164 - The Relationship Escalator & Solo Polyamory (with author Amy Gahran

We get to pick the brain of Amy Gahran a.k.a. Aggie Sez about her book, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator. We explore the social norms for how most people assume intimate relationships are supposed to work, as well as the many ways that people are stepping off the relationship escalator to live and love on their own terms.

If you want to support our show, the best way is to become one of our patrons at www.patreon.com/multiamory. In addition to helping us continue to create new content and new projects, you also get extra rewards and exclusive content and discussions.
You can order Dedeker's book, The Smart Girl's Guide to Polyamory: Everything You Need to Know about Open Relationships, Non-Monogamy, and Alternative Love by clicking here.

This week's sponsor is Quip. If you want to give one of their electric toothbrushes a try, plus get a free refill, check them out at tryquip.com/Multiamory.
Multiamory was created by Dedeker Winston, Jase Lindgren, and Emily Matlack.

Our theme music is Forms I Know I Did by Josh and Anand.
Please send us your feedback and questions to info@multiamory.com, find us on Instagram @Multiamory_Podcast, tweet at us @Multiamory, check out our Facebook Page, visit our website Multiamory.com, or you can leave us a voicemail at 678-MULTI-05. We love to hear from our listeners and we reply individually to every message.


This document may contain small transcription errors. If you find one please let us know at info@multiamory.com and we will fix it ASAP.

Jase: Amy Gahran, aka Aggie Sez. Amy is a longtime journalist and the author of the book, Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life. Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator is a research-based exploration of the social norms for how most people assume intimate relationships are supposed to work, as well as the many ways that people are stepping off the escalator to live and love on their own terms.

Amy also identifies a solo poly. For several years, she wrote solopoly.net under the name Aggie Sez. In case you were curious about, "Wait, I thought, what?" They are the same person, one and the same, Amy Gahran and Aggie Sez. She also created and for several years was the moderator of the largest solo polyamory Facebook group online. We had a really fun time talking with her about all this stuff. We got pretty deep into some philosophical things as well as some economic things and all sorts of stuff. I'm excited to share this interview with all of you.

Emily: I appreciate her outspokenness, it's great.

Dedeker: Definitely.

Jase: Totally. Her years of experience looking into all of this and researching it is awesome. With that, let's get to the interview. Amy, thank you so much for being here.

Amy: Hi, glad to be here. I've been a fan of the show for quite a while. It's nice to finally talk to you.

Jase: Well, we've been a fan of you too Awesome.

Emily: For our listeners out there who may just be coming to the show initially and not know what the concept of the relationship escalator is, can we just talk about that a little bit. What does that mean to you and why is it important to step off of it?

Amy: Thanks. That's a really great question actually. The whole reason I did this particular book this way is to meet the need of yo fish, there's this thing called water you might want to think about it. The reason why we have any social norms is that they exist as a grammar for how people interact so you don't have to think so hard from scratch with every interaction that you have. It takes a lot of the friction out of any kind of interpersonal interaction.

Some social norms get really multi-layered and involved and laden with lots of meaning. They congeal into these lumps, if you will, of social meaning. One of those lumps of social meaning is around relationships that involve significant emotional or physical intimacy to the extent that relationships that follow this certain package of norms or what is defined as a relationship. A lot of times when you say that little code phrase, a relationship, everybody knows what it means.

There's all this built-in infrastructure for how you talk about it and how you're supposed to interact with these people, and what that's supposed to mean with society and housing and finances and all sorts of things. The relationship escalator is the bundle of norms for how sexually or emotionally intimate relationships are supposed to happen between adults. It includes things such they're supposed to be monogamous, sexually and romantically exclusive between two and only two people.

They are supposed to involve significant life entwinement. Usually, that means living together but also merging identity. Often, when people start to think of themselves as a couple, that means they merge their identity to a certain extent and that it's supposed to be always and forever. Really, the only way that you know if you've done a relationship right is when somebody dies. There are all these implicit aspects.

It's called the relationship escalator because everybody's supposed to know that there are certain set of progressive steps that lead up to this goal of a permanently exclusive cohabitating, socially venerated relationship. That starts with you meet someone, you think they're hot, you start dating, you start having sex, you fall in love, you stop dating other people, you're moving together and then marriage, kids, death do you part. It feels like an escalator because of this background of social norms.

Everybody knows it's supposed to work so it seems simpler. It seems like it has its own momentum. That's because it is so familiar and socially reinforced. It's not the only way relationships work, but it can seem a lot more natural and easier because it's what we've all grown up soaking in, marinating in, that this is the way it's supposed to work. It can be very difficult to conceive of relationships differently for a lot of people.

It can be daunting to try to do relationships differently because you're not only fighting all this external norms and expectations and forces, but all the norms and expectations that exist inside your head. The hardest conditioning to undo is not what's outside of you but what's inside of you. That's why it's the relationship escalator and not the relationship staircase. It can feel like you're getting carried along.

Dedeker: I feel like we're so used to in movies and TV and in books and even in our own lives, we're so used to encountering that conversation where it's, "Well, where is this relationship going? What is that we're doing? What are we?" Implying like, "We got to get on this this escalator, and if we're not on escalator, then where are we going? What are we doing? Because there's only one direction for us to be going." That's correct.

