Making Choices About Your Relationships That Are Right For You

Samantha Stein
3 min readMar 13

In Stepping Off the Relationship Escalator: Uncommon Love and Life, Amy Gahran writes about how most people assume everyone is on the same page when talking about relationships. She calls this default set of societal expectations a Relationship Escalator. Gahran describes 8 steps on the relationship escalator as:

  1. Making contact. Flirting, casual/occasional dates, and sex (possibly).
  2. Initiation. Romantic courtship gestures or rituals, emotional investment (“falling in love”), and almost certainly sexual contact (except for religiously or socially conservative people).
  3. Claiming and defining. Mutual declarations of love, presenting in public as a couple (becoming an “us”), adopting and using common relationship role labels (“my boyfriend,” etc.). Having expectations, or making explicit agreements, for sexual and romantic exclusivity and ending other intimate relationships, if any. Transitioning to unbarriered vaginal/anal intercourse, if applicable (except if that would present unwanted pregnancy risk). Once this step is reached, any further step (including simply remaining in the relationship) can be considered an implied commitment toward intentions of a shared future.
  4. Establishment. Adapting the rhythms of your life to accommodate each other on an ongoing basis. Settling into patterns for spending time together (regular date nights and sexual encounters, spending time in each others’ homes, etc.) and communicating (speaking, phoning, or texting when not together, etc.).
  5. Commitment. Discussing, or planning for, a long-term shared future as a monogamous couple. Expectations of mutual accountability for whereabouts and behavior. Meeting each others’ family of origin.
  6. Merging. Moving in together, sharing a home and finances, getting engaged to be married or equivalent. (May happen before, during or after commitment.)
  7. Conclusion. Getting married (legally if possible). The relationship is now “finalized” and its structure is expected to remain static until one partner dies.
  8. Legacy. Buying a home, having and raising children. No longer as required as it once was, but often couples may not feel (or be perceived as) fully “valid” until they hit these…
Samantha Stein

I’m a writer, photographer, and psychologist who (monthly) explores self, relationships, and mental health in an ever-changing world.