This is the second part of Peter McGraw’s conversation with Amy Gahran, the author of Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life. They delve deeply into a conversation about solo living as an alternative to the relationship escalator. As a result, Amy helps Peter better define what it means to be solo. Here is a hint: the focus is on autonomy – whether you are single or partnered.
Listen to Episode #33 here:
Before I introduce the episode, I want to read a portion of a reader’s email. Nikki from the UK writes, “Hi, Peter. I hope you are well. I wanted to say how much I’m enjoying your Solo Podcast. I’ve always been single and love my solo life. As a solo and an introvert, I’ve been rehearsing for lockdown most of my life. Despite everything going on, I’m blessed to be happy and coping well. Most of my friends are in miserable relationships and it breaks my heart. I spend my time doing what I want when I want. I cannot imagine living any other way. I count my gratitude every day for the lovely stress-free life I lead. Coming across your podcast brought joy to my day as I heard yourself and others revel in the splendor of the solo life and expressing thoughts I’ve had for years.” Thanks so much, Nikki. I’m amazed by the number of emails, calls, texts and DMs that I received. I want to say thank you to all of you and to Nikki for the encouragement.
This is the second part of my conversation with Amy Gahran, the author of Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love And Life. We delve more deeply into solo living as an alternative to the relationship escalator and she helps me better define what it means to be solo. I’ll give you a hint. The focus is on autonomy, to be autonomous whether you are single or partnered. Be sure to check out her website, OffEscalator.com, where she’s conducting a new survey for her next project. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
Our return guest is Amy Gahran. She is a journalist, host of the blog, SoloPoly.net and author of Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love And Life. You can learn more about her book at OffEscalator.com and participate in a forthcoming survey for folks in unconventional relationships. She took part in a previous episode where we discuss the relationship escalator and alternatives to it. She returns to help me better define what solo living means. Welcome back, Amy.
Peter, it’s good to talk to you again.
First of all, for folks who haven’t read to part one of this, you need to read to part one. There’s so much good information in there whether or not you’re interested in unconventional relationships or not. It’s fascinating and liberating. There’s a lot to learn and Amy’s book is outstanding. This show is new, growing, and fun. It has a nice little niche which is a positive view of single living. I’ve been a lot more focused on the remarkable life side of the show. That is, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live a remarkable life. The idea that there are multiple paths to living a remarkable life, and I’ve given a lot less thought to what it means to be solo.
You have a section in your book about autonomy. You have an entire chapter dedicated to solo living. You used the term, solo. I had not read your book when I had picked this term and I find myself without a great definition, to be honest. I have the term, “Single person’s guide to a remarkable life,” but I have partnered listeners who have what they describe as a solo mentality. I want to have a big tent. I want this to be welcoming to lots and lots of people. I don’t want it to feel exclusive in any way. I do want it to be positive. If you want to complain about solo living, you can go elsewhere. Amy, let’s talk a little bit about the term, solo, your use of it, and how it relates to some of the concepts in your book and elsewhere.
It’s worth differentiating between solo and single. These are related concepts but they are not complete synonyms. In mainstream society, talking about walking down the street, when you can go to a bar and talk to people in a bar. Single means that you are not currently in any intimate, sexual or romantic relationships that involve any particular ongoing nature, depth or commitment. There’s a casual serious dichotomy. You might be casually dating one or more people but you’re not serious with anybody yet. That line between casual and serious or having no intimate connections at all, which many people choose not to, that’s the single side of the fence. The not single side of the fence is if you have been seeing in an intimate relationship with somebody for any length of time and there’s a depth of feeling emotional commitment. In mainstream society, that’s where that line tends to get drawn.
Solo is living life as an autonomous individual regardless of your relationship status. You might have relationships that are deep that last for years or decades where you have willed your house to that person if you die but you don’t want to live with them while you’re alive. You don’t want their name on the title while they’re alive. You don’t necessarily want to get legally married to anybody. You might not want to merge finances with them. You might not want to identify much as a couple. You can acknowledge that you have this relationship and this person is important to you. They are a consideration and even a priority for you but you do not allow the considerations of that relationship to interfere with you making your own decisions about your life. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about other people, but it means that you make your own decisions about how your life works.
