If I let go of the escalator, what happens?

There is a post that’s swirling around the poly boards that talks about problems with the relationship escalator and how it pertains to poly.  It’s here ->http://solopoly.net/2012/11/29/riding-the-relationship-escalator-or-not/.  

It’s a very good article, well written and making a zillion good points.  I love what it says about alternative relationships and about assuming relationships have to be “going somewhere”.  I love that it draws attention to the automatic acceptance of the model and suggests other alternative configurations.. inviting the reader to think about their own configurations and relationships as not necessarily linear and narrowly defined.  Great.  It’s a good point.


Here’s the deal though and here’s what I’ve been chewing on this past week or so.  I’ve been coming to terms with a few unsavory facts about relationships and fearing the unknown of my own personal relationships.

Here are the unsavory things I’m learning to accept.. to really accept.  I’ve known that most relationships end.  I know that most marriages end in divorce.  I know that nothing is ever certain with love and that all relationships are temporary at best because we all die.  Most are more temporary than that.  I also understand that opening up involves risk.  By deciding to live openly and honestly, I am putting my relationship with my husband at more risk.  It’s a fact that poly brings out things in people and in relationships.  It can make you grow and make things stronger and it can rip them to bloody shreds.  It exposes existing cracks.  Some of this we’ve already processed and some of it is just coming to light.  Shit has to be dealt with.

My husband and I overall have been doing pretty well.  In my dark moments though the bad times are pretty stark and I feel like we are imploding.  We’ve gathered some really bad communication habits and taken each other for granted.  We’ve collected some resentments and are working through them.  We’ve wounded each other over the years and we’ve learned to be really unkind.  I’ve had a lot of insecurity this week and I’ve been really fearful about us and about our future and my odds of losing my Husband.  I have had to accept.. you know.. it actually might happen.  I COULD lose this relationship.  I don’t want to.  I hate the idea.  I never never want to see my marriage end, but it could.  This isn’t actually new.  Being monogamous this was true too.

If I’m really honest.. really and truly honest.. I’m crazy about my husband and I love him and our life together but there was some loneliness there.  I liked to think I opened up, my end of things, because I was just interested in greater sexual freedom and the rest of it came along as a wonderful bonus when we discovered polyamory.  The truth is that I did have unmet needs above and beyond sex.  I wanted and craved more affection and more connection and more love.  I wanted to give love more.  I wanted more attention. Part of this I really hate admitting, but it’s true and I had to finally face and accept it.  I can lose my husband and you know.. I think I would be okay.  Hell, to be super honest I would eventually be happy.  If he were to die or leave me, or our relationship would implode I would be okay.  I don’t need him.  I am in no way saying that he is expendable though.  I want him.  I WANT him.  But yes, to have peace I needed to really admit to my innermost self that like every other relationship on Earth, this relationship could really end.  It’s not a silly fear.

I know this may sound goofy, but there is a difference in knowing something and really accepting that this might be the case.  For whatever reason I’ve had to accept this now, to the point that it felt imminent the other day.  With hindsight it isn’t.  We’ve had a bad few days here and there over these last months as we worked through things, but we are working through them and there is a lot of growth.  We are both are still very much in love and committed to working on it.  In those same months we’ve grown closer than we’ve been in years too.  It’s my fear at times that whispers we are close to death.  It’s not reality.  It’s my fear of losing him and my fear of being replaced that contribute to the frustration and pain of the moment.

My other big processing point recently has been related more to this escalator thing.  The problem with poly is that the escalator is so much less clear.  Conversations about “where is this going”, expectations and potentials are all from scratch.  This is my problem with the escalator article. It points out that some relationships don’t fit the narrow escalator but presents no alternative understanding for things like poly relationships.  It isn’t the point of that post though, even if I wish it were.  It’s comforting to have a generally accepted realm of possibility for what a relationship can be.  With my relationships I’m making it all up.  Relationships and connections can be ANYTHING, and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying.  I have no idea what to reasonably expect.  I can’t gauge how much to invest.  Obviously I need to still be independent, not lose myself in my relationships, and I can do that.  I feel like I do that well.

Let me start easy here.  I like Traveler.  I really like him.  Where can this go though?  How far can I invest? I don’t know.  If we were monogamous and on the escalator I could assess if we might expect to reach a pre-understood level of involvement.  I could figure out or estimate our potential and act accordingly.  Do I accept this potential level?  Yes?  Okay.. act and feel with this level of intensity and expect roughly this time frame.  It’s comforting!

In this current state though I’m sort of at a loss.  Nobody knows the future but this is literally uncharted territory for me.  It’s not quite casual, not quite love, don’t know what it is but I like it.  It’s not friends with benefits but it’s not really a committed relationship either.  I’m taking a “one day at a time and let’s wait and see” kind of attitude, but to be super honest it freaks me out and I’m not good at it.  I have to fight just pulling back and being casual and unconcerned on a pretty regular basis right now.

With Great Date it’s both clearer and murkier and even more high stakes.  I love him.  I “big L” LOVE him.  We’ve had and in some ways still have NRE.  We are also actually finding real love here, real compatibility.  Is this stupid?  Am I setting myself up to be hurt?  Because really.. do these things ever “work out”?  What do they look like if they do?  These are the fears whispering in my ear.  It doesn’t help sometimes that he’s really honest and less reassuring.  It’s good, but it’s not easy.

I have dreams of a poly family someday but are these even possible dreams or is that like dreaming of streets made of gold?  Could I reasonably expect to have Great Date in my life a year from now?  Five years?  Ten?  What could our relationship look like then and can we be happy?  Literally anything is possible.  I think that we are building something real.  I think there could be commitment and lasting love.  No dear readers I don’t mean sexual commitment.  Do long term poly partners have sex?  Do they transition to a more committed family love?  Can they live together?  What are the realms of possibility?  I don’t know.

