Relationship Status Codes, Part 6: the M-Level Relationship

Barbara Kruger, Pride of appearance from an unexpected angle: "Cindy C., 78," one of Erwin Olaf's mature pin-ups. Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company; Also, I totally want to be that hot when I'm her age. <3

The final chapter in our Relationship Status Codes series brings us to the pinnacle of what, in some way, we’re all expecting in the end (whether we like it or not):

The M-Level Relationship

That can either stand for Mature or for Marriage, depending on your ideal outcome – and for still others, it can mean Monogamy.  Sometimes it’s as simple as premeditated cohabitation, sometimes it’s more formal than that, but the real marker of an M-Level relationship is not so much what you’ve agreed to as it is how you deal with each other.  You count on each other for support – emotional first, maybe financial – and you know you can count on your partner to take out the trash, switch out the laundry, make coffee if they’re the first one up, and be there at the end of the day.  You might fight, but you know not to try to hurt each other with angry words, and you know all of the little triggers that can make each other’s toes curl.  You discuss plans before making them, you inform them immediately when something goes wrong, and you call them first with the best news ever.

An M-Level relationship is a 24-7 commitment, often (but not always) involves breeding, and maybe even includes filing taxes together.  You share everything – good and bad – and you’re in it for the long haul.

Now, here’s the kicker:  Not all marriages (or long-term cohabitations) are M-Level.  Some are Secondaries or even Cs or Hs in disguise.

What really makes an M-Level relationship qualify is maturity.  It’s honesty and clarity, and it’s a strong passionate affinity for each other.  It’s knowing what to compromise on and what to stand firm on, and it’s knowing when you say you’re sorry and when to forgive.

When you’re really in a Secondary despite cohabitation (as an example), you’ll find yourself constantly having to badger your partner for her half of the rent or for actual face-time with him instead of trying to talk around a video game.  Problems that crop up in the household are likely to spark vicious fights, and one or both partners comes out swinging and looking for blood.  There’s an underlying insecurity, a sense of “mistake” or “fear” or “unsure” that undermines what could potentially be an otherwise happy situation.

The hardest kinds of “fake M” to spot, though, are the relationships that “just made sense at the time”.    These are the ones where a couple of kids dated through high school and college, and everyone just expected them to get married.  They’re the ones that resulted from having no better prospects after several casual-ish years together.  They’re the ones where both partners have a laundry list of things that make them a “smart match” but don’t have a whole lot of drive or passion.  If you have a friend who is married – has been married for some years, even – and you’ve never met the spouse despite having been in a variety of social situations together, this might be a “fake M”.  They make disparate plans, they don’t really try to do things together outside of strict obligation, and when you really look at it, their commonalities are scant at best.

There is no right answer for these scenarios.  Sometimes there’s a chance that true love can be kindled in the house they have built together, sometimes not.  Other times, it’s a slow death for both partners who are financially bound to one another and scared of getting screwed over in the divorce.  I’ve even seen situations where they just look at each other from across the breakfast table one morning and agree to part without any sort of hard feelings at all.

The M-Level relationship is something of a Holy Grail for most people because it is the situation that carries you into your autumn and winter years.  It’s the two old folks kissing in the grocery store and buying each other Valentine’s Day candies to share.  It’s a long peaceful night followed by a wistful goodbye as your best friend breathes their last, and enjoying the memories of all of those incredible years spent together, through good times and bad.  Even the times when harsh words were spoken and immediately regretted have a precious sweetness to them.

You can’t have that relationship, no matter how long you’re together, if you can’t start with the basics.  Make sure you’ve chosen to enter into this arrangement with Love in the forefront instead of Fear, and it’ll guide you to the Happily Ever After just fine.


That might’ve been a little more sentimental than I was expecting, but it was honest, so there you go.  If you need a point of perspective, check out the H-Level relationship, the C-Level relationship, the C4 relationship, the Friend Zone, and the Secondary relationship.