What I hear you saying is using the term, solo, there may be overlap with being single but it’s not necessary. It’s a mindset and then also may find its way into behaviors. I think about this too. In part one, we talked about being interviewed. You meet someone on an app, you meet for coffee or a drink, and you start feeling like these are interview questions rather than get to know you questions. For me, I’ve never lived with someone. I had one girlfriend. I’d moved in with her for a short period of time because I was doing a renovation, but it wasn’t traditional like we’re moving in or as you use the term merging in our possessions and so on.
There were a lot of people who are temporarily cohabiting right now because of social isolation and quarantine.
I might get asked like, “Would you ever live with a partner?” My honest answer is I can’t say yes and I can’t say no. I don’t have a strong desire to live with someone but I’m not going to rule it out. I am also not looking to do that. I’m not eager to do that in any way. That’s an example of my solo mentality that even if I have someone I’m very serious about, I still may not want them to live with me.
Would you evaluate the importance, commitment, depth or value of a relationship based on whether it involved cohabitation?
I wouldn’t but I know that the world does. When I come across people who are in relationships and they have different bedrooms, residents or whatnot, I find that exciting because these are people who are doing something very clearly that works for them because they’re going against the convention in such a striking way. I find it uplifting but I don’t understand that I’m not the norm. The average person might find that puzzling even threatening and certainly they might dismiss that relationship as not being as important or something like that. They’d say, “You don’t share a bed, you don’t share a residence. How serious could they be?”
You might be in a relationship with somebody for years and they still don’t get invited to family gatherings with you.
I’ll tell you how I know I’m cut from a solo cloth. I have had relationships where I’ve said, “I’m not doing the holidays with you and your family. I’m not going to do it. I don’t do it with my family. I’m not going to start doing it with yours.” I recognize that’s unusual, but almost all of my Christmases are spent alone or maybe with one other person, not in any sexual way but there happens to be someone I’m close with that we want to spend some time together. I could see how problematic that would be for an escalator-style relationship. To recap for people who haven’t read part one, the hallmarks of an escalator relationship or monogamy merging which is some merging of possessions, finances and identity, thinking of yourselves as a couple, a sexual romantic connection, some continuity or consistency. This goes on without breaks and for the long-term and some hierarchical or some important status that this is set above other relationships.
It’s the bundle of social norms that defines how sexually or romantic intimate relationships are supposed to work, valued, and viewed in society. It’s not wrong. We deal with it every day. These are not a bad thing but in the case of something that affects such a deep intrinsically to an individual intimate part of who you are, how you connect with people and how you experience life, it can be a bundle of norms that may or may not work with how healthy relationships might look for you.
The thing about it that is striking is these things are often unstated. They’re assumed. It’s so common, pervasive, powerful, and privileged.
Anything that is normal is intrinsically privileged because of how good does abnormal sound?
When you step away from that, then suddenly there may be some risks and discomfort associated with it and so on. What I want to do with Solo is to push back against that stigma. The idea that whether you be single as in you’re living your casual existence or no intimate relationships at all. That’s the way I have thought about solo is you are not intimate or casually dating, and you’re comfortable and happy with that whether it be for now or forever. At some point, you might want to be on the escalator. As I like to say, “More power to you. I wish you the best.” What you’re suggesting, which I like a lot and I’m glad you introduce yourself to me, is that the mindset matters more than some set of checkboxes. To your point is that you can have people who are partnered, but have this solo perspective. What is it partnered but living apart?Being single is being on the other side of not being single. Solo is living autonomously regardless of your relationship status. Click To Tweet
Living apart together is the term that’s being more commonly used or they also called partners.
You might be living apart together and Solo might be a place for to get information and meet people. I like that a lot. Amy, make the case to me why should I like that idea so much.
We live in a Western society that has a lot of very interesting contrast. One of the contrasts that are particularly interesting especially in the United States, Canada, most of Western Europe and in a lot of other Western societies as well, is the idea of the power of the individual and that you are able to make your own way in the world, make your opportunities, and figure things out. That’s supposed to be a great strength and a benefit of somebody’s character. When it comes to relationships, specifically that involve sex or romance, if you don’t capture all that part of your identity and constrain it within one relationship, there’s something wrong with you and that you are immature, uncommitted, dilettante, a player and any number of variables there. It’s easier for men, specifically cisgender white men to come across as the confirmed bachelor and this is a good place in life. Everybody else is like, “Too bad, you didn’t find somebody.”
