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.

It took me about two years to read through these responses to spot themes and common threads — and so far, I’ve only parsed completely through the first 1000 responses. (I promise, I’ll go through the rest after I get the first book in my series out. 1000 was enough to start!)

The main point of the survey was to explore issues and hear people’s stories. So I’ve compiled an immense library of quotes that I’d like to use in my series of books — the stuff people said that I think is important to share. In all, I identified 57 major themes in the first 1000 survey responses. Below is a detailed list of themes and sub-themes.

What strikes your fancy? Please comment below or e-mail me to tell me which themes or sub-themes you’d like to hear more about, and I’ll make presenting those quotes a high priority for future blog posts.

Note that this list of topics was created initially for my own reference only. I think it’ll probably make sense to others — but if you’re puzzled by something here, just ask.


1. Asexual relationships:

  • Asexual identity or experience
  • Asexual longer stories
  • Asexual relationship examples
  • Aromantic relationships
  • Ideals asexual
  • Observations asexual
  • Blended relationships: asexual/sexual

2. Assumptions & stereotypes:

  • norms assumptions general
  • problems with assumptions in a relationship
  • stereotypes about swingers
  • assumptions/norms in poly community
  • assumptions in Escalator relationships
  • assumptions asexuality
  • sexism assumptions
  • stereotypes poly/nonmonogamy
  • from stereotypes

3. Authenticity:

  • authenticity general
  • norms & authenticity
  • ethics values authenticity
  • better relationships authenticity
  • choice vs obligation
  • expression and authenticity

4. Autonomy:

  • autonomy observations
  • autonomy <-> freedom connection
  • better relationships autonomy
  • self esteem/empowerment autonomy
  • logistics autonomy
  • downside of autonomy
  • ideals autonomy

5. Benefits of unconvenional relationships:

  • emotional benefits
  • benefits opportunities
  • logistical benefits
  • hard but worth it
  • new experiences
  • variety

6. Breakups and de-escalation:

  • examples de-escalation
  • observations de-escalation
  • retaining connection through de-escalation
  • de-escalating from marriage/living together
  • conjugal -> companionate life partners
  • planning, negotiation for de/re-escalation
  • benefits de-escalation
  • problems/bad experiences de-escalation
  • stigma & de-escalation;
  • breakups & transitions

7. Challenges in unconventional relationships:

  • social awkwardness

same challenges as in conventional relationships

  • bad breakups
  • observations
  • jealousy
  • relationship maintenance
  • mismatched assumptions, expectations, needs
  • perfectionism
  • risk
  • logistics/rights
  • being single/unpartnered
  • skills
  • partners unavailable when you want/need
  • partners different from how they seemed or what they claimed

unique challenges for unconventional relationships

  • challenges between partners
  • observations
  • courtship differences/challenges
  • metamour challenges
  • drama
  • challenges relating to outside world
  • ripeoplee effects, negative
  • conflicting feelings between relationships
  • no challenges/problems
  • geographical challenges

8. Cheating:

  • cheating examples
  • ethics and cheating
  • former cheaters
  • poly/open views on cheating, cheaters
  • involved with/approached by a cheater

9. Commitment:

  • Escalator = commitment
  • observations about commitment
  • benefits of commitment
  • downsides of commitment
  • examples unconventional commitment
  • evolving commitment
  • benefits of less/no commitment
  • downsides of less/no commitment

10. Communication:

  • benefits of communication
  • failed/avoided communication
  • skills communication
  • risks & problems of communication
  • communicating with others about unconventional relationships
  • helping others via communication
  • communication is overrated

communication is more work

  • more work good
  • more work bad

11. Compersion:

  • feelings of compersion
  • compersion other benefits
  • compersion not easy/natural
  • obstacles to compersion
  • observations compersion

12. Connection, bonding and intimacy:

  • feeling connected
  • unconventional = better/more connection
  • unconventional = less/worse connection
  • maintaining connection
  • challenges/obstacles to connection
  • connection observations
  • sex and bonding
  • stigma = disconnection from others
  • connect but don’t suffocate
  • fear/aversion of intimacy
  • valuing commitment over individualism

13. Couple privilege:

  • bad experiences with couple privilege
  • Couple privilege lack of recognition
  • Couple privilege killed my relationship
  • view from inside couple privilege
  • observations couple privilege
  • prefer/ok with couple privilege
  • internalized couple privilege
  • beyond couple+ nonmonogamy
  • couple-centric society

