Boundary Waters and Dating Boundaries

There is an area in northern Minnesota given the general term or name of the Boundary Waters; it’s a cluster of many islands within a large body of water that sits between Minnesota and Canada.

When I was young (but old enough to be forced to bait my own hook with live minnows or worms and expected not to freak out about it), my mom, step-dad, sister and I took our annual summer family trip and chose the Boundary Waters as our destination.

It took a fair amount of planning; besides the fishing poles and live bait, we also had to pack coolers of food that could survive not being in a cold fridge, plus layers of clothes and sleeping bags and our big “hotel” tent (the tent my step-dad’s dad purchased and stenciled with the family name, capable of sleeping up to 6-8 people comfortably). The island we chose, hilariously named My Island, could only be accessed by boat.

There were definitely bears on the island. A couple who also camped on the beach strung their food up in the trees; we kept the coolers locked up in the car. There also wasn’t an outhouse – instead, it was a great big box painted red-brown with a big hole in it as the “seat.” My sister and I had to act as lookouts in case anyone (or bears) wandered close while we were doing our business. It freaked me out so much that if I actually used that box to do a #2 in five days, I don’t have any recollection. To this day I still can’t relieve myself in nature, including during long road trips with no gas station or rest stop in sight.


There were a few times when the four of us were motoring around the other water for the perfect fishing spot and my mom or dad remarked that we were probably in Canada. There was no way to tell. It’s not as if Minnesota and Manitoba set up a huge string of buoys weaving in and out of the islands to mark sides. I vaguely remember fishing permits being checked by officials patrolling the water, but I have no idea if they were Canadian or American. All that I know is that My Island was considered U.S. land.

As adults, we are all trying to figure out our boundaries, and they shift and change as we learn more about ourselves and other people.

I definitely don’t have the same boundaries that I did in my 20’s. Even my profile on OKCupid morphs as I learn more about my audience of potential dates. Now I’m down to a bullet list that includes such items as, “I’m suspicious of conspiracy theorists” and “I do not want to be called ‘cutie.’” I realized that most of the men’s profiles that I visited had only 5-10 words in each category as an answer and I figured I would have a better chance of having my needs met if I kept my info short and succinct.

One man contacted me by acknowledging that our spiritual beliefs are worlds apart, but he appreciated my sense of humor and just wanted to let me know. I thanked him, and we actually ended up having a good conversation – it wasn’t about him and his sexual needs (as so many men do on the dating sites), but rather what was happening in his life (job change) as well as contemplating how different his two daughters’ lives were. The younger one is 22 and seems to have her life on the right track; she lives in another state and has a good job. The older one, however, became pregnant by a man with a substance abuse problem, and she and her two-year-old son are currently living with her dad so she can have a secure place to live and help with care for the little boy. I had to stop our conversation in order to focus on a friend who called me from another state, but this man said he wanted to take me out on a date because he enjoyed talking to me and admired my wit. We traded cell phone numbers.

An hour later I texted him to let him know that my phone conversation was done. I was startled when he called me “cutie” in his first text. I mean, I spelled it out – I’m 41, not a child, and I told him that it was disrespectful to do exactly what I told him is unacceptable to me. Really, what does the word “cutie” invoke in your mind? I think about 5-year-old flower girls in weddings, or even a swarm of young children in a kindergarten classroom. He said he “couldn’t help it.” I told him that he had better banish that word from his vocabulary when talking to me. It wasn’t funny to me to be diminished and devalued. Then he asked me if he could kiss me on our date, because I was “such a cutie.”

Okay, now we’re getting deeper into the red flag boundaries. First he refused to honor my request, then he jumped into physical territory that we weren’t previously discussing and seemed to come out of the blue, like a switch was flipped. I replied that I would be open to kissing if we both felt an attraction, but that I also didn’t want to discuss things of a physical nature over text or through the messaging system. Often what happens is that real life doesn’t play out like flirty or sexual talk. Usually one party or even both don’t feel an attraction to the other person in real life, and then it just gets weird.

We go to the land of pity kisses or fake laughing at lame jokes.

The last straw that led me to block his messages and calls was a text I received late one night. He said, “Sweet dreams babe I want to see you.” (Just as an aside, the lack of punctuation sends him to texting jail in my book, anyway.) This one makes my shoulders tense up because 1) “Babe” is a term of endearment or a title I reserve for men whom I care deeply and with whom I’m in a relationship, and 2) the yearning to see me is also something I associate with being in a relationship with a man who is invested in me, my feelings and my needs, as I am with him. I only traded about 15 texts with this guy, and half of them were repeated requests to stop calling me “cutie.”

If you want to hang with me while I get even more deep and philosophical, I am pretty certain I know why this man’s older daughter doesn’t have “it” together. He didn’t give her the tools to understand and respect boundaries. She became involved with a man who clearly was not a good partner. Her dad assumes he should have access to all women he encounters whether or not they want it. His daughter picked up on his lack of respect for boundaries and thought that was “normal,” which is why she became involved with a man who was clearly fighting some demons. The fact that this man’s younger daughter came out seemingly normal is pure luck, as far as I’m concerned.

As far as I can tell, this man is not Canada to my Minnesota. We’re not even on the same continent. He’s more like Madagascar.

giantPictureAbout the Author: Patient Worthy Contributor, Chelsea. Keep an eye out for posts from her as she navigates the gnarly dating world, chronic illness, and searching for a diagnosis. Check out her blog, The Sick and The Dating.

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