Tag Archives: boundaries

Bogeyman in a Red Dress

If there’s one toxic, terrifying thing that (straight) monogamy normalizes, it’s the idea that a partner’s friends are a sexual or romantic threat.

You know. The idea that friendships men and women can never be “benign”. The assertion that these friendships will destroy your marriage. The idea that unless it’s couples being friends with couples as a unit, opposite-sex friendships should peter out as romantic relationships become stable. That men and women can’t be “just friends.”

I had to go three pages deep in Google to find one article saying opposite-sex friendships were sometimes maybe okay for people in relationships*, and that one still said there was always going to be sexual tension. It calls that tension and jealousy a bonus–keeps partners on their toes.

So those of you who agree with this. I got a question.

WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU.

Are you literally sexually attracted to every person of your preferred gender?

Really?

If so, don’t you dare ever call bisexuals “sex maniacs” again; your sexuality is clearly an all-encompassing fetish. Seriously. I’m a sex-blogging bisexual with an extraordinarily high sex drive and a preference for multiple partners–and the idea of being attracted to or having a potential relationship with every person I connect with as a friend, even if we restrict to similar ages, sounds absurd.

But fine. Lets say for the sake of argument that any person of one’s preferred gender is a potential partner. If circumstances were different, if they were single, if the right song had played or rain or one too many drinks had pushed them together years ago. If sometime in the future things were different. Of course there are people we wonder that about. Of course it makes sense to acknowledge that potential is there.

We also need to acknowledge that it’s only potential. That friends are capable of choosing to stay friends, that it’s a continual process, and what might have been or what could be are not what you choose, because you value the friendship that is. Banning people from having friends on the off chance that any given friendship could turn into a sexual or romantic relationship based on the slightest hint of desire makes no sense. Anyone with the barest shred of reasonable humanity knows better than to act on every impulse.

If someone is going to cheat,they’re willing to break the agreements of your relationship. Period. It’s not because they were tempted, it’s not because that woman they’ve known since college has been turning up the heat, inching up her skirt and moving too close by increments until he had an affair without realizing it. The cheating partner chose to cheat. Period. Every time. The person or people they cheat with may or may not have known it was an affair. They may or may not have known you existed at all. And if they knew, then yes, they did a shitty thing. But they’re an accomplice. Your partner cheated. Your partner broke an agreement with you. That is not okay. Imposing a rule isolating partners from friends isn’t going to stop them from breaking the relationship agreement and cheating, it just adds another layer of lying and hiding to the formula. If they’re willing to cheat, restricting friendships will not stop them.

Restricting any kind of access to close to half the human population (or all of it, for bi folks) is a pretty extreme form of social isolation.

Isolating partners is necessary for partner abuse. Isolating partners is a form of partner abuse.

I don’t want to hear “It’s for their own good.” You don’t make decisions for adults that are “for their own good.” That suggests they don’t have the ability to make good decisions themselves. It’s demeaning.

I don’t want to hear “It’s a slippery slope.” Your partner will either be honest with you, or they won’t. They will either respect the agreement of your sexual and romantic exclusivity, or they won’t. In either case, it’s unreasonable to ban behaviors that are not inherently problematic to prevent the risk of those that are.

I definitely don’t want to hear “They shouldn’t need anyone but me.” They shouldn’t need you. If you’re isolating your partner to ensure they can’t leave you without being totally, horribly alone, you’re abusing them.

And “It’s not that I don’t trust my partner, I don’t trust those other people” is a lie. It is that you don’t trust your partner. Your partner will not cheat accidentally. If your partner has a friend who is pursuing sex or romance despite knowing that would violate their relationship agreement, then yes, it makes sense to discuss your concerns with your partner, over how they’re setting boundaries and whether their friend respects them. It doesn’t make sense for this discussion to conclude “no friends with this whole gender, ever.”

“My partner can’t have friends of the opposite gender” means “I don’t trust my partner.” That may be fair. They may not be trustworthy. People do cheat, and lie, and the rest. The truth is, people sometimes cheat. If they do, it might mean they’re planning to leave you. It might not. (They might just be lying scumbags who feel entitled to treat partners as things. Why don’t you want them leaving again?) If they cheat, you need to decide how you want to handle that. And it’s hard. It’s fucking hard. I don’t wish it on anyone. If they leave you, of course I offer sympathies. Being dumped is horrible and you deserve ice cream…but they have every right to leave. You have every right to leave. Relationships have to be voluntary. Isolating partners to prevent them being scumbags won’t work, and preventing them leaving (probably) won’t work and it’s abusive if it does.