One of the things that I noticed, I call it my competitive analysis, when I looked at books and podcasts, the authors and hosts tend to be women. They tend to be focused on women for the reason that you stated which is the world is a lot harder on the ladies when it comes to embracing a single or solo lifestyle.
We get a different pressure from the relationship escalator. People who identify as women and who get read socially as women often face a lot of pressure to get on the escalator because we are not supposed to be complete individuals without it. Cisgender men have a different kind of pressure. You get on the escalator because you need that domestic support.
The first one I’ve witnessed that you’re somehow incomplete, that you haven’t done what you’re supposed to do with life as a woman if you haven’t climbed on the escalator, especially if you fail to stay on it to the end particularly with having children.
Any relationship that endures to a certain point and doesn’t endure past that point is a failure.
It’s so crazy. As a child of divorce, I’m so happy my parents got divorced. It was not a failure for them to get divorced but it was the best of all the bad decisions they could make. I hate that idea that a relationship that ends is considered a failure.
I was in a sexual and romantic relationship for many years. The best part of our relationship is since we got unmarried. He bought the house across the street from me too.
For men, I dislike this idea that men can’t take care of themselves and they need a woman to either clean them up or to settle them down.
To also handle their social life and be their social manager, family manager and outsource emotional management for them as individuals. It rather makes men look pathetic. If I were a guy, I’d be pissed off about it.
It’s an unfair stereotype of men but there is some truth to it. A lot of men in escalator relationships do themselves and their partner disservice by going along with that. That is if you let your partner manage your social life and if you rely wholly on your partner for your emotional wellbeing.
If you don’t have close friendships as an individual.
You are putting yourself at risk in a variety of ways. First of all, you risk your partner not respecting you and no one wants to have sex with someone they don’t respect. You risk being treated as another one of the children rather than as a partner. That’s bad for relationships. It’s bad for both people.
People get sick, die and leave. If that relationship was to end for any reason, you have to still be able to function. Where’s the rest of your support network?
It’s unfair to that person to be your everything. To be a good partner is to diversify. At times, it’s good for a relationship to say no, to say, “I don’t like Sally and Joe. I’m not going to that dinner. I’m not going to do it.” The person may not be happy about it but they’re going to respect you. They ought to respect you in the same way that you would respect their wishes if they say, “No, I don’t want to do that.” One of the things that I like about this solo perspective that occurs even when you’re partnered, and this may sound a very simple thing, is we might want to vacation separately. Even something like that for a typical relationship, that idea could be very threatening.
Sleeping in separate bedrooms can be very threatening to some people.
I agree with you that having this solo perspective is useful even within partnerships.
It is but there is a difference between people who are in a nested or married relationship, but they have a more individual, autonomous, solo mindset versus people who have that solo mindset are not in a nested or married relationship and that you get treated very differently and that matters. The relationship escalator and your identity about where you fall in various aspects of it are only somewhat up to you and your partners. A lot of it is also how you are going to be treated in society because of how people read you.
Let’s step back. When you use the term, nested, you’re using it in a particular way.
Cohabiting and usually financially entangled relationships. We build in this together.
You’ve got your singles which is the people that I initially thought of when I launched this show, and then what you’re introducing is, “No, you have other potential readers to these. People who may be in partnerships of some variety. They have a solo mindset also, which is one of some individualism. This idea of not merging completely in this way.” If you’re nested, the world says, “That’s okay.” If you’re not nested, the world says, “That’s not okay.”
Think about gender diversity, somebody who is not cisgender. If they don’t have breasts or wear prosthetics appearing to be breasts, it’s a lot less likely that they will get read socially as a woman and that’s going to affect how they get treated.
That means that someone who might be partnered but they’re living apart, for example, they risk the stigma.
It all exists in a spectrum like the people who live apart together and don’t see that as a transitional phase that eventually they’re intending to overcome, but that’s how it works for them. A lot of times, the relationship gets denigrated as not quite as serious or committed.
This is a difficult problem to solve. There are two problems. There’s the individual’s problem and then there’s the societal problem.
Yes, because we all exist in context.
I can speak from my own experience. I could not have launched Solo years ago even though I needed it years ago. I hadn’t reached a plateau where it came to comfort with my decisions, with my preference and enough information to be able to talk eloquently about it with people. The best way to say it is that I got to a place where I was never going to apologize for it. I recognize that some of this has to do with my privilege in the world. I can acknowledge that as a straight white man, as a tenured professor, living in North America, so on and so forth. I’m living in 2020, how much harder this would have been? I have a podcast taping that I did that’s very fun, which is people who should never have married. The idea is if this person were alive, would they have not gotten married? There was a time where the escalator was so much the norm and it was impossible to avoid it.
