This is a submission for the August 2019 Carnival of Aros, on the topic of “Relationships“
When people talk about creating or valuing “commitment” in relationships, it’s often shorthand for advancing through the socially expected steps of the stereotypical sexual-romantic relationship escalator – things like romantic and sexual exclusivity, cohabitation, financial entanglement, legally recognized marriage, and possibly parenthood. These types of commitment are also largely seen as a linear, hierarchical and long-term (if not lifelong) progression of steps.
However, as Jo explains in the link above, the expected “relationship escalator” path of commitment is one that often breaks down when it comes to the lived experiences of asexual, aromantic, and polyamorous people (among others). After all, sexual/romantic exclusivity – one of the standard first steps on the escalator – isn’t a good marker of commitment if you aren’t looking to be sexual or romantic with anyone in the first place, or if openness to multiple types of partners is a key goal of your relationship.
And once you start questioning that common first step, the rest of the assumptions of the relationship escalator also break down, not just for aces and aros but for anyone interested in exploring more nontraditional relationship models – after all, why would sexual entanglement need to precede financial entanglement or cohabitation anyway? Why does the person you want to commit to emotionally need to be the same person you decide you might want to co-parent with? What if you prefer to have shorter term or more flexible relationship commitments instead of assuming that the only “healthy” way to approach to commitment is to continue moving up and up the escalator for perpetuity?
Instead of an escalator, therefore, I like to thing of “commitments” as a variety of piecemeal “building blocks” that can be arranged in any combination and any order to define a prticular relationship, and that can be added and removed when or if desired. Which is why I wanted to give just a few examples of types of “commitment” that people can have in their relationships – whether these relationships are romantic, sexual, familial, or platonic; short-term or long-term; intense or casual. Some of these are serious, some are more silly, but hopefully all can serve as food for thought.
If you have any of your own examples of commitment that you’d like to highlight, however, large or small, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
1. The Roommates
This is perhaps the most common kind of non-sexual, non-romantic committed relationship that many people will experience in their life. While moving in with friends or even strangers you met on craigslist is, for whatever reason, rarely seen as a life-changing “commitment” in the way that moving in together with a romantic/sexual partner is, the fact is that choosing to eat, sleep, live, and breath and pay rent together with another person for months or years is one of the biggest financial and lifestyle commitments that many of us make. It’s also a good example of how commitment doesn’t always have to be lifelong or open-ended to be important to you – sometimes it might be bound to the length of a lease, or a graduation date, or other deadline, but that doesn’t make the commitment any less real.
2. The Co-Parents
While parenting is often seen as the ultimate and final commitment for married sexual/romantic couples, there’s really no reason that it has to be limited to these groups – after all, many great co-parents and guardians can also come in the form of close family friends, amicable exes, queerplatonic partners, group communes, extended family, and more. And furthermore, the person(s) that you choose to parent with don’t always have to be the same people that you commit other parts of your life to – divorced couples have been figuring this out for decades, but it can also be an intentional option for those who choose to build their own relationships from scratch. After all, sometimes co-parents can be friends, not lovers, and other partners can stay partners without becoming parents.
3. The T-Mobile Friends and Family Plan
One of the perks that our society grants to traditional couples and nuclear families is that they are often viewed as a “household” rather than a series of individual units, and granted privileges that less formally associated groups of individuals are not – from serious benefits like discounts on shared healthcare to less life-endangering concerns like discounts on shared cell phone service plans or even things like costco memberships.
As some companies (like the titular example) increasingly begin to recognize that households don’t just have to be traditional nuclear families, many of the group benefits are increasingly available to any other groups who are willing to commit to the responsibility of paying a shared bill.
4. The Poly Password Swap
Alice has an HBO account; Bob has Netflix.; Charlie has Hulu; and Eve has Amazon Prime; with their powers combined, they can form one big happy television binge-watching family! As noted in the example above, resource-sharing with a committed set of partners-in-consumption can be a great way to access services more affordable by banding together in groups rather than as individuals, and the benefits can increase cumulatively as each person brings their own resources to offer.
This sort of shared media-watching potential can also lead in other forms of commitment, like when you have that fellow fan friend who you make sure to watch every new episode with so you can gush about it afterwards.
5. The Designated Emergency Contact
At a minimum, most of us hope to have someone in our life who we can write down as the “emergency contact” that forms are constantly asking for – someone who we can trust to take on the responsibility of helping us handle our affairs and to get in touch with all the right people in the case that anything happens to incapacitate us. While many choose to trust this duty to a family member or spouse, those without those options often also trust it to a reliable friend or convenient neighbor – and even those with “traditional” options like spouses or family around may still choose to trust this to someone else if they think that person is better able to know their wishes, or to stay level-headed in an emergency – or maybe if that person is just more conveniently located.
On a similar level, the designation of more serious responsibilities like power of attorney can represent an even stronger commitment of this type.
This is also a useful example of the ways that commitment doesn’t always have to be symmetrical or reciprocal – maybe Jane might designate John as her contact, but John lists Joe, who lists someone else entirely.
6. The Friend with Literal Benefits
One of the most life-altering benefits that comes with being in a typical “committed” romantic/sexual relationship for many people is access healthcare insurance – while traditionally offered to married spouses and children, modern day employer healthcare plans increasingly allow individuals to offer benefits to any “domestic partner” (and their children), in order to include unmarried couples as well. While these domestic partner benefits are often still couched in terms that imply romantic/sexual relationships and may be difficult if not impossible to access for other types of committed partners, some jurisdictions are started to broaden the ability to designated a beneficiary for certain benefits in much more inclusive ways. And while current marriage fraud laws (combined with the assumed sexual-romantic-cohabitation requirements of marriage) can make it tricky for non-typical partners to access these types of benefits on the same level as more normative couples, I look forward to a future where this can be more of a widespread possibility (at least until we get a proper universal healthcare system that renders this all unnecessary).
7. The Dungeons and Dragons Party
Sometimes commitment can come in the form of commitment to joint social activity or hobby, whether it’s a monthly D&D group, a weekly knitting circle, a biweekly fantasy football league, or something else.
These kinds of social and hobby commitments can also be a great example of how commitments can be made in a relationship to a group or a community that may evolve over time, rather than a set of specific individual relationships.