So I’m continuing to read More Than Two. I’m enjoying the questions the authors ask their readers to contemplate, and will continue to blog my own answers here as I move along.
Right now, though, I want to talk about Communication and how it doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
It’s possible that the authors, when writing up their Chapter 7 summary of good communication techniques (active listening, non-violent communication, & direct communication) are giving a coles-notes version that they’re going to expand on in later chapters. We’ll see if that happens. I know that right now, though, I’m getting really twitchy reading about “I statements” and – rather more-so, in my case – about how “direct communication” requires using one’s words rather than “hinting” through body language, tone of voice, and facial expression and how, if a partner doesn’t bring up a problem “directly” (AKA: verbally), one should take them at their (lack of) word and trust that there is no problem.
I’m not great at direct communication, so maybe that’s why I’m getting soooo twitchy, but I have a LOT of side-eye for this.
Yes, if I have difficulty with this, it’s on me to learn how to discern and acknowledge my own wants and needs, and then to Be Brave and state those wants and needs out loud with words, even when I’m not sure my requests are going to be met with a Yes. Similarly, if I have difficulty recognizing and naming my emotions, its on me to develope a nuanced vocabulary when it comes to that, and then to Be Brave and talk about those feelings, even when I’m not sure I’m allowed to feel those things or how my People will react to them.
(1) Body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are PART OF how we, as humans, communicate.
I’m sorry (or, y’know, not sorry at all) but Rape Culture’s plausible deniability relies a LOT on the complete discounting of body language as a means of communication. I’m not thrilled that the authors of More Than Two are actively telling their readers that those modes of information-gathering just don’t count.
When I ask my wife how she’s doing? I’m listening to her words, yes. But I’m also “listening” to her facial expression, her body language, her tone of voice, and paying attention to contexts such as [what she’s been doing with her spare time recently] and [when was the last time she ate something]. As such, if I say “How are you doing?” and her words say “I’m great”, but her jaw-set and her fidgeting and her tone-of-voice and the skin around her eyes are all saying “I’m not great at all“, I will double-check, mention what I’m noticing about her other modes of communication, and invite her to open up a little bit. (She says she will never play poker with me for this reason).
And, yeah, I might get an answer like “No, I’m fine. I’m just pre-occupied with work stuff”, at which point I have to drop it and let it go, because boundaries are still a thing (yes, even when your internal monologue is rolling its eyes and saying “Come on…”).
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a dick move to completely ignore a huge swath of how humans communicate with each other, particularly when those modes of communication are what we fall back on (or can’t cover up as easily) when we’re concerned about the Consequences of wanting something other than what a given partner wants (or wants us to want, or what we THINK they want us to want… there’s totally a rabbit hole you can fall into here…).
…Which brings me to my other point:
(2) Communication doesn’t happen in a vacuum.
Polyamoury communities are FULL of people who are visibly and/or invisibly disabled, trans, abuse survivors, queer, some combination of the above, and/or otherwise have personal-histories or systemic-cultural-histories that include a LOT of social conditioning AGAINST trusting what our bodies are telling us we actually want/need, and a LOT of social conditioning TOWARDS looking to the social cues of other people (doctors, parents, partners…) to tell us what is appropriate for us to want/need, and when it’s appropriate to want/need those things. (Jess Zimmerman has an article about exactly this situation, which is currently my Everything, and I think you should go read it. There’s also this article, aimed at cis guys, which touches on a related communication-doesn’t-happen-in-a-vacuum topic – Point #3 is particularly relevant).
People with these histories are most likely going to (a) have a harder time even just discerning what they want want/need (or even that they have wants/needs), and (b) have more difficulty voicing those wants and needs in a direct way rather than coding them as questions about another person’s desires.
Example 1: There are a lot of femme cis women, and a lot of trans women of various gender-presentations, who figured out they were gay-as-fuck relatively late in life because (a) trans women and cis women both get told to ignore what our bodies are telling us in favour of believing what other people tell us we should be/want/need, and (b) none of us “looked like lesbians” since “lesbian” is popularly coded (both in and outside of queer communities) as “masculine-of-centre cis woman”, so how could we be possibly be dykes?
Example 2: Folks who are abuse-survivors frequently develope a nearly-psychic (or actually psychic) ability to anticipate the wants and needs of other people (particularly those to-whom they are attachment-bound) to the exclusion of their own wants and needs. This is a serious survival-strategy that kept us alive and safe in those abusive situations… but it’s a hard “habit” to break when we’re finally not in those situations anymore. It is VERY hard to discern what *we* want or need, and then to say those things out loud, when our lizard brains are telling us to “Want what they want right now, or you are literally gonna die”. Differentiating between [what we think we’re supposed to want] and [what we actually want] is really hard to do, and feeling our way through sorting that out, especially out loud, can be overwhelming and frightening, even in a really supportive space.
Similarly, polyamoury communities are ALSO full of people who, for personal-history or systemic-culture-history reasons, have had a LOT of social conditioning TOWARDS emotional stoicism or emotional repression and a LOT of social conditional AGAINST developing a nuanced understanding of their own feelings (maybe you grew up with “boys don’t cry”, or being gaslit to the tune of “you’re just too sensitive” and “over-reacting” in your family-of-origin, or when your white friends didn’t/don’t recognize the racism being aimed at you. Maybe you grew up being taught that it was only acceptable to feel one emotion at a time (like Tinkerbell! Or like being required to remain an emotional toddler for the convenience and comfort of others), or that “emotional maturity” meant disociating from your feelings rather than courageously wading into them and articulating them even when you’re neck-deep).
