Because “I Love You” Doesn’t Mean Permanent Consent
by Nicole Shantè White
Last night, a friend and I were conversing about my fear of sharing living quarters with a significant other. I am a huge advocate for solitude and personal space. Lately I’ve been pondering ways to balance self-intimacy with shared intimacy. So far I’ve concluded that if I decide to move-in with a romantic partner I would definitely need my own room. This isn’t to say I would sleep in my room every night, but I’d like for my partner and I to intentionally choose to share our slumber with each other, versus out of habit or financial convenience.
People rarely discuss consent in the context of romantic relationships. This dear friend resonated with my uneasiness in stating: “I guess when most people get into a relationship, they just assume that means they’re being given access to every part of the other person in unlimited quantities. But of course that just isn’t always realistic to expect…and probably isn’t necessarily all that healthy for either party.”
I can recall feeling obligated to have sex within committed relationships. I remember hearing similar sentiments come out of my little sister’s mouth when she complained about vaginal pains due to rough, unwanted sex with her boyfriend (now child’s father). I was enraged by her complete disregard of her right to decline sex, even from someone she loves and supposedly wants to marry. But I too am a victim of the same destructive narrative my sister consumes. I’ve forgotten my right to say “no” several times, because somewhere along the line my lover/s stop asking. Somehow consent gets lost when we fail to nail down what commitment actually looks like. Somehow this silence allows love to make boundaries invalid.
I want a love that honors my agency…a love that doesn’t negatively internalize my “no.” Sometimes I just want to lay naked next to a lover. Sometimes I want to sleep alone. It is important to recognize that I also need to learn how to receive a “no.” I don’t want any of my sexual partners to operate under the assumption that their body belongs to me. I am forever annoyed by our culture’s obsession with possessiveness. Let’s share ourselves with each other and stop romanticizing the idea of giving our entirety to another without any conditions. My “I Love You” comes with some “not right nows” and “let’s not tonight.” My “I Love You” is a deliberate declaration of understanding, patience, and self-care.
Nicole hates wearing shoes, loves pancakes with crispy edges, and is still trying to figure out when a handshake is more appropriate than a hug. Instead of fulfilling her kindergarten dream of being the voice-over for read-a-long cassette tapes, she is using her BA in Poetry to excel as a full-time poet & teaching artist. Nicole currently resides on the east coast, where she enjoys eating dollar pizza and watching people fall asleep on the subway. She is a staff writer for Sula Collective. You can learn more about her on her website.
Illustration by Kassandra (K.) Piñero.