Amy: It's interesting because a lot of people just do it automatically, but that doesn't mean it's wrong. The escalator is a great choice. It works really really well for lots of people, but it is an option. It helps when choosing something that's so valuable to most people's lives, to know what your options are and to be making these decisions consciously. That tends to yield better relationships, even for people who consider themselves strictly monogamous.

That's a big reason why I did this book is to let people know, "You got options and here's what those options look like from the experience of the people who are doing them." I have 1,500 co-authors. I did a survey, I'm a journalist, my background is, "All right, I want to do something. I'll ask a bunch of people about it." I did a survey about unconventional relationships and a total of 1,500 people responded. I was absolutely floored by that response, especially because people were writing the equivalent of about 2,000, 2,500 word essays in their surveys. I learned a lot about parsing qualitative data, let me tell you.


Dedeker: I'd imagine--

Amy: But it was worthwhile. Over 300 people are quoted in this book. I've got two other books coming out because everything on the cutting room floor is my factory floor. I'm going to be using everything.

Dedeker: Of course. Well, you mentioned specifically about also introducing this to people who are strictly monogamous. I think that's a great segue for Jase for you to share your story with that.

Jase: Exactly. We've talked about the relationship escalator a lot on this show and just that concept of realizing, becoming aware that this is a thing we do and that it isn't just a natural thing that happens all by itself, that it is a choice we make, we just take it for granted, it's been hugely helpful in all of our lives in realizing this. When we were first introduced to the concept maybe a few years ago is when I first started coming across this online.

You mentioned that about writing this book, that it's a resource for monogamous people as well. I wanted to bring that up not so much just as a question all by itself, but something that I would love us to keep in mind as we have this discussion today, and that's that a lot of the resources out there about the relationship escalator are all, if they're not specifically about polyamory or some kind of non monogamy, they're sort of surrounded by it. They're on those types of blogs or on podcast like ours.

I did just want to mention that because I think that's such a useful thing to have a resource out there for monogamous people to be aware of this. I think your books are great example of that. I'd also love for this episode to be a place where people could start as a way to get their feet wet and then they could move on to reading your book and looking for other blog posts.

Because I had an experience a couple of years ago of talking to my brother who was trying to make a difficult decision about moving in with his girlfriend versus not, and what their financial situations were and that it couldn't be temporary and all of these things. I told him about the relationship escalator and he thought that was really interesting. He's like, "Wow, I'd never thought about that. That's cool. Do you know of any resources for it?" I was like, "Just google it and look it up. There's definitely some good posts out there and blogs."

He came back a week later saying, "I tried looking that up, but all of the blogs were polyamory blogs and had a lot of that talk in them and I didn't feel like that was something I could bring to my monogamous girlfriend and have her feel comfortable with me bringing this resource to her." Anyway, I do really appreciate your book for trying to fill in some of that gap as well. I hope that we can all work together to get even more of that because I'm thinking it's--

Amy: You're hitting at a very important point there, stigma. There are a number of hallmarks that establish what an escalator relationship is. Definitely, the 800-pound gorilla is monogamy. There is so much stigma in this society against any relationships that don't involve monogamy. There are a variety of reasons for that, but what if it was a blog for people who prefer to not live with partners, regardless of the types of relationships they have? Do you think your brother might have had that same reaction?

Jase: Probably not as much.

Amy: Yes, because the idea of not necessarily living with a partner, it's not nearly as stigmatized, at least in Western societies, as much as non-monogamy. Well, not just non-monogamy, as much as consensual non-monogamy is. Because non-consensual non-monogamy is extremely conventional. If somebody hears that somebody's cheating, they may be hurt, they may be appalled, whatever. They won't be confused, they'll know what's going on.

Consensual non-monogamy, it's like taking the force of gravity away. People just don't know how that will function and it scares the shit out of people. That's why I wanted to start in less scary territory to kind of do the whole, "Yo fish, there's this thing called water," and explain the concept of the relationship escalator but it's odd, it's stigma to that too. I've found that some people react really negatively to the concept that there is an escalator because they're like, "Well, that's just relationships."

Other things, they're not really relationships. It's like, "Okay, let's think about that, shall we?" That argument that you talked about, that's exactly why I did it. I used to do a blog called solopoly.net about being solo polyamorous. I had a post on there called, Riding the Relationship Escalator or Not. Just because I was doing so many definitional things in this blog and I kept saying this relationship escalator, I think it's like, "I should explain what I'm talking about," so I wrote a post about it.

Wham, I have never gotten so much traffic to anything in my life and it was being linked to all over the place including from a lot of mainstream media, academic publications, the regular relationship, "normal relationship" blogs and podcasts. The traffic, I'm looking at that being a self-employed journalist, I'm like, "That looks like a market opportunity." It turns out it has been because there aren't a lot of publications addressing a mainstream audience that show people that they have options and not just non-monogamy, my book covers a whole lot of options. There are lots of ways that people step off that escalator. Definitely consensual non-monogamy, that's the part that freaks people out.

Dedeker: Well, that's actually a good transition under the umbrella term of consensual non-monogamy. I wanted to talk to you specifically more about solo polyamory. You did mention how you wrote the blog, solopoly.net, for so long. I feel like my perception of-- when I tap into the online polyamory space and into communities, I feel like solo polyamory often comes up as a topic of discussion of people arguing about what it actually means? Who actually is solo poly? Am I solo poly enough? Are you not solo poly? Am I going to try to do some gatekeeping on whether you're solo poly or not? Things like that.

