Tuesday, December 25, 2012

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.



At March 22, 2013 2:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked most of your post except this statement "But no complex behavior comes naturally to anyone". But there is no complexity to Dom and sub roles. They are completely two dimensional. They only constitute one aspect of the human condition and behavior. It's the individuals who are complex. That's the real reason D/s relationships are so hard. Most of the rest of your post supports that. This is so obvious but I'm surprised how many people in the kink lifestyle cannot see what is right in front of them.

At March 22, 2013 9:36 AM, Blogger Will said...

I certainly agree that the complexity of individuals complicates close relationships. But this applies to any kind of close relationship, e.g. parent/child, not only dom/sub.

I would not agree that dom and sub roles are "two dimensional." Would you assert that mother and son roles lack complexity? I'd argue that human interaction behaviors are inevitably intricate.

At March 25, 2013 2:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, complexity of individuals complicates any relationship but not as much as Dom/sub because the two players ARE playing roles, rather than just being themselves. Dom and sub are only ONE aspect of a person's being. People are more than roles. The role does not constitute a person's entire identity.

And yes, that applies to mother and child too. In fact, it gets MORE complex when the child enters its teens, because that's when a more solid personality begins to develop. Many people do not realize that at some point during adulthood, both parents and children have to let go of that role and start to relate as individuals. Those who can't accept this tend to have bigger problems.

In a nonconsensual situation, a Master does the telling and the slave obeys or is punished. The master may or may not develop a relationship to his servant. The slave must obey regardless. But the whole point of a consensual relationship is for both parties to be happy with the situation. After about five years of being in the BDSM scene, I was surprised to discover that D/s relationships were very tailored to the individuals. This is an indication that the love between them must supercede the roles they play, or else the relationship becomes dysfunctional.

If you don't agree, perhaps you've invested too much of your identity into a role. I've seen a LOT of people in the BDSM scene do that and it's part of why I withdrew from the scene some five or six years ago. It's why BDSM relationships are so "misunderstood" and require so much explaining: because ordinary vanilla relationships start from the foundation of getting to know a whole individual without any expectations, where as a D/s relationship starts with the expectation that a role will be played out.

Here's a question: are you willing to reconsider from a totally different angle, or are you such an expert that you can't learn anything new? I'm sorry if that comes off as hostile but I got sick of every Dom acting like he was an expert on the human condition, then saying things that didn't make any sense to me and had little support from scientific evidence.

At March 25, 2013 3:42 PM, Blogger Will said...

First off, I'd like to be able to respectfully disagree with a comment without being asked, "Are you such an expert that you can't learn anything new?" You can clarify your position without attacking me. And maybe we simply have different experiences of D/s dynamics.

Regarding your assertion that D/s couples are "playing roles, rather than being themselves" — what exactly is being oneself in the presence of one's lover? In my experience, dominant and submissive behavior patterns are native aspects of one's personality, not characters in a psychodrama game. When I use the term "role" to refer to those native aspects, I don't mean it in the theatrical sense. For more on the facets of personality, see Discovering, Embracing, Revealing the Self.

At March 26, 2013 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At March 26, 2013 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you can handle it, here are some books to look into: "The Fall" by Steven Taylor, "The Master and His Emissary" by Dr. Iain McGilchrist and if you're up for it, "Saharasia" by Dr. James DeMeo (that's a mighty tome to take on and very difficult to read but it geographically traces the origins of violence and hierarchy in human beings). Check out some behaviorism and Reichian psychology. Hell, if you're not prejudiced against Tim Leary, take a look at his "Eight circuit" model of the brain. There's a lot of solid research in that stuff that contradicts the kind of things BDSM people make up in their heads and assert as truth.

At March 26, 2013 12:20 PM, Blogger Will said...

Thank you for the literature references, I look forward to exploring them.

I regret that I found your previous comment inflammatory and so have deleted it. I gather that you've been in abusive D/s relationships, and concluded that dominance cannot be exercised constructively. I'd agree that some so-called doms cannot wield authority safely; identifying and avoiding such types is essential.

