Boundaries with the Romantic Guy

Once upon a time, what seems like eons ago, I wrote this as the beginning of a new blog post:

“I am embarking on yet another new adventure tonight, and as I do so I am filled with trepidation and a sharp longing to be back in the “old days,” the days before he died, my days with Warren. I am missing him so much in this moment that it’s hard to muster up the excitement I felt yesterday when I finalized my plans; or even the nervousness of last night when I contemplated what will most likely happen tonight.

So what exactly am I doing tonight? I’m having what I consider to be my first “real” date with the “potential love-interest” I mentioned in an earlier post.

It’s been awhile since I went on a first date. It’s been an even longer while since I dated a vanilla person.”

So that wasn’t really eons ago (no, I haven’t attained immortality yet), but in the ebb and flow of my life, it does seem a far away moment in time. Since that moment I have:

  • Gone on that date
  • Gone on another date
  • Had many and ongoing discussions about what poly is, what it is not, what it is for me, how my relationships work, how this new potential relationship might fit into the map of my current relationships
  • Introduced him to Adam
  • Gone on another date
  • Come out as kinky to him
  • Had a mini-existential crisis over coming out as kinky to him
  • Had a discussion about boundaries with him
  • Arrived at a good place with him and settled into the idea that a) I made a good choice with him, and b) I am, truly, in relationship with him. What that will look like in the end, I don’t know, but I am okay with where we are and the journey we are on.

I do sometimes miss those days with W, though, when I didn’t have to fret over new relationships, when we knew where we stood and what we were about, when our relationship structure was exactly what I’d always dreamed of and I didn’t have go through the up’s and down’s of negotiation, configuring, recalibrating, assessing, accepting and adjusting.

Relationships are hard. I used to puzzle over that statement when I heard it when I was with W and Ad. If it’s that hard, then maybe it’s not the right relationship for you, I’d think. And yet…

I spent some time recently reading through some of my angstier posts over the past 7 years (how amazing it is to have an actual record of one’s life, at one’s fingertips and searchable…) and I realized that sometimes, even that time period was difficult; sometimes even that relationship was hard. It wasn’t hard in the same way my current relationships are, but it took its own kind of effort and work. And…looking back, looking forward…while I could wish for the ease of the past at times, I am also immensely grateful for the present, for what the work of my relationships has taught me, what it is teaching me. These lessons have changed me, just as the lessons of that past relationship changed me, just as the world changes us all with its passage. I’m a different person than I was. But I am learning. I am becoming a better person.

I wish I was better at chronicling things as they happen. Like I used to be. For myself, not for all of you, who I am sure would think it was tedious since what I’m chronicling isn’t kinky fun. But I’d like to hear my thoughts after that first date. Then after the one where we made out on my couch and I angsted over becoming intimate with him because I hadn’t told him about kink. Then after the impromptu date we had in which I finally did come out to him, and his utter lack of judgement or even surprise. Instead of trying to capture it all here, now, when I struggle to remember all of those thoughts and feelings when they were fresh. And of course this will become a long and tedious post if I write it all out now.

Okay, cliff notes.

There is a guy at my work who I have crushed on since I first met him. We work in the same department, though not closely; just enough to give us off-and-on interactions with each other weekly over the past two years. We became work-friends, though I could sense his interest in me as well as what I felt. But – he’s a coworker. A no-no, especially with my strange life. Then one day, out of the blue, we had a real conversation, about real things. His impending divorce from a 40-year, loveless marriage (he is W’s age, so 13 years older than I am.) He told me that they had lived apart for 10 years, and he had tried to divorce her before, but it had not stuck for one reason or another. But that now, he was finally going through with it, come what may. Suddenly his world and his life had opened up before him.  He realized he hadn’t really been living at all, simply existing. And he wanted to live. So many of his burgeoning feelings echoed my own as I struggled to recover from W’s death.

We began to talk almost daily, about our dogs, our gardens, our houses; my move to the new-old house, about music and books and poetry. (I know, that sounds hokey, but he really is a devotee of poetry in a way that seemed strange to me at first, possibly contrived, but that now I recognize as something special and dear and completely unaffected about him.) And we talked about who we are, who we were, who we were becoming. But always, even as we began to get closer, there was the gulf of what I could or would not share with him: who I really am, what my relationships and my life is like. I was afraid of bridging that gulf, of exposing myself to someone I worked with.

Then came a time when I couldn’t hide what the structure of my life was, not because we were dating yet, but because we were friends. I didn’t want to “talk around” my life anymore. I didn’t want to lie by omission. I wanted to share, I wanted to be authentic with him. So I told him about poly and me and my relationships. And he responded without judgement, only asking to know more so he could understand.

One weekend I invited him over to the house when I was painting. We’s still only been work-friends, but I wanted to get to know him outside work, and I knew that he did too. We spent an entire afternoon talking & painting. He had brought picnic food over and a bottle of wine and flowers and a framed copy of a poem that I had found and sent to him, because I felt it spoke of both our lives. I realized things were moving in a different direction than just friendship…I was flattered but also cautious. He confessed to wanting to date me, but not being sure how that worked in my world, with my relationships, or if it was even possible. We talked about it, and opened up even more to each other, and he told me right then that he felt he could love me, and that he had already fallen a little bit in love with me.

