Friendship: Possibly the Most Important Type of Intimate Relationship

Michael making dead face at zombie crawl.
Me and my dear friend Michael, at a zombie crawl in 2017. “My people!” he yelled.

What really counts as a relationship? Especially as an intimate or important relationship? That’s the topic of this month’s free sample chapter from my new book, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life.

I ask people about their relationships fairly often (surprise, surprise).  I’ve noticed something interesting that generally holds true, regardless of whether people prefer to ride the traditional Relationship Escalator or whether they have taken a huge step away from it. Unless I prompt them, people almost never mention their friendships.

Something about the word “relationship” tends to make people limit their list to sexual or romantic partners, especially their current lovers, spouse or life partners. Occasionally they might mention their children, parents or siblings as well. But in general, if I don’t hint that friendships might fall under this umbrella, usually they don’t mention them, either.

After they describe their relationships, I often ask about their most important nonsexual of nonromantic relationships. Here, I sometimes see the light bulb click on. Maybe one in three will say something like, “Oh, well I guess my friend X is probably one of the most important people in my life, we’re always there for each other…”  Then I learn that X has been their closest friend and a mainstay of their emotional, social and logistical life for years longer than the current lover or life partner who they first listed in their relationship rundown.

Of course, most people still give me blank stares at this point. It often takes me saying, “Do you consider your friendships to be relationships? Are they important in your life?” before they make the connection.

“Oh, yeah! Totally!”

Then, the variety and depth of human connection rolls out. Intensely meaningful and valuable ties with people they encountered in all sorts of ways: through mutual friends, at events, at work, in their neighborhood, online, former lovers or partners and so much more. All sorts of people connecting in all sorts of ways. At least on an emotional level, many of these connections are quite intimate. People often express gratitude at being able to trust others with profound vulnerability, and for the steadfastness, compassion and no-bullshit honesty that their friends offer.  Even to the point of wanting to entrust the guardianship of their children to a friend, should the worst happen.

Because sometimes the worst does happen, and that’s when friendship can show up in force.

Very recently, one of my closest friends died far too young.

Michael valiantly embraced life and had an unmatched talent for cultivating deep friendships with all sorts of people. He managed to spin a lifetime of diabetes-induced disability into a tapestry of creativity and connection, seasoned with his own special sarcasm sauce. We were friends for over 16 years, sharing long conversations, raucous laughter, bitter tears, frustration and exhaustion. Occasionally we fought, and when needed we called bullshit on each other. He was my music mentor (our friendship theme song was Frank Zappa’s “Cosmik Debris”), and I encouraged his remarkable writing talent. He married a kickass woman and they have two brilliant children, and I am grateful to have these individuals in my life as well.

Eventually his poor health mounted a sneak attack. A severe stroke left Michael incapacitated in Intensive Care for a week. And then he died, the day after his 44th birthday. Yeah, he had a flair for drama.

Most of our friendship was conducted by phone, email, audio recordings and text chat. Except for six weeks when he crashed at my home, we always lived in different cities, and often in different states. Getting together was challenging, with me not owning a car and with him being a blind amputee. (He always contended that my mobility challenges were more severe than his. Wiseass.) But we were both Word People, and thus we clicked. We were never lovers, but always fast friends.

If that wasn’t putting my heart on the line for someone then I don’t know what is. My friendship with Michael will always remain one of my most important relationships. Period.

In honor of Michael, this month’s free sample chapter of Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator explores the intimacy that can arise in friendships — all kinds of friendships. In my survey, many participants spoke passionately about platonic, sexual and romantic friendships. Several people lamented how much it can suck to live in a society that refers to such relationships as “just” friends.

For instance, Ety wrote: “No, those two people might not be dating even if they’ve been close for years and cuddle sometimes. They might be intimate friends. Frodo and Sam are life partners; that doesn’t mean they’re boning. You get the drift.”

Please enjoy this month’s free sample chapter, available until March 31. And please, let your friends know how much your relationship with them matters to you. Thanks!

Ch. 10: Not “Just” Friends: The Friend-Lover Spectrum

Video explaining the Relationship Escalator

I’ve been meaning to do a video to explain what the Relationship Escalator is, and how it affects the kinds of intimate relationships that people have. But, you know, I’ve been busy writing and publishing a book on that topic: Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator.

In the meantime, I found this video from 2015, by Jeff,  that does a pretty good job of explaining these concepts. While he mentions polyamory, and this is part of his video series on polyamory, Jeff offers a clear, basic explanation of the Escalator that should be understandable to people who know nothing about polyamory or other kinds of unconventional relationships.

So if you like videos, this a good place to start. Thanks, Jeff!


Free download for February: Book chapter on going solo

I first began writing about unconventional relationships in 2012, when I launched the blog It was there that I published the post that triggered the entire Off the Escalator project: Riding the Relationship Escalator or Not? That post received wide attention from all kinds of places, not just the polysphere. I was glad that I was able to bring more visibility to solo polyamory, and to advance conversations around couple privilege (in both mainstream and poly culture).

