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!


Updated book sneak preview and detailed table of contents

As I’m preparing the first print edition of my book, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator, I’ve updated the free sneak preview. It’s been expanded to include the Preface, Introduction, Chapter 1, and now the complete Chapter 2.

I’ve also posted the detailed Table of Contents. The subheadings for each chapter can give you an idea of the variety and depth of relationship topics covered.

…I’m still fixing a few final formatting glitches, but this is good enough to show. The print edition should be available no later than the first week of March, 2017. Stay tuned for that announcement!


Free Sneak Preview: Preface through Ch. 2

Detailed Table of Contents

ALSO, FEBRUARY ONLY: You can download a special extra free preview:

Chapter 13, Going Solo: Autonomy In and Out of Relationships

All kinds of relationship escalators…

The “escalator” concept is useful for all sorts of relationships! I just was looking over inbound links to this website and found this great post from SugarButch Chronicles about power exchange in kink:
“As related to the relationship escalator, I use the term ‘power escalator’ to mean that in relationships based on authority exchange or power play that often, both parties assume that as trust builds, they will play with more and more power exchange, but that is not always what the people ultimately want. Stopping anywhere along the ‘power escalator’ is valid, and going all the way to total power exchange 24/7 master/slave is not the most ‘real,’ or better, or any more valid than any other place.”
Brilliant! As an aside, I’d like to note that relationships that involve BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism, masochism) may or may not be on the Relationship Escalator, as defined in my book. There are plenty of people in monogamous, cohabiting relationships that enjoy various kinds of kink. Diversity is awesome, and nuanced.

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

Psychology Today jealousy article shows why Off the Escalator books are needed

Psychology Today cover Nov. 2016: "Jealousy: What it Really Tells You."
Psychology Today’s advice on handling jealousy missed a wealth of experience and practical tools from unconventional relationships.

The cover story of the November 2016 issue of Psychology Today caught my attention in the grocery store yesterday: Listening to Jealousy, by Sara Eckel.

This lengthy feature explores several research-based insights into how jealousy works in the context of intimate relationships — and how the people who experience jealousy, or deal with its effects, can better manage this notoriously powerful and unruly bundle of emotions. Much of this information is very useful.

However, there is one glaring omission: It completely overlooks the wealth of experience, insight and skill that many people who practice various styles of consensual nonmonogamy have developed for addressing jealousy in their relationships — something that the Off the Escalator book series addresses directly. This is information that anyone might benefit from, even people who strongly prefer traditional monogamy.

There is a myth that people who consider themselves polyamorous or otherwise consensually nonmonogamous don’t get jealous (or at least, that they’re not supposed to feel jealousy). On the contrary, many people who practice consensual nonmonogamy have learned a great deal about handling jealousy constructively — precisely because it’s an issue that any human being might encounter. However, people who choose consensual nonmonogamy generally have decided that the potential benefits of exploring more kinds of intimacy, with more partners, is worth the effort of learning to work through outbreaks of jealousy.

Given this context, it was especially disappointing that the sole reference to consensual nonmonogamy in this article was this:

“After a lot of fighting—and a broken engagement—the couple decided to have an open relationship. That only accelerated the drama, with both partners acting on their feelings of jealousy. Sandy broke into Katie’s apartment and stole her laptop while she was on a date. She retaliated by sneaking into his apartment and, seeing his computer displaying a dating site and messages with several women, proceeded to break a few bowls and ransack his closet. But as she hurled dress shirts and slacks onto the floor, Katie had a moment of clarity: Her jealousy had turned her into someone she didn’t know.”

Offering only this anecdote of nonmonogamy perpetuates the stereotype that diverging from traditional monogamy is inevitably crazy and dangerous. This directly reinforces social stigma against unconventional relationships. I might be going out on an editorial limb here, but that’s probably not the best use of Psychology Today’s resources and visibility. This was especially surprising, coming from a magazine that has published a regular column on polyamory.

I sent a response to Psychology Today about these problems with this article. I explained why the perspective of people in polyamorous and other types of consensually nonmonogamous relationships is especially relevant to this topic, and suggested some resources such as More Than Two and Polyamory Weekly. Hopefully this context might encourage Psychology Today to be more inclusive and less prejudicial about the topic of consensual nonmonogamy and jealousy in the future. Fingers crossed.

As a journalist and editor with 25 years of experience, including in mainstream media outlets, I understand the origin of such myopia. When covering a topic of popular interest, editors generally tend to focus on what most people consider “normal,” in order to not “distract” readers from the point of the article. Occasionally this is appropriate, as in not giving climate change deniers equal weight with scientific consensus. However, as this article demonstrates, the “keep it normal” approach can make it hard to help audiences understand the spectrum of useful, relevant options and perspectives.

In my survey on unconventional relationships, on which the Off the Escalator book series is based, many of the 15o0+ participants discussed jealousy at length. Consequently, I discuss healousy in several places in the first book, Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator, to be published in January 2017. The second book, What’s It Like Off the Escalator? (due out in Spring 2017) devotes a full chapter to how people in unconventional relationships experience and address jealousy.

Incidentally, the third book in this series, The Closet Off the Escalator, will focus on the strong social stigma widely associated with unconventional intimate relationships (including its perpetuation through media), and how this affects people’s choices to be closeted or out about their relationships.

Amy Gahran interviewed on The Mac Observer podcast

Today’s Daily Observations podcast from The Mac Observer features an interview with me by Jeff Gamet. We mainly discuss the process I’m using to research, create, and publish the Off the Escalator book series. Give it a listen, and you’ll see why this has taken four years so far — and why it’s all worth the effort, I hope!

LISTEN NOW: TMO Daily Observations 2016-11-10: Interview with Amy Gahran

Many thanks to host Jeff Gamet for such an excellent and fun conversation! I appreciate your interest and support!

Who’s Amy Gahran? Well, that’s me, the author of the Off the Escalator books. I’m publishing this series under my given name, rather than my pen name (Aggie Sez).

Again, to get a free sneak preview of Book 1 (22 page PDF), please subscribe to my mailing list. (See box at right –>)

… OR you can like the Facebook page for this project, and download it there (see link in the pinned post at the top of that page)