You have a new boo. Life is excellent. You snuggle over mugs of coffee and split a slice of the white chocolate raspberry cake at Mad Hatters. You haggle over who gets the last of the coconut cream pie cookie at WD Deli after downing bowls of macaroni and cheese soup (Here’s a tip: Get two cookies. They are ridiculously cheap, and you can always nap off the sugar coma in your car later). Things are brilliant, you and your boo. If you could run across a field of flowers to each other in slow motion, you would totally do that. Then post the stills on Instagram.
Then Boo drops a bombshell. Boo has some sexual interests that are, well, way different than you expected. To put it nicely? Boo wants you to do The Thing and you are freaking. The. Fuck. Out. Do you do the thing? The Thing seems very, very weird. You are down with some kink … but this is … DAMN, you don’t even KNOW what this is. You love you some Boo. But this thing? You’d rather just give over the entire coconut cream pie cookie.
Sometimes it’s the breaking point and it ends the relationship. But sometimes you or Boo call me and we sit down and we hash it out together in my office and we figure something out. If y’all come in, there will be a few options and ideas we are going to discuss. And I’m going to share those with you now. This may not be so insurmountable, and you may not even need me to referee at all when you finish this article. Cuz I am all about putting myself out of a job, apparently.
First of all? No kids, no pets. If The Thing involves kids or pets the answer is NO NO NO BAD BOO! And send them to see my office partner, Brenda Martinez.
Anything else? Normal is just a setting on a washing machine. If one of you digs the thing and the other does not? Neither of you are wrong. The problem is in the differential desires.
Some things to consider:
What Need Is Being Fulfilled?
Oftentimes, The Thing causes more emotional discomfort than physical discomfort. It just feels creepy, weird, and wrong. Boo wants you to wear a school-girl costume? Does that mean Boo digs underage girls? Maybe? But a lot of what we like sexually has nothing to do with our literal desires. It’s often about feeling cared for, or feeling in control, or recapturing an experience that felt safe, comforting, or sexy. Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason to what we like or don’t like. And honestly, if Boo DOES have a thing for underage girls? I would so rather Boo play that out in a safe way, rather than go hit on underage girls. Doesn’t mean you have to play along. But the emotional discomfort of the act may be alleviated with some conversation. And if y’all aren’t sure? I’m pretty good at figuring a lot of that stuff out.
Negotiate The Boundaries.
Whether it is emotionally freaking you out or physically distressing, do not do a DAMN thing you don’t want to do. This is not 50 Shades of Grey, where someone is going to push you past your comfort zone without permission. Because even pushing you out of your comfort zone requires consent. No consent, no play. You don’t have to. Boo is into diaper play? Maybe the rule will be “fine, I’m good with the diaper, but if you crap the thing you are on your own.” Boo wants to gag you? Ok, bandana is fine, but if a ball gag shows up in the bedroom, Boo gets a nut-punch. I dated a guy really into feet. REALLY into feet. Feet don’t do anything for me but it made him happy and I got a free pedicure out of the deal. Negotiation.
Most importantly, boundaries are not written in stone, they can be renegotiated all the time. If you both don’t feel safe in having those conversations then it really won’t work. There can’t be any, “Well, last week you said…” Consent, consent, consent. And that is as fluid as sexuality.
Consider A Pitch Hitter
Many polyamorous relationships are based on fulfilling differential desires. Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy wrote a great book entitled The Ethical Slut. One of the stories they tell is about a woman who loved daddy play. She had a long-term boyfriend who was not down with the idea, so she had a secondary relationship with a man that played daddy with her. They finger-painted, ate peanut-butter sandwiches, and acted out her fantasies. Then she went home to her boyfriend. The thing about polyamory is, again, consent. Everyone is on the same page, everyone knows what the rules are, and what the limits are.
Say Boo is into needle play. You are NO WAY into needle play. And, as a diabetic, I’m with you … there will be no extra needles anywhere near my skin unless I’m getting a new tattoo. So the deal is, then, you go to a local club and Boo gets to engage in the needle play. You go and watch. You stay home and play Cards Against Humanity with your friends. Whatever. Boo is allowed to play with pre-determined limits and you are needle-free. Figure out what you think you will be comfortable with, make a plan. And make another plan to manage any jealousy (or other issues) that may arise later. Polyamory can be tough to navigate. But many people do so very well. It’s another option.
The upshot is that differential desires don’t have to be a deal-breaker. All relationships are a dance. Fred Astaire did just fine with a coat rack, but most of us prefer an actual partner in that dance. And you have an excellent Boo who always gives you the last bite of cookie. There is no harm in trying to work it out.
Follow Faith Harper, PhD, LPC-S, and message her your quandaries and questions, @TheIntimacyDr. Or email: [email protected]. Her column appears in each issue of Out In SA.