I'm going to start out by including a quote from your book, where you said, "Solo hood does not hinge upon relationship status." Then to skip ahead a little bit further, you say that "It needs not preclude consideration of others, making commitments to others or putting others first in certain situations." I really like that you bring that foundation to it. Tristan Taormino who wrote Opening Up, she claims that she created the term solo polyamory. I haven't fact-checked whether that's true or not.

She uses the definition that it's just polyamory for people who aren't looking for a primary, which I think personally is a little bit reductive. I think there's a lot of nuance that gets lost in there. Could you fill in for our listeners what's your personal definition of solo polyamory and what that means to you?

Amy: There were a lot of definitions and I'm not trying to tell anybody else whether they do or don't fall into this. I'm not trying to take away anybody's solo poly card, basically. I do think there is important considerations. For me, being solo poly means I choose to not combine the infrastructure of my life with any intimate partners. I don't live with partners, I don't share finances with them. I have a housemate, he's great but he's a housemate. For me, a big reason for that is I need my own mental and emotional space.

Also, I make better decisions in relationships when I'm not worrying about whether my housing, my finances or my sense of identity would fall apart if that relationship were to end. I've been there. I was married for a long time. When I got divorced, even though it was like the easiest, the most amicable divorce ever, damn, that was wrenching. It tore my whole life apart. It took me a few years to put that back together. I operate better this way even if I were choosing to be monogamous, which I suck at so I won't.

Here's the thing though that is an important thing to consider, there are some people who say, "Well, I value my autonomy and I don't hinge my identity on my partner and we operate fairly independently. We may even not practice hierarchy in our relationship, so that means I'm solo poly." It could mean that, but there's an important difference. It comes back to those social norms. There's this thing called couple privilege.

That means that people who appear to be in an escalator style relationship, even if they are not checking all those escalator boxes but especially cohabiting, it seems to be the big one will accrue social couple privilege, people will treat them in ways that often reflect a higher status of respectability, recognition, etcetera. There are factors that can mitigate that, but it definitely means that people who choose not to nest with their partners face a very different logistical and dating and social playing field than people who do.

I'm not saying that's fair, I'm not saying that's right or wrong and I'm not saying that people who are nesting can't be solo poly, but I am saying they face a very different set of circumstances.

Jase: That's a great point to bring up. Just that idea of cohabiting or not is like that is a pretty wide divide. It's interesting because for Dedeker and myself, we both tend to identify as solo poly but live together for part of the year sometimes. Other times, we'll be in different countries from each other for months at a time. It's interesting seeing the difference between how people treat me during times when I'm living with her and when I'm not, especially if it's someone new that I've met who doesn't know the situation yet. It's definitely true that there's a--

Amy: What kind of differences do you see?

Jase: One thing is,I would say, even if there are people who are somewhat aware of non-monogamy or polyamory, if I'm living together, it's always assumed that we have a hierarchy and that she's primary and that there's probably some other stipulations and rules and things that go along with that. That's definitely a big one, but for people who are not, for people who are more traditionally, monogamously minded, the fact that we're living together comes with it, the assumption that we're going to want to have kids and that we want to get married.

Amy: Is that escalator?

Jase: Yes. I get that one a lot even in negotiating a contract at my current job, that came up because they knew about her and that she and I had been traveling together of like, "Well--," thinking they could use that as a bargaining chip against me of like, "Well, you're going to want some stability in this position because of-- when you have kids-

Dedeker: What? You didn't tell me that.


Jase: I had to be like--

Dedeker: Sorry, that's distracts me. It's really funny, but they're using me as the bargaining chip to get you to stay in one place. That was a bad move on their part.

Amy: This is not the first time I've heard that.

Dedeker: Joke's on them.

Jase: It doesn't surprise me.

Dedeker: Sorry, Jase, are you finished?

Jase: Yes, go ahead.

Dedeker: I wanted to jump in on that because I feel like I-- to talk about the other side of it is that the times when I'm not living with Jase. Sometimes, I live with other partners during the year but sometimes I'm also by myself like I am right now, that it's really funny to me how quickly people will go to-- If it's someone new, people will go to assuming that if I'm not living with a partner then must mean the relationship is not that serious or could be disregarded, or people will go to like, "Is everything okay with you and Jase? You're not living together anymore. Is everything okay? Are you okay? What's going on? You can talk about it." I'm like, "Yes, we're okay. whatever. This is only the sixth time that we've moved in together and then moved out together in the past two years. Whatever, it's fine." Yes, that change definitely comes on.

Amy: It's a very weighty benchmark, that's why being solopoly is a tool for unfreaking people out because it hits on the two biggest and heaviest hallmarks of escalator relationships; monogamy, the exclusivity and merging. I freak a lot of people out, but I'm used to that.


Dedeker: Jase mentioned a little bit about hierarchy. Amy, you mentioned hierarchy a little bit of too. On this show, we've talked a lot about specifically the ethics of hierarchy and of rules and of power imbalances in relationships. We generally tend to take a fairly anti-prescriptive hierarchy stance on this show and really encourage people to, again, always be examining the ethics in the power dynamics of anything that they're taking part in their relationships and how that plays out for everyone else that they're connected to in their lives.

However, in my coaching practice when I work with clients, I get a lot of clients who maybe have listened to the show a lot, they've done a lot of reading up on polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, and they want to be egalitarian but they find it difficult because they're opening up their relationship with their spouse and co-parent of 10 years, or 15 years, or 20 years. I was wondering, do you have practical tips for people who are in this long established relationships who want to de-primary or de-hierarchy without abandoning or downgrading their standing relationship?

