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Consent: Does the environment change how one asks?

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I recently attended a relationship conference where the presentations were about the future of monogamy and nonmonogamy. There were many interesting discussions and I’m glad I had a chance to go. I networked a little and was able to connect with some wonderful friends and colleagues.

But something odd happened soon after we arrived which threw into relief concepts that can be taken for granted in a group such as this one. I stood in a group I had arrived with, people I am familiar with, and very close to. Someone we did not know started to introduce himself and as each of us in turn extended a hand as a customary initial greeting he proceeded to disregard that saying “I’m a hugger,” and hugged each of us.

Now, I love hugs. I’m kind of known for my hugs. Seriously! I get in there, stay a while, and maybe we’ll even get into some woo breathing together. But I can’t help but feel a smidge violated in this instance. It really made me wonder. By attending a conference (primarily) about polyamory and nonmonogamy did that mean I had consented to touch without explicit permission?

The answer should be: No.

I can appreciate that in some circles, certain kinds of touch are viewed differently than among the general population. However, it is not safe to assume that everyone attending this (academic) conference are poly or even open to hugs from strangers. And it says something, at least to me, when someone disregards the kind of greeting you are offering up and goes with their own.

Turning this into a learning opportunity

If a situation like this presents itself again, I would (try to) politely do a Thanks; No Thanks. Like an I-don’t-know-you-like-that-yet-so-how-about-we-stick-to-a-handshake-for-now. Clearly the situation was perceived differently by me, my friends, and our nonconsensual hugger. It really was a learning experience for me on not taking things for granted, but also about being more clear about my own boundaries.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Personal Boundaries vs. Being Polite | Dr. Gayle Friend

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