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What is the Relationship Escalator?

The Relationship Escalator is a social script designed to uphold hetero-capitalist patriarchy.

The Relationship Escalator implies that your relationships are not real or valid unless they lead to increasing degrees of codependent enmeshment.

The Relationship Escalator is a Scarcity Paradigm

You're only allowed to have one romantic and sexual partner on this one-way ride. And as if that weren't adding enough pressure to who you choose to be your one and only, you're also expected to share a bed. AND finances. Ultimately, your sense of self becomes commodified into couple-hood. Being a "couple" becomes a shared identity.

This commodification is always clear to me around the holidays when I receive cards from women in my life who sign the card "love, [me] and [my partner]" when I don't even have a relationship with their partner. Or even when I do, it's clear the partner had no participation in the writing of the letter.

Why can't I just receive a letter from my friend? How come their partner had to enter our relationship dynamic? What happened to their sense of self? Where did it go? It's like they're just 1/2 now.

Once upon a time, when I was living in St. Louis, Missouri and had not yet come out as trans, I was living with my wife and our dog in a two bedroom apartment...except for we shared a bedroom (and thus a bed). I remember how difficult it felt when our sex drives were misaligned and I wanted to masturbate. But my bed was their bed, so I couldn't simply masturbate without feeling like I was invading their privacy.

While it was very enjoyable to have a snuggle buddy every night, I felt claustrophobic not having my own sense of space where I could masturbate when I needed or journal and cry. You know, the things you do in private. Living together increased the amount of time we spent together, but decreased the overall amount of quality time. Sharing a bed eventually become so mundane that the cuddle effect slowly faded away.

Now that I'm deep into Relationship Anarchy, it's clear to me how sharing a bedroom, and especially a bed, with another person eliminates your sense of personal privacy.

What happens to your sense of self when you lose personal privacy?

I LOVE sleepovers and I loooove cuddles. In my heart, I want to cuddle every day. But what I've learned about myself through the Stability Wheel is that I can only really handle one sleepover per week max. Otherwise, I get thrown off balance. There's grief in accepting my limitations, but honoring my needs is part of how I develop secure attachment.

Something that helps me develop secure attachment with my partners is when they honor their needs around sleepovers too. When I'm hanging out with one of my partners we always leave sleepovers as a loose intention. We don't set them in stone because you never truly know what you're needing until the moment arrives. And Relationship Anarchy is all about relating authentically - not molding yourself to fit expectations.

So even if we're both excited about sleeping over together, sometimes their energy needs replenishing. When it comes time to decide whether or not I'm sleeping over, they'll pause, close their eyes and feel into their body. Then they'll relay their body's communication to me. It's exciting when they have energetic capacity to share space and cuddle the night away. Yummy yummy 😋

Sometimes, though, their body expresses a clear need to "be in their own energy" as my partner says.

Of course I experience grief in those moments - grieving that my desire doesn't align with what is accessible. But I also honor what they're needing. When my partner communicates honestly to me about what they're needing, especially when they know it might disappoint me, it deepens the trust in our relationship. The grief and the trust co-exist simultaneously. But the grief is fleeting while the trust accumulates over time, brick by brick.

Relationship Anarchy is all about letting things flow organically - not forcing things. I would feel so sad to know that my partner was overextending themself just to please me. That's not a relationship built on trust, but on performance. There might be an underlying fear that "if I say 'no", they might leave me." That fear only exists because of the social conditioning of the Relationship Escalator, which implies if you love someone you will give ALL of yourself to them. No boundaries. Within this scarcity paradigm, any personal boundary you set would imply you're rejecting them.

If you've ever experienced someone's personal boundary as a rejection of who you are as a person, you can thank the Relationship Escalator.

Part of secure attachment is trusting that your partner can both love you and hold the boundaries they need to stay in balance physically, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, socially and creatively. Your partner's boundaries are a reflection of what they're needing, which has nothing to do with you.

