In the Cards is an advice column by Carly Boyce, a queer and genderqueer femme witch based in Toronto. With a background in community-based sexual health, grief work, and suicide intervention, in addition to several years of tarot reading, she brings gentle advice and the wisdom of the cards to your questions about life, love, and feelings of all sorts. To submit a question, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Ask a Feelings-Witch. Questions will remain anonymous, and may be edited for length.
I crush on everyone, but flit past relationships like a fruit fly avoiding some homebrew sticky sweet fly trap. Talking to a friend recently, my words were “I chew through lovers like hubba bubba.” It is not cute. Or, I mean: I’m uncomfortable with it. I instigate relationships, I let people know exactly how into them I am, and I bounce them as soon as they’re not working for me. I recently was having a post-break-up debrief convo with a month-ago-ex, and they told me that actually, even hurt, they had nothing but positive things to say about me when someone in our friend crew asked how I was in relationship communication stuff.
Sorry. I’m making this about the lovely/graceful people I know instead of this niggling, squirmy anxiety I have.
So, I crush on probably a quarter of the queer community in any given city. (They are all AMAZING.) But the relationships that I was around growing up used words like “love” but often looked like some real rough nonconsensual abuse. One of my parents will tell me they love me unconditionally and tell me I’m a monster, and has no concept of healthy boundaries. When I’m in relationships, I play it safe. I go for fun and I go for surface level, with easy-to-process kinds of support, max. I’m always afraid that if I get too close or if I let my guard down too much, I’ll reproduce these toxic, fire-and-ice extremes that felt so hurtful to kid me.
Do you have any advice on learning how to—I don’t know—feel? Negotiate boundaries with myself? Create healthy, supportive relationships with others?
I feel like I look for validation in these swarms of light, feel-good crush vibes because I still drag around the negative judgments my parent placed on me. Like this is easier than learning to trust the part of my gut that’s capable of honestly seeing me, instead of judging me. I think it’s a subtle way to keep myself off-balance, instead of just grounding in my own babeliness and appreciating the wealth of greatness around me in a way where we can all just grow from each other and have fun vibes, with no subtext to it. I feel like I’m still missing part of the puzzle and making it all sound needlessly complicated, when this is really the kind of “problem” that a friend is likely to laugh and punch me for perceiving.
Am I crushing too much? Am I thinking too much?
Oh sweet reader, I feel you. My first twitter handle was @crushslut and so I can really relate to what you are saying about finding so many humans compelling and sexy and wanting to know what kind of intimacy and joy is possible with lots of different folks. I also think it’s really tender and brave of you to look to your early wounds as possible sources of some pains that you feel and some that you may be causing, and asking yourself if your behaviours in relationship are aligned with what you want (what you really really want). I bet the cards will have some questions and insights for you to chew on, so let’s get to it. I chose the Slutist tarot deck for this reading because I love sluttiness as a concept and practice and because this deck is *so queer* and depicts so many delightful intimacies.
Heart of the matter: temperance
I used to get so mad when I pulled this card in readings for myself. I often feel like Temperance is telling me to chill, and dear reader, I have no chill (tbh I think “chill,” or at least the seeming necessity of it, might just be toxic masculinity). The card has grown on me though, and now when I see this smiling face looking at me from a card, even if I feel gently chided, I don’t feel the sting of shame. She says to us—silly human. You think balance is a state of being that you achieve and then you’re done, and baby, that’s absurd. Balance is *always* a process. Think about trying to stand on one foot! Even if you’re holding still, and staying up, the muscles in your foot and leg and core and back are constantly adjusting. Balance is an active process, and falling out of it is literally part of the deal. So often the questions we ask a deck reflect a frustration with ourselves for not having the answers yet, or having some of them and not being able to figure out how to practice them or get it “right.”
This card is telling you that the acts of asking, looking at your own behaviour, and checking in with your motivations and hopes and desires are part of the process. It is reminding you that you are already in the game of finding the answers by being willing to ask them. Awareness, of course, is not a solution in and of itself, but holy hot damn it is a powerful start.
Temperance is also a reminder that change happens mostly in ways that are cyclical, iterative, slow, and full of mistakes, missteps, and calibrations. This is not a pattern or tendency that can shift all at once, and that’s actually a good thing. You get to experiment with expanding what you think might be possible in these sweet connections *just a little bit*. Try a thing, and then try another thing. Check in, evaluate, adjust, experiment, check in, evaluate, adjust. It might sound mechanical, but it’s not. It’s human and relational and can be super super sexy.
What to do: 4 wands
I love getting a four as an advice card. Fours are all about structure and planning and rules (things that I love and thrive on). The four of wands lives in the fire suit, which is all about desire, motivation, passion, and drive. Juicy. This four is especially about the interplay between work and play; work and rest. This is the moment when you are hiking up a big hill, and you feel like you’ve been walking upwards forever but the top doesn’t look any closer then when you started… and then you look down, and holy wow are you in a different place than you began. This is a reminder that your work in this realm is not done—not even *close* to done— but you get to take some credit and some solace in having begun.
