Like many addicts, I have a troubled relationship to boundaries. Like many whose drug, or behavior, of choice is sex, I simultaneously violate, and assiduously comply with, boundaries.
Marina responded to that last post with a photo of her thighs clamped shut. She doesn’t want to have to keep her phone charged. She doesn’t want, honestly, to have to think about all the things I want from her every day. She’s on a trip, with another guy, and she wants to spend her time, and her energy, with, and on, him.
Oddly, this was helpful for me. It relieved my anxiety, my stress. And for the first time, she actually set a boundary for me. As I said to her – I have no difficulty respecting her boundaries; it’s mine with which I struggle.
So what she told me was, look, I’m happy to send you audio recordings. I’m happy to send you photos. But I don’t want to have to keep track of what I owe you. I don’t want to have to be checking boxes. I don’t want to have to charge my phone, don’t want to have to tally up what was sent today, what must be sent tomorrow.
I’m fine with all this.
I have this infantile terror, one that has nothing to do with Marina, that I’ve written ad nauseam about: that I will cease existing if I’m not thought about (by the woman I currently need to be thought about). I don’t feel that danger with T. I did, early in our relationship – and for over a decade. But I haven’t for some time. I’m capable of summoning that anxiety with a woman I care about, but my care, or hers, isn’t in any way a prerequisite: I can make myself crazy about whether a stranger has me in her mind.
I’ve been setting up Marina’s trip as a constant test of whether I’m in her mind in the way I want to be. And the truth is, I am in her mind. And, I’m not in her mind in the way I want to be. Not because she doesn’t care about me, or think about me lots. But because I’m not her top priority right now, and she doesn’t communicate in the ways I do, always.
I kept reaching for evidence that she would make me her top priority, that she would prioritize me over the dude with whom she’s traveling. But her ability, her desire, to do that at this time is less than I wish it were. Not unhealthily so – the opposite. For god’s sake, she’s camping with a boyfriend-not-me. I shouldn’t be her top priority. And the fact that she doesn’t configure her life as I do? That’s not her problem. And, the truth is, I respect her trip with him. I made a mistake in the establishment of boundaries and expectations on this trip. I asked Marina the wrong questions. Before I go to bed with a woman, I often (almost always) ask a version of two questions:
- What is it that I may not, under any circumstances, do (and I often ask specifics – may I slap your face if the urge comes over me? call you “slut”? spit on you? may I lick your ass? put a finger in it?); and
- What word will you speak if you want me to pause, to stop what I’m doing right now so we can check in; and what word will you speak if you want me to stop doing something and just STOP?
We didn’t begin her trip with a version of this discussion tailored for the situation, but we should have. I allowed myself to imagine that I might get the sort of validation, the sort of constant reassurance, that I often am able to get from Marina, in the form of photos, videos, audio, written words, even while she was traveling. That hope was fantastical – and intrusive.
It is true that my phone never runs out of juice, even when I’m off the beaten path. It is true that I never stop communicating with a small circle of folks, even when on dates. Not, typically, in ways that pull me away from the present moment. But in a way that communicates my priorities – and that makes a fairly large number of people feel, accurately, that I am thinking about them, and prioritizing my relationship with them, at all times.
But I project the inverse onto situations, even when I’m interacting with someone whose communication style, whose relationship to their phone, and to me, is different than mine.
Marina cares about me. Our relationship may or may not have legs. And I have been given limits within which I can live. Within which I will live.