Amy: That's a great question. You really opened up a can of worms there.


First of all, hierarchy is not just about non-monogamy. It is a social norm that is very much part of the relationship escalator. One of the great things about doing this research and asking people about what makes their relationship unconventional is that you get the flip side of that to see what exactly these conventions are. Where are the lines that people step around. When you think about it, monogamy is a hell of a hierarchy. There can be only one, it's one freaking hell of a hierarchy right there.

It's not just in the relationship escalator that you only have one partner, it is that that relationship is intrinsically supposed to outweigh almost every other none care based relationship that you have; friends, other adult family members, things like that. In most Western cultures at least, your escalator partner is supposed to be the one that takes the cake above all of them. That makes for some sticky situations like what if you're on a monogamous relationship but you have a very close friend that you have commitments to, and you decide that you want to live with your friend for a couple of years?

Most people will think, "What's wrong with you?" That would be a choice that would be a valid choice if you did not consider hierarchy to be a crucial part of your relationship. That's putting in in the frame of-- That's something that everybody could relate to. Now, in the context to polyamory, you also have sexually and/or romantically intimate relationships. There's that issue of-- You mentioned descriptive hierarchy. I actually quiver with that term played a bit, because it seems to me that that's the term, and I talk to people a lot about this, that it means a lot more for people who would be on top of the hierarchy than in other positions.

Somebody who's not necessarily on top of the hierarchy might experience exactly the same constraints, limitations, effects as somebody in the prescriptive hierarchy, that differentiation is debatable.

Dedeker: I do love-- I just wanted to hop in just to say I do love that something you did point out from your research is that, usually the people who are arguing for hierarchy or arguing about these benefits are the people who are benefiting from it. Usually it's the primary partner who's the one who's talking about how hierarchy is a really helpful, useful thing.

Amy: A benefit is an important point because there are many people, including many solopoly people, who are fine with hierarchy, who are fine with saying, "Hey, I like being a secondary partner. I like not having this level of responsibility or expectations." It works great for them, totally cool. All of these stuff is optional. The issue with the ethics is is it okay for somebody to effectively control a relationship in which they are not a partner? That's a core consideration and there are a variety of perspectives on that.

Also, an issue with hierarchy is how accurately and fully people disclose their hierarchy and how it can affect people? There's this thing called sneakyarchy, and it happens a lot. I've got the tire tracks all over my back here from it. Some of you might have it as well. Sneakyarchy is when people don't necessarily disclose or realize how hierarchable they are, how they practice hierarchy, when and how it might kick in and how it might affect other people. It can sneak up on anybody.

A lot of people, especially people who are poly, prefer to think that they are far more egalitarian than they might actually be; especially when people are new to polyamory and they are used to having so much weight and meaning on this escalator relationship. And it's really hard to wrap your head around the fact that, "All right, I'm not on this escalator anymore.Maybe, really because the holding on to the hand rails of the escalator make me feel safe, but no, I'm not there." There's a lot of tension and you've probably seen people really wrestling with that. It can take a lot of time and especially a lot of experience to figure out where you are on the hierarchy spectrum.

Hierarchy is not necessarily intrinsically unethical, but it does require consent. Which means it requires disclosure, and which means it requires negotiations. If you're not having very clear conversations about hierarchy, especially if you're coming from a position that has that 800 pound gorilla of the relationship escalator on your back, and in your head, and in everybody else's head, it can be really hard to undo it.

Some ways that people undo that is to make sure that they have frequent discussions about, "Are we even there?" The we word. A lot of people go, "We, we, we, we, we." "Am I allowing any forces, other than what my partner and I want to do, affect our relationship?" Of course there are going to be some ripple effects. We don't live in vacuums. If you say, "We don't do hierarchy, but I'm just going to check in with my partner about this to see if they're okay with what I'm doing with you." Maybe it's hierarchy, maybe it's not.

I actually started making some sneakyarchy bingo cards-


because there are things that are not necessarily unethical or problematic individually, but if a pattern of them accumulates over time, if you check off enough things on the bingo card, yes there might be some sneakyarchy happening there.

Dedeker: Can you give us some examples of stuff that's on that bingo card?

Amy: One of them was, I just need to check in with my partner about. That's one. Or we have a boundary that, or just in capital letters, we. If you hear that a lot rather than-- And if you know that you're not part of that we. Hierarchy, all I can say is declaring your intention that you want your relationships to be able to grow and develop and find their own level without necessarily being constrained by other existing relationships, and do your best to find an equilibrium and be fair to people the best you can and be honest with people and accept that you're going to fuck it up.

You're going to hurt people and other people are going to hurt you, and just keep getting back up and say, "I learned from that, let me try to do this better." Because these social norms are deep and I have never see-- I've been poly for a freaking long time, all my life for the last 25 years, however you want it count, I've never seen anybody pull that off with-- Coming from an existing escalator relationship, I've never seen them pull it off perfectly from the back, so you're going to fuck it up and just declare your intention and tell people you're dealing with, "I'm going to fuck this up somehow. Please call me on that." Accept it when they do.

Also, don't expect that it is okay to suddenly implement hierarchy as soon as somebody gets insecure. If you need to change the terms of the relationship, own it but expect that if you were talking the talk of being not hierarchical and then all of the sudden it comes crashing down, people are going to be upset. They have a right to be upset because they had a right to consent to the kind of relationship that they're in. Does that help?

