Relationship Escalator: Questioning How Love Ought to Be

Escalator to Hell in Stockholm
Image by jkadlec / CC BY

It can be as overwhelming as it is freeing. Once you move away from the standard template of what romantic relationships are supposed to be, how things are supposed to progress from stage to stage (the relationship escalator), there’s a dizzying variety to the types of connections we can actually forge with people.

It’s always remarkable to watch people relatively new to polyamory come to this conclusion. Some of them have a very hard time accepting it. They may reach a certain place with a partner where things are comfortable but not “progressing” to a more serious entanglement, and it confuses them. Further complicating the picture for some is that they don’t necessarily mind that things are “stuck.”

But they aren’t necessarily stuck. Rather than products stamped out on an assembly line, relationships are custom jobs.

However, we’re raised to believe that they all follow a particular pattern. When you start a relationship, you step on an escalator and magically progress to the top. It’s clear-cut, straightforward, uniform.

Poly writer Aggie Sez introduced the concept of the relationship escalator on her excellent blog, SoloPoly.

As Sez writes:

Steps on the Relationship Escalator

Traditional relationships progress through eight stages — that’s the “escalation.” These may vary somewhat by culture and subculture. But generally, it works something like this:

Making contact.

Flirting, casual/occasional dates, and sex (possibly).


Romantic courtship gestures or rituals, emotional investment (“falling in love”), and almost certainly sexual contact (except for religiously or socially conservative people).

Claiming and defining.

Mutual declarations of love, presenting in public as a couple (becoming an “us”), adopting and using common relationship role labels (“my boyfriend,” etc.). Having expectations, or making explicit agreements, for sexual and romantic exclusivity — and also ending other intimate relationships, if any. Transitioning to unbarriered vaginal/anal intercourse, if applicable (except if that would present unwanted pregnancy risk). Once this step is reached, any further step (including simply remaining in the relationship) can be considered an implied commitment toward intentions of a shared future.


Adapting the rhythms of your life to accommodate each other on an ongoing basis. Settling into patterns for spending time together (regular date nights and sexual encounters, spending time in each others’ homes, etc.) and communicating (speaking, phoning, or texting when not together, etc.).


Discussing, or planning for, a long-term shared future as a monogamous couple. Expectations of mutual accountability for whereabouts and behavior. Meeting each others’ family of


Moving in together, sharing a home and finances, getting engaged to be married or equivalent. (May happen before, during or after commitment.)


Getting married (legally if possible) and having children (not mandatory, but strongly socially venerated). The relationship is now “finalized” and its structure is expected to remain static until one partner dies.


Buying a home, having and raising children. No longer as required as it once was, but often couples may not feel (or be perceived as) fully “valid” until they hit these additional benchmarks post-marriage.


It looks like Sez is working on a book called Off the Relationship Escalator: Stories from Unconventional Loving Relationships. Looking forward to reading it.

Update (added 3/31/17): It looks like it came out!! Amy Gahran is Sez’s other name.


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  1. Thank you so much for citing my work and recommending my book! “Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life” is the first of three books I’m publishing based on my research into all kinds of unconventional intimate relationships.

    More details and a free downloadable sneak preview:

    It’s available in paperback and Kindle ebook. You can buy it via Amazon. However, if you want a signed copy of the paperback, please order it directly through my website. Use the first option (“add to cart” on the homepage of my website. And for a special 10% discount, used code SIGNED01 at checkout.

  2. You’re welcome! Big fan of your work 🙂 Thanks for stopping by and letting readers know about the deal.

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