Oh, and polyamorous people do it, too. “You can play with/fuck/date other people but I can end it/you need my permission.” When rules for protocol surrounding a behavior become more important than the behavior itself…it leads to problems.


 

* Hello, heteronormativity! “relationship advice” is for straight people, unless it says “gay” in the title, and bisexuals just need to pretend they’re [orientation that people assume based on current partner] and use advice for that group.

First

We didn’t have a plan.

I hate that.

It’s the afternoon of my last day in my hometown. I’m spending it with a very old friend, someone about whom I could easily say “we have nothing in common,” but we’re both here and I’m glad for it.

It’s a shock to see him drinking, though I know it’s not new. He laughs at that. Drinking isn’t all: apparently he’d decided–planned, even–to have sex outside of marriage. Plans fell through, but still, it was within the realm of possibilities. I ask about it–what changed, why he hadn’t sought other opportunities.

He says “It’s a lot easier for a pretty girl to just decide to have sex than for someone like me,” I know he’s turned down women before, so that isn’t all of it.

“Well, I’m right here, if you want to change that.”

His body language closes, tilts away. For a moment I’m not sure if he’s going to ask me to leave. “I can’t tell if you mean that seriously or not.”

“Yes, it’s a serious offer. I’m available, I wouldn’t want any kind of relationship–I’m driving four states away first thing in the morning.”

“What would you get out of it?”

“I like being responsible for people’s firsts–I don’t just mean sex. They look at you like you’re magic.”  Well, that, and I’d get laid, same as you.

He’s undecided. I don’t want to push (well, I do want to, because “maybe”s drive me nuts, but I know better). So we talk about other things.  Fail to decide what to do about dinner, drink too much to go get anything.

His roommate texts “Almost fifteen years of this, just have sex with her already.” It should annoy me, because fifteen years ago we had zero sexual tension. Hell, last year we had zero sexual tension. But today it is on the table and I can’t help but laugh.

Eventually it’s late enough I need to think about driving home. I ask if he’s hoping he won’t have to decide, just default to “no” when I leave. He says that’s not the case. Doesn’t say what is.

“Come here.” I pull him up next to me to kiss him. This is not how I kiss. This is a shadow, not a storm. I am giving him space, asking if it’s okay without a hint of teeth or claws (yet). This is not the storm but I can feel it, am greedy for it, there is something of thunder in every moment he says yes to.

Afterwards, I worry. Was I too pressuring? Might there be psychosocial effects he wouldn’t have predicted? I’ve had a lot of partners. (He didn’t ask how many, and I’m glad, because I don’t know.) Sex is something I enjoy, and yes, it’s a big deal but there’s nothing more attached to it than that. For him, it was a first, and I’m a little unsure why he said yes to it at all, least of all to me.

Turns out he was willing to answer that in a lot of detail:

Okay, why I said yes to you.  Honestly, part of it was that I had already said yes to somebody else.  Even though that didn’t happen, the fact was that I had already made the decision that it was something I was willing to do.  When I agreed to it with [redacted]’s ex, it was for a few reasons.  I found her attractive, yes, but much more important was how we’d had such an intimate relationship for so long that I wasn’t afraid of being embarrassed with her, and we were also in no danger of either one of us falling for the other and thus complicating things.

By complete coincidence, you just happen to meet those precise criteria as well, making you exactly the one other person in my life with whom I could imagine having sex with outside a committed relationship.  I didn’t realize that until you made the offer.  In fact, it hadn’t even occurred to me before that, though it seemed immediately obvious as soon as you said something.

I wanted to quell your fears over this, too.  I don’t want you to worry at all about leading me to do anything I was not prepared to do.  I’ve said that I’m responsible for my actions and I mean it; even had you come over with the express purpose of sleeping with me and you went into full seduction mode to get what you wanted, it still would have been my decision whether or not I’d do so.  Girls have done that, so I know I’m capable of saying no.

What I didn’t tell you at the time is that I’d been seriously considering it since you first offered, and I decided to go through with it the moment you pulled me onto the bed.  The whole time you thought I was afraid to take the next step was really just me stalling for my own sake.  I’d made my decision, but I wanted to give myself time to see if I’d get freaked out while I still had the chance to back out.  I’m sorry you had to put up with my insurance plan, but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t getting into something I’d regret.  When I finally said yes, that wasn’t me deciding I was ready to actually have sex.  That was me deciding I’d had enough time to change my mind on the decision I’d already come to.  No second guessing ever came up, no moments of serious trepidation in the hours since saying yes in my head, so I went ahead and said yes outside my head too.  I don’t want you to think I got caught up in the moment.  I decided long before the moment, then gave myself all that pre-moment time just in case.