14. Differences:

  • benefits of differences
  • OK w/ asymmetric rship rules/prefs/status
  • missing pieces
  • accommodating change
  • not-quite-perfect differences
  • incompatibilities
  • skills managing differences
  • differences observations

 happy complements, compromises

  • off-esc makes rships possible
  • examples workable differences

15. Disclosure:

  • handling disclosure
  • don’t ask don’t tell & disclosure
  • discomfort & disclosure
  • privacy settings
  • ethics disclosure
  • cheating & disclosure
  • don’t ask don’t tell from 2 sides

16. Escalator broken:

  • social norms problematic
  • bad experiences/feelings on Escalator
  • Escalator killed my relationship
  • currently monogamous and having problems w/ Escalator
  • Escalator hangover
  • observations

17. Escalator-ish relationships:

  • monogamous but no marriage
  • leaving Escalator options open
  • poly/open Escalatorish examples
  • Escalator-ish ideals
  • Escalator-ish language, mentality examples
  • doubt/ambivalence from the Escalator

18. Ethics & values:

  • experiences with ethcial quandaries problems
  • consent, abuse
  • honesty
  • questions about ethics
  • personal ethics & values
  • observations
  • closet & ethics
  • controlling/hindering others

19. Family-style poly/open relationship networks:

  • examples: immediate family 2+ adults
  • poly extended family
  • observations family
  • ideals family

20. Finding partners:

  • partner selection skills
  • experiences finding partners
  • problems finding partners
  • disclosing unconventional status, preference
  • problems w/ Escalator expectations of others
  • small dating pool
  • swingers finding partners
  • online dating
  • observations finding partners
  • what helps (or would help) finding partners

21. Freedom:

  • freedom to connect with others
  • tradeoffs w/ freedom
  • freedom = better relationships
  • problems w/ freedom
  • exploring variety
  • benefits of freedom
  • norms/pressure freedom
  • freedom v. stress/fear

22. Friendlier world:

  • acceptance, nonjudgment, compassion, positivity
  • acceptance works both ways
  • activism
  • change already happening/inevitable
  • child custody
  • conversations
  • diversity
  • education, socialization
  • economics, class
  • employment safety
  • housing options
  • kink & friendlier world;
  • law politics government
  • marriage needs to change
  • media
  • mundane details
  • norms that need to change
  • polarization is bad
  • sex norms that need to change
  • normalize it
  • outness helps
  • pessimism, not there yet
  • places to meet, gather, talk
  • religion problems
  • research
  • role models
  • social media
  • subculture problems
  • unfriendly world OK
  • What I (can) do

23. Friend-lover gray area & relationship anarchy:

  • friend/lover gray area
  • devaluation of nonsexual/non-family relationships
  • value of friendships
  • post-intimacy friendship
  • emotionally intimate friendships
  • fluid friend<->lover relationships
  • sexual friendships / FWB
  • observations friendship
  • relationship anarchy

24. Hierarchy:

  • nonhierarchical people chafing at hierarchy assumptions
  • prefer hierarchy
  • experiences of primary status
  • really wants a primary partner
  • secondary/nonprimary view on hierarchy
  • predefined roles for new partners
  • mixed/overlapping ranks
  • nonhierarchical open/poly marriage
  • dislike/avoid/uncomfortable w/ hierarchy

25. Ideals & dreams for relationships:

  • conceptual or emotional ideals
  • logistical ideals
  • unknown, uncertain, flexible ideals
  • specific structure ideals
  • living arrangements ideals
  • living the dream
  • mono would prefer open
  • no relationships = ideal
  • obstacles to dream
  • closeted ideals

26. Jealousy:

  • experience of jealousy
  • shame about feeling jealous
  • jealousy kills relationships
  • non-fatal but serious problems w/ jealousy
  • pros and cons of jealousy
  • addressing jealousy
  • observations jealousy
  • no problems jealousy

27. Kink:

  • observations re kink
  • differences & kink
  • kink-specific issues
  • roles: kink v. relationship
  • examples & experiences kink;
  • ideals kink
  • not into kink

28. Knowing relationship options:

  • clueing people in about options
  • pressures that discourage knowing/exploring options
  • quotes problems because people don’t know options
  • normalizing options
  • resources should reflect more diversity of options
  • what people should know about options
  • media and options
  • option research needed
  • visibility creates awareness
  • how I discovered options
  • difference it makes to know options
  • before I knew about options

