In relationships generally, but particularly in polyamory and BDSM, consent is essential. Even if you’re playing with nonconsent, understanding your partner’s boundaries – and, more importantly, respecting them – is the foundation of trust and ethical behavior in any relationship.
However strongly one may know that, it becomes even more graphically obvious when you blow it. And I recently did.
The scenario was fairly innocuous. Like scores of times before, I was receiving a professional massage. Unlike most of those times, it was from someone who I care about personally, and who had said that they cared about me likewise. And – perhaps critical to what happened, although in no way excusing it – we had just finished an exercise on expressing true feelings, by writing, without pausing to edit, a series of “first thing that comes into your head” thoughts. (This is part of some work I’m doing on trying to get my conscious self out of the way to encourage better mind-body integration, something I may write about at another point.)
At any rate, I was receiving an excellent massage from someone with whom there was some mutual feeling. And when it ended, buzzed from the touch and feeling full of gratitude, I did something I’ve never done before – I took their hand and kissed the back of it.
Well, it turns out that that exceeded a boundary. The therapist and I had exchanged hugs regularly – at their initiation – after previous sessions. To me, a hug is much more intimate than a kiss on the back of the hand. To them, however, the opposite was true. The fact that I did not know that does not excuse exceeding the boundary.
A very calm and rational discussion followed, in which was made clear they were not comfortable with what I had done in that moment. It was also clear the relationship will continue. But I have been unable to simply put this behind, and in fact wonder whether part of why my conscious mind stays so engaged all the time is to keep things exactly like this from happening.
Regardless, I take this as a few lessons.
- One is to always check in regarding someone else’s boundaries, no matter what else is going on in your relationship.
- Another is to remember that your first unedited thought may always be sincere, but is not always the correct one to express.
- A third is that nonconsent can happen anywhere, anytime, in any kind of relationship.
- And the fourth is to recognize that nonconsent happens despite our best efforts; how it gets dealt with immediately afterward is critical, not only to the relationship but to each of you individually, and in what you draw from it about future behavior.
I never wanted to be That Guy. And in an instant, I was.