out what went wrong and how to course correct.

I hear of so many couples- married, common law, primary, nesting, however you want to define it- going to relationship Counselling. But how often do people think of going to Counselling with their partner when it’s a non escalator relationships that’s on the rocks?

“You don’t measure love in time. You measure love in transformation. Sometimes the longest connections yield very little growth, while the briefest of encounters change everything. The heart doesn’t wear a watch- it’s timeless. It doesn’t care how long you know someone. It doesn’t care if you had a 40 year anniversary if there is no juice in the connection. What the heart cares about is resonance. Resonance that opens it, resonance that enlivens it, resonance that calls it home. And when it finds it, the transformation begins…”

~ Jeff Brown

Relationships that are decidedly not on the escalator, don’t have to lack direction or purpose. Being off the escalator and without a predetermined trajectory doesn’t mean it’s not going to require conflict resolution or course correction. For those of us traversing the terrain of the non-escalator paradigm, we need to know that we aren’t going to be disposable in relationships. We need to know that we aren’t going to be dropped at the first upset, the first sign of conflict, or the third or fourth. And, while we don’t want to see a ring on our fingers as a symbol of contractual obligation, we do value assurances. We value knowing the landscape, and knowing that the relationships we share can still have direction, intention, and milestone moments, like any other relationship. The likelyhood is, we aren’t in it for the promise of a 40-year anniversary; we’re in it for the juice, the connection- and, the potential for personal growth and transformation.

non escalator landmarks

Things small, things that might seem inconsequential in escalator relationships, can take on greater significance in Non-Escalator relationships. It’s not that these wouldn’t or couldn’t be significant in escalators, it’s just that, in a non escalator relationship, you begin to appreciate them more. Removing the options to live together or get married or share finances as things that might grant a feeling of security down the line, you have to seek the present moment affirmations that the relationship has presence and continuity and value. So an extra toothbrush appearing in your bathroom is a milestone moment because it implies they plan to come back. Defining and redefining your relationship labels marks a turning point and affirmation of the level of commitment and engagement you have with one another.

We may avoid conversation because we’re afraid it might challenge us; there is always the possibility that we may not get what we want out of the relationship if we end up having to define it. But, if we don’t communicate, if we don’t get clear on our own boundaries and relationship sandboxes, things will get messy, and we’ll get hurt. Knowing the terrain you’re crossing together is key. And it’s okay to stop and ask for directions, and make course corrections when you need to. This is not an escalator, it’s a treasure map, with multiple types of treasure chests to find.

What’s important is asking yourself what you want to explore, and asking your partners what they want to explore, and figuring out what are you each willing to explore. In all of this, you’re looking for the things you both want. And, because I know how scary it can be to have these conversations, here’s some things that you might find useful to talk about with your partners in non-escalator relationships. Some might be things worth bringing up on a date zero, others might be better saved for that toothbrush moment, when you realise that yeah, this person’s going to be sleeping over more regularly. So, go forth, and converse with your partners!

Non escalator guide


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Friendships and Flirtations

“It’s not about finding your soul-mate, M. It’s about getting to know someone a whole lot better, and in a totally different way.”

These words were spoken to me by my first boyfriend, Tony.

Tony has known me since I was fourteen, and we dated for a couple of months, broke up, and through high school would casually hook up from time to time. We still chat to this day, and even though he is an ocean away, in the UK, there’s still chemistry between us. We sometimes talk dirty. I send him the occasional suggestive selfie. I have no idea if or when we will meet in person again, but the flirtation is a lot of fun. And, also, he knows who I used to be, what I’ve been through, and where I’m at now. He regularly gets the “Cole’s Notes” updates on my life, and I get the summaries on his. There are not many people who have known me for more than half a life time with whom I have that same level of easy rapport.

I love friendships. And I really enjoy the friendship I have with Tony. It’s a great example for me of a kind of dynamic I think I’m looking for in both my relationships (small r) and Relationships (big R). The people I have been intimate with and who remain friends to this day are some of the people whom I would count as closest to me in my life, and so building and preserving friendship within an intimate relationship has become important to me.

I think I’m getting it, you know? How to balance that ecstatic dance of New-Relationship-Energy glow with establishing a foundation of friendship to rest upon.

The notion of ‘dating’ is even more a mystery to me than it was a year ago. I don’t even know what it means to be ‘dating’ someone. ‘Seeing’ someone, yup. ‘Dating’ is another matter entirely. If dating is just the act of going on dates, well yes there’s people I date. But then- what constitutes a ‘date’?

