Survey for my book: filling in some gaps


August 26, 2013 by aggiesez

Work on my forthcoming book about nontraditional relationships, “Off the escalator: Great relationships that don’t follow society’s rules” is moving forward. Today I just got in my 800th survey! But I still have some gaps, and I’m hoping you can help me.

My book is about mutually consensual intimate relationships: the reasons why people have them, and ways to meet those needs/goals which don’t strictly follow the standard relationship escalator social norm. In short, escalator-style relationships involve only two conjugal partners (regardless of the genders involved), are 100% sexually and romantically exclusive, share a household, and are intended to be lifelong (or relationships on a clear path toward that traditional goal). Once you reach the top of that escalator, you’re “supposed” to stay there until one partner dies — and if your relationship ends or changes significantly after that point, it’s usually deemed a “failure.”

This book will be mostly about people’s stories, told in their own words. I’m using this online survey to both gather stories, and to identify people whom I’d like to interview to gather more detail.

Yeah, managing so much qualitative data is a huge job, and it bogged down my progress on writing for a few months. Now that the writing is well underway, I’m mostly interested in getting in surveys that fill in some gaps.

So far I’ve heard mostly from polyamorous people, swingers, kinksters, sex workers (and their relationship partners) and people who fall along the asexual/aromantic spectrum. I’ve also heard much from people with disabilities and their partners, who have modified their approach to intimate relationships to accommodate diverse needs and challenges. Their input has been amazing, and I’m deeply grateful.

Still, there are some other common kinds of off-the-escalator relationships that I’d also like to represent in this book, and I’ve heard from very few of these people. So for now I’m doing a last push to publicize the survey in order to get more responses from these groups:

  • Don’t ask, don’t tell. Relationships which are nominally open, but where partners specifically avoid sharing info about other relationships/encounters. I’d like to hear both from the partners who have such arrangements in their relationship, as well as from people who date, have sex with, or have deeper relationships with such people under these conditions.
  • Non-cohabitating primary partners. Most people who are in at least one long-term primary-style relationship share a household with their primary partner(s). But some primary partners don’t live together, by choice or by circumstance, either sometimes or all the time. This is true for some monogamous couples as well as other types of primary partnerships. Arrangements range from different residences in the same building or block to intercontinental primaries.
  • Seniors exploring off the escalator. With the increasing population of widowed or otherwise unpartnered seniors residing in assisted living or retirement communities, many seniors are renewing their exploration of sex and relationships — often without escalator-style goals of marriage, combining households, or exclusivity.
  • Single/solo by choice, but not poly/open. I’ve heard a lot from solo poly folk, which is wonderful. But there are many, many more people who don’t want to have poly/open relationships, who are single, and who aren’t actively seeking a significant intimate relationships. Some of these singles are serially monogamous, but prefer not to share a household or otherwise “ride the escalator all the way to the top.” Others date/have sexual partners only on a fairly casual and nonexclusive basis, but without the level of disclosure and negotiation with partners and metamours typically associated with poly/open relationships. In common parlance, they’re “dating around” — but they don’t pretend to be monogamous or lie about that. They just don’t voluntarily disclose info about all their connections, and they’re not actively shopping for a primary-style partner.
  • Celibate/non-intimate by choice. How can people live well without any intimate relationships? Some people prefer not to engage in sexual, romantic or intimate relationships with other people, for a variety of reasons. Some are primarily dedicated to a spiritual path or community, or to a project or career. Some lack interest in (or are averse to) such connections. Some prefer to focus on family and nonsexual friendships. Some people are happy hermits. Some are in “companionate” marriage or partnerships where the romantic and sexual connection has ended, yet they are happy to remain in their monogamous structure and shared household. Some people end up celibate through illness, disability, incarceration or other circumstances yet make peace with that situation. Not having romantic, sexual, or intimate relationships (or embracing that situation wholeheartedly, even if it wasn’t originally by choice) is a valid approach to meeting the needs/goals that people typically meet through such relationships. Loneliness, broken hearts, and a lack of sexual contact can be painful — but they’re rarely fatal, and many people live well despite these circumstances.
  • Patriarchal/religious polygamy, such as fundamentalist Mormon or Islamic polygamous families. While this approach to relationships is controversial (and more non-standard these days than non-traditional), such relationships can be mutually consensual and healthy for everyone involved. This survey, and this book, is a way to overcome stereotypes.
  • Monogamous but curious, or open-minded. Many people are in monogamous escalator-style relationships (or want to be), but they are curious about other options. Or at least, they firmly believe people should have relationship options, and know what those options are — even if most people end up choosing the standard escalator. Not reflexively vilifying off-escalator relationships, sharing knowledge, and demonstrating acceptance are important parts of making the world a friendlier place for off-the-escalator relationships.