29. Labels, language & definitions:

  • how people define/choose labels
  • monogamous swingers
  • avoided, fuzzy, malleable labels
  • implied assumptions in language
  • inadequate langauge
  • drawbacks of specific labels
  • benefits labels
  • observations language/labels
  • conflations and contradictions

30. Living arrangements:

  • ambivalence/hard choices living arrangements
  • living apart
  • living with family/friends (not partners)
  • flexible/fluid living arrangements
  • part-time living arrangements

living w/ partners

  • ideal = living w/ partners
  • living w/ partners + space for yourselves
  • living together benefits
  • examples living w/ partners
  • issues/problems/fears living w/ partners
  • observations living w/ partners

communal living

  • ideal communal/neighbor living
  • examples communal/neightbor tribe/family

31. Long distance  relationships:

  • changes/fluidity & distance
  • at least 1 local relationship preferred
  • observations LDR
  • experiences LDR
  • priority, intensity & distance
  • what helps LDR
  • Escalator assumptions & LDR
  • LDR advantages
  • LDR drawbacks

31. Longevity:

  • great short-term relationships
  • stigma/stereotypes & longevity;
  • form changes, connection remains
  • examples 5+ year unconventional relationships
  • goal is not longevity
  • prefer/value longevity
  • observations longevity
  • longevity as a goal

32. Love, intimacy & acceptance:

  • love
  • intimacy
  • belonging, acceptance

33. Marriage:

  • quotes observations marriage general
  • why I got/would get married
  • Why I’m not married
  • problems/issues in marriage
  • abolish/opposed to legal marriage
  • de-privilege legal marriage
  • others’ assumptions re marriage
  • same sex marriage movement

marriage examples

  • examples nonmonogamy & married;
  • examples downplaying being married
  • examples/views plural marriage / co-spouses
  • examples married & unmarried partners in network;

34. Metamours:

  • observations metamours
  • benefits/good experiences metamours
  • metamours ideals
  • metamours what helps
  • problems metamours

35. Monogamous peoples’ views:

  • wants/curious about nonmonogamy
  • consciously chose monogamy after considering options
  • I’m/we’re monogamous, but…
  • monogamous but not “normal”
  • wants nonmonogamy, but partner doesn’t
  • mono/poly relationships, mono view
  • observations by monogamous people
  • norms challenged/questioned by monogamous people
  • monogamous allies of unconventional relationships
  • monogamous people on understanding nonmonogamy

36. Negotiation:

  • value/benefits of negotiation
  • negotiation strengthens relationship
  • skills for negotiation
  • missing/fuzzy negotiation
  • hassles/work/scary/awkward negotiation
  • examples negotiation
  • hard limits & absolute requirements
  • observations negotiation

37. Never been monogamous:

  • examples never monogamous
  • teen nonmonogamy
  • unhappy/short-lived/occasional monogamy experiences
  • reasons never monogamous
  • observations never being monogamous

38. Normality, perceived:

  • I look normal
  • unconventional people ARE normal
  • internalized stigma against non-normal-looking people
  • why perceived normality matters
  • more normal media portrayals needed

39. Outness & closeting:

  • is the closet really necessary?
  • out = unreasonable
  • hiding conventional preferences
  • to closet or not?
  • being/making it safe to come out

out/semi out people’s views

  • experiences outness
  • out but then don’t discuss it
  • quietly out
  • wouldn’t lie if asked directly
  • only out to known accepting people
  • how people do/would out themselves
  • different levels of outness
  • outness ignored/invisible
  • little/no blowback from outness
  • reasons to come out
  • family knows
  • outness isn’t/shouldn’t be necessary
  • outness blowback
  • outness observations

 views from the closet

  • supportive but not out
  • fully closeted everywhere
  • closet discomfort & costs
  • reasons for closeting
  • likes the closet
  • partner needs/prefers closeting
  • not out but wishes more people were
  • multiple closets

selective, contextual closeting

  • social media closet
  • work closet
  • military closet
  • family closet

40. Parenting:

  • wants/might want kids, options for how
  • I was raised in nonmonogamy household
  • does NOT want kids
  • undecided re kids
  • examples offesc parenting
  • quotes advantages of offesc parenting
  • drawbacks, risks, problems w/ offesc parenting
  • drawbacks of traditional parenting
  • questions, considerations re offesc parenting
  • observations parenting
  • friendlier world via parenting
  • do the kids know?
  • non-parent roles with kids

