Loving Off The Relationship Escalator

LouisaActivism, Relationship Fluidity & Beyond

I’m in two relationships… I think. One which has taken place on the ‘relationship escalator’ following the pattern of dating, moving in together, having kids, and buying a house. And another which doesn’t have a specific label, even though we’ve been together over a year now.

At what point do you define ‘being in a relationship’? Is it more than one date? Is it when you decide to be exclusive? Is it when you label each other boyfriend/girlfriend? Or is it when you start to invest, believing that this is ‘going somewhere’?

Relationship escalator: The default set of societal expectations for the proper conduct of intimate relationships. Progressive steps with clearly visible markers and a presumed structural goal of permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive), cohabitating marriage — legally sanctioned if possible. The social standard by which most people gauge whether a developing intimate relationship is significant, “serious,” good, healthy, committed or worth pursuing or continuing.

~ Aggie Sez @ SoloPoly

When he said he wasn’t sure we were in a relationship, it stung somewhere deep inside. We’re in love. We have great sex. We see each other at least 2 or 3 days a week. My kids adore him. I’ve met his parents and friends. And often we live and laugh all together in a gloriously messy house here on the tiny island I like to call home. How could we not be in a relationship?

Yet I often say I am in an ‘open relationship’ because polyamory the way that others define it, doesn’t seem to quite fit. Polyamory is often seen as lovingly committing to many, for the long term. Sure, I’m polyamorous in the traditional sense. But I also like to joke that I’m a part-time solo polyamorist. Solo polyamorists who value independence and living ‘off the relationship escalator’ might not particularly appreciate that… because I look, to the outside world, as if I am in a ‘primary’ couple with an ‘additional’ relationship.

I find that my nesting partner and I need a structure in which to raise our two children. We believe they ideally need two parents (or a tribe of them which is my preference) in one home as long we choose to be together, even if this may not be forever. We have expectations of each other in terms of our home, our budget and of our children. Not so many of each other. We have the freedom to allocate our time outside care of the children as we see fit. A lot of the time we spend with each other. It’s a day by day choice. Openness aside, it can’t by any stretch of the imagination be termed solo polyamory.

But different people bring us to different roles. With my other boyfriend we are both solo polyamorists. We share no financial commitments. No house. No children. We have few expectations on each others time, space or even actions when we’re apart. We have no idea where our relationship is going. We make few promises to each other. We’ve often said that we can see a big possibility of our sexual connection ending, but our meeting of minds continuing. Because sometimes the level of intimacy we achieve on a mental level exceeds our physical connection. And we love. Oh how we love. We communicate in the most unimaginably profound and honest terms. Part of that honesty is the admission that we cannot know who we will be or what we will want in future. We want to be part of each others lives, right now.  Maybe ’til we die. Or maybe ’til tomorrow. We recreate our connection on the fly almost every time we meet. Which we have done for the last year. It’s the ultimate freedom. A case of… Who are you today? What adventure shall we explore together?

He’s good at keeping me on my toes.

‘Today I want my coffee as black as night and as sweet as sin,’ he says quoting Neil Gaiman. Yesterday and for the past month my boyfriend has taken it unsugared with milk. You can’t assume. You must ask.

‘Do you like the French today?’ I ask.

‘Love ’em.’ he replies, even though last week they were the most hated nationality on earth.

We give each other the leeway to be different people, to hold different opinions according to our current perspective on the planet, to build our connection on the content which pleases us, not the expectations that might bind us.  It’s thrilling… if you are secure in the fact that your future is utterly unknown. Our relationship is like quicksilver glistening in the palm of my hand. I cannot grab it, unless I intend to lose it. Will it ever change? Most definitely. It’s the only thing we do know, but in what way… neither of us could tell you.

It’s a challenge to love in the unknown and not always possible. The way we have created our relationship would be more difficult for me if I wasn’t already in another, more predictable environment. If I didn’t already have children for example.

When you also operate in a way which fully embraces the unknown, your relationship is different to everything that society has taught you. There is little tangible substance, only the fluid tapestry of context which shimmers differently depending on the light you both shine on it. So if you believe that a relationship is a state of connectedness, then we are most definitely in a relationship. But if you believe that a relationship is defined by expressed commitment, promises of a rosy future, a white picket fence and achievement of ‘coupledom’… then we have precisely nothing.