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How do you discuss limits with a stranger?

by Cowhideman,, https://fetlife.com/users/76887

What do you do when someone asks in their very first contact message, something like "What are you into?" or if after a couple of exchanged messages, wants you to share a complete list of hard and soft limits and a shopping list of fetish activities that you are into, especially if you are so new that you don't have all those answers yet?

While those are definitely things you should be thinking about for yourself, and you may already have some clear answers, very often, the absolutely accurate answer is going to be that you are still working on them and need more time and experience to be able to answer that kind of question. So, this is my recommendations about how to answer a first or second contact question with someone who is a relative stranger.

I'd consider a clear and complete list of hard and soft limits to be a premature thing for a Dom to be demanding in a contact message, and unnecessary for you to share that soon. It's not that those questions are wrong so much as it helps to think of them in terms of why they are being asked.

The way I see it, when limits and "what are you into" come up very early in things, what you are being asked is to help in a mutual quick screening out process to determine if continuing the conversation in depth to see if you are a good fit together. It's really premature to talk in detail about limits until you've agreed that you have an interest in doing anything that requires limiting.

So, I would say some basics that are appropriate in such a early contact situation would include:

Whether you are, in fact, looking for a relationship, or if you are looking for casual, no-strings play, or are not interested at all. And a general sense of what sort of time commitment you want - online only, seeing each other once a month, three nights a week, moving in together on the second date, and so on. This is especially important if you do not expect to want to move in together and be a couple somewhere down the line.
The general tone of the kind of relationship you want. Things like whether you want strict orders and protocols and punishments, or the 24/7 vs bedroom only question, or if you envision a specific type of roles like Master/slave, Daddy/girl, Owner/pet, or so on. Do you want to be an equal partner with kinky sex, or do you want a strongly unequal authority/power dynamic, and so on.
Whether you are looking for immediate or eventual monogamy, an open relationship, or polyamory. And, as a related matter, whether you would want to play at clubs or parties (whether you play with others or not).
Any specific fetish interests that you would insist on including (that would be dealbreakers not to have), and any unusual hard limits that would be a surprise (something that's generally expected to be okay that isn't okay with you.)
If you are already in a relationship that you plan to maintain, this would be the point to share that as well.
If he's looking for a twice a month play partner to join his personal harem, and you are looking for a 24/7 full time monogamous relationship, the discussion ends there.

If you want to be his wanton slut in latex crawling on the dungeon floor, and he wants a proper Victorian Lady, the discussion ends there.

If he wants monogamy and you don't, the discussion ends there.
If these things line up, then you can start talking fetishes and limits and fantasies.

And, I'd also strongly encourage you to expect anyone asking these questions to be prepared to answer them as well, and fairly early on, to insist that they do.

Until you agree to be someone's sub, there's only so far you should let them dominate you, and you are making as much of the decision on whether they are right for you as they are about you. You have a right to know what kind of relationship they are looking for, what their dealbreakers are, and how they view the roles in the relationship.

It's easy to believe (and tempting to want to believe) that there is some set of rules, some predetermined behavior that all experienced people follow, like a checklist and all you need to do is have the "right" answers. And that there is something wrong with not having all the answers, being new or even awkward, and needing to ask questions.

Get past that.

You're going to find a lot of things that, looking back, feel silly, or naive, or that make you wonder why they seemed like such a big deal at the time, or concepts that seems crystal clear and were completely incomprehensible when you first came across them.

Beating yourself up for not knowing the answers to questions you didn't even know to ask is counterproductive, and, well, silly. You're also dealing with a community of people who, for the most part, were not raised with these concepts, many of whom didn't get into it until later in life. More and more people are starting in their 20's, true, but lots of us didn't get into this until our 30's or 40's, and you'll find far more people who are happy to help orient you than are willing condemn you. And anyone who puts you down or pressures you for being new isn't someone to continue pursuing.

In fact, our literal personal safety is often tied up in being sure our playmates and companions are informed and skilled - admitting being new or uninformed is not an issue, but pretending to be experienced when you aren't usually is a problem.

A part of your journey that you can expect and be prepared for is what a lot of people find as an odd split focus. You'll get more open minded about some things while getting much more particular about others.

The more informed you get about the huge variety of activities, styles, resources, and attitudes, on the one hand, you'll find yourself relaxing about "how people are supposed to do it" and gaining the "whatever works for you" attitude most of us really do have.

At the same time, you will also find that you get clearer and clearer for yourself on what does and doesn't work for you, what you are willing to say yes to, and what your personal limits and preferences are, including your goals for stretching any of those limits. You'll find yourself having less patience with people who can't take no for an answer or won't honor your limits.

It's natural to want to have a set of rules to follow so you are confident you are "doing it right" when you are new, and it is incredibly daunting and confusing when you find out that it doesn't work that way. At first, it feels like there are no rules at all. But be confident that over time, you'll have just as clear a set of rules as you could wish - they will simply be rules you developed yourself, for yourself, often with the help of the specific people you interact with along the way.

It's a seeming paradox, but when there is One True Way™ that everyone has to follow, everyone feels a little bit trapped by it, and there's a very real tendency to just pick somebody and hope for the best - after all, everyone's just alike, right? When, on the other hand, there is collective support for developing your own rules and standards, and for negotiating choices because they are what works for you, you are actually far freer to craft a relationship that is exactly what you want.

You will likely eventually get to a place where it feels perfectly natural to say to someone "I absolutely support your choice to do that, but there is no way in hell it's going to be with me."

And, paired with that, comes the ability to actually negotiate real compromise - "I can really take or leave that, but I'm perfectly willing to do it with you as long as you are willing to do this other thing that I won't do without."

It's very likely that all the things going through your head like, "Am I right to want this" or "Is this okay" or "what if I don't like this other thing" are actually very normal and usual, and you shouldn't have a huge amount of trouble finding someone who wants to set things up that way with you.

And, it's good to be aware that there will be other people who look at those reservations and feel you aren't the right fit for them.

And, sadly, you also need to be prepared for the assholes who will try to play you and tell you that you are Not a True™ Sub, and that you have to do things their Domly Dom of all the Doms way. Chuckle, pat them on the metaphorical head, and move on to an actual grownup.

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