41. Personal growth:

  • focus on/discover myself
  • more perspectives from more people
  • challenging myself
  • hanging through the hard parts
  • turning points
  • opportunities for growth in unconventional
  • no/bad personal growth effects from unconventional
  • new skills general/emotional
  • skills relationship new

42. Queer:

  • queer identity observations
  • bi/pansexuality
  • relationship examples queer
  • relationship issues/differences queer

43. Relationship evolution examples:

  • personal evolution of relationship approach
  • open -> closed/less open (actual, considering or temp)
  • stories monogamous -> open
  • swingers -> polyamory
  • cheating -> consensual nonmonogamy
  • evolution over the course of a relationship
  • organically formed triads
  • observations relationship evolution

44. Resilience & flexibility:

  • able to adapt existing relationships
  • personal flexibility
  • flexibity for future relationships
  • flexibility observations
  • unconventional = less resilient
  • resilience observations
  • resilience experiences

45. Rules:

  • veto
  • time limits
  • communication limits
  • happy with rules
  • other forms of control
  • disclosure-only rule
  • no rules
  • location rules
  • off-limits people
  • problems w/ rules
  • wants fewer/less strict rules
  • drivers of rules
  • relaxing rules
  • (re)negotiating rules
  • one penis policy
  • asymmetrical rules
  • sex/physical limits
  • observations rules
  • check-in/permission to progress
  • no-emotions rule

46. Scarcity vs. abundance mindset

  • scarcity mindset
  • feeling abundance

47. Security & insecurity:

  • observations security, insecurity


  • stigma/norms that promote insecurity
  • partners influence insecurity
  • feeling left out
  • feeling insecure
  • feeling inadequate, unworthy
  • feeling replaceable

addressing insecurity

  • addressing insecurity with limits self censorelationship
  • addressing insecurity w/ adapting, resilience

feeling secure

  • experience feeling secure
  • what promotes security

48. Sex & touch:

  • casual sex
  • celibacy
  • emotion/relationship expectations & sex;
  • existing relationship/sex life better
  • experiences & exploration sex;
  • frequency/quality of sex
  • fulfillment sex
  • libido
  • monogamy & sex;
  • nonsexual touch
  • observations sex
  • options stay open despite existing relationship
  • personal sexual limits
  • problems sex & nonmonogamy;
  • sex positivity
  • stability/resilience sex
  • variety sex

49. Sexual health:

  • experiences sexual health
  • pregnancy risk
  • STI testing, logistics & communication
  • sexual health opinions/observations
  • slut shaming & perceived risk
  • unbarriered sex agreements & closed relationships
  • rules sexual health

50. Spirituality & religion:

  • experiences spirituality + relationship
  • spirituality observations
  • religion is a problem/obstacle
  • religion & nonmonogamy

51. Stigma:

  • age difference stigma
  • blowback/consequences experiences
  • concern trolling
  • considering options = dangerous
  • constructive responses to Stigma/Judgment
  • Escalator rejection stigma
  • Family Disapproval
  • greedy
  • internalized stigma & self doubt;
  • invalidation
  • nonmonogamy = cheating, immoral, unhealthy, inferior
  • no stigma experienced
  • overlapping stigmas
  • pity
  • poly/consent worse than other stigmas
  • queer stigma
  • reactions rooted in stigma
  • regional/local stigma
  • scrutiny
  • sexism
  • slut shaming
  • solo/single stigma

51. Stress & relief:


  • observations relief
  • logistical/practical relief
  • freedom, authenticity -> relief
  • less pressure
  • mixed bag stress/relief


  • guilt/shame stress
  • logistical/practical stress
  • relationship complexity/maintenance stress
  • fear, anxiety, alienation stress
  • self doubt stress
  • others’ reactions stress
  • closet stress

52. Structures (examples):

  • polyfidelity
  • casual relationships
  • coprimary partners
  • don’t ask don’t tell
  • friends with benefits
  • monogamish
  • networks
  • no relationships preferred
  • open marriage/relationship
  • nomadic
  • quad
  • relationship anarchy
  • secondary
  • solo polyamory
  • triad
  • V

53. Subculture clash/collaboration:

  • connecting communities
  • gay/lesbian/swinger anti-poly bias
  • insular local community
  • identity blowback
  • monogamy bashing
  • poly/open community norms/pressures
  • swinger community norms/bias

54. Support:

  • ambivalent support

more/advantages support

  • activities/interests support
  • community (poly etc.)
  • crisis support
  • emotional support more
  • family of choice support
  • friends/family support
  • internal relationship/network support
  • logistical/household support
  • perspectives more support

lack of support

  • advice/consolation lack of support
  • concern trolling, judgment, skepticism
  • invalidation
  • professional support needed
  • role models/guidance lack of support
  • social isolation