And even though I’d never have thought of you as someone to have my first time with, in a way I’m glad that it was you.  You were always there for me all those years ago, even while you were going through far worse than I was.  Even if we’ve obviously drifted apart in the intervening years, you were probably the first person I was ever truly–albeit not physically–intimate with.  Somehow it feels appropriate that you were the first I was fully physically intimate with as well.  Perhaps that’s silly of me.

I know it wasn’t a big deal for you and I’m perfectly okay with that, but obviously it was kind of a big deal for me.  [Redacted] asked me today if I was happy I did it.  Happy is not the right word; it did not make me happy.  Neither did it make me unhappy.  Instead, I’d say I’m content with it.  It wasn’t some huge life-changing event or anything. I still feel like the same person, and I’m glad for that.  But I’m also relieved.  I’ve spent the last few years growing increasingly doubtful about my decision to wait, and now all that pressure, all that doubt and worry that’s been weighing on me is gone.

And that’s not even including long-familiar worries about my potential performance.  I know I was far from amazing, but unless you were merely an incredibly convincing actress, I feel okay about what I managed for a first time.  Perhaps with practice I can eventually become truly decent, though I imagine that day is still long in coming.

Whether I should have done it or not I cannot conclusively say (though I certainly don’t regret it now), but in the end that almost doesn’t matter.  The decision was made, it’s over, and there’s no sense worrying about it anymore.  So for helping me with that, I am genuinely grateful.

Oh, and it was really fun too.

All that said, I don’t want this to change our relationship because I value it greatly (yes, even despite the infrequent contact).  I’m fine with referencing it or joking about it or whatever; I feel no need to hide from what we did, but I also don’t want it to define our relationship.  I realize you probably weren’t worried about that, but I tend to overthink things.  I was thrilled to see you and I would have been entirely happy about that day even had we not slept together, and I’ll be just as happy to see you or talk to you again even with no expectation that it will ever happen again.

Okay, I think I’m done with this painfully long and meandering text.  TL;DR:  I loved seeing you, and I thoroughly enjoyed having sex with you.  I’m glad you came, and I’m glad you came.

Would You? Could You?

So this is a first: a question from a reader! I’m twitterpated, truly.
Even though you are poly..If you found an absolutely amazing person who wants to be monogamous with you, could you or would you consider being monogamous? Do you think that being poly is such a huge part of you that you couldn’t possibly ever consider being monogamous with someone or it’s a possibility? Why or why not?
[Necessary disclaimer: this is my personal reaction and my personal interaction with monogamous norms and expectations. Nothing here can be extrapolated to other people or other paradigms.]

The short answer? My gut reaction? No. I do not like this, Sam-I-Am.

I’ve never tried it.

I’m not going to.

I used to feel the need to justify nonmonogamy. I was asked to justify it every time I told anyone I was married and also dating. Every time the first thing anyone had to say (after they asked if I was cheating) was “Your spouse lets you get away with that?”

Lets me. Like it was more their call than mine. Like I was getting away with something. Like I needed special dispensation. What upsets me most about this is that I used to feel that way, too. That it was unreasonable of me to ask for independent relationships. That I should feel grateful to be allowed, that I had to be on my best behavior to earn the privilege of making my own decisions on my own time.

I am viscerally disgusted by the idea that a relationship somehow grants a person the right to some part of another person’s autonomy. The way it creeps. The way monogamy is normal, the idea that if I really cared about someone, I’d sacrifice the right to care about anyone else. How careful I have to be, saying this, because I know it’s going to be read as “monogamy is bad” when what I mean is “coercing a partner to be monogamous is bad.” I have NO objection to monogamous pairings in which both partners value and desire to practice romantic and sexual exclusivity. What I object to is the pressure, the normalization, the idea that if it is good and healthy for some then it must be the rule for all. I can be happy for monogamous couples without being monogamous.

