I am polyamorous and find it smooth and effortless to develop intimate friendships. However, how people escalate to more intertwined, domestic relationships feels completely alien to me. This is something that I think I want to try (for the sake of science! and self-knowledge), but I am not sure how ride the escalator even if I wanted to. Any perspective you have would be welcome. =)
If you’re on the relationship escalator, forming a nesting relationship can be smooth and easy. (A nesting relationship is one in which you live together, share finances, perhaps coparent, and generally participate in daily life together as a team. It’s conceptually distinct from a primary relationship — a relationship in which you are each other’s Most Important People — although nesting relationships that aren’t also primary relationships are pretty rare in my experience.) That’s why it’s called the escalator: a nesting relationship is the thing that happens with your romantic-sexual relationship when you aren’t actively trying to make something else happen.
If you’re doing something weird with your relationships — if you’re poly, or asexual, or aromantic, or interested in forming nesting relationships with platonic friends, or any of innumerable other ways people are weird — finding a nesting partner can be harder.
It seems like from your letter you’re not sure if you want a nesting relationship. That’s fine! For many people, nesting relationships are uncomfortably close; they need their own space, their own time, the ability to make decisions without considering others. And it can be hard to know whether you’re that kind of person without testing it out. I don’t think it’s unethical to experiment with a nesting relationship if you’re not sure if you want one: every nesting relationship, early on, is an experiment in whether you want to nest with this person, and it’s not that different if “no, because I don’t want to nest with anyone” is on the table as a possible outcome. However, I do suggest you tell this to your potential nesting partners, so there are not any uncomfortable surprises later on.
I suggest considering early on in all your new close relationships whether this person would make a good nesting partner. Sometimes — a lot of the time!— you will consider it for ten seconds and the answer will be “fuck no.” Maybe they’re married to someone who does not at all want them to nest with anyone else. Maybe you’re in very different life stages. Maybe the thought of seeing them for more than three hours at a time makes you want to scream. This is a very normal part of the filtering process.
If the answer is “….maaaaaybe,” it might be worth thinking about whether they have traits that make them a good nesting partner for you. Many people attempt to nest with people they are in romantic love with and very sexually compatible with, but who are otherwise a terrible fit. This may be an unfortunate tradeoff which is necessary for relationship-escalator people — who, if they are giving up on romantic love and sexual compatibility with their nesting partner, are giving up on ever experiencing those things ever again— but there is no reason to do this as a polyamorous person.
Of course, most of the things you think about when you’re deciding whether to nest with someone are obvious: lifestyles, desire for children, shared values, chore divisions, finances. The most important test to consider for a nesting partner is the “normal Wednesday” test. Imagine spending an ordinary Wednesday with this person. Would they improve it? If the answer is “no”, do not nest with them! Becoming someone’s nesting partner is a commitment to spending literally thousands of normal Wednesdays with them. This is one of the most important criteria, and one which is often ignored in favor of “do I enjoy romantic dates and trips with them?” or similar.
I personally have had good results from bringing up the nesting-partner issue relatively early on in relationships I think are heading that direction: perhaps in the first two or three months. There are a set of tradeoffs here. Bringing up nesting too early can make you seem like you have poor boundaries and are looking to commit too fast. Rushing into very committed relationships is also a red flag for abusive partners, which you’d want to avoid. Conversely, waiting around to bring up a nesting partnership can lead to miscommunications iwth people who want the same thing you do and wasting time in relationships that really aren’t going to get you the thing that you want.
(If you have partners or friends you know well might want to consider nesting with, this doesn’t apply.)
It is perhaps best to start by sort of generally mentioning, as it comes up in conversation, that you’re not sure whether you want a nesting partner and are looking to try it out. You can bring up some of the criteria that are most important to you in this sort of relationship and what you expect to get out of it. Often, your partner will respond by discussing their desires — again, on a more theoretical sort of level. This lets you determine if your desires are compatible without implying a level of commitment you don’t have.
If you’ve been friends or partners for at least a few months, it is probably time to Have The Awkward Conversation. I know! I hate the awkward conversation too! But if you’re doing weird things with your relationships you really are going to have to have it. The relationship escalator is a default, which means that people know what to expect. If you’re stepping away from the defaults, you have to talk about what to expect.
It’s okay to be awkward about it. People who like you will not be turned off by you being kind of awkward in bringing up an important thing.
As best you can, try to frame it as an exploration and as something you both have to be excited about. You’re not deeply invested in the idea of nesting with this person no matter what. You’re trying to figure out who the right person to nest with is. Your uncertainty about whether you want to nest at all is a good start here, but even if you’re certain you want to nest with someone, remember that this is a process of figuring out who the right person is, not a process of winning over some specific person. You want to be low-pressure as much as you can.
If the person you’re talking to isn’t enthusiastic, well, they’re doing you a favor! You don’t want to nest with someone who’s meh about nesting with you. Whatever reasons they have for rejecting you are probably something that would have fucked up the relationship in the future.
The first conversation probably won’t result in you moving in together immediately, unless you’re in the Bay Area. But at that point it depends on your particular dynamic, and I cannot give specific advice.