When most people talk about romantic relationships they usually mean something like this the following:
Relationship Escalator. The default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships. Partners follow a progressive set of steps, each with visible markers, toward a clear goal.
The goal at the top of the Escalator is to achieve a permanently monogamous (sexually and romantically exclusive between two people), cohabitating marriage — legally sanctioned if possible. In many cases, buying a house and having kids is also part of the goal. Partners are expected to remain together at the top of the Escalator until death.
The Escalator is the standard by which most people gauge whether a developing intimate relationship is significant, “serious,” good, healthy, committed or worth pursuing or continuing. https://offescalator.com/what-escalator/
I’ve recently come across a few posts that present polyamory as a one size fits all proposal and very much like monogamy on steroids. In this version of polyamory, the only relationships considered legitimate are ones that “if the sex dies off, you will continue to share life and all the same long-term commitment as before…” Otherwise, the relationship isn’t real or committed at all, rather it is a shallow sex-based dalliance, that doesn’t meet this very rigid definition of polyamory. Also, in this poly world, the partner relationships you form should be equal to each other and apparently also closed to new partners once you have established a commitment. This person seems to believe that this is the only way to “do” polyamory correctly. Anything else just doesn’t make for real relationships. In other words, every relationship must climb the “Relationship Escalator,” or it’s not either a committed-relationship nor “true” polyamory. (Sigh)
That’s kind of a problem since I consider myself to be solo poly. I have three partners, none of which are primary, and each one of these men is unique and special to me in his own way.
Solo Poly A polyamorous structure wherein there’s no primary partner and/or ranking of external partners. Ultimately, it’s about removing possession and traditional goals from my relationships. Some people can’t grasp the idea that I can satisfy my emotional needs without conventional relationship markers. They can’t fathom a world where I can fall in love and never argue over the dishes. But this world exists without breaking the laws of physics, and I’m not alone or lonely in it. https://www.manrepeller.com/2019/04/solo-polyamory.html
My Relationship Philosophy
The three primary things I look for in a relationship are openness, honesty, and connection. As long as I have that, the only other thing that matters is to allow the relationship to find its level. I actively protect and value my autonomy in all relationships, and as much as possible, I do not prioritize romantic relationships over friendships. I try not to get so lost in New Relationship Energy (NRE) that I lose my friends and have no one to go back to once things stabilize. I also believe that relationships come and go, begin and end. I do not determine your relative relationship value by whether or not we may be together for the rest of our lives. I am happy to commit to you, to the way we are doing it now until we decide to do something else or stop doing it at all.
You can imagine, if that is my philosophy on relationships, then the “Relationship Escalator” is probably not for me. At this point in my polyamory journey, I have no desire to get married; no desire to ask someone for permission to do my life; no desire to comingle finances; no desire to give up my autonomy; but I also have no desire to be without romantic relationships. So, Solo-Polyamory it is. (Note: My partners are not necessarily solo, though they may be.)
Let’s take a quick look at each of my three relationships and see how they fit into this belief system. (You can learn more about them and get quarterly updates in the “Evolution of a Polycule” series of posts.)
Stefan is my longest-term partner. He introduced me to the concept of polyamory and we’ve been together for a little over 3-years. My relationship with him is the least “Relationship Escalator” of the three. When we are in the same country/city, we usually spend one evening a week together and we text no more than a few times to make our plans. There is no expectation for more. We will never live together, share finances, or life responsibilities.
While I have been traveling, we’ve adjusted. Going from the once a week check-ins to a quick hello every three-weeks or so. That seems to be what works for both of us. We don’t need more connection than that when we are apart. I know he is there and if I need him or vice versa- we’ll do what we can. If one of us wants to connect, we just reach out and do so. There is no hard and fast rule.
I recently reached out to him to let him know when I would be back in Berlin. Immediately, he offered to make the arrangements for someplace to live while I am there, (taking into consideration a long visit to Benjamin’s house,) and offered his business as an address for delivery (there are so many things I cannot get in South America!) He saw a need and is doing his best to take care of me and those needs. He may not be a “traditional boyfriend,” but this relationship (with AMAZING SEX!) is real and we are committed to meeting each other’s needs in the ways that suit us best, long-term.
