Why Dominant/Submissive Romance Is Hard
Building and sustaining a D/s romance is hard, sometimes really hard — especially if the dom/sub dynamic is desired outside the bedroom. Here are some reasons why...
For the purpose of this discussion, I'll define dominance & submission this way: a relationship where the partners agree that one has greater authority and/or privilege within the relationship than the other, at least some of the time, or in certain contexts, e.g. during sexual activity, when at home together.
There is a common misconception that dominant or submissive behavior comes naturally to kinky people. But no complex behavior comes naturally to anyone; virtually everything we do in life is learned, either from others or by experimentation. Dominant and submissive inclinations or fantasies may arise natively, but turning these notions into behaviors that work for a duet is far more than a matter of finding the right partner. We've grown up around egalitarian relationships and therefore developed an understanding of how they work and what nurtures or damages them. There are abundant self-help books on creating and sustaining happy vanilla partnerships. There is no best-practices manual for D/s relationships. Kink role models and mentors are not to be found walking around in vanilla society. And some kinksters in the public BDSM scene promote their own narrow ideas on D/s as some sort of gospel; these are not useful mentors.
Holding authority over a partner means walking a narrow path. Authority that goes unexercised is illusory. Not only must a dom give his sub rules and requests, he must direct her to do things she would not otherwise choose, but which she is capable of! And the effect of a dom's demands must be ultimately beneficial or bonding. This responsibility to wield one's authority broadly yet judiciously can become a burden. Privilege is easily abused; yet the boundary between pushing and abusing someone is not clearly defined, and likely varies with time. Finally, authority has to be accountable; an order given without a rationale behind it, or power exerted for its own sake, is destructive. Balancing all these elements is difficult, and more so if the partnership demands it of him constantly. A wise dom recognizes when he needs to rest his psyche.
Ceding power to one's partner also entails tremendous responsibility. It's not a process of simply obeying and enduring. A sub must tune into her dom, learn to interpret his subtle as well as overt signals, and discover how he desires her to behave in every context where he holds authority over her. Some subs may learn this skill readily, but for most, the petty and serious mistreatments that girls suffer in growing up and dating lead them to a protective self-interest which must be unlearned in order to serve a dom well. The challenge of dismantling internal boundaries while developing a specific set of behaviors for a new partner is daunting. A wise dom also recognizes when his sub needs rest.
The obligations of dominant and submissive roles demand steady attention, focus, commitment. Yet humans are not inherently rational creatures; rather, we are essentially emotional actors. There's a neurological reason for this — the part of the brain that reasons carefully and forms new behaviors is slow. The rest of the brain, which executes established patterns, is quick and efficient. So our minds prefer established patterns versus creating ideal responses, even in situations where thought before action would yield a far better outcome. Hence it's sadly easy for either partner to behave badly when they could have known better! It's wise to forgive your partner for such slips, and just as wise to acknowledge and apologize after making them yourself.
Being a capable dom requires empathy and humility. Men are somewhat poorer at these skills than women. Being a capable sub requires a strong will and mastery of your own emotions. Women are less adept at these skills than men. Both partners in a D/s romance must learn from each other, though they occupy dramatically different roles.