The Joys of Non-Escalating Relationships

The Joys of Non-escalating Relationships

For those who haven’t heard the concept of the “relationship escalator” let me start there. It’s a term used to describe a hidden assumption about romantic and sexual relationships.

It’s the slow and steady escalation of commitment and intertwined-ness (is that a word?) in a relationship. It goes like this.

(disclaimer, describing cultural stereotypes, not what I think reality is.)

First you meet someone. Then you go on a first date. No sex on the first date! And make sure not to text them or call them too soon after the first date, that is desperate, but don’t wait too long either.

Second date, hot make out, maybe some petting, still no sex.

Third date, finally allowed to have sex (practically required really).

Now you are dating! You are no longer allowed to have sex with anyone else, even if you haven’t had a discussion, you are supposed to just know.

You’ve been dating a while now, spending lots of time sleeping over. Better give them a drawer and a key.

A few more months have gone by, time to start talking about moving in together.

It’s been a year or so, better “put a ring on it” (“It”. Put a ring on “it” ) But really I can think of a few movies and TV shows where the “we’ve been dating a while why aren’t we taking it to the next level and getting engaged” thing drives the plot of the show.

Marriage/Kids/House on and on it goes, and the only honorable way out is if one of you dies. Every other relationship no matter how long it lasted is a failure with a break-up or divorce.

I’m sure I missed a step or two in there, but you get the idea. This idea about relationships is pretty pervasive, and it deserves some critical thinking.

Now, there is nothing wrong with a relationship like this. Heck I’m in one right now. I like that I’ve intwined my life with someone I love and trust. Buying houses and having kids are valid things to do for people who want them, and wanting to do that with someone you have a commitment with makes sense.

But it isn’t the only way to have a relationship, and the relationships that don’t follow that path are just as valid. This is true for people who aren’t looking for that kind of commitment ever, and for those that aren’t looking for that commitment yet.

In the world of open relationships it is a great frame. There is nothing wrong with or even rare about escalating poly relationships, and that can take all kinds of forms. Just because someone is in a committed escalating relationship doesn’t mean they aren’t available for another one. Maybe it is a triad or quad where three or four people are going to grow closer, intwine their lives, make long term commitments, take on long term projects. Maybe it is someone who has the spaciousness in their lives to have that kind of connection with more than one person.

On the other hand, it’s ok to have a relationship that isn’t escalating. Some people are really much more committed to their own independence. They don’t want a marriage. They don’t want a long term growing commitment. They don’t like their lives intertwined. Should they join a priesthood? Swear off romance and sex? maybe, but they don’t have to. They can have relationships on those terms too. “This is what I’m available for”

I know in my case since (as I mentioned above) I am in an escalating committed relationship I’m quite happy with other relationships that are free from the expectations of escalating commitment. One of my partners is a singer and activist. She’s a wandering troubadour. She’s sometimes an itinerant vagabond. I love her dearly and she’s here today, gone tomorrow and back again latter.

Another lover is 21 years younger than me. Maybe one day she will want a committed escalating relationship with someone. It probably won’t be me. That’s ok. In the mean time we can enjoy the connection we have in the ways that we have it.

If I can leave you with one thought, I want you to know that a non-escalating relationship is ok. It can be close and loving and deep and meaningful and fulfilling without following a path of ever deepening intertwined commitment.

Note from editor Michon Neal of

“Hm…just some overall notes on this article.

1. Aggie Sez’s definition appears to be the one you’re using, which I suppose is…okay…but

2. Much of the danger of default escalation is amatonormativity, abuse culture, and the white picket fence ideal is rather…racist and misogynist in origin and perpetuation. More on that later if you require it.

3. Regardless of the specifics of number 2, it would do you well to distinguish between enmeshment (abusive dynamic and full of assumptions and expectations) and conscious entwinement (healthy and rational)

4. Not everyone is free to choose, or those choices may be made for alternate reasons: ie ppl marry for protection or benefits or citizenship, ppl raise kids with family or friends, and obviously there are abusive and organic ways to escalate or avoid or whatever

5. That said, thank you for stating that commitment and things aren’t automatically awful. Yes, couple privilege exists and aros and aces are completely left out, but it’s not so black and white

Please let me know if you need me to clarify any of that”

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