I was still conflicted (and, in some ways, still am.) But we continued talking and texting and emailing and seeing each other at work, and began to explore what “dating” might look like for him and for me.  Eventually we had a lunch date, and then there was an evening when he cooked for me at his house, and another evening when I cooked for him at mine. But when things started to get physical, I held back, because I hadn’t found a way to discuss kink with him yet. I didn’t want to blindside him with something he might find abhorrent after we had taken that step. It was important to me to disclose this very important aspect of myself before going any further.

Finally, after much deliberation and anxiety, I did. And…he was fine. As fine as he had been about poly. He even admitted he had had fantasies and inclinations like that a time or two. As we talked though, it rapidly became clear to me that those fantasies and inclinations were nothing like what I do in my kink. That the kink I do is far, far beyond the edge of his ken. He asked me for resources to learn about it, but I was hesitant about doing so, though I shouldn’t have been. But I wasn’t ready to expose myself to him fully, and I did not know if I wanted to go there with him at all.

Then, after another lovely date and more sideways discussion about kink, in which I struggled to discuss it with him and largely failed, still afraid of what he would think of me, he decided to start researching it on his own. He told me this in a text message, saying that he needed to understand, but realized it was difficult for me to discuss, so he was going to learn all he could on his own so that he would understand. He asked my advice about attending some kink-related events to learn more. It was at work, and the events he listed are ones that V and I and Ad attend, the places and parties and groups where my friends are. In particular he mentioned the monthly play part that I have attended for almost 20 years, that was happening that Saturday night, and at which I hoped I was going to scene heavily with V. He had dived into researching kink with a vengeance, and uncovered all my safe spaces.

I was NOT ready for this. And definitely not at work. I freaked out a bit, told him we needed to talk THAT NIGHT, and considered simply walking away from the relationship. I had made a mistake by engaging with a vanilla, and worse yet someone I worked with. I was talked off that particular ledge by V on the way home, but I was still deeply agitated.

I’m actually pretty proud of how I handled it when he finally showed up that evening. I was supposed to be spending the evening with Adam, but Adam was understanding, and busied himself while I sat with the L on the porch and talked with him. Talking with both Adam and V earlier also helped me to be articulate about my feelings, and to convince me that I could and should discuss my boundaries, something I always find difficult. Yes, perhaps I overreacted at first – after all, this was a person that had shown me nothing but care, concern and non-judginess. But I felt that my world, my personal world, my personal space in which I feel safe to be me, to be the slutty, dirty, fucked-up-and-loving-it me, was threatened, was invaded. I didn’t want him to know this side of me, at least until I was ready to expose myself to him that way. In my own time. In a place and way of my choosing. When I trusted him with that knowledge.

I told him these things. I told him that he and I aren’t in that kind of relationship, that I didn’t know if we ever would be, and that hearing that he was going to start invading my spaces felt, well, like an invasion. That what he would see there at the party wouldn’t be blindfolds and soft kisses, and I didn’t think he was ready to see me in that light, doing the things we do. That what he would see me doing wouldn’t be blindfolds and soft kisses. (Or at least not only.) And that I wasn’t ready to share that with him, that I didn’t even know him that well, and that sharing that was a trust issue for me. I needed to trust him before I felt comfortable disclosing these things about myself.

I set clear boundaries. I told him I was glad that he was exploring this – as long as he was doing it for himself, and not for me. That when and if we did would be on my terms. I told him I was glad that he had asked my advice, but that I did not ever want kink discussed at my place of work, even obliquely. But I also told him that I welcomed any and all questions, and that he shouldn’t “go figure it out on his own” as he had said, because between me, my partners and my friends, he had an invaluable source of information. I gave him a book on BDSM that I found to be a great reference, and told him, when he asked, what he might have seen at the party. I don’t know if he was ready to hear that I liked to be whipped, that I play on the extreme edge of things, that I like to be hurt. I don’t know if he understands it at all, and I wish that he had allowed me to talk to him about in my own time, but there we were.

But he handled it all with aplomb, with grace and, yes, some piqued interest, but he’d already told me he had a curiosity about it. I was…upset and maybe a bit testy and maybe even a little combative at first because I felt threatened, but he rode that out and we ended up having an illuminating and productive discussion. He seems willing to accept my terms, but is also determined to keep learning all he can about it, which I am more than happy to facilitate. He says he wants to learn about it for himself, for the self that is awakening after a lifetime of feeling barren, of living a half life. But he also wants to learn for me – not to impress me, or get in my pants, or do the things he thinks I want – but because he wants to know me, to understand me. We may or may not explore these things with each other. And I may never feel comfortable to have him see me in extremis. But I believe him when he says it is as much for himself as for me, and I am more than willing to help him learn (and applaud him for researching and thinking it through and for coming to me.)

I’ve never come out to a complete vanilla…well, I did to my sister, and look what happened then. But never to someone I have an interest in sexually, because I simply don’t date outside my own species. I really thought I’d made a huge blunder with him, and instead I feel so much lighter and more okay with him and with us now that it’s all in the open. I hate secrets. I’m not glad that it happened the way it did, but it did, and I think we’re better off for it now. I guess only the future will tell.

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