55. Swingers:

  • benefits swinging
  • examples swingers
  • observations swingers
  • outness swingers
  • rules swinger
  • swinger-poly gray area

56.  Time:

  • benefits time
  • expectations, needs & time;
  • scarcity, loneliness & time;
  • observations time
  • Scheduling difficulty, implications
  • what helps time

57. Tribes:

  • distributed tribe ideal
  • enthusiasm, curiosity for tribe concept
  • examples tribe / family of choice
  • ideal tribe living together/near
  • skeptical about tribes


Amy Gahran is a longtime journalist, writer and editor based in Boulder, CO. She wrote the blog under the pen name "Aggie Sez," and she also co-moderates the Solo Polyamory group on Facebook. Her "Off the Escalator" series of books grew from a 2012 post in SoloPoly about the Relationship Escalator.

10 thoughts on “Themes off the Escalator: What do you want to hear about?

  1. Hard choice. The ones that stand out to me are:

    16 & 17

    The friend/lover gray area and ideals/dreams sound interesting too.

  2. Excellent suggestions, thanks! I’ll get to one of these in the next few these, and all of them over the next few weeks.

    Your choices are all high-level topics. If any of the sub-topics under these especially interests you, let me know and I’ll find relevant info from the surveys. Thanks!

  3. 2 things:

    One is just a suggestion. You put aromantic under asexual, and it’s just that many aros are allo/zedsexual (such as myself at one point, though my sexuality seems to have become more fluid). So do you think you could maybe make that main topic Asexual and/or Aromantic Relationships or make that subtopic Aro Aces? I don’t know how important these topics are going to be to be to the structure of the book but I think it would just help with clarity. Especially since ace and aro issues are often considered more separate than other orientations, such as bi, because aces will get stigmatized for not being sexual (acephobia), while aromantics will get stigma for not being romantic (arophobia), while both bisexuals and biromantics get stigma for being bi (biphobia). Sorry if that explanation isn’t very clear…

    As for what I’d like to read more about, the first thing is tribes in general. Another is nomadic relationship structures because I haven’t heard of those and am curious. Also fluid relationships under relationship anarchy, because I like to learn about different kinds of fluidity.

    1. Thanks. I realize asexuality and aromanticism are separate identities. But keep in my that my list of themes I saw in the survey is not my book outline. In my survey, I heard from very few people who mentioned that they are aromantics, and most of the aro people I did hear from also identified as somewhere on the asexual spectrum, so that’s why I organized it this way in my theme list. But in my book I will address at least the basics of that distinction, thanks.

      I’d appreciate it if you’d post a couple of links to your favorite resources on aromanticism. That’s always useful.

      And thanks for the topic suggestions! I’ll bump those up in my queue, stay tuned!

      1. Thank you. I don’t actually know many aro resources outside of tumblr blogs (which are either mostly about ace stuff or are ask blogs), and this facebook group I’m in. Sorry, it’s pretty frustrating.

  4. I’d like to see more on secondary/nonprimary view on hierarchy as that’s where I tend to fall in all my relationships despite seeking a primary relationship.

  5. I have so many subsets I’d like to hear about; this is quite an extensive list you have to choose from!

    For a few of my top selections, here are some particular interests. I know it’s a lot! Sorry if it’s overwhelming at all, and you can pick whichever ones you’d like. They’re grouped into relationship-related ones here first:

    1. Structures, in particular regarding polyfidelity and how those relationships developed, as well as nomadic examples and experiences.
    2. Relationship evolution examples: organically formed triads, personal evolution of relationship approach
    3. Living arrangements: in particular issues/problems/fears living w/partners, observations living w/partners, living w/partners while having space for yourselves.
    4. Commitment: examples of unconventional commitment, evolving commitment
    5. Longevity: examples of 5+ year unconventional relationships.
    6. Queer: bi/pansexuality, relationship issues/differences (particularly issues between a straight partner and queer partner, if there’s an example related to that)

    And secondly issues regarding society’s effects on poly people…
    1. Stigma: constructive responses to Stigma/Judgement, and Family Disapproval.
    2. Outness & closeting: Selective, contextual closeting in terms of work and social media.
    3. Stress & relief: other’s reactions stress, and closet stress

    (also, you have two #51’s, fyi)

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