Relationship Escalator

“First comes love. Then comes marriage. Then comes the baby in the baby carriage.”


We have cultural ideas about love and romance. One of these ideas is that married monogamy is the goal of dating, and that a relationship that isn’t moving towards marriage is a failure. Polyamory proponents call this social narrative the relationship escalator.

The relationship escalator in action may look like this: Two people meet. They go for coffee or drinks and flirt. They go on a few proper dates with meals before agreeing to be exclusive/monogamous. After a few months of dating to a year of dating, they move in together and join finances. Finally, the man proposes and the woman agrees. They’ve reached the top of the escalator.

An escalator doesn’t allow for a meandering path to the top. It doesn’t allow for a different destination. If monogamous marriage is your goal, the escalator is a proven method to get there. But if it’s not your goal, how do you stay off the escalator?

It’s important to communicate honestly with the people you date about your goals and theirs. If the escalator isn’t right for you, tell them. If they say the escalator is right for them, listen. The escalator is popular and most people will pick it. Recognize that staying off the escalator means not dating the people riding it.

Once you’ve found someone to stay off the ride with you, you won’t have much of a blueprint. You and your partner/s will need to figure out what you want instead. And you will need new measures of relationship success.

Maybe a successful relationship for you means weekly dinner dates and happy conversation. Maybe it means frequent sex. Maybe it means partnership in home life. What’s important is respectful honesty about your needs and theirs. You may also want to consider the needs of their other partners in some poly cases.

The relationship escalator is a path to a goal. There’s nothing wrong with it for people who see dating as a means to marriage. However, if the thought of marriage makes your skin crawl, or if you see dating as its own reward, you may want to consider forging your own path yo your own goal.

One thought on “Relationship Escalator

  1. I think about this a lot in terms of power dynamics. What does it look like for 2 people who are more or less equal financial partners? What does it look like for someone who will necessarily be financially dependent on the other? (Our legal system makes contemplating arrangements beyond couples a major headache.) As someone who can earn income, I feel it’s not my concern whether my disabled girlfriend decides they want to legally marry me or not, other than being honest in advance about which options I am willing to accept. I have already committed to care for them, and they should decide what makes them feel safe. Some people don’t feel safe bonded to another, in case they want to get out quickly; others feel safe within legal protections that can’t be easily disregarded by bigots. My experiences within the [white, mostly straight] polyamorous community is that everyone is assumed to be able to come and go at a whim, while monogamous folks tend to cling to the escalator. I guess it’s neither fun nor romantic to discuss marriage as a financial transaction.


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