Q. How do you handle things like shared finances, economic support, gifts, co-owned property, etc. without letting those financial entanglements create Escalator expectations in your relationships? When people start buying dinner for each other, or buying gifts for each other, or owning property together, it's usually a sign of a relationship going somewhere, like, to the next step. But what if you don't want to move to the next step? How do you mix finances and still stay off the Relationship Escalator?
A. I'm solo poly and always have been. I don't live with any partners. But I do tend to date other people who respect autonomy very highly. We discuss our expectations and assumptions about money early and often in our relationships. And then money (or the equivalent thereof) is offered as gifts freely, without obligation. Sometimes the gift is rejected, and that rejection has to be received gracefully - that's part of the "without obligation".
One of my partners has a full time job whose salary more than meets his needs, plus he puts in a lot of overtime. He has his own goals for his money and I don't pay attention to the specifics like how much exactly he makes or what he does with his money. I just know that he is comfortable with his spending and income.
I, however, am a freelancer. My income is erratic. Some months I have a surplus, some months I have a deficit.
This partner will often come over for several days at a time and then go home and we won't see each other for several days at a time again. No set schedule, just whenever we both feel like it. Every so often, he hands me a handful of bills "because I eat your food and I want to help out."
I am free to reject it if I want to, but I know that helping others makes him happy and he can afford what he gives me. I don't expect this money and he gives it to me whenever he feels like it. It's totally no-strings-attached. I have food at the house that he can eat. Sometimes he gives me cash to put towards buying more food.
When we go out, we just automatically assume that we're going dutch, unless one of us says "I got this". And then the other one just smiles and says thank you, and that's it. There is no obligation to pay, and no expectation of payment or of what that payment "means". It just happens when one of us feels like doing it.
He also likes to do repairs around the house. His Love Language is Acts of Service. He'll fix things, like my washing machine when it got vandalized, and he installed a watering system for my plants in my tiny garden. He does these things because that's how he shows that he loves people. He does these kinds of things for *everyone* who mean something to him and who will let him.
One weekend, we drove 4 hours south to a mutual friend's house, climbed an ancient tree in the back yard, and re-rigged this massive potted plant that the previous owners had hung there years before. We had to cut the chain out of the tree branch and re-hang it with padding so that it didn't cut into the tree again. The mutual friend had once mentioned that he was afraid the limb would break during a storm and crash into the house. So, because my partner and I both climb things and hang things for a living, we went down there to fix our friend's tree. Because we love our friend and it made us happy to help.
Then there's the story of my metamour and my AAA insurance. She was concerned for me and had the money at the time. It made her feel better to know that I had emergency roadside service with my car breaking down a lot that year. She paid for one year, I said thank you, and that was the end of it. I didn't expect her gift and she wasn't obligated to do it. She just did because she wanted to. And then she paid for another year. And then another. Each year was an unexpected gift. Finally, one year, she said she couldn't afford it anymore. So I thanked her profusely and told her how much it helped me and that was the end of it.
When my house got broken into and all my electronics were stolen, one of my partners who had some extra cash lying around offered to replace one of them for me. Just a gift, because he knew I needed it.
My ex-sweetie, to this day, asks me to do the driving when we meet up and then he pays for something to compensate for me doing the labor. If we just meet for, say, lunch, then I drive out to him and he pays for my lunch.
When we speak at conferences together and we carpool, he has me drive and then he pays for all the gas because he feels it's a reasonable trade-off for not having to put the wear and tear on his car or do the work of driving. I really like to drive, he really likes convenience and is willing to pay or it.
It's not an expectation, though. If he ever didn't do this, that's OK with me. If I couldn't afford to drive all the way to him, or cover the gas on long trips, I would say so and we'd work out some other arrangements.
I am legally married, but my husband and I have a long-distance relationship. We do everything dutch. We have our own households, we have our own money, we have our own incomes, and we have our own expenses. If we ever *did* have any extra money to give, we would help the other out, because we love each other and relieving the stress of being poor is an act of love.
But we are both freelancers and don't have enough to support another. However, I do pay retail for all of his books so that he gets his royalties. I don't expect free access to his writing just because we're in a relationship together. He never asked me to buy his books. I just do. Because I want to help and I have a thing about supporting artists if I share in their art (y'know, being a starving artist myself, and all).
I never found it very difficult to have a mixture of independence and support from partners, but that's because I tend to date people who have similar views on these things as I do. And, being solo poly, all of my relationships from the very beginning are explicitly not Escalator Relationships. There is never any expectation that moving in together or any of the other entanglements are on the table. Any exchange of money is given and received as an isolated gift without obligation or expectation.
If somebody wants to do something and the other can't afford it, we just say we can't afford it. Then, if the other person can afford to cover both of us, and they *want* to cover both of us, they offer. If they don't, then they don't offer. That's it.