So I’ve been kind of processing all of this insecurity, coming to terms with the unknown.  I have a few things worked out and more are coming.  I’ve realized that yes, I am opening myself up to more pain by opening up to more love.  I WILL get my heart broken, probably a lot.  I will have to learn to be more okay with being vulnerable and will have to find ways to do it more comfortably.  Maybe more slowly?  I don’t know.

But here’s the deal.  I don’t regret any of my loves in my life.  When I look back, even with the ones that really really hurt when they ended I don’t regret the love, and I’ve had some doozies.  It is what it is.  A life more open and more real is more risky.  I don’t want the bad that comes with this but I think I’m deciding the good is worth it.  I don’t have to resign myself to a lifetime of shallow temporary connections.  I do have to understand fluidity and be okay with most things not lasting and feeling that they’re worth it anyway.  But, and I’m still unsure about this, I’m thinking maybe it’s okay to HOPE that some things do last, years, decades, lifetimes.  They are RARE. They are PRECIOUS.  They might not look like the escalator of monogamy.  But I’m deciding that it’s okay to want more and to let things be what they are too.  I think I’m deciding the squeeze is worth the juice.  I really wish I had more examples of the juice tho…


  1. Very thoughtful follow-up to my relationship escalator article. You made some good points.

    The thing about emotionally invested relationships (poly or otherwise) is that a big part of the reason many of us get into them in the first place is that we crave some emotional security. We want to KNOW that someone will “really be there” for us and love us “no matter what.”

    That’s totally human and natural. We’re social creatures and most of us equate being on our own with being vulnerable. That’s really scary. That’s why I didn’t live on my own until I was 43 years own (3 years ago). Even after I divorced, I lived with friends for a couple of years, mostly because I assumed that I’d be lonely if I lived alone. I’m actually not. Quite the opposite. Now I’ve come to treasure the solo life and doubt I’d ever want to live with a lover again. Friends, maybe; spouse, not bloody likely 🙂 But that’s me, YMMV.

    I’d say that if you fear being alone, consider whether you can be alone: how would you support yourself, where and how would you live, how would you stay connected with people and occupy your time? Do you enjoy solitude? If not, can you cultivate that appreciation? Developing those skills can help alleviate those fears, even if you stay in a live-together marriage. They can help you feel more grounded and relaxed no matter what.

    The reason I didn’t go into alternative models in that article is that the article was already long enough. It’s a blog; I can always write more later. Plus, I’m working on a book about off-escalator relationships.

    If you have specific questions, I invite you to post them as a comment to my blog post, or here. If I think I have good answers, I’ll respond in a follow-up post.




  2. What a thoughtful response. Thank you. I really did love the article and I’m sorry if it sounded like I thought you should have made a crazy long article that addressed absolutely everything. That was my poor word choice and not a critique. The post is beautifully written and seems to have addressed what it set out to address- the escalator. People are quoting it like crazy for good reason and I meant the praise I opened this post with.
    I love that you made even more good points in your comment! Loneliness isn’t about living alone and loneliness isn’t necessarily absent just because we live with someone. It’s an inside thing. I don’t equate being on my own or being alone with being vulnerable or the vulnerability I often talk about. I struggle more personally with emotional vulnerability, but that’s where my fears and insecurities lie. The idea that I would be alone or live alone doesn’t scare me as I know it does some people. I enjoy my solitude and my space and have had to adjust to living with my husband when he is here.
    I actually like living alone in some aspects and not in others personally. There are freedoms and comforts to be alone, to living alone, and to being fully independent just as there are to sharing a life and living with someone or somebodies. My husband travels to sea for months at a time, sometimes with little contact. I was lucky that I never minded being alone and this tortures me less than some wives. I enjoy my solitude and the chances I get to have it. I like that I don’t NEED him. We all make these decisions for ourselves and I wholeheartedly agree that making them based on a fear of being alone or a fear of living with someone aren’t good foundations for such decisions. Again you had such excellent points. 🙂


  3. Thanks. Glad you’re comfortable with solitude and able to be on your own well. A lot of people don’t feel that they can, or really just can’t, and that’s an important bit of context to figure out first in issues like this.

    As far as deciding how far to invest emotionally and logistically in relationships, I think it’s important just to be aware that such investment can — and usually should — be made consciously, with clear discussion. It’s important to know what your own needs and dealbreakers are in relationships, and to discuss them early when you’re starting to feel deeper feelings or commitment.

    …Yeah, that doesn’t sound as romantic as “falling” in love and “getting swept away” by passion. Right. That stuff really only works out well in the movies. In real life, if you aren’t clear about this stuff, and able to communicate and negotiate, you’re taking a much bigger risk that you’ll just end up being each other’s crash test dummy. And that applies to any intimate relationship, mono, poly, or whatever.

    Generally I’ve found that if people love each other, are mutually attracted, are both available to connect, and can communicate and negotiate well, and are willing to be flexible, they can generally work out something wonderful. So I’d focus more on developing that awareness and skills rather than wondering what the rules might be for various types of relationships off the escalator 🙂

    – Aggie


  4. “It points out that some relationships don’t fit the narrow escalator but presents no alternative understanding for things like poly relationships.”

    Yes, this. And I agree that it isn’t a problem with the article, but rather, a direction that would useful to pursue. My thoughts haven’t gelled on this yet, but this is definitely something to think about. And I like what you have to say here.


  5. I think I read this before, but I’m reading it again because I’m sending one of my partners Aggie’s article. Most of the second half of what you wrote is just about the exact same thoughts I have swirling around in my head, and I appreciate you putting them out there.


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