The alternative relationship escalator

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

I don’t want to hop onto the traditional relationship escalator – the societal script that dictates broadly how committed relationships are supposed to play out, gradually escalating from ‘dating’ through ‘exclusivity’ and onward towards cohabitation, marriage, babies and beyond. Although I’m definitely still open to stuff like living together and owning a joint home, I’ve been burned so thoroughly on both of these things that I’m not keen to leap back in unless there’s a really compelling reason/guy. But that’s not to say that escalation in and of itself is bad. Here’s an alternative relationship escalator.

Giving them your wifi password (and vice versa)

Learning how they take their tea/coffee

Establishing an inside joke

Farting in front of each other

Having a bad date and not being worried that they’ll dump you

Showing them some of your porn (and vice versa)

Keeping a toothbrush at their house

Bareback, obviously

Meeting each other’s friends

Having a disagreement and admitting you’re wrong/apologising

Going to a gig together

Becoming actual friends with one of their friends (and vice versa)

Crying in front of each other



Doing a gift exchange of some kind, like at Christmas (or Valentine’s Day if that’s your sort of thing)

Threesome with one of your/their friends

Going away for a weekend

Seeing them when they’re angry. How do they deal with it? What happens when they are upset with you? What happens when you say ‘no’ to them, about something they really wanted? How do they handle conflict? 

Taking possession of one of their hoodies

Meeting their family

Earning the right to gently take the piss out of their family, and join in when they make jokes about them

One of you accompanies the other to the doctor or the funeral parlour or some other scary/sad place to provide hand holding and support

Proper holiday together, with planning and everything

Buying something that you will have joint custody of, like a sofa or a telly or a bouncy castle

Embarking on a collaborative project: renovating the bathroom in your flat; writing a book together, or maybe a song or a sitcom; learning how to do a really specific dance routine; training together for a marathon, or fucking your way through the Karma Sutra. An ex of mine and I once embarked on a project to watch all the films featuring our favourite Hollywood actor, while stoned and making notes. Some people choose to have children. If one of you is an architect, how about going on Grand Designs?

Group sex with with a mix of your close friends and theirs

Learning their embarrassing middle name



I once dated a guy who was very keen to escalate with me. The steps he wanted us to get to were all ones that I’d associate with a traditional relationship, and the thought of stepping up onto them made me feel panicky and odd. Some of the steps on the traditional relationship escalator (cohabiting/owning a home together) are signs of commitment that I have tried before and grown wary of, others (having children, for example) I’ve decided I never want to hop up onto at all.

But I don’t think escalation is bad in and of itself – escalating intimacy is definitely a core goal. The steps I yearn for most (stealing a guy’s hoodies, establishing inside jokes) aren’t ones that can be planned for or specifically requested, they’re just things that happen if the time and connection is right. So maybe my alternative relationship escalator is less of an escalator a more like a gentle river – you hop into a rubber ring and link it to someone else’s, then drift wherever the current happens to take you.

Either way, we can be more creative than ‘marriage, mortgage, babies’ I think. Free to chip in your own alternative relationship escalator steps in the comments.


  • Valery North says:

    Just thinking how I’ve never done these in the “right” order, which of course is nonsense – there is no right order! Which is why the mental image of an escalator (or ladder, or even milestones on a road) is maybe less helpful.

    I’d even say river is not quite right, because that is still a linear structure with a definite direction and sequence of places or events.

    Ramble, perhaps? I’d say orienteering, but that brings to mind a competitive element which isn’t quite right either. Hiking sounds a bit too much like it’s exhausting or strenuous. But what I’m getting at is journeying through a landscape which may or may not have free roam access but definitely has lots of footpaths, and every so often looking down at a map and connecting it to where you are: “So, that’s that landmark, and that must be that landmark, so we must be about here, what do you think?”

    Maybe “Relationship Area of Outstanding Beauty”?

    • Girl on the net says:

      OHHHH I absolutely adore ‘relationship area of outstanding beauty’ – and the journey to get there was beautiful too. Amazing, Valery =) x

  • Azkyroth says:

    I’m not sure there is a right order, especially when specific sex acts are on the list. Maybe instead of “climbing a relationship escalator” think of it as “filling out a relationship Pokedex?”

  • Nick says:

    Love that list!

    I reckon there are some modern “society” escalator points that don’t get mentioned.

    Like the first time your job invades their world, “want to come to the work Christmas do?” knowing they’re going to get the grilling from colleagues who’ve known you longer.

    Another couple of possible escalator steps:

    You see someone and think “X would enjoy discreetly perving on that person, I should point them out” even though they might not be your type.

    A shared spreadsheet of shagging ideas/fantasies- the best kind of To Do list.

    Then there are ones that sneak up.
    Like the point when they’re not there and you realise you miss them.

  • Woodwost says:

    I reckon unselfconscious Mario Kart rage, with The Big Swears is a proper important one, for those who partake.

  • Setting þem up as your emergency contact for your Google account who will be contacted in case you die and stop logging in for six months—so þey can get all data access and cryptographical keys to þe seven kingdoms.

  • Farting is extremely low on your escalator, which troubles me. :P

    I agree about the general sentiment, I feel similar in a lot of ways, I’ve never bought into the ‘we must get married and have babies’ thing. On Feeld it sounds like 99% of the population is now in an enlightened poly or ethical non-monogamy arrangement, but surely it can’t be *that* widespread. I’m interested in those things but I don’t know if I would be able to handle them in practice, given my insecurity. It’s left me essentially winging it, and at the mercy of what the other person wants.

  • fuzzy says:

    Mine is really more like filling in a sudoku, down to sometimes putting a number in the wrong spot and needing to revise it later, or suddently going AHA and having a whole square flesh out.

  • With you on most of those. In my current relationship, both of us have mobility and gastric issues, so two steps we have climbed have included “screaming in pain when trying to move” and, of course, “breaking wind without shame or reprisal”.

    Other things I’ve done with various partners:
    – admitting that I like their porn
    – admitting that I don’t like their porn
    – not being ashamed when they beat me at Mario Party
    – cleaning their vulva with a wipe before sex (I thought this was very hot and intimate; I’m not sure they agreed)
    – having a discussion (in Westfield Stratford) about which of our hot friends we would bone, and why, if we were single
    – going to the cinema together in order to see a film in a genre one of us doesn’t particularly like, because the other wants to see it…
    – …travelling outside of the borough to do so…
    – …or across London…
    – …or out of London entirely
    – Explaining the Star Wars lore at some length while watching Attack of the Clones (because I like answering questions, innit)
    – Being perfectly okay with them going to get a reiki session while I eat dumplings and go to buy Jar Jar merchandise
    – Having different religious views (political views are more of a deal-breaker; this is a very odd one because both are potentially volatile topics; our different religions have never been a contentious issue, nor with any previous partner)
    – Having sex
    – Not having sex
    – Having never had sex
    – Stealing their sweeties

    One of the the things my best friend (47) does with his wife (Bobbie) is something they do on escalators in the London Underground. Bobbie is very short and, if she stands on a step ahead of (when going up) or behind (when going down), 47, then they are at the perfect height to kiss. It’s incredibly sweet and I always love to see it. 47 once said, at the start of their relationship, “it’ll be cute when we’re 80.” Dude, it’s cute now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.