Benjamin is also a partner I’ve had the pleasure to be with for over 1.5 years now. We have always had a long-distance relationship, (first Berlin to Hamburg and now Hamburg to the world.) Also, very early in our budding relationship, he and his wife separated, so there has been that additional element to our relationship almost from the beginning.
For a while, our relationship seemed to be coasting into “Relationship Escalator” territory, our feelings for one another escalated quickly. I used to spend weekends at his home with him, his wife, and his daughter and very much enjoyed the happy poly-family dynamic we were creating. I think that made the relationship look and feel a little more traditional than what I have with Stefan.
However, as time went on Benjamin needed to step back some to focus on his new life, so we rebalanced and allowed our relationship to find its level again. That new level has fewer touches than before. At one time we spoke daily, now we check in about once a week (unless one of the both of us is feeling chatty.)
That was not an easy transition for me. I had just left Berlin and was feeling homesick, and he is the partner who I turned to for that kind of emotional support. While he was 100% there for me on the days I really needed it there were also days he didn’t pick-up my messages. Lord, it was making me a little crazy.
But because our relationship commitment includes being, open, honest, and connected, we simply referred back to that when things were feeling a little off. I was honest about how I was feeling about his perceived lack of attention for me, he was open to receive the feedback, and we worked out a compromise. I have confidence that he will connect when he can and when he does I will have his full attention.
It’s not a traditional “Relationship Escalator” relationship, but we don’t want it to be. Can one really argue (as the article I mentioned at the beginning of this piece does) that my relationships aren’t real, or only based on sex if they are not equal and life-partner trajectory relationships? Who can or should invalidate someone else’s relationship just because it doesn’t feel comfortable to them? By the way, I truly enjoy sex-based relationships, so I have no problem with this being the basis of a relationship. I do have a problem when sex or no sex, or “Relationship Escalator” or not, is the basis for someone invalidating my polyamory completely.
My third partner, Don Juan De Marco (DJDM from now on) is my newest partner. We have only been together a few months but the NRE is strong with this one. He is also my most “traditional” relationship. During the months we spend dating in Medellin, we spent more and more time together. By the time I left, we were spending every evening and all of our free-time on the weekend together. Looks and sounds kind of relationship escalator-y to me!
The thing is, he gets me in ways very few people do. He is not polyamorous by default, (he is more of a swinger) but he IS the kind of guy who is happiest when his partner is living their best life. He probably wouldn’t have sought out a solo-poly partner but he chooses me every day. He understands that our relationship is never going to be “traditional” in the “Relationship Escalator” sense of the word, but he also knows without a doubt that my love for him is real.
We have purposely not put labels on our relationship, but we’ve agreed to stand on the foundation of a relationship that is open, honest, and connected. We are free to have other lovers and we will tell each other about them, but I have decided that while I am in the middle of all this amazing love and hot sex energy with him, I don’t want to pursue other romantic relationships. He is free to, of course, but has also indicated he’s not interested in starting new relationships at this time. All of this is open for discussion and change at any time.
Ha, I make the sounds so easy, right? The truth is, a relationship that feels as loving, secure, fulfilling, and long-term as ours did so quickly, comes with a strong pull toward the “Relationship Escalator” and considerations for what the relationship “should look like.” It’s easy to get caught up in those cultural expectations. It’s not easy to choose a different relationship style. It’s not easy to avoid the “Relationship Escalator,” and allow our relationship to become what is exactly right for us. We constantly remember that we have trust and commitment to believe one another.
One of the reasons our relationship appears so “traditional” is because I will live with him. We already have plans for when I go back in the new year. Yet, even living together, I will still travel. Our time together will ebb and flow. It will seem “normal” to others and then not. I’ll live with him part of the year and be out of the country (and with other partners) the rest of the year. It takes real love and commitment to meet each other’s needs and navigate a custom-designed relationship as we have.
Can we call this relationship “simply sex-based” and not real because I don’t have plans to completely entwine my life with his? Or will my relationship with DJDM be seen as me finally having a primary (forcing the others to be secondary) and make me look less like solo-poly and more like “real Polyamory” to the people who are keeping score for these kinds of things?
I have always identified with being solo. I enjoy and highly value my autonomy. Just because I do not aspire to multiple, equal, entwined, primary-like, life-time relationships, doesn’t mean I am doing polyamory wrong. It just means I do it differently. Please don’t discount my way, because it feels uncomfortable for you. Not cool man. Not cool!