It’s legally enforced. Look how difficult divorce was in the United States and a lot of other places for a long time. You raised an interesting point when talking about the solo mindset, even though you might be within a relationship or perhaps more than one intimate relationship at a time because monogamy isn’t everybody’s thing. Just because you’re not monogamous, it doesn’t mean you don’t do love, commitment, and mutual support, things like that. I’m polyamorous as well as solo. I have two sweethearts and both of them are also solo. One is poly and the other is monogamous. I was at his place and we were talking. I said, “I’m doing this podcast.”
He reiterated to me how he had hiatus of almost a decade from dating after he had had his own bad experience with a relationship. He was fine with that. He’s like, “I’m doing good on my own.” He had trepidation about embarking on dating again in part because of the expectations of merging that most people have. He worked well and hard to get a very good life for himself together. He finally decided he wanted to start dating again and we started dating. He’s like, “You don’t want to live with anybody?” I was like, “No.” He had never had a vocabulary for it. He thought that if he was going to be dating somebody, it would eventually end due to incompatibilities.
That’s a common concern for people who are interested in dating, being monogamous or non-monogamous, being intimate with other people is the worry that, at some point, you’re like, “I’m going to disappoint this person because I’m not going to give them what they want which is the full ride on the escalator.” I find this with myself a lot with the topic of children because I’m very clear I don’t want children. On date number one or prior to it, I say, “I don’t want to have children.” I brace myself for the person to say, “I do. Nice meeting you,” then takes off kind of thing. It’s always so refreshing if the woman across the table reaches across and high fives me because it’s like, “There are other people who want the same thing that I do.” It’s a smaller number or they’re harder to identify. It’s not as out in the open because it’s not normative and so on.
Anytime it’s not normative, people usually aren’t going to volunteer that information and they try to get at it sideways. It’s important to have your vocabulary and put yourself out there, especially with dating. It’s not a numbers game. It’s about establishing compatibility. That’s not even about hunting for a sexual and romantic relationship that might be cohabiting, you merge finances, and you get married. You can want all that but with all the people you meet, however you encounter them, how are you compatible? What kind of relationship might emerge from what you each bring to the table? You have a whole array of options. All of those options are potentially valid, valuable and fucking cool.
One of the nice things, besides I was talking about the benefits of having a desire for an unconventional relationship is living in the present day. Not only our thing is more progressive and open to it but technologically, it’s a lot easier to do that than ever. You have apps like OkCupid that has many more categories of how someone may identify and what it is that they want versus a very simple menu that you might get on Bumble or something else like that. They’re much more common in big cities, an app called Feeld, which is very sex-positive so people are able to express desiring polyamorous and non-monogamous relationships and various kinks that they have. This intersection of people starting to figure out that the escalator is imperfect for many people, this creeping recognition that there are other options out there and that they’re okay and acceptable plus the technology makes it a better time to be stepping off the escalator.
It does bring more people into your field of contact. Technology does potentially increase your ability to come into contact with people. I’ve been on these apps for a long time. I have gotten jaded about the way that most dating apps have gone because they’re predicated upon the idea that dating is this certain thing that leads to a certain goal, either sex or to an escalator-style relationship. As I said, all kinds of connections matter and are valid. You have to be open to appreciating the value that you can find in friendships, family, mentorship, and community. People who are solo especially if they do not happen to have a relationship that might be read socially as you are partnered up, you have to work harder and more consciously to build those connections and nurture them because we don’t live in a society that supports them.
I talk about having a team. Everybody should have a team but if you’re solo, it’s important to have a team and you have to work to cultivate. I would add also professionals to the list that you had. That is a therapist, a good doctor, a financial planner/accountant or a good editor. You have this group of people, as you said, friends, mentors, colleagues and so on that frankly make for a more rich existence not only is it a diversify the existence and one that has optionality but you can learn a lot from 25 different people more than one person. I’ll take the 25 a lot of the time. I noticed what helped me become more comfortable with my soloness is I started to realize how happy I was when I was unpartnered.
Did you have a light bulb moment for that or did it creep up on you?
