When I think of the phrase “play partner” per se, that to me automatically implies something casual, not a relationship per se.
For a casual play partner, I don’t have really set criteria, except that I must like them (usually platonic friends beforehand), usually must know that they are exceptionally skilled players, and know them well enough to have reason to believe that I can trust them to respect my limits, keep me safe, and not injure me.
Similar kinks are critical, at least enough of them to create a good scene, even if it’s only one single activity – and sometimes I will seek out a particular top or dominant precisely for that specific activity. As long as they’re willing to respect my hard limits, I really don’t care if they share them or not for a casual scene. I’ve also got to have at least a basic level of attraction to at least something about them physically as well as mentally, and not think they are totally revolting.
Every situation is different otherwise.
I will actually not play casually at all any more with someone to whom I am wildly attracted – especially if I might see him as potential life partner material unless he is legally single, monogamous, and on the same basic page as I am with respect to both play, life, relationship preferences, availability to be in a relationship, and a whole lot more that falls more into the criteria I have for a life partner type relationship, which are definitely more extensive than for a casual play partner. At that point, I’m going to want to get to know him better overall first, before I play with him, like as in actually dating.
I’ve learned the hard way that casual play is a piss poor way for me to start anything off with someone to whom I am super attracted, if I don’t know them better and know that we’re more on the same page about what that may mean. I tend to fall much too hard for someone I am *that* attracted to to be willing to risk that kind of heartbreak and disappointment again.
The two times I can think of that I’ve played with someone I was really super attracted to who I didn’t know much better, and who I’d never seen play before and didn’t have references on, it eventually ended badly (and quickly) after the fact, even though the scenes themselves went really well, and were really fucking hot (both times in public – I’d never do something like that in private). These were the only two times I can think of that I’ve ever played with someone I hasn’t already gotten to know reasonably well in some way and didn’t know anything about their skill level or reputation in the scene beforehand.
One time, I did play casually with someone I’d just met the night before, and was indeed attracted to – but because of unusual circumstances, I also knew by then that a) he was well known and respected, b) I’d just seen him do an amazing and very skillful scene with someone else, c) several different women including that one were *raving* about him and his skills, and d) in the group we were in that evening, we’d all just had an extensive discussion with a rank newbie about what constituted safe play and much more, so I knew what he was about in that department. With all of that in place – well, I went ahead, had a blast, and to this day remain friends with him and we try to play together whenever we’re in the same town and I’m not in a relationship. I also knew by then that he was indeed single, which left the door open if something else were to develop between us – but I was also in a relationship at the time, and my dom had given me specific permission in advance to play with him if he asked me to, so his marital status didn’t even really matter at the time.
Normally, I will only negotiate hard limits and state the kinds of things I prefer to do and like best and dislike most (unless it’s clearly decided that we’re only going to do one particular thing), and then let the scene rip from there, wherever it may go. I hate, hate, hate knowing even remotely exactly where it’s going to go like a script. I will, of course, share all of the usual things like emotional and trust issues, and other health/medical issues that need to be considered, along with whether or not I’m willing to get more sexual with them, which I almost never am, etc.
I can think of only two times I’ve ever played with no negotiation at all, and in both cases, the scenes were incredible – but both times, the top in question also made it very clear up front as we started that all I had to do was say the word and they’d stop whatever they were doing – and they did so. Instantly. Without the slightest question or hesitation. One told me so explicitly; the other just asked if X was OK as we went along and he wanted to do it. Absent these kinds of agreements, I won’t play, and I’d stop anything that got started that way.
That latter time was without a doubt probably the hottest, longest, and most intense scene I’ve ever done, never got near a hard limit or issue of any sort anyways – and it was all negotiated completely on the fly, the only previous negotiation being that I had just wanted to try out a new flogger that I’d bought, and that was actually all that I’d had in mind. But when it moved on, I went with it. I also knew that guy well enough from just being around the scene already and having seen him play with others that I had reason to believe that I could trust him. It was why I’d specifically asked him to try out the flogger on me in the first place.
I never have sex (intercourse or oral sex) with any casual play partner with whom I am not on an explicit relationship track, with the exception of times I’ve played with one ex once I was emotionally over that relationship and able to just enjoy being casual with him. I can think of only one other exception in 9 years, and he’s Mr. Unnegotiated, with whom I only get to play rarely, only when I’m not in a relationship, and with whom I share an ongoing friendship and a number of other interests in common, and even then, that’s not been a regular thing.
A lot of what I will let any top do (whether a casual partner or an ongoing relationship) depends totally upon how much I trust them – and what I trust them with – and that includes both specific activities and toys, as well as intensity of any of them.
Mr. Unnegotiated would probably top my list of people I’d let do pretty close to anything with me, and the only one with whom I’ve discussed going anywhere near at least one particular very edgy hard limit that I’ve never even discussed with anyone else on the planet. It didn’t happen because he himself wasn’t convinced that I was quite ready for it – and I probably wasn’t.
I’ve been in “relationships” in which I didn’t trust the guy to even hit me a second time, ever, after the very first playdate, with anything except his hand, and I’ve also played more casually with one other man whom I trust with my life to the point that I let him break *two* of my very hardest limits on the same day – including one that had the very real potential to kill me if it had gone wrong, and one that was a *major* potential landmine in the making. Both remain hard limits with anyone else.
So, it’s really a very individual thing.
What are your criteria for a play partner?