You wrote, in part:
I've never seen a Dom humble enough to say "Trust is important to ME. I desire to be trusted. I want to show someone that I can be trusted." I'm an ex-sub. That means I still have the naughty, nasty desires, but I realized fantasies don't NEED to be realized. And I also realized Doms simply cannot be trusted to tell the whole truth or apply any critical thinking to their practices, because it goes against their vested interests.

I respectfully ask that you not comment further here. You have a right to be heard, but this blog is not the place. Thank you.

At August 26, 2013 12:06 AM, Blogger Jennifer said...

I've read your article and the subsequent commentary. As a 46 year old mother of 4 (and a submissive), I have to agree with you completely that dominance and submission are not necessarily just roles that are played. I would argue that it is part of one's personality with a dazzling array of degrees. Discovering this complexity can be very fulfilling, or not. Same as whether or not one enjoys crossword puzzles. The same goes for a parent/child relationship. That child is the same person from the moment they are born through death. The discovery of who they are can be started at birth, or one can wait until they are 18. It simply is a matter of whether or not you enjoy the discovery. Either way, to add a partner to this process of discovery can indeed bring complications as well as fulfillment. I believe that if both regard their relationship as a journey rather than a destination, both will benefit from the process.

At November 19, 2013 4:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a sub I am looking for more more tips. I am very much into treating her as a a person. That is to say I am conscious of her needs and wants very much to get feedback from her.if she is not into the scene were playing out then I want to know how to make it more conducive to her turn ons.i am human enough to know I don't have all the answers. I am willing to learn how to make things better for the both of us. We have gotten into some rituals, public humiliation, some pain ,training pen et ration, I can give more details upon response Jeffrey

At November 19, 2013 9:26 PM, Blogger Will said...

Jeffrey, feel free to drop me an email at thejourneyofwill@gmail.com

At July 26, 2014 1:47 AM, Anonymous new sub said...

"...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."

"Everyone has emotional vulnerabilities, weaknesses. Almost any time an event provokes a sudden, strong emotional response in you — anger, sadness, withdrawal, self-loathing, confusion, helplessness — the most likely culprit is one of these cracks in your psyche. The present situation or conversation has simply driven you into that fissure, triggering a response that's disproportionate to the moment."

Will, first I want to thank you for taking the time to write your blog. I also want to apologize for the length of my comment. I already know this is going to be long.

These quotes speak to a recent experience with my Dom. I'm new to this (we've only been dating 4mo) but a couple of our sessions have already triggered strong emotional responses which were related to a past abusive relationship and we haven't even gotten into any really kinky stuff yet.

I'm actually scared of Him encountering more of my triggers because of how I've reacted to rather innocuous things (words, mild spanking). I know it had nothing to do with Him and everything to do with what's in my head from prior traumatic experiences. I also know there’s plenty more which I have suppressed from that prior abusive relationship and witnessing my father beat my mother throughout my childhood. I've already shared that with Him and the first time I reacted so strongly He asked me why I didn't tell Him about that particular trigger sooner but I didn't realize at the time that it would cause such a response on my part.

I realize now, after the last time this happened, that my past has also kept me from serving Him well. My question to you is whether you believe that one can work through these things alone. As a very masculine male, He wants/needs a very feminine woman. I've always been more of a tomboy but I shared with Him after our last session that I attribute this to the fact that being female in my family has always meant weakness and being disrespected and submitting to abuse. He thanked me for sharing that with Him and desires to help me heal.

I want to please Him, I love to see His smile and I want to make Him smile even more. I ask myself every day, what can I do to put a smile on His face? I still have reservations about doing my nails and wearing makeup/dresses/heels more often though. It’s just not a part of my daily routine. He was actually quite shocked when we started dating because we've already known each other for over 5yrs but we only saw each other while out dancing so I was usually dolled up. I’m sure He wasn't pleased to see me hiding in a giant hoodie, wearing a hat and generally unfeminine attire on a daily basis. I just don't have a desire to wear makeup or dresses but I do wish to please Him. Is there a happy medium? I'm conflicted about wanting to please Him but also staying true to myself at the same time. I've never been one to wear makeup or dresses/heels often so it's an internal struggle I fight everyday!