Relationship Status Codes, Part 5: the Secondary Relationship

This is a tough relationship to identify sometimes.  It hangs somewhere between “Casual” and “Serious”, and it often suffers from the “imbalanced concept” problem wherein one partner thinks it’s something that the other partner does not believe.  The main marker, then, is endurance without advancement.  I propose a discussion on…

The Secondary Relationship

You know those people who have those long, drawn-out relationships that never seem to advance?  They date, they have sex, they might even live together, but there’s this sense that it’s never really going to get there.  They seem to have all the pieces to the puzzle at first glance, but often, there’s some kind of spark or something missing.  Maybe one partner is waiting for the other to pop the question, or maybe they’re just comfortable leaving things as they are.

In poly circles, this would be the next most important relationship outside of the core, primary one (also known as the M-Level relationship, which we’ll discuss tomorrow).  Sometimes, people don’t have a primary relationship and just maintain the slightly more casual secondary ones, and it’s not unusual to have more than one secondary relationship.  (The “Secondary” part refers to the level of commitment, not necessarily to an ordinal value.)  Before I go further, let me state explicitly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with having a secondary relationship.  If that’s where you’re comfortable, then there should be nothing keeping you in the same place indefinitely, but make sure that your partner is really on the same page.

In a tragically high number of situations, one partner believes that their relationship works great at a secondary level and doesn’t want to move it forward, but their partner instead believes that they’re “doing their time” as a dating couple before moving on to the “married couple” status.  In video game terms, they keep earning more and more experience points, but they never seem to level up.  I’ve even seen people share deep tragedy and trials, support each other through death and loss and illness, and it still never convinces the reluctant partner to make the leap to a formalized commitment.

When the secondary relationship is the only relationship, I’d put a time frame of about two years on it (maybe three, depending on circumstances) before assessing whether or not it’s going to evolve.  If your partner breaks out in hives at the idea of cohabitation and you’re looking for your Happily Ever After, do yourself a big favor and extricate.  On the other hand, if you like having your own level of freedom and never having to worry about the toilet seat being left up (or down) on a daily basis, carry on.

The virtues of the Secondary relationship are many and include aspects such as personal freedom, financial independence, an emotional safety zone, and a mostly guaranteed date on Saturday night without futzing too much with the distractions of the M-Level relationships during the rest of the week.  The downsides, on the other hand, can include a sense of insecurity over not knowing exactly where you stand with a person or turning around after many years in a Secondary relationship and realizing that you might’ve missed some other opportunities that could have led to something more personally satisfying.

Secondary relationships can and have produced offspring, but the post-natal arrangement is one of co-parents rather than partners.  Sometimes a surprise pregnancy can artificially escalate the Secondary into the M-Level, but often this leads to an undercurrent of resentment and anxiety.  The upshot of this is, always put a safety on the love gun when you’re playing straight.


Get caught up with the first four parts: the H-Level relationship, the C-Level relationship, the C4 relationship, and the Friend Zone.  Tune in next week for our exciting conclusion!

Relationship Status Codes, Part 4: the Friend Zone

As we get into the fourth installment of the Relationship Status Code series, we take a brief respite from traditional committed relationships to discuss a side topic, the Relationship That Never Is.  I present to you a discussion on…

The Friend-Zone

The object of your affection says things like, “You’re going to make someone really happy someday,” or, “You’re such a sweet guy/girl, but…”  Also, you’ll hear, “But I love you like a brother/sister,” and sometimes even, “I don’t love you in that way.”  There are many tragedies about the Friend Zone, but the greatest is that it is well-nigh impossible to ever leave the Friend Zone with a person once you’ve been put there – and even more tragic than that is that some people put themselves there.

In absolute fairness, let me explain exactly WHY you may find yourself put in the FZ by the OOD:  You have most or all of the pieces that the OOD wants in a mate except for the one thing that you probably want more than anything else, the sexual chemistry.  Especially if the OOD is a woman, you’re dealing with a much more narrow range of what she finds attractive than the range of what men find attractive.  The only way to get out of the FZ is to transform yourself physically into something that she does find attractive, which is bad news if she likes tall guys and you’re only 5-foot-4.

