unny thing about escalators – they’re designed to go in one direction and trying to go against the flow of the moving steps is highly discouraged… and difficult. The relationship escalator is no different, which poses challenges for those of us who don’t always follow society’s “standard operating procedures.” As those of us that prefer to take the stairs go up and down within the same relationship, navigating the different levels of intimacy can feel tricky, especially with someone we’ve stepped down with and may now want to step back up.
What does intimacy look like?
Cap’n Ron says a ship is just like a woman, responds to touch – also, stick to the trails, there’s guerillas in the woods. However true that may be, gorillas being native to equatorial Afria, just about nobody wants you to just slide up and start touching them. A-, demi-, and sapio- sexualities are becoming more highlighted in the polyamory and kink communities, even popping up in swinging circles. Intimacy isn’t just touch, sharing a meal, time, or space with someone can feel close. In the same way one may have different primaries for differing domains of life, so does intimacy follow suit. Couples may share intellectual, creative, experiential, spiritual, emotional, or physical intimacy all at differing levels as they feel is right. I may really appreciate my yoga partner, the discussions we have, and the experience of walking our journey’s together, this does not mean I want to get bendy with them in the bedroom – doesn’t mean I don’t.
When to Initiate intimacy
When you have history with someone, following the escalator script may look as out of order as a Picasso painting. Traditionally we can follow the first two steps – making contact with potential partners and then initiating a romantic relationship with said partners. Our timing for the initiation of intimacy can vary depending on what we’d like to get out of the relationship, and what our potential partners are looking to get out of it. In ethical nonmonogamy “courtship”, these discussions can be direct, specific, and upfront. So, this is largely up to you – take things slow, jump right in, involve other potential partners, or don’t. Just be sure to keep communication open and continuous to make sure everyone is on the same page.
As you continue making your way up the relationship escalator, you may find that the third step works for you too – claiming and defining your relationships, whatever that means for you. Whether you’re engaged in something that’s monogamous or ethically non-monogamous or intend to make changes later as you meet more potential partners, make sure you’ve clearly defined what you’re looking for and how you and your partner would like to present yourselves (or not present yourselves).
The fourth step then involves establishing rhythms with your partner or partners, which may or may not be important to you. Do you want to continue engaging with your partners when you’re not together? Or are you the types that give each other complete and total independence when you’re not together. That’s all up to you and defining that falls within this step of the relationship escalator.
If you’ve already been up a few paces with someone, then got a “go back 3 spaces” card, you don’t necessarily have to lose all the rhythms, rituals, and roles that have been established.
When to Withdraw Intimacy
The fifth step, monogamous commitment, is where poly or swinger folx don’t fit the box, and it may be the point where you want to start diverging from the traditional escalator and find your own set of stairs – especially if you don’t intend on engaging in strictly monogamous relationships. So how do you navigate from here?
Communication is key when it comes to understanding whether you can keep things as they are, or if you should move on from your current partner(s). Are they interested in moving up to the next step, which involves commitment and/or transitioning into a more traditional (aka monogamous) relationship? Kitchen table, parallel, non / nesting, non/hierarchical, closed / open plural relationships, there’s many custom fit options. Can you make agreements on how to share and participate in this relationship?
When your ideals and expectations for defining the relationships begin to diverge, it’s a good idea to discuss what levels in what areas of intimacy are comfortable with any partners whose expectations may have changed. Not ready to withdraw intimacy with that particular partner (or set of partners)? Relationship counseling could help you decide together what’s best for each of you as individuals, and the relationship.
Riding the Ex-calator?
So, you have partners that you’ve been intimate with before and you’re interested in reigniting that old flame for one reason or another. Before shoes come off to jump back into the bounce house action there are a few things worth considering. First, why did that relationship de-escalate or remove intimacy in the first place? Second, what are you looking to get out of a re-established relationship and activities. Third, how do they feel about potentially reconnecting with you in that way? Finally, do you recognize that you may again want to de-escalate?
The simple answer, like Jewel says, is to follow your intuition (which is actually a few modules of the brain which work overtime), hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Maybe they were feeling closed minded about your intent to engage in ethically non-monogamous relationships and as a result, you withdrew intimacy. If something has helped them change their perspective or feelings and you both feel comfortable re-establishing the relationship, go for it! Or maybe they’ve decided they want to work things out through relationship counseling. As long as you’re both on board, there’s no reason not to.
If, on the other hand, they’re still looking for something that you’re not comfortable giving, then it may best to keep things in the past where they belong.
Regardless of where you stand on the “Sexcalator”, the key to deciding what’s right for you and anyone else you may be involved with intimately, is self-understanding and communication. Know where you stand, what you want, and how you feel. Share that with your partner or potential partners. Then, ask them to share their feelings with you.
If you or someone you know needs helps navigating the basics of the Relationship Escalator, a counselor may be able to help. Schedule a brief, free consultation using the form below to find out if counseling sessions are right for you.