We talk a lot about boundaries in the context of partnerships or our metamours (and making sure we have the degree of closeness or lack thereof we'd mutually like with them) in polyamory - and rightfully so, that's the area of addressing boundaries that's unique to polyamory.
For the purposes of this article, and the podcast that follows, boundaries are the rules we make for ourselves about how we'll be treated and what we'll do to treat ourselves right. We can make boundaries for our own behavior, and sometimes they can include "not see partners who do X" or "only see partners who do Y." But, we then have to accept that we're the one setting the boundary, it's not a potential partner, who it turns out does X, not Y, and doesn't want to change that, "letting us down," got it? These boundaries can also have nothing to do with partners or metas - they can be entirely internal (those new years' resolutions? A boundary we set and often break - or a more permanent one, things like taking private time or space for ourselves); or to do with family or friends.
Just practicing setting and holding a boundary in everyday life - or noticing the little ones we hold without thinking about them - can have value in reminding us that boundaries aren't New Age gobbledygook and aren't "part of this polyamory thing you're doing," if anyone ever tries to dismiss you having or holding a boundary with that BS. (Also, your polyamory is valid and I am your family now, if you need one.) In a couple weeks, I'm releasing an episode of the podcast on boundaries, and while we kind of make it a joke afterwards, one of my guests (it's a roundtable discussion) says "boundaries are for every individual relationship you have - partners, metamours, friends, family, sworn enemies" - and he's right.
Obviously, my boundaries with my partner look very little like my boundaries with my sworn enemies. Pretty much the only thing they have in common is that I REALLY hate brine so if anyone comes around me soaked in pickle juice, no matter how much I love them, I'll remove myself from the situation or ask them to leave if it's my house.
In less silly examples, that actually bear real-world application for you, here's some examples of boundaries you might hold and not think of as boundaries:
-Do you expect people to ring your doorbell and leave the door locked on your house?
-Do you close the door when you use the bathroom? (this is a boundary parents of toddlers have violated ALL THE TIME but they're little and cute and we made them, so we gradually teach them not to, unlike if adults violated this boundary, in which case we'd be extremely upset.)
-Do you make plans with your friends rather than "dropping in"?
-Do you expect to be asked before new people hug you? People you've already hugged before?
-Does your family have a "standing date" meal you had to opt out of at some point, and have you made it opt-in for you?
If any of these apply, you are holding everyday boundaries in place! These are pretty much all non-partner examples - they're things that happen all the time with family and friends or strangers or friends-of-friends (like the hugging - remember before COVID when we could meet new people and some of them were huggers?). If you don't care about some of these (you're a "dropping in" kind of friend group in normal times, or live somewhere where leaving the door unlocked feels like no big deal or both), again, good job, you have recognized where your boundaries are. If you're struggling with them (you have small kids and you're counting down the days until you get to poo alone, or you can't get family to understand that really, you don't mean you can't make THIS weekend, you mean you WILL LET THEM KNOW when you CAN make it, and it will be significantly less than they want), I'm sorry. Boundary setting and holding is really tough. I am continually working on it for myself.
In polyamory, boundaries often come into play around issues like relationships with metamours, agreements around time with either partners or metas, and agreements around STI avoidance, although they can crop up literally anywhere. Everyone has different sensitive topics or actions that will be difficult for them to process, and sometimes people don't realize a boundary was there until it was crossed (like when I became a mom and didn't realize that privacy in the bathroom mattered til it was gone. Sorry I'm harping on that one, guys). Some examples, taken from my own life:
-I use barriers for safer sex purposes, and STI test every 6 months and will provide results to partners and expect similar or greater testing frequency.
-To be comfortable in a relationship, I must meet any metas (local ones in person and distant ones by text or videochat) within a couple months so I don't feel like a secret corner of someone's life and don't worry they might be cheating.
-I don't mind being in parallel polyamorous relationships but I like having a conversation defining whether that's the case or whether my metas are just busy because being uncertain raises my anxiety. I'm also OK with Kitchen Table, so long as there's no pressure to date metas I'm not jiving with.
-I like having an open conversation with my partner about my anxiety and ADHD, and what language around mental illness I'm uncomfortable with. It's pretty obvious to most people when I say "I don't like stigmatizing mental illness" that if you call me crazy in a fight, I'm out, but there's a lot of nuance there (that doesn't generalize well) and I have a chat about it.
-I'm fat. If you say a lot of fatshaming stuff around me I feel really bad and it stinks for me so I will remove myself from the situation.
Those are my Big Ones. I have a few smaller ones, but those are the big, lay the cards out early so the relationship doesn't step on a landmine ones. Getting to know what your big ones are and being up front about it if you don't know what many of the little ones might be (especially if you haven't dated around a lot in the last few years, because you're probably a different person than you were the last time you dated) can generate a lot more understanding if one is tripped over and you and a partner or you and a meta (or all of you, depending what/where/how this happens) have to work out a situation and a big reaction.
So, boundaries are for all of us in all our interpersonal relationships - for how you engage when your mom makes your favorite meal and insists you eat it but then notes you look like you've put on a few pounds; for whether there are different rules for drop in people and not drop in people and who they are and how they know it; for what kinds of safer sex practices you're going to use; for what relationship you want to have to your metas; and everything around and in-between. For our families, friends, and nemeses. But most of all, for ourselves.
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