The hetero-capitalist patriarchy socially conditions us to be disconnected from our bodies - a true act of violence. The body holds divine wisdom, and if you listen close enough, the body will tell you what you need to be well and safe. The hetero-patriarchal scripts define boundaries and expectations without the body's consent. If you're neglecting your needs to prove to your partner you love them, then someone has interfered with your relationship with yourself.

Relationships built on authenticity and trust require you to be in relationship with your body, so you can maintain a sense of self. Having a sense of self means setting boundaries based on what your body is telling you it needs. And that ebbs and flows moment to moment. Your needs are fluid, not stagnant.

When the connection with the body is severed by outside forces (hetero-capitalist patriarchy), you rely on the scripts laid out for you to set the boundaries on your behalf.

Relationship Anarchists maintain their sense of self and rely on their body's wisdom to guide the boundaries they set. Secure attachment happens when both parties are getting their needs met without interpreting the boundaries as rejection, or having to betray themselves to express love. Prentis Hemphill says "boundaries are the distance where I can love you and me simultaneously."

When you lose your sense of self by sharing your sense of privacy with another human, it becomes even more difficult to receive your body's wisdom and set the boundaries you need to take care of yourself. When my partner says "I need to be in my own energy" it often means they need to re-establish clear communication with their body.

Sharing a house, but especially a bed, enmeshes your energy. You don't realize it, of course, because energy is invisible. And you've been socially programmed to suppress your e-motions. Energy in motion.

How could you possibly know what you're needing if you're disconnected from your e-motions?

If your energy is constantly blended with another person's, how do you know what's theirs and what's yours?

Are you setting boundaries from your internal compass or defaulting to outside expectations to guide you?

There's little room for authentic trust to build when boundaries are based on stagnant roles you've inherited instead of honoring the needs your body communicates to you in each moment. The Relationship Escalator creates the illusion of trust by setting the relationship boundaries for you.

But how strong is your trust when it relies on an entity outside of yourself - the hetero-capitalist patriarchy?

For example, if your finances weren't intertwined with your partner, would you still feel secure in your relationship? What if they started having sex with someone else? Or what if they had an emotionally intimate relationship with someone that wasn't you? Are you still feeling as secure in your relationship?

If you're unable to trust that your partner will stay with you unless you merge your sense of self as a "couple", then trust within the relationship is superficial. It relies on structures outside of yourself (sharing finances/housing, emotional/sexual exclusivity).

For there to be an authentic sense of trust in the relationship, both partners need to have secure attachment with themselves first. Otherwise you're seeking safety through performing roles laid out to you by systems of oppression.

And. hey, no judgment. I've been there too. We all have. Unless you were raised outside of imperialist culture, we've all been indoctrinated in it.

I don't expect this to be (emotionally) easy to read - that's not the point. The point is to zoom out and understand how you got here. How you can share a house and kids and still not trust that your spouse isn't gonna leave you one day. Why you still feel the pressure to be sexy through your partner's eyes as if your safety depended on it. Why your sense of security gets threatened when your partner connects with anyone outside of you. Why your partner feels entitled to your body, your time, your energy no matter what state of being you're in.

As James Baldwin says, "Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

It's not too late to start attuning to your body. To throw away the performance and start developing authentic trust. These are skills you can learn through practice! One step at a time.

To explore what commitment looks like outside of the Relationship Escalator, check out my self-paced online class, Non-Monogamy 101 for Spiritual Souls.


To support my writing share this post with a friend or leave me a tip 🥰

For 1:1 relationship support, book a curiosity call to see if we're a good fit.

If you're looking for community while you unlearn hierarchical ways of relating, join the Love & Liberation Network. Each month I guide you with clear steps to developing secure attachment and we meet weekly over Zoom to witness, celebrate and support each other.

Because believing in a new paradigm is the first step. Helping your animal body feel safe as you make the switch is the true journey. You don't have to trek it alone 💜

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