Monday, June 19, 2017

Off the Relationship Escalator with Amy Gahran - Giveaway!

You may have noticed I've been giving away some of my favorite books on the blog lately. Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator by Amy Gahran is one that blew me away. It's "meaty," with great stories, research, and resources, but tremendously easy to read. So I'm delighted to have her on the blog for a mini-interview, and to be giving away a copy of this book to one lucky commenter.

But what does the "Relationship Escalator" even mean? From the site:

When most people say “a relationship,” they usually mean something like this:
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.

Here are the questions I asked Amy, and her responses:

1) A connection with a sibling, or a best friend might be emotionally closer and longer-lasting than our latest romantic relationship. Yet we're taught that by pop culture that the most important relationship is supposed to be an "Escalator" one; romantic and/or sexual.

Did it surprise you, as you were gathering the research, that so many people voiced how important these kinds of relationships were? If that didn't surprise you, what did? I'm sure there was more than one surprise or unexpected insight as people were sharing their experiences.

The fact that people attach strong significance and commitment to some of their nonromantic and/or nonsexual relationships did not surprise me; I see that every day. What is notable, I thought, was how many people mentioned that stepping off the Escalator gave them motivation and a sense of permission to own how strongly they value their non-Escalator, nonsexual/romantic ties. Several specifically mentioned regretting undervaluing or neglecting those relationships previously, before they began to question the Escalator.

The biggest and best surprise I had from doing this research was hearing from over 100 people who identify as somewhere on the asexual/aromantic spectrum. You wanna think really, really hard about relationships and intimacy? Try taking sex and/or romance out of the picture.

2) Another section I found fascinating is about how romantic relationships don't necessarily end cleanly, or end at all. There can be pauses and resumptions, we can break up as a romantic relationship but stay friends. Many people are doing this and co-parenting quite amicably, for example. Why shouldn't people break up the traditional way, hating each other and trash-talking their former partners to anyone who will listen? What's the benefit to actually staying friends (as opposed to paying it lip service), or even as occasional sexual partners?

I think -- and this is just my guess, based on hearing so many stories and witnessing so many relationships on and off the Escalator -- that the "normal" mode of breakup + completely exiting each others lives, often with bad feelings, stems from a few things:

1. The common belief that positive, ongoing ties with former partners indicates a failure to "let go" and "move on." There's a *lot* of mainstream social pressure to do these things; to "get over" a relationship. People view cutting ties with former partners as a sign of maturity or personal growth. And depending on why the relationship ended, that might be the case -- but not always.

2. A perceived need to clear the way to jump back on the Escalator again ASAP. When people stay unpartnered "too long," their suitability as an Escalator partner often starts to be questioned. They're not dating anyone seriously yet? What's wrong with them?

Also, the loss of social prestige associated with not being part of a couple is really challenging for many people. Plus, often, their ability to function socially and logistically as an individual may have suffered if they'd ridden the Escalator for a long time. Finding a new Escalator relationship can feel like the safer option, in so many ways. And people often run to perceived safety.

3. The competitiveness fostered by how the Escalator works. Any other potential partner is easily cast as a rival or threat. This is especially true with former intimate partners -- people often worry whether good ties with former partners = the potential to "rekindle the flame."

4. The Escalator is designed to be hard to leave. When you've fused your life -- and more importantly, your identity -- with an Escalator partner, then ending that relationship poses the risk of severe logistical and existential disruption. Facing that risk, and the fear associated with it, requires working up a lot of energy to leave. Often the most expedient way to muster the needed "escape velocity" is via negative emotions.


....All that said, whether or not former lovers/partners maintain a genuine, healthy friendship (or other positive "aftership") once their original intimate relationship has ended, depends on the people and circumstances. Sometimes people break up and exit each other's lives for good reasons.

Also, shifting a relationship from, say, a marriage to a platonic friendship, often requires effort and energy. No one is required to expend that energy.

Personally, I think "let's be friends" can be rather oppressive if it's treated as a blanket best outcome. In its own way, that can be as oppressive as saying everyone should ride the Escalator. If it works out, great. But if not, then not.

The good thing is that the awareness and negotiation skills that are needed to step off the Escalator in any way (or even simply to consider that possibility) tends to make people more skilled, compassionate and humane about how they conclude, de-escalate or otherwise change their relationships.

3) Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator is planned as a series of three books, with the next, 10 Common Questions about Unconventional Relationships planned to release later this year. There's already a lot of "meat" in this book - can you give a quick preview of three of those ten questions?

Here's all 10 -- take your pick!

1. Parenting: What About the Children?
2. Commitment: Who can you count on?
3. Difficult Emotions: Don't You Get Jealous?
4. Oh, the Drama! How Can You Stand It?
5. Sex: So You Get Laid All the Time, Right?
6. Slut! (OK, not a question, but people hear that a lot...)
7. Sexual Health: Aren't You Scared You'll Catch a Disease?
8. Working things out: Isn't this just too hard?
9. How do you find people to date?
10. Communication and negotiation: Talk, talk talk....


Amy Gahran is an independent journalist, editor, blogger, author and publisher based in Boulder, Colorado. In 2013 she began a research project into unconventional intimate relationships, culminating in the book "Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life," published in 2017. It's the first of at least three books on this subject.

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Aggie Sez/Amy Gahran
Publisher, Off the Escalator LLC


Find Amy:
OffEscalator.com
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Leave a comment below to win a copy of this fabulous book. Entries will close on Friday, June 23. And if you feel like being a sport, sign up for my mailing list (link at top right of page), and I'll let you know when my book is ready to be born.