Do you believe it's possible for me to work through potential triggers on my own before we touch on those boundaries during any future sessions? If so how? (I've already been through years of therapy which was a tremendous help but this relationship has tested boundaries I wasn't fully aware existed) Should I even want to? I know that working through these issues together will strengthen our bond but my problem is that I hate associating Him with my ex. My ex was very nasty to me in many ways but my Dom is the perfect gentleman. Your post on “What to Look For in A Dom/Master” describes Him to a T and He’s gorgeous too – I’m so blessed to have Him in my life!

Any advice you may have would be greatly appreciated.

At October 01, 2014 4:19 PM, Blogger Will said...

Dear "new sub", firstly, humble apologies for the long, long delay of this reply. I had a couple very busy months at work.

You seem to be wrestling with issues on two fronts: your triggers from prior emotional abuse, and your habits of dress, i.e. expressions of identity. That's a lot of pressure on you, whether from your partner or yourself. I'd suggest you raise this with him, and together pick one area to work on initially. Feeling a sense of progress in yourself and your relationship is essential!

Regarding the triggers you've discovered, I've described some ways partners can work through them in Assuaging a Sub's Fear of Abandonment. I'd also recommend you seek out a counselor with expertise in recovery from emotional traumas. It's immensely helpful to have a knowledgeable, caring therapist for whom you know your issues are not a source of discouragement.

As you build trust in each other, you may find that BDSM play itself can be a source of healing, as play sessions can tap deep into the psyche, and you can pause at any moment to release emergent grief or anger. Your partner will of course have to watch you closely, and be prepared to switch from a sadistic to a consoling role :-)

At October 06, 2014 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is something I want to experience, but unsure of how to find like minded people.

At October 06, 2014 10:22 PM, Blogger Will said...

First read through this blog, it's full of things you need to know (see Table of Contents). As you read, you'll find answers to the question "How do I find a quality kinky partner?"

At February 15, 2015 11:19 PM, Blogger Liza Marie said...

Were currently living in post feminism egalitarian culture. The feminist were more concerned with sexual sovereignty than pleasure. The emphases on respectful sex purged expressions of power, aggression,transgression - is antithetical to erotic desire.The interesting back lash to that is 50 Shades of Grey.

At August 13, 2015 12:42 AM, Blogger Shanyn Lim said...

How do I find a dominant man? Hehehe

At October 06, 2015 11:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi! I was in a relationship that turned into a Dom/sub relationship sexually and then in other aspects. This was the first time I have experienced anything like it. I was the sub and my partner was the dominant one. We are no longer together but remain friends. However I still find that I am obedient to her and still want to please her by being good. We both still naturally take on those roles in certain situations. Will my submission to her fade over time? I don't know anyone that understands the dynamics of our relationship past or present, so I have no one to talk to about it.

At April 18, 2016 2:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Liza Marie:

Of course because ALL women want to be dominated, bullied and abused by men, right? The wonderful thing about feminism is that it's afforded women the right to choose which kind of relationships they want to be in as opposed to settling for the only option a patriarchal society allows them. What you consider to be "pleasure" and "erotic" is most women's idea of hell. No one's stopping you from pursuing your kinks, but you seem hellbent on pushing yours onto everyone else.

