I came across the phrase relationship escalator a while back and it really helped me reflect on how I think about relationships and how relationships factor into my life.
The relationship escalator is the belief that a relationship is not legitimate unless it is following the standard upward trajectory: dating >sex>exclusivity>moving in together>marriage>kids>’til death do us part. There is a deeply ingrained expectation that if a relationship is truly “serious”, it will automatically lead to these things.
I have found it such a helpful concept for self reflection and I hoping this blog post will also help me to solidify my own feelings and ideas and approaches to relationships.
I’ve never felt an urge to be engaged or married. I am, despite what this blog might suggest, a fairly private person. If I am in love with someone then to a certain extent that’s pretty much just about the two of us. I have never yearned to stand up in front of people and declare my love. So this instantly takes out two stages of the relationship escalator; engagement and marriage.
And I’m not going to have children so that’s a third stage removed. And if we stick with the escalator metaphor, society starts to ask what the destination is. If I’m not going to get married and I’m not going to have children then where is this fictional relationship going? What is the point of it?
Add into this my decision that I will not share a bedroom with someone in the future (I need to be able to turn my audio book or kindle on any time of night and I toss and turn and go to the toilet about a million times, I make a terrible sleep time partner) and society starts to freak out. What is the point?! Where would any relationship go?!
My lack of interest in marriage, my inability to have children, my sexuality (bi) and my disability all make it considerably easier to get off the escalator. I’ve removed three steps, I’m self aware about sex and relationships through years of coming to understand my sexuality and my disability means that a lot of people don’t see me as sexual. For some people, I’m not even going to be able to get on the escalator (which is probably for the best, wheelchairs and escalators get messy…).
This is a bit scary in some sense but incredibly liberating at the same time. I have a clean slate, free from some of society’s expectations, to create my own road map for my relationships.
For years I’ve been pondering monogamy and my personal feelings about how it fits with me. There was a moment I remember very clearly. I was walking along a particular pavement and I was thinking about polyamory. At that time, my thinking was that I can see that it would be good for some people but wasn’t for me. At the time, jealousy, attachment issues and lack of self esteem all meant that I could not healthily enter into a relationship with more than one person. At that time, I had assumed I would always feel that way. This was a long time ago, pre disability, pre latest mental health breakdown, and things change.
At that point in my life, I was following the script which said that you had to find someone you wanted to be with all the time and they would meet all your needs and you’d live together happily ever after. I knew I wasn’t looking for my other half – I was already whole and I was quite stubbornly vocal about the use of language which suggested otherwise. And I wasn’t expecting a disney prince or princess to whisk me off my feet. But I had still bought into the idea that the mystical person I would be in love with would be everything to me. And that folks, is utter crap.
No one can be everything for someone else. You have different friends for different reasons. The friend you go wild with. The friend who loves nothing better than a cup of tea and to watch a film on the sofa with you. The friend who you pour your heart out to even though you haven’t seen each other in ages. So why do we expect our romantic relationships to be different?
Whilst my imagination has drifted towards open relationships, it wasn’t until a year or two ago that I realised that this was actually an option. So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and pondering and learning. Whilst I feel like polyamory might well be the path for me, I want to know that even if I decide that monogamy is best for me that it is a conscious choice, not default behaviour. Which is very much in line with my entire ethos.