I am starting to be of the opinion that ‘Dating’ (capital ‘D’) is another symptom of being on that default relationship escalator and I am so not interested in taking that escalator any more.

What I am enjoying a lot recently is the notion of consciously recognizing the potential of what a connection is and can be between two people, and actively sculpting it in such a way as to maximize that potential. So maybe that’s ‘dating’, with a small letter ‘d’; dating as a means of exploration, not Dating as a trajectory towards a specific set of expectations.

photo (5)

Orion and I are at this really beautiful place at the moment where we have a good idea of the spectrum we can explore in our relationship together. It has taken us a year to get to this place, and it feels really, really good. What started out as two friends having some rope play sessions has transformed into best friends who love sharing their love together. And occasionally have ridiculously kinky play sessions. We’ve gotten to understand more about how to communicate with courageous honesty with one another- and that has brought about the most positive, most wonderful shifts. We know what we can be spontaneous about (make-outs, cuddles, walking hand in hand down the street to the coffee shop), and we know what kinds of things we need to talk about in advance: like setting up a night for a kinky play date, for example, and talking about what we’d want to include in there, or anticipating social events and whether we want to be there ‘together’ or ‘solo’.

How is this different from a “Relationship”?

Honestly, I don’t know. It is one of the healthiest relationships I’ve ever been part of. So maybe the difference is- it’s healthy? Neither one of us are attached to any outcomes, but we are committed to keeping integrity with one another and with ourselves. And to always honoring the dynamic we share between us.

The commitment, is not to the intimacy or even to the accessories or outward appearance of the relationship, but to the friendship itself.

Orion is a long-term friend.

Tony is also a long-term friend, albeit a friendship with a different context and texture because, well, he is a very different person than Orion.

And, the friendship running parallel with the flirtations in these relationships is teaching me how to better approach new relationships with a little more perspective.

I want long-term friendships that have the potential for intimacy, but that never have to feel obligated to express intimacy. And those kinds of friendships can absolutely start with dating- cos after all, that’s a great way to get to know somebody!

I met Louis on OkCupid. We messaged back and forth a few times and decided that we had to meet up. Now, my OkCupid profile currently is all geared towards friendship. And Louis’ messages came across as super open, earnest, and friendship-suitable, with a little light flirtation. This was a good combination, in my opinion, to jump in to meeting up. Our date zero was dinner and then an hour in the rain as he waited with me for my bus home. Our second date was grabbing a bite to eat and driving around outside the city listening to drum and bass music turned up full blast on his car stereo, with some midnight antics on a see-saw in a playground in a fancy neighborhood. It was wonderful, and friendly, and super fun, with conversation that just flowed naturally, and no feeling of obligation or anxiety or stress. And when he dropped me at home that night we hugged goodbye and after I got in through the door and kicked off my shoes I realized- damn, I wanted to kiss him.

And so I told him so. We chatted back and forth online and by text, getting more flirty. And the other night he came over to share some home-made ice cream with me and, well, we kissed. And one kiss… led to many more kisses.

I think you know you’ve got something good happening when you can process out-loud and share things in the midst of the throws of passion. “This is really frickin awesome,” “I need you to know that I don’t orgasm easily,” “What can I do for you?” “Do you like to be touched here?” “Hey, do you know how to hi-five the universe?”

And, it is pretty awesome. Our conversation has been flowing incredibly naturally, and the ‘big important things’- you know, those things that have often felt like elephants in the room to me before- have felt super easy to talk about. That says a lot about him, and who he is, because I don’t easily open up to people so quickly. I know also that there’s no way I would have been able to be this present, open, and honest a few months ago.

I asked Louis to describe to me what kind of relationship he’s looking for:
“Friends with benefits… kinda? You know, something that wouldn’t have the kind of emotional involvement as a Relationship would have.”
“Oh,” I said smiling, “You’re looking for friendtimacy?”
“Yes! Oh my god that’s an excellent word, friendtimacy!”

So, we’re in the throws of an NRE that’s fueled by an insane chemistry, and simultaneously, we’re nourishing a friendship and rapport, sharing drum and bass music with one another and geeking out over favorite TV shows, comedy, and movies. It’s fun. And exciting. And there’s so much still to explore.

Oh, and in case you are wondering how to hi-five the Universe? Just stick your hands up in the air, and bop them up gently and say “Hi-five, Universe!”
There, see? Easy.
I’ve been giving the Universe lots of hi-fives these last few weeks. So much gratitude to find myself in the place where I’m at.

“Hai fivez, Univerze!”