It crept up on me but what had ended up happening was I ended up having a bad breakup. What predicated the breakup was my disinterest in children and her interest in children. It stopped us in our tracks. It’s a big one and as it should be. I had been honest about it but we had still pursued the relationship even with that incompatibility. As I was grieving and recovering from that, one of the things that I realized was the single world I was going back to was rich in experiences. I enjoyed my day-to-day. I was healthy. I didn’t need a partner to solve any major problems in my life. I didn’t need what I would call a utilitarian partnership. I could pay the bills on my own. I could do laundry, feed myself. I had great friendships and I had this engaging career. It was like, “I don’t need this other thing.” That was liberating to have. When people were like, “Pete, I’m worried about you,” I was like, “You should not worry about me. I’m doing great. This is going to be good.”
First of all, I’m fifth out of six kids and grew up in a crowded house. I moved from there with my boyfriend at that time who I later married. I went right into living with somebody and did that for quite a long time, the better part of two decades. When we got unmarried, I moved in for a couple of years with friends. I was living in a friend’s house. She was running me one of her spare rooms and that was good. I could live with her but I couldn’t live with her boyfriend. I got my own apartment for the first time in my life at 43 years of age. I went in there thinking, “I’m going to feel so lonely.” The second week I was there, I had made plans for every evening of the week. I was going to go out somewhere. One night my plans didn’t fall through. I was sitting there, bracing myself saying, “This is it. This is where the loneliness is going to hit.” I poured a glass of wine, sat down and started reading a book. I’m like, “This rocks.” It hit me like, “I’m not going to be lonely. I can do this.”
One of the big insights in loneliness research which is important is that being alone is not always a predictor of loneliness. You can be coupled and lonely. You can be lonely in a crowd.
I never felt lonelier in my life than when I was trying to be monogamous. I was married and living in a house where we didn’t live together well.
I want to get back to you because you’re such an interesting case study in solo living. You identify as solo poly and then you have a partner who is solo poly and monogamous.
He’s solo and considers himself a monogamous. He has no desire to have another sexual or romantic relationship other than with me, at least right now but he seems set in that. My other sweetheart is poly and he has another partner as well.
I love the term, sweetheart.
The thing is when people say partner, they automatically assume a lot of that merging and entanglement. That’s not what seems pertinent to our relationship.
I liked the term too because a lover is not a good term. There are a boyfriend and girlfriend. There are a lot of imperfect terms. One thing that’s nice about sweetheart is it’s so positive. It expresses such affection.
It is gender-neutral and it works. They were wonderful guys.
I want to wrap up by revisiting a couple of things from your book where you talk about solo. These are your words. You talk about prioritizing personal autonomy. You were saying this earlier, especially in the United States about a very strong focus on the individual, independence, and liberation at least for men. At some point though, the world goes, “No, it’s time to settle down.” There is a built intention. It’s fine up to a certain point. I don’t know if these are my words or your words, “Prefer not to have someone’s permission to make life choices and don’t want to make other people’s life choices.” That’s an interesting idea. I like to use the term ‘do no harm’ to be an ethical person. I don’t want to harm anyone else, but I also liked the fact that I get to make my choices. You give up a lot of that autonomy in the typical escalator relationship. There’s someone else who’s either making choices for you or has a lot of say in terms of your choices.
For instance, the very first conversation I had with my poly sweetheart was, “You’re planning to retire to Ecuador. How cool.” “I’m not retiring to Ecuador.” That was a great thing for us to talk about. He’s going to do that someday and that’s not going to be the end of my relationship with him. I’ll have somebody to visit in Ecuador.
That’s nice that you immediately code that as being very threatening to your partnership.
No, we’re sticking by each other.
Your contention that the solo mentality is independent of relationship status. I like that idea a lot and it’s a bigger tent. What it gets down to is the heart of this idea, which is maintaining some autonomy provides opportunity. The logical extension of this which is we have one life, let’s make the most of it. Let’s make it the best that we can make it.
There’s also the practicality. Put on your oxygen mask first before attempting to assist others.
I use that all the time. There’s this great irony that if Solo is successful as a show, you have this group of people who become better and better. They become healthier, happier, living a more robust life, living on their edge, and stretching themselves. Those become very appealing people to have sex and spend time with. The idea of having this more independent view of your life can provide you the opportunity to become a better person. If you want to partner or not, you can do that. It becomes easier to do which is quite nice. I’m reflecting on our conversation, Amy, what is it do you think that we’re missing? How do you think about the benefits and costs of solohood? You do tackle this in your book. You address some of those.