I do not like green eggs and ham. I’m failing a kindergarten lesson about prejudgment in saying it, and I’m quite honestly okay with that. I’m a grown adult perfectly capable of making my own decisions. Maybe green eggs and ham are delicious. Maybe I’m really missing out on this amazing thing Sam-I-Am has to offer. But you know what? Sam-I-Am is a dick for pushing. I can like Sam-I-Am without liking green eggs and ham. I can like Sam-I-Am if he eats green eggs and ham three times a day while I have lamb tagine one day and spinach alfredo pasta the next. But if Sam-I-Am can’t respect my choices, or believes my feelings about his breakfast reflect my feelings about him, we’re just not going to be a good fit. (Also, I’m Jewish. Stop pushing your ham, Sam!)

If I met an absolutely amazing person who wanted a mutual agreement of monogamy…they wouldn’t be an absolutely amazing person for me.

Finally, people have asked me this before, and I’ve always wondered: would they ever ask the same question of a monogamous person? Would you, could you have a relationship that wasn’t exclusive? Why, or why not?

In Time, With Trust

“I’m not saying I expect to just jump into something like that. But in time, with trust.”

But I don’t trust. I won’t trust, don’t even want to.

“I’m going to be trustworthy. What you do with that is up to you.”

You say that. You might think you mean it, even, but I can hear what you really mean. Do the right thing, the kind thing, the reasonable thing. Trust me. I’m worth it. I’ve earned it. Trust me.

I don’t. I don’t want to.

He will stand in the cold. They all do, for a little while. “Trust me,” and they’ll watch for me to open the door. “Trust me,” and they don’t understand why I haven’t yet, how I can laugh with them and flirt with them, fuck them and be fond of them but never let them in. “Trust me,” and it’s colder now, the cold that makes lips and voices and resolve crack. “Trust me,” and their blood is in the words, an offering, a plea, an accusation. “Trust me,” but I can’t. I will come outside, offer my body to keep them warm but it’s not enough. It’s not the cold, not really. They just want to see inside. To see if it’s all that they’ve imagined. “Trust me,” and I know I won’t because it does not break my heart to hear it. “Trust me,” and when I tell you the last time and the first time nearly ruined me, do you understand how sick it makes me that you expect me to just believe that you would be different?

“Trust me.” I don’t know why they want it, or what they expect to see. If they’re just curious. If because I am good–very good–at showing them how to sort and store their feelings, they think I should offer them a closet or a chest of drawers. If they just hear “I don’t trust easily” as a challenge, a way to prove they are special. I don’t know what they see but what I see is the aftermath. I see the day I am left to clean the junk of them from all my drawers, the repairs that will take years because they will have been careless.

I don’t trust easily. Asking, demanding, wheedling will not make it easier. All I see is testing doors, then. All I want to do is check the locks.

You have my permission not to love me. I am a cathedral of deadbolts, and I would rather burn myself down than change any of the locks. – Rachel McKibbens

Bluebeard’s Castle

It’s a rare thing for anyone to admit dark fantasies unfiltered. Ferns wrote about sharing them in Darker, and God, it’s beautiful. Not for me the gore but the intimacy. The vulnerability. Above all the oh-thank-fuck moment of seeing that I’m not the only person whose desires veer out to sea.

Sharing fantasies carries risk. We can horrify, alienate, become suddenly sick and dangerous in a lover’s eyes. Here’s a conundrum for you: we’re supposed to be able to open every locked door. Someday, at least, to someone. Can we? Without leaving them lost, trapped, forever changed?

There are fantasies I don’t talk about. They frighten me. They go dark places I’ve never dared tell a partner about. I get off imagining games I never intend to play (but oh, God, do I want to).

How do I talk about the things I hide?

How far can Judith walk in Bluebeard’s castle?

I’ve been texting someone I knew a long time ago. Intensely. Pulling at each other with so much greed across two thousand miles that insist later, later, patience, later. So what do we have to share but photographs and fantasies? And while we can’t touch, do we have to worry so much about what could be real and reasonable? There’s some caution. It’s hard to hit send without wondering, is this what you want? will you still want me when you’ve seen the torture chamber, the armory, the treasury all shining with blood? But there’s a thrill to it, isn’t there?

I’m greedy. He offers a fantasy: Please select a level of violence from 1 to 10, with 1 being vanilla and 10 being emergency services.

I suggested seven. I know it’s asking to open a door, anything over five, and I wonder if he will. What he told me was hot enough to make me tremble (though I’d have likely ranked it at a four). But he also said this: “seven sounds reasonable. I don’t have any that are ten, I don’t think.”

And here I check the locks. Because I do. I have tens and twelves and maybe a fifteen. Do you think violence stops at EMS? That there’s no want feral enough to raze and ruin until there’s nothing left to save? How many stories do we have where desire ends in death, in war?

