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The relationship escalator is a metaphorical path people are expected to take during successful romantic relationships. As couples hit certain milestones on the relationship escalator, their relationships are viewed by society as more serious and committed. All types of monogamous couples, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation, can ride the relationship escalator.
The term is commonly used by people who want to get “off” the relationship escalator and either miss relationship milestones or hit them out of the accepted order. Having relationships outside society’s norms, such as polyamorous or other non-monogamous relationships, is also said to be off the relationship escalator.
People get on the relationship escalator once they meet someone they’re interested in. The relationship escalator leads to key life milestones including marriage, becoming a parent, and purchasing a home. Established milestones on the relationship escalator vary, but typically include dating exclusively, having sex, and cohabitating. Once couples reach the top of the relationship escalator, they are expected to remain there together in a monogamous relationship until, as the marriage vows they took state, death do they part.
Traveling on the relationship escalator smoothly, hitting set milestones in a timely and orderly fashion, is said to lead to happiness and a successful relationship. That is the result for many people, but it can also lead to societal pressure and dissatisfaction for others.
Any person who does not hit established milestones or who hits the milestones out of order is said to be off the relationship escalator. These people and their relationships can be judged harshly by their family members, their peers, and society at large.
People may feel people off the relationship escalator aren’t acting morally if they hit milestones out of order, like having children before marrying, for example. They might also believe couples aren’t really serious about one another if they decide they don’t want to hit certain milestones, like marrying or having children. Relationships are also judged harshly if anyone travels backwards down the relationship escalator, by moving in together, then deciding to live separately for example.
Even refusing to get on the relationship escalator at all can be a cause for criticism. People who don’t want to ride the relationship escalator are often be viewed as selfish, immature, and unfulfilled. However, as with all aspects of life, others argue we shouldn’t be simply swept away by the relationship escalator. Instead we should think critically about what steps in life make us and the people we care about the happiest.