Jase: That's beautiful.

Emily: Very much.

Dedeker: It's a place to start from for sure.

Jase: I was just going to say, it's really interesting that that theme of accepting that you're going to fuck it up comes up. Because just a few episodes ago, we had Andrew Garza on the show to talk about sex and dating people with disabilities. He said almost exactly the same thing of like when he goes into any kind of sexual encounter with someone, it's just like starting from the premise of like, "I know you're going to fuck up somehow and you're going to say something that's going to be offensive. Let's just understand that's going to happen and we'll get through it." That is really interesting.

Amy: Yes, and it helps to let partners know that you don't quite know what you're doing yet. Until you have a fair amount experience, you won't. Especially if they are new to polyamory and you're new to polyamory, they might defer to you because of couple privilege. Because they think, "Well, that's how polyamory works. It's a couple plus something and I should pay attention to them and take my cues off of them because they know what they're doing." Not necessarily.

Dedeker: Well, let's switch gears a little bit. I know that you had a question for us actually before this interview even started, about social norms and how they're different between generations.

Amy: Well, they evolved. They are constantly evolving process. For instance, monogamy never felt like a great fit to me. Even though I was a child of the '70s, I'm 51 years old, I'm probably a fair amount older than all of you, I always found that most of my peers, even while I was growing up, we're very monogamy-minded. Indeed, I attempted to do monogamy for a long time because I thought that was my only option if I wanted to have a relationship with any depth.

I was used to being the oddball about that, but I have a lot of friends of all ages. My local poly community, the boulder polyamory we made-up which is awesome, is mostly people in their 20s and 30s. They've grown up with few expectations, not so much of monogamy but of the other hallmarks that make up the relationship escalator, that you might move in with somebody but not have it be always and forever and that you can move apart and have it not be a relationship ending event, or that you can have important relationships that come and go in your life and it doesn't mean that they disappear between the gaps.

An increase understanding and respect for intimacy that is not necessarily sexual or romantic in nature. Asexuality and aromanticism are a thing. Depth of friendships, for a non-sexual, non-romantic relationships, I've seen people in their 20s and 30s seem more open to that and willing to invest in that than I have seen among people in my age range. Like I said, I've always been the oddball. I've never really known what's normal, which is why I actually have to ask people what's normal. What's normal for you guys?

Dedeker: Gosh, who starts? Emily, you want to start?

Emily: I would like to think that maybe it's a generational thing or maybe it's just because the three of us are specifically really steeped in the non-monogamy community, but that the transitions that you've talked about in your book and otherwise can happen between being in a romantic relationship and then going to a more friendship based relationship and that that can still be really meaningful and fulfilling type of a relationship in one's life.

I definitely still have friends out there who say, "Well, I broke up with that person. I never want to see them again. I never want to hear from them again." The two people in this podcast with me are testament to the fact that I can date someone for a long period of time and not be sexually active with them and still care deeply about them. I think that that is maybe different than it once was. I don't know.

Amy: Do you think that's accepted by other people? That they accept that you're still close to your former partners?

Emily: I don't know. That's like implying--

Jase: We're both shaking our heads.

Emily: I know you were.

Dedeker: The same way that people ask me like, "Is everything okay with you and Jase?" If we're not living together, I still get questions of like, "Is it really weird to be around Emily? You're still recording the podcast, gosh that must be hard."

Emily: Interesting.

Dedeker: I still get that all the time.

Amy: Well, I know for myself, the most significant relationship of my life is with somebody that I used to be married to. Our relationship got so much better after we got unmarried. He's one of the most valuable people in my life, but everybody still says, "It's so great that you're on good terms with your ex." It's like, "I only ex people when I want them out of my life. He's not my ex. We used to be married." We're very close friends. We count on each other for a lot of things.

That freaks people out all the time. Even people who have known me for decades still don't freaking get that. It kind of pisses me off that does that-

Emily: To even use that terminology-- Well yes, just to say the word 'ex' as opposed to this person that I care about who is my friend, in context, it means a different thing. An ex generally has and does mean like they're out of your life 100%. I don't talk to them anymore. I don't think about them anymore. Obviously, that is not the case. Even though that is the case as well, they are potentially my exes. Yes, that is a true thing, but they are also people who I care about hugely.

Amy: Another thing I've noticed that's more normal with my generation that might be less with your generation is, you tell me what you think, acceptance that a relationship that was never sexual or romantic in nature can be very important and potentially to the point of being a life partner with somebody. A lot of people in my generation have a hard time conceiving of that.

They assume that anything you invest in that kind of relationship will be lost as soon as somebody gets a real relationship, that you can't expect them to actually stick around once they have an intimate partner. Again, not the case. My other core life partner is a woman who's one of my very dearest friends. We have never been lovers. I'm straight, not for lack of trying, but I'm straight. She's awesome. We take a bullet for each other. That's not going to change.

What about for you though? The relationships with people that have never been sexual or romantic, do you think they get as much respect and trust and validation and recognition as non-sexual relationships?

Dedeker: It is so hard even for the three of us, again, to have a sense of what's normal. Because again, all three of us are also so steeped and have been steeped for so many years now. Also, in these alternative communities where a lot of people are same age are talking about these things like the relationship escalator, like the non-sexual, non-romantic people that they have in their life that maybe they want to co-parent with or live with or whatever.