As for large purchases like buying property - I look at these kinds of expenditures as business ventures among colleagues. Lots of people can buy property together. My parents owned a vacation home with our next door neighbors when I was growing up. They are *definitely not* poly. Making purchases or having large expenses is a totally separate thing, to me, from being in a relationship. There is no expectation of "going somewhere" because all kinds of different people make these kinds of purchases.
One of my metamours and her husband (before they were poly) bought a duplex with another couple years ago, and they've shared that house for ages now. People who aren't in relationships spend money on each other all the time. Again, reference my metamour and the AAA subscription. We're metamours, so obviously there's no expectation that we're "going somewhere".
Anything involving finances is a *business* or *legal* matter. It's property law or contract law. That's separate. So we handle things that way. If we wanted to buy property together, it would be as 2 investors buying property together.
Tying the state of our romantic relationship to the state of our shared property seems ... weird to me, and a little bit coercive. "Because we own a house together, you now have to share my bed every night and have sex when I want it because that's just an assumption that goes along with owning a house together."
That's just ... weird. For us, owning a house with someone means only that we own a house together. It doesn't say anything about the state of the relationship, except maybe that we're on good enough terms to own property together.
And we TALK. We talk and talk and talk and talk. We all just *know* that going on vacation together doesn't mean that it's a sign that we're headed for the alter or something (well, except for the time 4 of us *did* take a trip together and 2 of us ended up married, but that was the intention of that particular trip!) We all just *know* that buying property doesn't mean that our romantic relationship is necessarily changing in any way. We know that because we all talk about what these kinds of things mean to us.
Buying property together might change the nature of our relationship, but it doesn't have to change the *romantic* relationship. It means that we are now romantic partners *and* property co-owners. So we would have an additional commitment to paying our share (whatever that arrangement is) and not screwing over the other person financially, but the *romantic* relationship is whatever the romantic relationship is.
I would have the exact same sort of financial commitment to a platonic friend that went in on a large purchase with me, just like my parents had a financial commitment to our neighbors when they all bought that vacation condo together. It *certainly* didn't mean that they were now a polyfi quad or something. They were still just neighbors and friends.
I think that, probably since I've always been this way about money and relationships for as long as I can remember, even as a monogamous teenager, that I can't really conceive of it being any other way. *I* have trouble understanding why helping out a partner when they're having financial difficulties automatically means that the relationship means something different than it did before helping.
Also, I think being poor and having a lot of poor friends helps with that too. A lot of people in my industry are used to fluctuating finances and hard times. So we all kinda keep an eye out for each other and help when we can. Most of us do that with no sense of obligation, because we believe that even if this one friend that we supported doesn't return the favor, somebody else will if we should need support someday.
I had a string of bad luck with housing a couple years back and I had to move 7 times in 2 years. One of my coworkers took me in twice during that time period. No expectations, no obligation, he just wanted to help. He was between homes himself just a year earlier, and some of our other coworkers took *him* in when he needed a place to stay. So he invited me in as "repayment" for all the friends who housed him when he needed it.
The second time I had to stay with him, after I was there for a few months, his bills went up so he asked me to start paying rent. He suggested a reasonable rent amount that was open to negotiation, and I payed until I found my own place to live again. In none of this time was there ever any expectation that our relationship was "going somewhere".
One of my former fuckbuddies is also my car mechanic. He drives the same car and just has a flare for automotive maintenance. He likes messing around with engine parts. I pay for all the parts, he does the labor for free, and this is the case whether we are sleeping together or not.
He was a coworker first. At the time, I was living in one town and working in his town 2 hours away. He used to let me crash on his couch so that I could take several days worth of work in a row and not have to drive 4 hours round trip every day on top of our 12 hour work days. Free of obligation, he just supported me in a way that I needed and that he could provide.
Somewhere along the line, we started sleeping together. And then somewhere along the line, we stopped. In the middle of that, I moved to his town so that I didn't have to commute anymore so I no longer needed couch space, and he started fixing my car. We haven't hooked up in, I dunno, like 6 years now, but he came over last week to work on my car again.
I think if people learned to value their friendships more, these difficulties with entanglements and assumptions would be easier to deal with. When we make our partners into our *entire world* and our whole support system, then we start tying together all of these otherwise unrelated things.
But if we have friends that we can rely on for emotional support, financial assistance, physical labor, emotional labor, etc., and those friendships aren't expected to "go somewhere", then I think we would all be better at developing the tools that protect our relationships from these Relationship Escalator traps.
The people best suited for my nesting partners may not be romantic partners. Good co-parents might be former romantic partners or never-been-romantic partners. Caregivers to disabled people might be best found among our siblings or relatives or platonic friends. A metamour might be the best source for financial assistance during economic downfalls.
There's no reason any of this should be tied to romantic relationships and no reason why romantic relationships should be assumed to be something other than what they are.
My relationships are what they are. Sometimes, we help each other out financially. Sometimes we make legal or financial commitments to each other. Sometimes they are romantic. Sometimes, those things overlap.