Unlike some of the other fours in a tarot deck, the fire suit four is almost never depicted as a solitary creature. It invites the same opportunities for reflection, evaluation, rest, and planning as all the fours do, but this one adds the element of feedback and validation. It sounds like you already have some practices around debriefing with people you have dated, which can give you a snapshot of how you were doing in a past moment, but it makes me wonder about other opportunities for feedback. One idea is to gather feedback specifically about the ways you have grown and changed in the last little while (Six months? A year?) from close people who have seen you through multiple relationships and can give you some real talk about what they see. What skills are you growing? What reflections and shifts are in process? If you decide to ask someone, try to focus on the ground you have gained and where it points you, rather than the long way you still have to go. The recommendation here is to seek appreciative feedback, not critique. Celebrate a small win! Plus, none of this is linear; process, process, process. People snipe at the idea of fishing for compliments, but I think positive feedback can be really encouraging. By seeing what you have already done, you can feel more confident and competent in continued learning and changing. My sense is that most folks (especially folks who live and love in the margins) don’t need to *work* at remembering how far we still have to travel up that hill. We are often deeply aware of how far we are from perfection, so I think it makes sense to focus some concentration and energy on how far you’ve come! This is not permission to slack off; it is sturdy ground to keep building from.
What to think: suspension/hanged man
These cards really align with each other, in that the shifts they are asking you to focus on are not radical transformations, but adjustments, experiments, and incremental moves. Suspension is about the moments where we *feel* stuck, whether or not we actually are. Suspension is about the frustration we feel, often with ourselves, in moments where it feels like change is not happening, or rather, is not happening in ways that are easily observed.
A lot can happen in spaces of stillness, contemplation, meditation, and reflection. It sounds like you get some feedback that you’re a pretty nice guy in relationships, even ones that you end or back away from. You’re not getting big signals from the outside that your behaviour needs to shift. Still, you have some lingering anxieties, so I wonder if the moves you wanna make are more about how you think about yourself and what you offer, rather than how you act or how you are understood by others.
A piece of your question that really jumped out at me was the part that isn’t about your relationships with others, but actually about your relationship to yourself. You asked about negotiating boundaries with yourself, and this is such a beautiful articulation of how a lot of the work we do in and for relationships is also about repairing or rewiring how we think about our own selves. I think we often frame boundaries as being primarily about keeping stuff out that we don’t want, but I also want you to think about them as parameters that allow you to invite in stuff that you want! Approach this balancing act of trying to create the relationships and experiences you want from both directions—what you want to avoid and what you want to invite.
One of the tricky bits in having boundaries with yourself is sticking to the plan of honouring them. It’s so easy for feelings and circumstances to shift what we think we can withstand, and there are times where it makes sense to move the goalpost, or to experiment with shifting a boundary that you previously had. I find it helpful to tell other people in my life about boundaries I want to hold, so they can help keep me accountable to myself. If I feel like someone is paying a little attention to whether or not I am following through with a commitment to myself, I am more likely to keep it: a tiny, carefully selected and self-imposed panopticon. Importantly, this doesn’t imply downloading the labour of holding you accountable to your pals; the folks you tell don’t become responsible for checking up on you, or making a disappointed face at you if you fall short. Just the act of speaking an intention out loud to someone who loves you that can be like a bit like a spell to strengthen your resolve.
What to be careful of: two of swords
This is a card about the limitations of our own understandings of ourselves and our place in the world. It talks about moments when you feel like no one could possibly understand what you’ve been through, or the full complexity of your experience or identity. These are moments when you’d rather make a blanket fort and hide in it until spring comes than face feeling alone in a crowd. In this position of warning, this card is here to remind you to keep a close eye on your desire to isolate, and to unpack some of the stories and ideas you have about yourself as someone who is hard to understand or difficult to love.
You are not difficult to love.
I’m not talking about the you that you have been bringing into relationships so far, the you that knows how to hit that flirty sweet spot, the you that communicates kindly and carefully. I mean the scared child you, the heartbruised and confused you, the you that you don’t always know how to access and that you are scared to expose to folks you crush on. That you, what you might think of as the worst you, is not difficult to love.
I’ve been watching old seasons of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and thinking about the idea that Ru shouts at the end of every show—“if you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”—and I think this idea, or iterations of it, run deep in our culture. It’s one of those things that sounds right on the surface, and there are some crunchy bits of truth in it, but it isn’t actually *true*. I have learned how to love myself by loving others, and being loved by them. I have modeled my practices of loving myself on the ways that I have loved my friends and lovers. Certainly as my capacity and skill in treating myself like a human person has grown, my capacity to be a better friend and lover has too—but I started from the bottom on this particular file. Let me be clear, I’m super on board with folks taking breaks from dating when that feels right or useful or healing or important, but when the feeling is something more like “I’m not healed enough to love anyone right”—I actually think that’s crap. The majority of our wounds come from relationships, and correspondingly, a lot of our healing happens there too. The Two of Swords, especially in a position of caution like in this spread, is a deep call to find ways to stay connected to others, even when that feels really really hard. It is also permission to show up as an imperfect, messy version of yourself.
Together, this little cadre of cards is singing to you in four part harmony about gentleness and self-compassion. You know deep in your bones what it feels like to have someone say they love you, but not treat you in a loving way, and so you have deep fears about replicating that pattern. That makes so much sense. You also have a strong commitment not to treat other people in the harmful ways you’ve been treated. I think this spread is asking you to trust that commitment more than you trust the fear. You can sink deeper into relationships if you want to, and let some of those wounds show; they’ve taught you so much.