I have a hard time getting a sense of whether or not that's the case. I feel like the places that I get to dip it and step outside of that community, in that bubble as it were, is actually often with my own client base because I do still get a lot of people who are either in still fairly traditional relationships or hold some traditional values about relationships. The thing that stands out most to me for our generation is that, yes, on the one hand, we've internalized that it is okay to not jump into the monogamy-marriage-kids track. It is okay to not do that or to delay that or whatever.

However, rather than embracing the idea that there's so many other options than marriage and monogamy, our generation has clung to this idea of like, "Well, if it's not marriage or monogamy, then the other option is no strings attached, no emotional connection, keeping it casual, not putting any labels on it.

Amy: A solo poly people we get that.

Dedeker: Exactly. It's like a black and white. It's like a binary.

Amy: That was a classic era that Tristan Taormino made in in her book where she cast solo poly, that way I think that is a big oversight. It was a great book, but that was an oversight.

Dedeker: That's what I see in our generation still. It's like, yes we've accepted that we don't have to be seeking monogamy or seeking marriage or seeking someone to have kids necessarily but that means that we have to be constantly keeping everybody out here at arm's length. That means, we can't express care for someone because if we do express care for someone, that's going to mean that they're going to want exclusivity and to get married and to hop on the escalator.

I feel like that's what I see. I'd like to believe that maybe the next generation after ours will take it a step further and be more willing to embrace the full spectrum of options that are available. I feel like we're not quite there yet. Jase, you haven't weighed in on this one.

Jase: I was just going to say, I think that it's so hard when comparing generations to each other just because it's hard to find anyone who has enough perspective outside of their own social circle.

Amy: We're all kind of a circle of weirdos here.

Jase: Right.


Jase: I do feel like, if I look at my way of analyzing that, rather than just looking at the way that my peers talk, is to look at things like what are the types of relationship models we see in TV programs and in movies that are marketed toward this generation, toward my generation and people even younger than me. What's hot? What's cool? What are people watching? What's the content of tabloid headlines? That just seeing what things are still counted as scandalous can be an interesting marker of what is also normal to look at it in contrast like that.

It was funny when Emily was bringing up that thing and she's like, "No, I don't think people think it's weird that we're exes but we're still very close." Dedeker and I were both like, "No, people think that's super wierd." It just depends what you see and what people say to you, but, I do think that even if we're going from that place like Dedeker said, where it's like being able to have other options than just getting married and having kids and living together, that those things are not quite like-- There's less fear of being the old maid of like, "Well, your life has no meaning if you don't do those things."

Amy: My goal in life is to be a crotchety old bitch.

Jase: Perfect.

Amy: Simply by continuing to exist, I'm achieving my goal.

Jase: Exactly. I think that stigma is definitely less amongst my peers. It's still there though. I think that definitely there's still an assumption of monogamy. There's still an assumption that your romantic partner is going to be more important to you than any of your friends or anything like that except for maybe your kids and maybe your parents. It's like we're a step enough that direction that then for people who are outside of that doing things like polyamory or just not cohabiting while they're in a monogamous relationship, it's like less of a jump.

It's still outside of the normal but it doesn't feel quite so far away. What I'd like to offer is just that maybe we're looking too far ahead to see where the difference is and it's actually more just that that's not as big a jump away from what's normal as it used to be.

Amy: All social norms are always in evolution. They've changed very, very much over the centuries. Speaking to you from the future, I am your future, you realize this. Not a lot of people I found who talk about unconventional relationship choices who are in their 20s and 30s think about is the long-term implications of what that means for the infrastructure of your life as you age.

If you are in your 50s, 60s, 70s and are not married and have never combined the infrastructure of your life with somebody especially if you don't have children, well, if you end up ill or disabled or otherwise unable to care for yourself, you're fucked unless you're extremely wealthy. This society is really set up to support a lot of people who where it's assumed that you will have a life partner and all the joined infrastructure that goes along with that. That is actually inhibited the adoption of infrastructure at least in the United States to the many other countries that would accord support and assistance to individuals.

You used the rationale that you're coupled up so your partner is going to take care of you, right? Not necessarily so. This is something that I think about very much. I've chosen to not entwine the infrastructure of my life with my partners and I'm like,"What's that going to look like when I'm in my 70s or 80s?" Unless some significant things change about the social and political and financial landscape in this country, I'm not looking forward to that. That's going to suck. You guys got to make it all better for me, all right?

Jase: [laughs] All right, we're on it.

Amy: Because then you'll be making it better for you too, but couple centrism has crippled the development of a lot of social infrastructure in this country.

Emily: My mom has been single for 20 years and really doesn't operate under the assumption that she needs a mate. I'm an only child so I get that perhaps that burden would fall on me, but it's not been our daily talk about what the future holds and stuff. My grandmother died and she was totally fine 100% very functioning directly before that so maybe I'm coming out with that mindset. It's an interesting idea of how okay can you be 100% by yourself without anyone else until you're not and obviously not everyone has that luxury because of finances or because of health or whatever. It is something to think about.

I don't know, but I feel as though I see the rise of mothers and of families being single-parented and that is just a norm more perhaps than it once was. I don't know what that means.

Amy: It's a social norm, but the infrastructure has not caught up with that. For instance, say if my dear friend Emily and I-- Not you Emily different Emily, say we wanted to eventually buy a house together because we consider each other to be core partners to each other and what if we wanted to do that? If we weren't married, it would almost be impossible for us to get a mortgage together unless we formed an LOC and bought the house through an LOC and that would be an entirely different techs landscape for that.

