One of the most obvious, common, and controversial ways that intimate relationships can be unconventional is to somehow step aside from monogamy (sexual and romantic exclusivity). However, about 9% of the responses to my survey on unconventional relationships came from monogamous people — and some of these people have rather unconventional monogamous relationships.
Relationships can become unconventional by diverging from any of the five hallmarks of the traditional Relationship Escalator model:
- Sexual and romantic exclusivity between two — and only two — partners.
- Merging life infrastructure and identity. Sharing a home and other resources, such as finances. Also identifying strongly as a couple or family — perhaps to the extent that the individual identities of partners start to be eclipsed.
- Hierarchy. Some relationships are considered more important than others, and thus “win” by default in many situations. On the Escalator, since you’re allowed only one sexual/romantic partner, that relationship is considered more important than almost every other relationship (such as friendships) — with the possible exception of parenting. (Off the Escalator, especially in ethically nonmonogamous relationships, hierarchy can get more complicated.)
- Sexual connection, at least at the beginning of the relationship. (Sex often fades or disappears, especially in long-term monogamy.)
- Continuity and consistency. Escalator relationships aren’t supposed to pause or step back to a less-merged state. They’re supposed to steadily progress to full life entwinement and stay there. Also, Escalator partners have defined roles as partners — they aren’t supposed to shift between being lovers and platonic friends, for instance. (Well, this often does happen, but it’s not widely acknowledged.)
Here’s how one respondent, Susie, described her long-term unconventional monogamous relationship:
“We are in a committed long-term relationship (emotionally and sexually exclusive) but we do not share the same household. We see each other on weekends and talk to each other during the week.
“We hold vacation real property jointly, we vacation together, and share vacation expenses. We alternately share expenses for entertainment (the person who suggests the experience pays). We have designated each other as the beneficiary on our retirement accounts.
“I prefer living alone because, when we argue, I have someplace to ‘escape’ to. I feel that ‘freedom’ preserves the ‘balance of power’ between us. I am not forced to deal with unreasonable conflict.
“On another level, I can decorate my home the way I want (while still having ‘stuff’ at my ‘quasi-husband’s’ home. I like having ‘down time’ during the week (that means I don’t have to talk or interact with anyone), or I can visit my friends without worrying whether he enjoys their company or not. We talk on the telephone every evening to re-cap our day and stay connected.
“We spend the night together every weekend (Friday through Sunday night). A pesky disadvantage is always forgetting something at my house, and missing my pets on the weekends.
“We are together because we want to be, not because a piece of paper says we should be together and it’s just too inconvenient or expensive to get a divorce.
“We had to have powers of attorney drafted to insure we will be able to visit each other in the hospital, should something happen to one of us.”
So, Susie’s relationship is unconventional by diverging from hallmarks #2 and #5. She and her partner are choosing not to merge the infrastructure of their daily life (by not living together). And also, they’re choosing to not ride as far up the traditional Escalator as possible — by choosing not to get legally married (even though that option is available to them), and by finding ways to ensure that this choice does not not deprive them of rights or access that married people get by default.
Although the vast majority of my nearly 1500 survey respondents are engaged in, or would prefer, some kind of ethical nonmonogamy (polyamory, swinging, open relationships, etc.), my forthcoming book Off the Relationship Escalator features voices from many types of unconventional relationships — including some monogamous ones.
Is your relationship monogamous but otherwise unconventional? How so? Please comment below to share your story.