Will you still want me when you’ve seen the torture chamber? The armory?

We all have locked rooms. They keep us safe. Time and pain and betrayals make us wary of letting people in. Who has the keys to which of our doors, who may walk where unsupervised, how do we handle it when someone tries a door to a room we aren’t ready to invite them into?

It isn’t just violence that hides. There are fantasies I’d rank an eight on that scale but never voice, one that grazes ten that I have. There are other kinds of darkness, thoughts that dare not be illuminated. And always when they cross my mind there’s that terrified flicker behind them–what if I were to say them aloud? What if I were one day to cross that unspeakable line? What would it take?


 

If you’re interested in fiction that plays on the darkest edge of the erotic, some of the stories in Joel Lane’s The Lost District can take you there.

Bartok’s opera of Bluebeard’s Castle is well worth a listen, if you’re wondering about those doors and keys. It is genuinely chilling, exactly as it should be.

Little Lower Layer

Food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

The objects in our lives have meaning, whether we want them to or not. They may mean one thing to us, something completely different to someone else. There can be conflict, misinterpretation, manipulation without an outright lie when a symbol comes into play.

It’s so easy to be hurt by them, and so hard to avoid no matter how well we understand, intellectually, that what is symbolized is not inherent to the thing. Objective truth be damned: food is affection. A room is a right. A key is a promise.

Food is affection.

I could say “food is love,” but that’s a word I use with the care and trepidation afforded hazardous materials, and hazardous materials have no place in my kitchen. I’m an excellent cook. I love the building of a meal, the time and energy, the heat and smells and sounds of it coming together. If I offer to send cookies or make dinner, it’s because I value someone. It’s an offer of time and energy and the tangible form of joy, not just a desire to nourish. Food is affection. It seemed so obvious I never thought it needed to be said. But to some, a meal at home is banal. It means the night isn’t special enough to warrant going out, or a desire not to be seen in public together, or simple pragmatism. I once made a decadent three course meal for a woman who said “I never really thought of food as something you like. I eat because I have to, but I’d rather not think about it.” To her, my hours in the kitchen were a waste of a perfectly good afternoon.

A room is a right.

Having a room of one’s own confers the right to use that room however one likes. This is inherently obvious to small children, bafflingly ignored by too many parents. In Texas, Spouse and I had a two-bedroom apartment. We shared one room, and the second was a library. It was also my room: my reading chair lived there, my photography table. It was a place I could play country music, sequester myself with friends or a lover, or just enjoy solitude and a good book.

We moved to a one-bedroom apartment in New Orleans. I don’t have my own space here. It’s affected nerves: my need for solitude and silence is at times profound. I have shut myself in the closet here more than once, just to try to feel that there’s some small space that only I control.

The Techie and Z have a spare room. It’s where I sleep, when I stay at their place. They call it my room, sometimes. It’s a convenience: I stay there once or twice a week, no one else does. But it’s a guest room, not mine. I can’t assume it’s available or that I’m welcome. I don’t keep my things there, or use it as a haven. It is not my space, simply space I am allowed to occupy sometimes.

A key is a promise.

The first time the Techie offered me a key was over a year ago. It frightened me, the implication of trust and commitment. I declined. He mentioned a few times that he’d like me to have one before we fell apart in December. I never took it. Since I’ve been with him and Z, they’ve both offered more than once. It just makes sense, if you get here and we aren’t in, or are in the shower; in case you leave something and need to get it, in case Z locks herself out, etc. We want you to have it. No big deal.

It is a big deal. A key is a promise: this door is never closed to you. You are welcome, now and for the foreseeable future. My home is your home.

It’s a promise they can’t keep. The Techie has already shown he’s perfectly willing to excise me from his life completely rather than risk a difficult conversation. Z I credit with more integrity, but their relationship is hierarchical. An open relationship, not polyamory. Thing about open relationships is that they can close at any time, and secondary partners are unlikely to have any warning, let alone a say.

I don’t want a key. I can’t brush off the little lower layer. It clings like cobwebs in spite of their talk of convenience, in defiance of their insistence that it’s no big deal.

As of yesterday, I have a key. They’re out of town for a week, wanted someone to be able to get in if there’s an emergency. I can deal with this. It’s practical, and temporary.

But it makes me sick to look at my key ring right now. I’m afraid they’ll try to say I should keep it, when they get back; that there’s no reason I shouldn’t have a key. On the face of it, that may be true. But I can’t separate the thing from its meaning. A key is a promise, and this is not one I’m willing to believe or accept.