Emily: Well, thankfully the three of us have done that.

Dedeker: Yes, but not for home buying purposes.

Emily: I know, but just in case.

Amy: Yes, it's a lot harder to qualify for a mortgage if you weren't a very wealthy person if you aren't married. If you are married, you automatically get better consideration. You're considered a better lending risk. That's ironic because I love my former spouse dearly, but oh my goodness the way he managed money, but we qualified for a mortgage like that largely because we were married. It didn't take into consideration his spending habits versus mine.

Jase: Yes, well this also shows up in health insurance premiums. It changed with Obamacare, but it's probably heading back this direction but a huge difference in terms of the statistical health risks associated with not being married doesn't take into account whether you're not married by choice rather than just that you couldn't or that you did wrap everything up in that one relationship that then ended. There's different ways they can look and the statistics don't take any of that into consideration when calculating healthcare premiums and things like that.

Amy: I'm not trying to turn this all into massive economic commentary, but just to say that the things that make up the relationship escalator they affect every aspect of life in society and they have stunning consequences. For instance, I personally know several people who have gotten married or stayed in marriages that they would have rather left because of the health insurance or because of the house.

Emily: Tough, yes and definitely something to be aware of in the coming years for everyone involved not only those of us who are currently practicing solo polyamory, but also our children and et cetera. If those are going to happen in our lives.

Amy: Yes, and that's its own social and economic issue, but it does come down to a lot of the underpinning of that is that we assume that an escalator relationship will provide intrinsic infrastructure for people. It isn't necessarily so and that certainly varies by race, by country, by other demographics too. Not a level plain field, but we still make a lot of those assumptions and it's not just you and me making these assumptions, it's the actuaries that insurance companies and its legislatures and hospital administrators and all sorts of people. You weren't expecting that kind of words, were you?


Emily: No, thank you for sharing all that.

Dedeker: No, I really appreciate you bringing that up because it is such a huge, huge intrinsic part of how we function in the States. The fact that so much of our infrastructure, honestly, still does harken back to this time when, for instance, specifically as a woman your only way of having any kind of stability was to get a husband. Where like the nuclear family unit was held up as the only infrastructure that you can really have in your life and even though we like to believe that we are so progressive now, that's just a fact that the systems that we have to live with and work with are still very much based in that. So no, it's a very important thing for people to think about and to acknowledge at the very ways.

Amy: There has been a lot of progress and here's the thing, people that I write about on conventional relationships a lot of times they think I'm talking about same-sex marriage. It's like actually, that's kind of all about jumping on the escalators.

Emily: Just scratching the surface, yes.

Amy: Yes, but it does matter though because the thing is, if you're going to have basically institutionalized couple privilege, at least don't make it discriminatory based on sexual orientation. Legal marriage is, in fact, institutionalized couple privilege. I'm not saying legal marriage is necessarily a bad thing, I just wish that other people were not excluded from the benefits that are only approachable through legal marriage.

Emily: Absolutely, so let's pivot a little bit again. This is something that the three of us have talked about to various people that we've interviewed recently and just on our own we've created ourselves a support group within our community or Patreon community, but support groups are a big thing for all of us who do no non-traditional relationships. It's incredibly important, but we want to ask what are some of the best support networks out there that you've found and what makes them so great, what makes them so positive and what are things that can make support networks better and stronger?

We wanted to talk about inclusivity as well because that is a big thing, I think, that's super important. Not just the like your support group looks super homogeneous and that it's all the same person over and over again, but that it includes a lot of different types of people within that support group. How important is that? Because I know we think it's very important.

Amy: It's huge because like I said it's really difficult to undo all the social conditioning that goes along with the relationship escalator and is not just for people who are polyamorous, for people who prefer to solohood or who are asexual or aromantic rather ways of stepping off the escalator. It's kind of scary to think that you're the only one doing this and that means you must be doing it wrong. It just turns also to the insecurities because these relationships are where we're most emotionally vulnerable and it always helps to see other people who have done it.

I grew up before the internet happened and I remember what it was like to only really be able to connect with people that I could meet with. That was very limiting plus it was New Jersey in the 1980s. Wake me up when Reagan is no longer president please. The people that I did have in my life before the internet happened, who we clicked with on a variety of levels and could have very open and frank conversations even if we were very different, that helped a lot.

One thing I learned from my father that I've never forgotten is, if you only talk to people who think just like you, you won't learn a damn thing. I've always tried to reach out. I think it helps to have friends who represent a variety of perspectives, demographics and to be a good friend to them and to realize that you're going to have differences and see things differently and that's okay. Takes a lot of the fear out of difference.

Also, the internet is a wonderful thing because when I first decided back around 2000 or so, can I just admit that this monogamy thing doesn't work for me? I had already been married for about a decade at that point and just like, "Not really working." There was this thing called Altervista, do you remember Altervista?

Jase: I do.

Amy: Google.

Dedeker: I do. I remember Altervista.

Emily: A little older than the two of us.

Amy: Yes, I did a lot of complicated search queries in Altervista and then suddenly, I saw this one polyamory, I'm like, "What's that?" A word is a powerful thing. When anybody sees a word that they don't understand typically means that that's something they can Google now and it's a lot easier than it used to be and you can instantly start to find resources. They won't necessarily all be good resources, but at least it's a starting point for research in the conversation. I tend to think that a compilation of cultivating personal friendships and online community and local poly groups are great.