As a gesture toward this project’s independent nature and solo poly roots, this month I’m offering a special giveaway: a free download of the chapter from my new book, Stepping off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life, that addresses solohood and solo polyamory.

DOWNLOAD NOW:  Ch. 13: Going Solo: Autonomy In and Out of Relationships
This free content will be available online until March 1.

If you like that and want to read more, the free sample chapter for the Kindle edition is pretty meaty – a good taste of what the rest of this 25-chapter book has to offer.

I hope you enjoy reading it. Please tell your friends!


Book Now Available, Get it at Amazon!

Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator book

Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life is a new book about intimate relationships that don’t follow the traditional path. The first book in the Off the Escalator series, it’s based on over 1500 responses to a survey where people shared their experiences with unconventional intimacy.

Buy the Kindle ebook for $9.99
An excellent value, this is the equivalent of a 300-page print book.
(The print edition will be published soon, and will be priced around $17.)

Learn more

Yes, I’m still working on this book. Preview of chapters done so far

Still making progress, even though I’ve been rather quiet about it. I’d hoped to be blogging more here, but it’s enough just to focus on finishing the editing process.

I’d originally hoped to publish this book by the end of 2015. The editing process is proving to be much more involved than I anticipated, and also life intervened. But I’m nearly done with this editing. Parts 1-5 are edited, I’m one chapter shy of editing Part 6, which will bring it to a total of 21 chapters edited so far. Part 7 will be 5-6 short-ish chapters, And then I need to write the front & back matter (introduction, epilogue, and resources). Then I’ll pack it up and it’ll be ready to go.

It’s been a long, long road for this book, but I’m very happy with how it’s turning out. My initial manuscript was a sprawling monster of about 120,000 words. Now the first 20 chapters (roughly 5/6 of the total final manuscript length, I’m guessing) is just shy of 47,000 words — and it’s much tighter, better organized, and easier to read. I estimate that when all is done, I’ll have the equivalent of about a 180-page print book.

What’s been finished so far? For a sneak preview, here’s the outline of the edited chapters…


Trust, the antidote to jealousy

Jealousy: It happens, and it can be managed.
Jealousy: It happens, and it can be managed.

Karen, a reader of this blog, wanted to know what people who responded to my survey had to say about jealousy and trust in unconventional relationships. (You can suggest a topic, too.)

Jealousy is a painfully intense, complex emotional reaction that can cripple relationships — and it happens in traditional relationships, as well as unconventional ones. Because intimate relationships are often where we are most vulnerable, yet we never really know what will happen in any relationship.

“It’s a super vulnerable feeling sometimes to trust the present and not worry about the future.”
— Colleen: queer, partnered and open to options 

On the traditional Relationship Escalator, jealousy is generally assumed to be absolutely intolerable and insurmountable. In particular, people typically claim that monogamy is needed to prevent jealousy. Not that this always works, of course. (more…)

“Asexual relationships give me the freedom to be myself” — Marie’s story

One of the best surprises of my survey on unconventional relationships were the many thoughtful responses I received from people who are asexual — that is, they experience little or no sexual attraction. Sex typically plays little or no role in the deep bonds of love and commitment that asexual people form in relationships. I treasured these responses because they made me think very, very hard about the nature of intimacy, connection, and relationships.

Asexuality is a rich and varied part of the full spectrum of human sexual expression. Nearly 9% of my survey respondents indicated that they fall somewhere on the asexuality (“ace”) spectrum, or the aromantic (“aro”) spectrum. (Aromatic people don’t generally experience the intense emotional fluctuations that most people associate with  “falling in love,” although they can experience deep love and intimacy.)

Being asexual is an orientation, like being straight or gay. So why, then, do I say that intimate relationships where sex is absent (or unimportant to bonding) represent a step off the traditional Relationship Escalator — while same-sex marriage does not?


Themes off the Escalator: What do you want to hear about?

Just a taste of what I'm dealing with. Here's a very small part of my library of quotes curated from my survey on unconventional relationships. (Click to enlarge)
Just a taste of what I’m dealing with. Here’s a very small part of my library of quotes curated from my survey on unconventional relationships. (Click to enlarge)

Over 1500 people responded to my survey on unconventional relationships. They had a lot to say, and I’m sure you don’t want to wait for my book to start hearing some of it!  As I finish editing and publishing the first book from this project, I’d like to start publishing on this blog a few times a week, quotes that are especially interesting and meaningful.

I’d like your help. What topics would you like to hear about? Please help me select some key voices and topics from my extensive library of quotes.


Project progress: 3 rules that are helping to shape my book

Just a taste of what I'm dealing with. Here's a very small part of my library of quotes curated from my survey on unconventional relationships. (Click to enlarge)
Just a taste of what I’m dealing with. Here’s a very small part of my library of quotes curated from my survey on unconventional relationships. (Click to enlarge)

I’ve been busy, busy, busy revising my original manuscript for the first book in the Off the Escalator series — slimming it down from a gargantuan 105,000 words to around 60-70,000 words. For awhile I was really struggling with how to do this, especially how to better manage integrating quotes curated from over 1000 surveys.

But I think I’ve got a handle on those problems, and I’m making tons of progress.