At April 30, 2016 3:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello ,
I first would like to say thanks for sharing all the information for the new comers! It is all good advice for people starting their journey..especially now. I am a 52 yr old woman, I've been in the life style for over 20 years. you can say old school I call it! It was much different back then, then it is now.. I feel for the new comer and its frankly a shame and can be dangerous if the new person finds a Dom that has no real knowledge of the responsibility he or she holds. Safety and knowledge is so important. I have such a love of this life style its a part of who I am and to me the new comer is the important one here with out them the life style will be non existent right! . I would like to make some suggestions, I have been mentoring for more then 15 of those years. I'm a member of The "Lair De Sade" in North Hollywood for a good 15 years, Bordello Of Decadence, Sanctuary, also member of both fetlife.com 5 years, alt.com since it started over 17 years ago. Being a mentor is a rewarding experience , it allows me to give back to the new comers which I was given when I started my journey. Many people approach me on those sites asking questions...I myself believe firmly that the first year of ones journey should be held for learning only.. that is the time to read, talk to people in blogs , or groups, watch videos, see what you find interests you and educate your self before you meet a potential real time date. I suggest after that to get a mentor go to some munches or meet and greets getting to know others with like minds and interests to ultimately find a potential first time experience real time. Once you have found that one you feel comfortable with you will know its time. I believe that you must always meet in a public place before and have the persons information (name phone address ask to see their ID ) and tell one person you trust the name and where you will be meeting this person, have your friend call you at say perhaps hour after to see if you are ok and all is good.. remember safety is the key in a first meeting. Sometimes it is best to make the first meeting just what it is a meeting and make plans to make a second date and discuss with them your list of fetish activities to go over before the next meeting. so nothing is miss understood. Always listen to your inner voice if you feel at any time in easy ... leave! my inner voice is never wrong! I also want to touch on the one thing I noticed in this thread, that is your own emotional triggers. I cant help but notice some of you have not realized that this activity can and does bring up past experiences, mental and emotional well being is a must. Some of you have stated that your experiences with past Doms have bullied, abused and even hurt you. I can tell you that there are Doms out there that have no business calling them selves a Dom, and can hurt you very bad! A Dom will not do this a real Dom will ask you questions , will pay attention to your reactions, will build you up slowly and will be there for your after care sometimes a week later if you need him or her. A real Dom will also have known knowledge of the tools he/she uses, (whips floggers rope toys) being a sub does not make you a floor mat nor does it mean you have no choice you do have a choice to say STOP or the safe word that was decided before play ,, I hope this helps too that remember that the life style has so many choices its got a life of its own and you too will change and what you like today may not be what you like tomorrow,, and with so many options why limit yourself to one? You will begin to see that as you grow your interest will too.. with all that said enjoy this experience. Mz. T

At June 19, 2016 9:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Complexities can go much deeper than this article. Im a 33 year old woman that is rooted in lifestyle but hasnt incorporated in my moving to the midwest bc mentality here is much different than socal. Im dominant by nature, extremely so (until i find my master if they exist), and i have happened upon my first relationship with a woman..who is def submissive. If anyone has time or guidance id love to hear from you...being a single mom this is hard for me to explain what is expected of her...words right now cant express what im trying to explain, lol. My email is isisreign@gmail.com if anyone would like to help with sone questions or discuss our views

At August 08, 2016 8:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello will, I have been stalking your blog for a long while and enjoy it. With that said, I'm a new sub. I had a Dom who essentially flaked on me. I have I think a sub personality that wants to fight back out any authority because I enjoy being put down and humiliated. I don't know, he flaked on me because he couldn't handle my emotional need to cry (which I thought was strange since we ran it by that I like to sob my heart out or how I runned by him that I'd not like to get sexual in the beginning of the sessions until I feel comfortable actually opening up My body). In my daily life I am pretty alpha but my inner personality is submissive.The Dom came back and has been trying to ask for another chance because we do connect with our other side but I don't feel comfortable with him any longer because of how he left me and how he keeps constantly messaging me. I legit don't know what to do especially since he is friends with my friends. I truly am asking for just friendship from him but he won't bug off and he is trying to kink shame me lately. I like to cry and I like to be humiliated but he is over stepping his line and I truly do not know what to do since our friends are vanillas. -crying a river

