Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life By Amy Gahran


Love is not one-size-fits-all. Yet often, people assume that all healthy or serious intimate relationships must follow same trajectory. Fortunately, there are plenty of options.

The “Relationship Escalator” is the bundle of social conventions for intimate relationships: monogamy, living together and much more, ideally until death do you part. If you wish to explore a different way of loving, it’s not always obvious what your options are, or where those paths might lead.

Many people have stepped off the Relationship Escalator, to live and love in uncommon ways. In 2013-14, journalist Amy Gahran surveyed 1500 people about their unconventional intimate relationships: how those relationships work, how they feel, and why these people stepped off the Escalator. Participants shared moving, in-depth personal stories and insights. Over 330 individuals are quoted directly in this book (with permission).

Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator explores how unconventional relationships might look and work differently from traditional relationships. Gahran identifies five main ways that intimate partners can step off the traditional Relationship Escalator.

Off the Escalator, intimate relationships might be:
- Nonmonogamous: Sexual/romantic nonexclusivity, with all-around informed consent. Polyamory, swinging, monogamish relationships and more.
- Highly autonomous: Partners choose to not live together or otherwise prioritize their individuality over couplehood.
- Egalitarian: Not defaulting to giving one partner, or romantic/sexual partners in general, top priority.
- Nonsexual: Asexual people, and others, enjoy deeply intimate, committed relationships that never include a sexual connection.
- Fluid or discontinuous: Sometimes intimacy is pause/play, or significantly shifts form, without a breakup or ending.

This book aims to foster awareness and acceptance of relationship choice; to empower people to speak up for what they might want and find more ways to let love flourish. To not assume that love must look a particular way for it to be valuable and meaningful. At a point in history when divisiveness can seem overwhelming, finding more ways to connect with love can help us sustaining each other through tense times.

This book is the first in a series. At least two more Off the Escalator books are currently in production:
- (2017) What’s It Like Off the Escalator? 10 Common Questions About Unconventional Relationships
- (2018) Off the Escalator, in the Closet: Navigating Stigma Against Unconventional Relationships

More information about this ongoing project: Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life

I enjoyed this book & it's questioning of relationship norms that are mostly unquestioningly accepted in favor of establishing a relationship that works for you. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life This book is incredible. The author really did due diligence in researching the myriad of different relationship styles, and defining them in accurate, fair, and flexible ways based on what is my best understanding of the various types that are out there at this time, although I'm sure there are more to learn about as people become more comfortable crafting and personalizing relationships that work for them.

It's one of the first places I've read a definition of relationship anarchy from (I think) outside the community that didn't upset me in some way.

I'm very glad that asexual, aromantic, celibate by choice, and various forms of committed and intimate relationships with or without sex and/or romance were all included. Very, very well done. It is a long read, but certainly worth it. Not a how-to manual, but definitely the type of book that someone entering into or interested in non-traditional relationships should read to get a really good idea of the variety of styles and choices available.

My one criticism of the book is that I don't think it was proofread or edited nearly as well as it needed to be. There were lots of typos and even errors in sentences that were crucial (like a few that I think missed the difference between did and did not by forgetting to put the word not in there and therefore changing the meaning of the entire sentence. The definition of a V in the back of the book actually incorrectly describes who is the hinge in the scenario given. These types of mistakes are not really excusable in a book that is otherwise about as high of quality as I can give praise to. It's distracting and way too common throughout the book. Fix the proofreading errors, and this book will shine even more than it already does. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life This book provides excellent framework to consider unconventional approaches to love. While there are structural weaknesses (e.g. a clunky through-line narrative; limited supplemental research to bolster some points), the value of this work is in showcasing alternative perspectives and offering new vocabulary so the reader can articulate the relational choices that are right for them. Bonus: I feel better equipped to advocate for my specific wants and needs after reading this book. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life Eh. I wish there was less discussion about polyamory but get that this is where the topic finds most exploration. I would like something that talks less about poly and more about exploration of relationships that don’t lead to marriage. I do like the greater concept and the author’s perspectives about cultural buy in to the escalator and navigating doing something different Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life As my partner and I transition out of functional monogamy, I needed to find alternatives to More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory, which I no longer consider a trustworthy source due to the (sadly unsurprising) history of harm caused by one of the co-authors.

Read my full review here: Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life

review Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life

George Lakoff's work on metaphor shows us the various ways we think of love and relationship; if you've ever thought to yourself, Is this relationship going anywhere? you were expressing a set of assumptions and expectations about relationships that for most of us go unexamined and unquestioned. The relationship escalator is presented by our culture as a default set of societal expectations for intimate relationships of following a progressive set of steps with specific milestones, moving toward a clear goal. This escalator model is THE standard by which society judges whether an intimate relationship is significant, serious, committed or simply worthy of effort.

It's what every ROMCOM film and love story presents us:
1. Making contact (casual encounters, flirting)
2. Initiation (romantic courtship gestures)
3. Claiming & Defining (mutual declarations of love; presenting publicly as a couple)
4. Establishment (settling into patterns for regularity of contact)
5. Commitment (explicit discussion and planning for long-term shared future as a couple)
6. Merging (moving in together, sharing household, engagement)
7. Conclusion (formal marriage or other recognized binding arrangement)

Once the escalator takes you to the top, you are expected to maintain that structure till one partner dies. Any pre-mature ending (divorce) is seen as the relationship having failed.

Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator is based upon a long-running research project that looks at uncommon approaches to love, life, and relationship. This includes various forms of ethical consensual nonmonogamy as well as long-distance relationships, the friend-lover spectrum, maintaining separate living spaces, asexual and aromantic intimate relationships, intentional celibacy, flexible relationships and the deeply liberating understanding of Making Free, Conscious Relationship Choices which may certainly include the choice of long-term, committed monogamous relationships!

Anyone interested in simply bringing more consciousness, more deliberation, freedom and choice into their relationship could benefit from reading this book. Even the Glossary and Resources are of great value.

Ultimately, her quote from one participant in her research succinctly summarizes the value of such awareness, acceptance, and appreciation of all kinds of diversity, not only for individuals and their relationships, but for society and the world:

...I think one of the core things that makes us suffer is the assumption that if someone does something different from what you're doing, then that means they're criticizing you....

I hope anyone who is learning about unconventional relationships, for any reason, understands that you don't have to judge anyone's relationship as right or wrong. You don't have to agree with what they're doing, and you don't have to change what you're doing.

Most people who have unconventional relationships are not claiming that traditional relationships lack value. I think they're just advocating choice. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life I very much appreciated this book for breaking down different elements of escalator relationships and various configurations of alternatives to it! I don't think I encountered any brand-new things, as a lifelong nonmonogamist and relationship nerd, but it was a solid reminder of why I am doing what I am doing at a time when I'm questioning it and transitioning how I do it somewhat, and as a significant partnership is transitioning into something else. I would definitely recommend this book to newbs because of the sheer options provided and the non-prescriptivity; many resources on non-monogamy proclaim a right way, and in my work as an educator and sometimes relationship counsellor, this is just about as damaging to people feeling good in their non-monogamy as the escalator is. There is also a whole chapter on asexuality/aromanticism, which I don't often see!

Things I didn't like so much: I can't be sure because these things were rarely specified, but overall it felt like the survey participants who informed this book were overwhelmingly white and middle-class. There were a lot of people who travel a lot, or move between multiple households. Disability & chronic illness were only mentioned as reasons people might stop having sex, which contributes to the desexualization of disabled & sick people. There was basically no mention of mental illness/madness or trauma and interactions with attachment & relationship styles. There were queer people, but they seemed mostly white & middle-class--again, can't be sure, but often when race & class aren't mentioned it's because they're presumed to be the invisible norm. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life 4.7/5 stars

This was a really accessible and enlightening book. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator is not a run-of-the-mill self-help relationship book that tells you how to make your life and relationships better. This book does not pretend to know the answers or prioritize one way to do relationships. Gahran describes many different ways people can organize relationships off (and on) the traditional relationship escalator by diving into the perspectives of those living in nontraditional relationships. In discussing the many ways that people do (or don't do) relationships, it opens the door for self-reflection, regardless of what relationship format you end up favoring. I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in (or currently practice) nonmonogomy, however I also think that monogamous people would highly benefit from reading this as well -- if not to understand people in other relationships, then to feel more intentional in their relationship framework and expand their communication with their partner.

I had a couple of small problem that mostly boil down to terminology. While I think her discussion of asexuality and aromanticism was really great for the most part, I do think that the initial definition that she gave of asexuality is not the one that I see most asexuals use. Additionally, the use of tribe to describe a close-knit group (who might not quite be a polycule or literal family), is not ideal, as that word has its own definition in Indigenous communities. I do understand that she was likely using the terms most used in the community, this would have been a good opportunity to suggest new terminology or at least acknowledge the problem of the term. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life A lot of the ideas in this book have been circulating in other forms. This book is the result of an interesting idea that the author thinks is completely unique. It also reads like it’s in a vacuum. All of that made me sad. I can see that this book would be very interesting and helpful to some. I just wish it had not felt the need to be so comprehensive since other people are doing this kind of work (and engaged with their ideas...) Seriously, the only authors she cites are people like Tristan Taormino, Dan Savage, Elizabeth Sheff and the Poly Weekly Podcast. That kind of positioning comes across as not just anti-intellectual but anti-community. As a community, we deserve better. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life How much do you know about unconventional relationships: Polyamory? Married monogamous partners living in separate households? Relationships that may burn hot, move to the back burner, heat up again years later? Relationships that de-escalate from romantic partnerships to friendships? Non-sexual but deeply intimate and important friendships?

There are so many ways to have relationships, but the ONLY societal model familiar to most people is the Escalator: dating, becoming more serious, living together/marriage, investment (buying a house/having kids). This is a collection of stories about the ways stepping OFF the Escalator's relationship assumptions works - or doesn't work - for some people. Without putting down those for whom the Relationship Escalator works well.

I especially loved this section:

However, consent is an ongoing process, not a one-time choice. As circumstances and feelings evolve, people may change their minds about what they want in their relationships, and what they are willing or able to consent to. 'You signed up for this' is often used to silence partners who attempt to renegotiate rules — by implying that consent, once given, is irrevocable.

If you don't have to finish a grilled cheese sandwich in a restaurant, because it doesn't taste good to you anymore, you shouldn't have to finish a relationship if it is making you miserably unhappy. You should always be able to ask for changes, or to transition to a different kind of relationship.

I am a firm believer in making conscious choices in our lives, rather than mindlessly following subconscious patterns and assumptions. I LOVE this book, for people both on and off the Escalator, and am going to be rereading and gifting it frequently.

There are two more books planned in this series and I can't wait for both of them! Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life