As far as the way that some otherwise attractive folks FZ themselves, they want to not come across as threatening or just out lookin’ for the poon (or “chikkens”, as the case may be), they over-sell the “not wanting” and wind up having to be play with Rosie instead of the OOD.  They want to be the mythical “nice guy/gal” that they hear people talk about.  The FZed guys hold a lady’s purse while she’s shopping for underwear he’ll never see.  The FZed girl (also known as “Bro-Zoned”) plays twelve straight hours of co-op Halo: Reach while listening to her OOD complain about his latest ex-girlfriend’s bitchy, lying attitudes.  Again.

The biggest issue with this end of the OOD relationship is that it is, by its nature, dishonest.  The Seeker has desire for the Object but does not openly disclose this usually.  The Object identifies the Seeker as being uninterested in an intimate relationship.  That creates a judgment about the Seeker in the Object’s mind, so when the Seeker comes clean with his/her real intentions, it’s too late for the Object to go back.  Do yourself a big favor and just start off making the “wanna bouncy-bouncy” announcement right at the beginning.  You’ll either get shot down or you’ll score.  If you get shot down, it’s because there’s an honest lack of reciprocated interest.  If you score… hell, man, you scored, and have fun.

Alternately, the Seeker may start off with that honesty, and that’s fantastic.  The Object, however, doesn’t feel the same groove but still sees an opportunity for “fringe benefits” that have nothing to do with mutual respect, communication, or sex.  You know those FZed guys that follow around the crazy-hot chick and do insanely stupid favors for her like carrying her laptop while she’s working on it or the Bro-Zoned chicks who drive across town in the driving rain and sleet to pick up her crush’s girlfriend so that she can drop the girlfriend off at the crush’s house?  Yeah, that’s just plain mean and abusive.  If you find yourself in THAT Friend Zone, tell the Object to take a flying leap.  If you persist in thinking that you’re going to evolve like a Pokemon into an acceptable mate once it’s reached some ridiculously high level of “affection points”, then you may have more than a couple of mental health problems you might want to get checked out.  Srsly.  At this point, there’s a fine line between “hopeless romantic” and “emotionally unstable obsessive”.


Tomorrow we’ll talk about the Secondary (or Perpetually Stalled) Relationship, and then next week, it’s on to even more juicy stuff.  If you’re just joining us, check out the H-Level Relationship, the C-Level Relationship, and the C4 Relationship, too.

Relationship Status Codes, Part 3: the C4 Relationship

Here’s where the funny and slightly embarrassing stories start coming out.  You know you have them, too.

The C4 Relationship

As in “explosive”, as in “CRAZY”.  This is the relationship style that inspired my personal “3-to-6 month lease” policy.  My experience has been that if someone is going to get irrational or have some kind of weird quirk that renders us fatally incompatible such as a sexual fetish for tuna fish salad or liking to dress up in 1940s British school boy costumes, it’s going to manifest somewhere in that first “salad days” stretch.

The C4 relationship often starts off with enormous amounts of apparent potential, but little things will tip you off that all is not well in Whosville.  It could be little white lies or it could be a casual mention that they don’t feel like they need their lithium anymore.  Sometimes it’s a lot more obvious such as the extensive collection of highly specialized dwarf-on-fish porn or the “replica” collection of every weapon used by real and/or fictitious serial killers ever made.  Everyone has at least one of these types of relationships (some like to collect them), but if you’re lucky, you can get out early with minimal scarring.

A few quick pointers:

  • 95% of dating that starts in a strip club has a high C4 probability.  It’s not that all girls who are dancers are crazy, but being in that world makes them crazy, even if they don’t think so.
  • Neuroses often cannot be spotted unless you’re in their home.  Look for things on shelves in alphabetical order, wear marks around the bathroom grouting from over-cleaning, or stockpiles of toilet paper or canned spaghetti.
  • Yes, crazy-person sex is often bloody incredible, but it can lead to just plain bloody if someone snaps in the middle of coitus.  Plus, it’s considered rather in poor taste to boff someone who very well might be considered legally disabled.
  • Having an issue with recognizing factual aspects of reality such as the moon landing or the fall of the Berlin Wall or the outcome of the American Civil War is probably also not a good sign.
  • Excessive “personal days” from work or school just to sit at home naked with the windows open in -20 degree temperatures is bad.
  • Illicit drug use, excessive alcohol usage, and plenty of rationalizations for either (or both) is definitely up there on the “red flag list”.  Remember: drugs can sometimes make people crazy, but more often they can mask the crazy.
  • Asking someone if they’re crazy is not a sure-fire way to find out – crazy often comes with a hefty dose of denial – but if you ask and they look sheepish or guilty, you might want to explore the question further, possibly while sidling towards an exit.

Me, I dated a short string of weirdoes who had inexplicable faith in the existence of real blood-sucking vampires.  It was a very brief phase but one that left me with more trouble than all the great sex in the world could be worth.  Learn from my fail.

Relationship Status Codes, Part 2: the C-Level Relationship

Copyright Roy Delgado, continuing my description of Relationships As I See Them, we’ll be exploring a very unusual and often misunderstood type of relationship today:

The C-Level Relationship (also known as the Tertiary Relationship)

That would be Casual.  A casual relationship is also known as “friends with benefits”, but sometimes the “friends” part becomes secondary to letting the trouser snake out to play or “scratching the mutual itch”.  Casual relationships are almost always awkward because, more often than not, one person “totally agrees that casual is awesome” when really, they want something more, but they’re afraid that if they don’t agree to the “casual” part, they won’t “qualify” to be with the object of their affection.  There are many downsides to this complication because the one carrying the torch 1) doesn’t get their emotional needs met and 2) they probably don’t know how to have a casual relationship.

On the other hand, the open-endedness (if you’ll forgive the pun) can be refreshing, especially if you’re “between serious commitments”  or are unsure of where you’ll be living in the next six months.  In a poly situation, this is the “fringe relationship” that you hook up with when you’re visiting their home town (or vice versa), the one you see only every month or so.  If they find someone else who makes them happy, it’s not a big deal to lose their attentions because you can honestly be happy for them in their further endeavors.  Tertiary relationships only very, very rarely “advance” to Secondary or Primary relationships.

I feel I should mention here that C-Level Relationships are not the same things as “one-night stands”.  Relationships imply a longer-term arrangement, even if it’s just for a little mutual satisfaction.  The nature of the word “relationship”, especially in this sense, is to call a spade, a spade, and recognize your own personal responsibility in playing safe both sexually and emotionally.  If your feels change or grow, you need to tell your partner as soon as is convenient, because sometimes people get into C-Level relationships due to their own inability or unwillingness to get into a more serious one.  And if you try to coerce someone into a relationship level that they don’t want, then you kinda deserve what you get next (which is almost never pretty).

A quick note on one-night stands (ONS)

The vast majority of ONS start off with non-matching intentions.  One party or the other might just be looking for a quickie, but the other person will be wondering if this is some kind of fateful encounter that leads to the imaginary Happily Ever After.  And, to be fair, a minuscule fraction of them do turn into something magical.  The odds, however, are stacked against you.  A single night is normally not enough time to learn how to be good lovers for each other, and disappointment and lackluster performance will not inspire one or either partner to call back (assuming someone went to the trouble to remember to exchange numbers).

My general advice on this is to be very, very clear.  If you are looking for something more (even a negotiated C-Level relationship), do not make the sign of the double-backed beast on the night you meet.  If you really are just looking for a potentially disastrous but also potentially exciting one-off, then state that clearly that you don’t plan on seeing this person in an intimate sense ever again after that night.  Finally, if you were looking for Miss Amazing and ended up with Miss Oh-God-What-Have-I-Gotten-Myself-Into, be honest enough to say that it wasn’t really your cuppa and you’ll be moving on now.  This is a daring and atypical move, one that is so bizarrely uncommon that it will probably blow the mind of your would-be partner, but it is one that should definitely be employed to avoid further awkwardness in the future.


Tune in tomorrow for the really exciting stuff, and check out the first part of this series here.