So, although tonight is not the best time for me to write at length (I’m a professor and our classes start tomorrow!), I am happy to get involved in a general discussion of what Associates are. Keep in mind that how the relationship between Vowed members and Associates plays out varies widely from community to community–and even, sometimes, within provinces or separate branches of the same congregation (for example, Sisters of St. Joseph, IHMs, etc.). So this can be as diverse as the differences among religious communities for vowed members!
In most cases, the commitment is not exactly the same as it is for Lay Secular members of the Orders, or for Oblates. While some communities do allow life commitment for Associates, no community requires it, and some don’t have permanent commitment at all. Almost all, if not all, communities that have them welcome married women as Associates. Some also have men as associates (including priests and deacons!). A few even welcome non-Catholic persons to become Associates (but there are some non-Catholic Oblates–for example, the prominent author Kathleen Norris).
So that is all I’ll say for now. As you may guess, I am an Associate myself, and have been for almost 15 years; right now, I am a member of the Associates Council with my Congregation. For now, I’ll just post the website for NACAR (North American Conference of Associates and Religious). There are many resources there: https://www.nacar.org/
If anyone has specific questions, please feel free to ask, and I’ll try to answer.
I guess I wrote more than I planned to!