There are practical, social and relational implications. On the practical side, for instance, I got my act together and did all my end-of-life paperwork. That was an interesting exercise because not only I’m unmarried and not living with any partners, I have two housemates, and I have no children. Under legal defaults, if I was to drop dead before I had gotten those papers done, notarized, and filed in the right places, everything would’ve gone to my next of kin. I love my family of origin but I want to leave my house to my former spouse. He has similar plans if something happens to him. That’s something we decided we wanted to do to create a little bit of infrastructure for each other. That doesn’t mean we can’t change our minds about that at some point but so far, that’s what we want to do. I also needed to think more specifically about who would be making medical decisions for me. I live geographically far away from my family of origin.
I’m no longer married to my former spouse and I wouldn’t want my former spouse to be the person making medical decisions because he would be so emotionally wrought in a situation if I was incapacitated or facing death. I didn’t want to put that on him. One of my sisters is an RN and one of my soul sisters, one of my dear friends here in Colorado is extremely capable and clearheaded in any crisis. I was able to have a very clear conversation with my friends saying, “Would you be willing to be in this role for me?” She was like, “Unhesitatingly.” My soul sister, my friend here locally is my first medical power of attorney, then the backup is my sister who’s the RN. I wanted to select the people who I trusted enough and was closest to but would be the right person to make that decision. If you don’t have escalator relationships and if you don’t have good relationships with your family of origin, legal defaults are going to screw you on the end-of-life stuff.
It’s useful for me to learn this because my sister gets everything, not because we didn’t get along as kids but when it comes to making decisions, she’s far away. This is something I should be thinking about like who might be the person who’s close by who would be useful in a situation like that?
In the process of doing that, I’ve been talking to a lot of my friends and helping them too with COVID-19. Everybody is thinking about this stuff now. A lot of people are like, “I don’t know who I would ask to do that.” It gets complicated with COVID and relationships for people are living together because it’s likely that you both might have it at the same time. You might want to think about having somebody else who would make those decisions. A long way of saying that being solo, I am used to thinking through those situations and having those conversations. Having conversations about mutual support with people. I don’t assume that somebody I might be having a long-term ongoing intimate sexual relationship with might want to have anything to do with say my family of origin or my other friends. We negotiate these things and that is okay. Frankly, anybody who would think that is weird is not compatible for much of any kind of relationship with me. It gets to be intrinsically the ability to have those conversations and to negotiate any relationship is itself a damn good filter.
One of the great benefits is there’s a level of authenticity that comes with embracing one’s desire for autonomy that you get to be your full self. It may be difficult in some ways because it’s outside the norm but at least you get to be the person that you feel like you’re meant to be.
I don’t necessarily think that people who ride the relationship escalator and get coupled up in a very enmeshed way are necessarily excluded from being their full and complete selves. That’s a valid approach to life and it works well for people. If you think that’s the only path to happiness, fulfillment, and realization, you’re missing a big option that you should at least consider.
I agree but the person who to their core has this solo mentality and then they try to do the relationship escalator, that’s unfortunate for both them and for their partner.
A lot of people do it and then they figure out late in life that that’s not what they want to do. Things fall apart for a while but then they start to figure things out a little bit better after that.
The last thing I want to talk to you about is this idea of later in life. This might be that I’m getting older and the world is changing all at the same time but my sense of a solo lifestyle is that it gets easier as you get older. Let me make the case in here what you think about it. One is as you start to move away from childbearing years so sometimes there’s less pressure for a more conventional relationship whether it be for yourself because you want to have kids or work for someone who for who you’re looking for in a partner. Also, as you go on in life, people are more likely to have tried the escalator and it didn’t work. They’re now divorced and they are reluctant to do it again. They’re like, “I tried that, that didn’t work.” There’s maybe some other way to go about doing this. First of all, without the immediacy of getting married and having kids because of some window of time that is optimal and the fact that people have enough experience with the escalator to know that it’s imperfect or it’s imperfect for them? Is that your sense also?
