Personal Journey

The No That Changed My Life

I’ve been to many sexy parties in my adult life. Hell, during my first bachelorette party, I wore lingerie and danced through the apartment while all my friends cheered me on. Yet, the parties I attended when I was eighteen and nineteen silently drew the line at lapdances and sexy outfits. There were rare moments where we took the things further, but it always felt taboo – like we were doing something we shouldn’t. I always felt tension at these parties because I wanted to go further, yet I lacked the language to ask for what I desired. I didn’t want someone to say yes because they felt obligated. My relationship at the time was monogamish, and I felt conflicted about how to move forward to live the sex life I wanted. Eventually, that friend group spread all across the world and my relationship ended. I didn’t think I would ever have an opportunity like the sexy parties I attended in that era.

Later, I moved to Orlando with another boyfriend, but monogamy and conflicting kinks quickly ended our relationship. When I first entered the online dating scene, I often found myself matching with polyamorous people. After I had befriended several of these norm-breakers, I was invited to my first polyam party. There were several rules, but two stuck out to me:

  • You can ask for anything as long as you accept whatever answer your receive.
  • No means no, and yes means yes.

Ask for anything? Well of course I couldn’t ask for my weirdest desires to be met, I thought. I’m sure they do some weird sex stuff, but of course, I can’t ask for anything. I would see what it was like at the party.

I discovered a hedonistic paradise that night. Walking in, I saw both men and women in sexy outfits. There was dancing, but also cuddling. Both lively conversations and silly stunts. People asked each other for hugs. I saw one man ask to be slapped and his friend obliged. Still shocked by that, I turned to see one attendee come through the door. A woman in lingerie asked to hug him, and he said the most important thing I heard that night: “No, I don’t want to be touched right now.” She didn’t guilt him into it or shame him. The conversation wasn’t over – They negotiated a greeting that worked for both of them, waving at each other, and then went about their night.

At that moment, I realized that it was true. I could ask for anything as long as I could accept a no. In previous sexual spaces, I feared asking for what I wanted because I wasn’t sure if someone agreeing was doing so out of obligation or guilt. But in a space where no is respected, you know that yes truly means yes. One of the misconceptions about consent culture is that it makes sex less frequent and less enjoyable, but that’s the opposite of my experience! By respecting no, I can ask for anything I want. Even if someone doesn’t want to do exactly what I want, we might be able to find something to do that satisfies both of us. Consent culture has freed me to ask for anything my heart desires throughout my life: At sexy parties, in kinky dungeons, and in my own bedroom. That powerful no opened the doors to so many wonderful, sexy, and satisfying ways to say yes.

Personal Journey

My Biggest Communication Fuckup & What I Would Do Differently Now

Right now, while I begin the journey of becoming an educator, I want to be honest with you. I want to be authentic. If I claim to be a communications educator but don’t share how I’ve fucked up along the way, I fear that I’m concealing something. Making mistakes and learning why you made them is key to developing communication skills and maintaining healthy relationships. That’s why I want to tell you how I destroyed a relationship with codependency, a lack of responsibility for my own feelings, and the expectation of romance.

I was a senior in high school. At this point, I’d been dating the same guy for three years, and we’d had nonmonogamous experiences. I’d figured out, through trial and error, that he preferred when I had sex with women over when I had sex with men. We had very little communication about this – Those experienced with nonmonogamy might call it a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” situation. All I knew was I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted with my boyfriend, and I wanted to seek it elsewhere.

Ultimately, I began a relationship with a person I’ll call Jay. We both had some ideas of transitioning socially at some point, but neither of us was out as trans yet. I don’t know what pronouns Jay uses now, so I’ll use they/them pronouns.

Jay invited me over for a small gathering at their house, and I attended with my boyfriend. They invited me to stay the night, and, anticipating something from the flirting we had been doing, I asked my boyfriend if he was okay if Jay and I did sexual things. I don’t remember the amount of detail that went into the request, but he agreed. That was the entire conversation I had with him about my relationship with Jay. No boundaries discussions or assessments of comfort. Just a yes-no question.

The night proceeded as normal. At one point we were laughing, and I kissed them on the cheek. I asked, “Was that okay?” They nodded. “Can I kiss you more?” They nodded. And so it began. For a few months, I would spend the night at Jay’s house about once a week. We would kiss and have faltering sexual interactions. In a light amount of detail, I will say that I  often asked Jay to top and take control, and they seemed enthusiastic about these activities.

This was okay, but I had an ulterior motive; I thought that if I simply continued to be friendly and likable, Jay would develop romantic feelings for me. I desperately clung to the idea that they might love me because I felt unloved and neglected in my primary relationship. This expectation was the source of several issues that grew out of control and destroyed our friendship.

I developed codependency with Jay, my friend with benefits, which is considerably worse than “catching feelings.” My self-esteem was entangled with Jay’s opinion of me. If Jay wanted to have sex with me, that meant I was desirable. If Jay fell in love with me, that would mean I was lovable. Anything else meant I was worthless.

This situation was tense but sustainable until Jay and another friend with benefits started having sex. I didn’t have the emotional literacy to name my feelings and needs. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to know that I was obsessing over Jay’s opinion of me. When Jay entered a monogamous relationship, I fell apart. I took it extremely seriously, and I also didn’t take responsibility for my own feelings – I called them multiple times in one day, weeping that I was unlovable and ultimately abandoned. I put everything I was feeling, all of my baggage and codependency onto them. It was extremely difficult for Jay. Soon afterward, they asked to end our friendship.

What I Know Now

For a while after the relationship ended, I struggled to understand what exactly had gone wrong. I could tell you that I did something bad, but I couldn’t articulate the steps along the path that led me to that moment.

After more than eight years, I can now retrospect on what happened with Jay. Here’s what I know now that I wish I had known then.

1) I can’t make someone love me. No matter how attractive, likable, and funny I am, it’s impossible to develop someone’s feelings for me. Romantic feelings develop naturally or not at all. I also know that even if someone doesn’t love me, it doesn’t mean I’m not lovable. I’m attractive, likable, and funny, even if no one has romantic feelings for me. I didn’t need Jay’s desire or love to be worthy or good.

2) I am open and honest about expectations and desires. I now have a discussion early on with anyone I have sexual relationships today about the expectation of romance or any sort of partnership. If our desires are misaligned, we have follow-up discussions about how to proceed in a way that is satisfying to everyone. Sometimes that means ending the relationship, and sometimes that means intentionally changing the relationship in a way that serves us both. If I had been open with Jay about my desire to have a romantic relationship with them, we could have approached that with mutual understanding, and perhaps parted ways amicably.

3) I am the only person responsible for my feelings. I deeply appreciate it when someone wants to contribute to my life. However, I want people to help me when they want to, not out of guilt, shame, or obligation. I was expecting Jay to help me cope with my feelings around them, which was clearly a tender spot because they felt the intensity of my codependency!

4) My extreme feelings are warning signs. Feelings that are intense or last an unusual amount of time can serve as a signal that things might be out of balance. I didn’t have the insight to examine my intense feelings for Jay. If I had, I could have consciously dealt with the codependency I was developing.

I have learned from this relationship, and I hope that any suffering I caused Jay has healed.

You should know that I don’t want to be an educator *despite* this relationship. I want to teach communication and peacemaking skills because I want others to work through difficult relationships like this one. If I can, I want to prevent the suffering that Jay and I suffered. 

If you’re still here after I’ve shared this, I hope we can continue to learn together. Thank you.