At August 25, 2016 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently met a Dom and this was my first time I was a new new sub. I am defiant by nature and rebellious. He claimed to have experience 7+years and said he would take it very slow. I like all others have some emotional triggers and was terrified to allow someone to know a different part of me. The first time we were together he repeated over and over that I can trust him etc. We hung out 2 more times and in between communicated frequently. He seemed to be tapping into my emotional triggers and I was struggling to allow him to force me into things I didn't want to do. Simple things like give my friends his number, or flirt with another man (but I had to be into it). My submission seemed to not ever be up to par, although I have fought back and not given in easily. I was honest from the get go about how challenging I may be to train. After finally submitting into some of his requests he told me training was painful and I had to get over it. And that he was in control etc.
We hung out after that and I felt like taking charge, I talked in a challenging tone and even got rough with him (we've talked before about how he would swap if the time called for it) he kept telling me to do it to tie him up etc. I did not. But I was emotionally dominating him and taking the lead. It was intense and fun. Towards the end of our time together I begged him not to contact my friends and reminded him he said I could trust him etc. I have read a lot into this dynamic before I went head first and I have been trying to educate myself since. He assured me he would not contact them etc. Clearly he had caused a deep trigger in me, exposing my fear of abandonment, insecurities, etc..
He then stood up and looked at me saying so so cruely, you know you're crazy though right?
I was stunned and taken back.
It was intentional and felt deeply cruel a side of him I had not seen. I stood and became defensive immediately. Oh really? I said and he proceeded to mock and push the issue further. Leaving me completely mind fucked. I gathered my things and he taunted the issue more, bringing up past relationships I had disclosed to him station that he was "hardly the only man to tell me how crazy was.
I was deeply shaken and angry. I trusted him and let him into aspects of myself and he was mocking and insulting me now!?
Also strange was during our "time" in mid act that he mentions how I would react if he had a wife or girlfriend etc.. it was a bizarre situation and I felt violated emptionally and manipulated.
As I left I told him that he had betrayed my emotional trust and he had
Promised to protect and keep my safe not abuse and hurt me. He seemed enertained and distant, and had a smirk all the while.
I drove home completely disoriented. Was I crazy? Why was I allowing this to effect me?
A few days have past and I keep wondering is this was part of my "training" if he felt the need to break me down?
Is this acceptable behaviour? Is it sometimes needed to emotionally trample a strong sub to dominate them?

At July 22, 2017 4:56 PM, Blogger Ettina Kitten said...

Yeah, I'm starting to think I'm a bit of a domme. Absolutely no submissiveness whatsoever in me.

At September 25, 2017 3:01 PM, Anonymous Jazzy_Sun_Devil said...

Dear Will,
I don't know if you still respond to these comments after all this time, but here's hoping.
What caught my eye to this particular post was the word "romance". I have found that a lot of Dom's seem to want something casual. The ones that want something more, in my experience, have wanted a Master/slave relationship. I feel like I don't fit into either of these scenarios. I'm submissive and enjoy this very much in the bedroom. I am eager to follow directions outside of the bedroom as well...having Him choose my wardrobe, journaling, etc. But, I also like to do vanilla activities as well, like going to sporting events, dinner, dancing. Here is where things become blurry for me. During these vanilla experiences I very much feel like a "girlfriend", where He would still describe me as His sub. For some reason I take that to be an insult. The way He treats me is not the issue, the issue is how I'm perceiving the labels. Have you ever had a sub that had this kind of hang-up before?
My current Dom and I are taking things very slow, mainly because our connection is so strong that it scares both of us a bit. I don't want to sabotage something that could be great due to over-thinking. Any insight or advice you may have is appreciated.

PS - I found you on Fet, but you didn't accept my friend request!

At September 25, 2017 3:31 PM, Blogger Will said...

Lots of kinky people have a dichotomy between their vanilla and kinked personas, which they struggle to resolve. The vanilla aspect may not entirely accept the submissive one—that was certainly the case for me.

If your difficulty is purely a matter of terminology, I'd suggest letting the developing relationship massage your thoughts about it over time. A new label you like may emerge, or it may cease to be a concern.

Apologies about the FL friend request, I haven't been keeping up on that account.

At August 06, 2018 9:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My.T me and my partner are new to this life style and I (we) need to learn all there is to know especially me so I can make sure it's what I want. How do we find a mentor? Please get back to me at your earliest convenience, thanks in advance.
Wanting to please


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