Yes and no. I have a very broad social circle that spans a very wide age gap. I have friends in their early twenties and friends who are in their 70s. To some extent, it depends on how vulnerable somebody feels socially or logistically. For instance, people who may be poor, people who might have a chronic illness, people who might be living in an area where the local culture is not just couple-centric but punishes people for not being coupled up. It’s harder to come to that realization at any point in life because it gets so ingrained on you that being solo is simply not safe.
It’s not an option. Marriage for so many years in history was this utilitarian thing. It served these other purposes besides the idea of soulmates and romance and so on. It was a way to survive and that continues now. There are all these jokes about the divorce rate going up because of the pandemic, on the other hand, because of all the economic problems, people don’t get divorced when there are recessions and so on. I recognize the difficulty in deviating under circumstance.
Assuming that it’s not a matter of feeling safe or it is just a matter of choice and that you have the economic means to live independently which does not necessarily mean living alone. For instance, I have two housemates. The reason I was able to buy a house is a long-time self-employed logistically single woman. Housemates were in my business plan and you know the housing market in the Boulder area so that was not going to be a problem getting housemates here. I state this because I don’t overlook it. Many people are logistically on the edge now, more so than before, but provided that it is safe and feasible for you to be. I do think it is easier to approach it after you’ve had a lot of life experience, not necessarily because people might not have been intrinsically solo earlier in life but that is so much social reinforcement that couple that is what you want.
It’s very hard to imagine your path to happiness. It’s so much more tempting to want to be led to it. It can seem daunting to find your path even though that’s striking out on your own is romanticized, the feasibility, thus putting one foot in front of the other and figuring out your damn self and your own damn life can feel daunting and it can be tempting to hook onto the illusion that somebody else can do that for you and that there was a preset path that is going to work. It all comes down to the people and individuals involved. Sometimes you have to bump your head up against life enough times.
As I’m reflecting on my argument, I even am not sure I agree with it because one of the things that are striking about young people now is they are much more aware of the alternatives than our generation. Even there’s evidence that 25% of Millennials will never marry. There’s some Pew Research Study that suggests this which is a much higher rate than ever before and so on. Experience doesn’t matter as much but you’re right that one of the things that does matter is experience, mentors, and exemplars. It’s why your book, for example, is so important because it may not be a how-to book but it is one that demonstrates the vast variety of options that people have. The fact that there are people who are living those options incredibly happily.
Or not sometimes.
I know but the potential for happiness is there for them. My hope with this show as it gets a conversation going and gets people to go, “There are other people like me. It’s okay to think this way. I can start to learn how to navigate this.”
It also helps make the world a safer place for everyone because even if what you want is a very traditional life and to be coupled up in a merged relationship. If you want to ride the relationship escalator all the way, that’s great, but you can learn how not to stigmatize people for doing other things.
For the relationship escalator folks who may have stuck around to the very end, it is good to remind people that this may be different but there’s no valence to it. It’s not wrong.
My mono-sweetheart often goes with me when people get together in person. There’s a very good weekly polyamory meetup in the Boulder area. It’s a facilitated discussion and then it’s followed by a social time at a local pub. He likes to go to that even though he’s not poly himself and it’s not because he’s dating a poly person. He’s like, “People talk about basic relationship stuff. They get together.” It’s like, “How do you resolve disagreements? How do you talk about boundaries?” He’s like, “People do this.” I’m like, “Rock on.”
I find it so exciting about solo living, consensual, non-monogamy and polyamory is the need for honesty and how important it is to be able to communicate and negotiate. That’s refreshing. It’s something that escalator relationships don’t always do. You can live your best life when you can approach it from a place of authenticity, honesty, and be willing to ask for what you want.Being alone is not always a predictor of loneliness. Click To Tweet
Especially as times get hard, circumstances change and life throws you curveballs, all those skills you have for supporting yourself, others, for negotiating and adapting to situations, and finding your own feet under you will serve you well. Everybody is getting a big old dose of chaos.
Amy, thank you for joining me for part two. This has been as good as I thought it would be. I’m going to send people to OffEscalator.com.
I’m about to launch a new survey for the second edition of the book. I’m doing some additional research. It’s specifically about how this time of chaos is affecting people’s relationships.
Thanks for all you do. I appreciate you reaching out. This has been fantastic. I’ve learned a lot.
Thank you. I appreciate being invited.
- Stepping Off The Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love And Life
About Amy Gahran
Amy Gahran is a journalist, host of the blog SoloPoly.Net, and author of Stepping off the Relationship Escalator.
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