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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Forever Flirtatious

In July, this blog turns one year old.

I started the blog as a means of processing out loud and sharing my experiences and insights into an entirely different approach to relationships. And, okay, so we have already established that monogamy ain’t my thing-

What about life long relationships?

After a few months of dipping my toes into polyamory and the poly community I became disenchanted. People I met seemed, for the most part, to be seeking ‘forever’ relationships (in whatever multiples came along- some have called it ‘multiple monogamy’), and if that wasn’t their thing, they were prowling for purely transitory relationships (or as I like to call them- ‘poly filla’ relationships that occupy one’s time between the forever relationships), and well- neither of those are me.

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Polyfilla Relationships: Multipurpose; Shrink and Crack Resistant!

Though I admit I miss the consistency of daily companionship, and the daydreaming together of what kind of home we will make etc, that  nesting dynamic just isn’t me. Maybe it was, once upon a time. All my life I thought that what I wanted was to have children, but when I experienced my first miscarriage, back in 2009, something in me began to shift. I didn’t birth a new life into this world- instead I birthed a new life in to Me.

Part of my determination to remain Singleish has been because I don’t want to fall into the pattern of looking for a primary ‘prince charming’, nor do I want the complacency of a relationship where we become dependent on one another. What I want, more than anything, is the adventure of learning about myself and growing through relationships.

“It is so beautiful what happens when we define relationship success solely in terms of whether we have learned from it, expanded from it, grown to the next stage on our spiritual journey. How can it ever be a complete defeat? It took such courage to brave it all, to make love with the divine, to touch God through our vulnerable heart. This is not to say that we don’t grieve love’s disappointments, but to remind us of the opportunity that lives at the heart of every farewell. A little scar tissue can go a long way on the path to presence.”

~Jeff Brown

Conscious relationships are where it’s at. Sometimes they don’t go where you had hoped they might, but that process of being in relationships where you can grow your definition of who you are- that makes all the difference.

It’s not about finding people I can grow old with. It is not about dying together. It is about loving and living, and sharing that. It is about collaboratively discovering our capacities to expand the love we experience exponentially. I’m not looking for people who will be present with me till the day I die. I seek to spend time with people who can be present with me in my mad passionate love affair with the universe.

However long I get to share that for with someone- awesome!

Am I afraid of being alone my whole life? No. In fact, I rather crave it. I miss the solitude and self reflection time. I yearn to take off on solo adventures. There’s moments- yes there’s moments- when I wish I had that security of knowing someone’s got my back. But I had the ‘security’ before, when I was married, and it took away all the adventure.

Do I want to have someone to grow old with? Well, hang on a second- I’m only thirty one. I have no intention of “growing old” until I’m at least eighty. That’s fifty years away. And even if I were to start before then- say when I hit menopause, around 45 maybe- how the hell can I be sure that what I choose now will be what I want then? That’s fifteen years down the line. Do you know what I wanted to do with my life fifteen years ago? I wanted to be an Oscar winning actress living in a loft apartment in New York. That was all I could think about. I was a real life Rachel Berry.

Rachel Berry, the would-be starlet of the Glee Club, and my high-school doppelganger.

Not any more.
Besides- where’s the fun in growing old? It is only in the last few years that I feel like I have been able to feel young for the first time.

If I really did give birth to a ‘new life’- one that resides within me- in 2009, that life is now four years old. We’re still in kindergarten. Elementary school is a year away. There’s no rush. Plenty of time to explore and adventure and play.

People ask me what I mean when I say that I am ‘poly and single-ish’.

It means I’m looking for loving relationships that aren’t just ‘in the moment’ poly-filla flings; I want connections with substance where everyone involved can participate in the ever unfolding journey of self-growth. It means I don’t want to get attached to ‘forever’ in relationships, ambling hand in hand with someone on the way to our deaths. It means I want to live, being perpetually open to all the joy and wonder and passion and love available in any moment- and to share that joire de vivre with as many people as I feel inspired to.

And that, I suppose- that is why I created this blog. Thanks for being part of the adventure!