If I ask you what your personal boundaries are, would you be able to tell me right away, without sinking into an existential crisis at the magnitude of the question?
Until I discovered polyamory and spent a few years figuring it out, I never once stopped to think that I should have clearly defined, self-affirming boundaries that will protect and uphold my needs and values. I am sure that I did have boundaries, but they were unconscious. If something pushed my buttons, I would eventually snap in anger or walk away. If something felt uncomfortable or risky, I would sense that in my body, realise that this is not a good feeling and this might help me avoid that thing. Or maybe not. It was left up to my intuition and that was not always correct. I often agreed to things that in hindsight crossed my boundaries. I did them despite a voice in my head or a sensation in my body trying to get my attention. I did it to please someone else, or prove that I can.
What does not having clearly defined and held boundaries look like? Here are just a few examples from my past life:
- Reluctantly agreeing to rules or plans that my partner wants us to follow even when I know in my heart that I don’t believe in them.
- Saying yes to commitments and requests from friends and loved ones because I don’t want to let them down or that they will think less of me.
- Going out after a breakup, sad and angry, getting drunk, meeting a stranger, going home with them, having drunken sex, waking up at 4am and realising the sex was terrible and I don’t want to be there, so I leave before they wake up never even knowing their name.
- Agreeing to have sex with my partner when they are drunkenly pushing for it even if I don’t really feel like it, because the alternative will feel to them like rejection.
When I was in monogamous relationships, I was almost never confronted with my lack of self-aware boundaries, and one reason for that was that I tended to date partners who were less dominant and usually had porous boundaries themselves. During the NRE (new relationship energy) stage of the relationship, having hazy, blurry boundaries was almost a given as we both wanted to impress and court, to live up to the fantasy that the other had of us. Inevitably, the boundaries came up when we had a conflict. Without each partner clearly knowing the others’ boundaries, a conflict becomes a clash of two opposing forces, attempting to tear down the others’ defences.
I did not realise how important boundaries would be.
I brought a monogamous mindset that was not fit for purpose.
When I started to have polyamorous relationships, I did not realise how important boundaries would be. I brought a monogamous mindset that was not fit for purpose. As a result, I’ve made many mistakes in how I communicated and what I expected the relationships I had to look like. I entered into a primary, nesting polyamorous relationship with little communication about what this means, and no definition of the boundaries of this dynamic. It turned out that the values that my partner and I had were actually not the same. I believe that enough love and dedication will smooth out the issues. For the sake of keeping the peace and moving forward, I agreed to their requests for rules that were design to protect their boundaries, without fully acknowledging their impact on me.
Ultimately, time and again I pushed back against agreements that I did not fully commit to out of enthusiastic consent. This led to a cycle of conflict that kept escalating. Time and again, there was no frank talk about trying to honour mutual boundaries or accepting that they are not compatible. Eventually the toxicity that was created poisoned every aspect of the relationship. Where we intended there to be infinite love, openness and trust, we instead had bitterness, secrets and mistrust.
From the fallout of that relationship, I emerged with a very clear understanding of why clearly stated boundaries are crucial. My therapy was focused on figuring out what I really wanted and helped me define my needs from my next relationships. When I was ready to date again, I approached relationships very differently. I stated my needs, values and boundaries upfront. I made boundary discussions a regular aspect of my relationship conversations, not only in the beginning but also as an ongoing check-in.