I can't emphasize how grateful I am for the bolder polyamory meetup which my friend, Jessie Glaskark organizes. You guys if you want to understand what makes a good poly group, you should talk to Jessie. She's been doing this for about 10 years and it's weekly and it's packed every week because for people who are regulars, and for people who are just curious. It's a good place to have the discussion and she has a good blend of structuring the discussion and having free and open communication.

Those elements, personal friendships, local community and finding online community, I think are all essential, but especially in polyamory, don't approach community as a dating pool. That's a mistake that a lot of people make. You want to have poly acquaintances and friends and mentors so that you can observe their experience and learn from it. Too often, people just think, "Well, I want to meet poly people so I can have people to date." It's generally the wrong way to go about it.

In fact, several people come to the bolder poly meet up who aren't poly, who might be swingers or they might be monogamous, but they just enjoy having this level of conversations about relationships that they don't often get to have in person in a lot of other places.

Also, two, it helps for a lot of reasons to be out about being poly. It being poly, in particular, I found. For several reasons, the whole reason why same sex marriage came about is because a lot of people are brave enough to say, "Yes, I'm gay and no big deal." The more people knew people who were gay, the less weird it became and that built political support eventually for same-sex marriage by normalizing it.

Also, on a personal level, that normalization means that your friends can support you through relationship issues even if they might not necessarily be polyamorous themselves because it won't be automatically prejudiced against anything except monogamy. Growing up that was not the case for me, hopefully, that will be more the case for you because people have at least generally heard the word and know that it's a valid option.

Dedeker: Yes, I definitely feel like that is something that I at least notice in my own life is that I do think compared to other generations that I have more of a wealth of friends around me who maybe they themselves, I don't know if I'm more monogamously, but they're still able to be supportive even just in the very simple way of just being willing to ask about all of my partners not just one particular person, things like that.

I think, again, as we already said so hard to be able to get a true litmus test of people outside our own little bubble, but I do like to think that at least in our generation that we have more access to that for sure of people who are at least, like you said, know the term, aren't automatically scared off by it, don't automatically make it about themselves as for anything to themselves and can just be there and be supportive.

Amy: Yes, and are comfortable with you in social situations, that matters a lot too. Like I said, the social norms, they're like the velcro, so people know how to interact with each other and all these little hooks that you can grab into. That universe of hooks is expanding for a lot of people, their comfort zone has gotten broader and I'm really happy with that.

Dedeker: Amy can you tell our listeners where they could find more of your stuff and also, please tell us about the special discount that you have for Multiamory listeners specifically.

Amy: Yes, so Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator, you could find out all the information at offescalator.com and it's available on Amazon as a prim book and as an ebook, but if you want to get the really cool version, buy through offescalator.com. First of all, because I can do things like cool special discounts that I can't really do on Amazon. Second, because I'll send you a signed copy, how cool is that? The discount is go to offescalator.com and when you purchase the book, use the discount code Multiamory and you will get a 20% discount off of that for a signed copy mailed to you personally that may or may not have fur from a black cat on it.

Dedeker: It's considered a bonus, I guess, unless you're allergic.

Amy: Yes, if you're allergic, you might want to send me a note about that. I'll make sure I pull it out of that box. Also, like I said, this is the first in a series of books. I meant to have at least the second book out right now but life. The second book that I'm in the process of finishing now is called How Does That Work and it's answers to 12 common questions of people get about unconventional relationships. Again, it's based on the research I've done previously plus some additional surveys that I'm doing now.

For most of those questions in that book, I'm going to be doing on offescalator.com, some short surveys to gather some additional and updated information, since my original information is about four years old now. Then after that, is Off the Escalator in the Closet which is how people navigate decisions about being out or in the closet about their relationships and how to make the world unfriendly or unsafe place for all kinds of relationships.

Dedeker: Great. Excellent, it's so exciting that you have all these projects coming down the line and definitely excited to see what you have next. I'm sure when your next book is come out, we'll probably have you back on the show, so our listeners can look forward to that. I feel like I learned a lot today and thank you so much for joining us and sharing your wisdom.

Amy: Well, thank you for being my 20 and 30 something focus group here, I appreciate.

Dedeker: You know what? There's only one of us who's still in their 20s for about another week or so actually.

Emily: My birthday is next week. Dear God, and then 38 here I come.

Amy: That's okay and it just keeps getting better. Listen, as soon as you hit 40, you officially get to not give a fuck anymore.

Dedeker: I thought I got that at 30. Once I turned 30, I was operating this whole time thinking that I didn't get to give a fuck.

Amy: No, you don't need even know yet, just hang on.


Emily: Well, thank you.

Dedeker: Just more to look forward to, I guess.

Emily: Absolutely.

Amy: Alright, thanks very much for having me here, I really appreciate your work. Dedeker, you did a great job with your book. Well done.

Dedeker: Jeez. Gosh, I wasn't expecting it, I wasn't expecting the compliments. I don't even know how to take it. Gosh, thank you.

Jase: Thank you so much to Amy. That was awesome. I feel like I learned a lot, I think all of us did. She's also just really cool though, to hear her talk about all this stuff. She has so much experience writing about it and talking to people about it and interviewing people about it that that really shows in just how easily she can talk about it.