Does any of this sound like you, or people you know? Do you know of some other kind of mutually consensual off-the escalator relationship I haven’t yet described? Then…

Please share this link to my survey!

I’m still happy to accept surveys from anyone at all, from anyone in the world. But with the book underway, my most pressing need is to fill in these gaps.

The only kinds of off-the-escalator relationships I’m not covering are abusive, dishonest, or nonconsensual ones. So: people who are cheating on, bullying or blackmailing their partners — or who don’t always require full consent from fellow adults for sex and relationships — need not fill out this survey.

Also, if you have suggestions for ways I can publicize this survey to people in those group, please comment below. Links to forums, etc. can help a lot!

You can also e-mail me privately for suggestions to reach these groups.


8 thoughts on “Survey for my book: filling in some gaps

  1. Sara K. says:

    If you need more information about seniors exploring off-the-escalator, you might want to contact Brian de Vries at San Francisco State University, an expert on LGBT aging:

    Of course, LGBT relationships and off-the-escalator relationships are not the same thing (though they can overlap), but he’s done a lot of research on intimate relationships among seniors, so at the very least he could probably point you to something useful.

  2. Terri Jones says:

    I’ve posted the link on G+ and RT’d (many who follow me on Twitter are poly and/or non-traditional). I will post on LJ in a minute, username terriaminute. 🙂

  3. code16 says:

    I sadly don’t have any info, but I wanted to say how much I appreciate that you are saying “mutually consensual intimate relationships” and “romantic, sexual, or intimate relationships” instead of just “romantic/sexual”. Recognition and visibility is awesome and thank you for the awareness and inclusivity.

  4. Sara K. says:

    I had been trying to articulate why I think my parents relationship is off the escalator – in spite of the fact that they don’t (as far as I know) fall into any of the categories you described. On the surface, they do look like an escalator relationship (aside from being unmarried – but most people assume they are married if they present as co-parents).

    I finally figured it out – though they cohabit, are monogamous (as far as I know), and have a child (me), they don’t think of themselves as a couple, or at least not as a single unit. They have to negotiate a lot, but when they negotiate, they negotiate as independent individuals – they do things for each other, not for their ‘relationship’. I think they are more attached to their siblings than they are to each other. My father’s property/finances have been much more intertwined with his brother’s than with my mother’s (my father and uncle bought a house together – something my father hasn’t done with my mother), and I think my mother would be much more heartbroken if she fell out with her sister than if she broke up with my father.

    I’m not sure how would label this kind of relationship.

    • aggiesez says:

      Wow, that’s really interesting! Mind if I include that anecdote in my forthcoming book on off-the-escalator relationships?

      • Sara K. says:

        I don’t mind if you include it.

        I should point out that, at this point, my parents do intend to be lifetime partners. That’s mainly because they are aware that they are getting older, and they want somebody reliable to be around to provide care and companionship. Then again, that’s one of the reasons my parents would really like my uncle to move in and cohabit with them (though I don’t think that’s going to happen because my uncle has other ideas). Nobody suggests that my aunt move in with them because she has her ‘own’ family (my aunt is most definitely in on the relationship escalator).

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