People with these histories may have a harder time (a) discerning what, exactly, we’re feeling in a given situation, and then (b) naming those feelings out loud in a nuanced way, particularly if we are feeling multiple things at once. If you haven’t seen the Pixar movie “Inside Out”, I really, REALLY suggest that you watch it, as it can be extremely helpful in terms of being able to recognize the types of feelings that may be interacting inside your brain.
Example 1: “Defensive” is a mixture of sadness, fear, and anger. But maybe you’ve been taught that “defensive” is a pansy way to feel, and so you call it “jealousy” and tell your partner it’s their fault you feel that way; or maybe you call it “anger” because that’s the emotion you’ve had the most practice recognizing over the course of your life, and so that’s the part of “defensive” you can actually put a name around.
Example 2: Have you ever felt warm-hearted joy at seeing your sweetie all moony-eyed over their new squeeze? But also felt anxious that they might start to like said new squeeze better than they like you? Plus maybe sad and/or irritated at being left out, on top of that? How about a little bit squicked, in addition to the rest, because your empathy and compersion didn’t actually extend to finding your partner’s new partner attractive?
It’s totally normal to feel all those things at once. But teasing out all the different bits of that big, complicated cocktail of feelings? That can be overwhelming, frustrating, and scary, even in a really supportive space.
So here’s the thing.
If we are people who are at a disadvantage when it comes to discerning and articulating wants, needs, and/or feelings (and we may have trouble with all of the above at the same time)… we still have to do that work. We still have to be hella brave and dedicated and say that stuff out loud to the people we care about and don’t want to lose.
Our partners need to have our backs while we’re doing it.
When we are partnered with people (and we are *all* going to be partnered with people in these boats at some point) who have trouble discerning and articulating wants, needs, and/or feelings?
We need to throw them a freakin’ bone.
We need to take on the emotional labour (because this, too, is work which requires time, energy, attention, and effort) of making space for our People to figure that stuff out.
Y’know why? Because when you care about someone, you INVITE communication. You don’t half-ass your way through a relationship by expecting the other person – who is most likely hurting and stressed, sinced communicating that everything is fantastic, when it’s actually fantastic, is pretty easy to do, but bringing up scary stuff is NOT – to carry 100% of the weight of getting a heavy/difficult message across.
And, hey: We can do this by ASKING QUESTIONS and INVITING ANSWERS. By checking in with our partners.
Ask “Are we okay? How are you feeling about the way we relate to each other right now?”
Ask “Are you getting enough of what you need?”
Ask “Is there anything I can do to help with that?”
Ask “When you say you need __________, what does that look like? Does it mean I need to do X? Would Y or maybe Z work too?”
Ask “Hey, you got really quiet just now. Can you tell me what you were feeling right then? Can you tell me, even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense?”
Ask “What does it feel like in your body? Does it feel like numbness or cold? Does it feel like a fish brushing up against you in the water and then darting away? Does it feel like too-hot and maybe small?”
Ask “When you say you want to do X with me, can you tell me what it is about X that makes it important to you? Is it wanting to try something new with me specifically? Is it the event/activity itself? Is it the potential for one-on-one time? Is it something else?”
Ask “Even if you think it sounds weird or silly, can you tell me what would feel really good right now? Can you tell me what “loved” looks/smells/feels like when you imagine it?”
Ask “You’ve been feeling really distant/far-away/withdrawn lately. Even if you feel really bad about it, or think you’re not supposed to feel like that, can you talk to me about what’s on your mind? I miss you.”
Ask “I know you’re busy and have a lot on your plate, but how are you feeling?”
Ask. Check in. Listen to, and act on, the answers (<– Do not skip this step).
Deliberately offer a space to the people you care about where they can explore (using their outside voices, no less) how they feel and what they want and need. This is how you build relation-ships that are deep and lasting and strong.
Because, here's the thing: It's not a one-way street.
Yes, there will definitely be times when one partner in a given diad or constelation is going to be experiencing a harder-than-usual time and will need extra support.
But, by and large, this asking, and listening, and making space is something that we are all doing for all of the people we care about, and that the people who care about US are all doing for us at the same time. Because we’re in cahoots with each other, accepting and offering care to/from each other in a never-ending, multi-directional flow of give-and-take.
And yes, for sure, this isn’t easy.
Chances are really good that a given person is both dating people who have trouble with this stuff, and being someone who has trouble with this stuff, at the same time.
And it’s really hard to ask those space-making questions of (for?) someone else when you, yourself, are lost in your own Stuff; to ask “What do you need to feel safe right now?” when you’re very afraid the answer is going to be something that makes you feel like you’re dying:
When “I need space” is all they can articulate, but all you can hear is “I am kicking you out of our home, I do not want you here”.
When “I want ice cream” is what they can discern, but isn’t what will satisfy the underlying need (which might be for emotional-care or body-pleasure) they can’t discern yet, and you are struggling with the tapes in your head that are telling you over and over that nothing you ever do/provide/offer will be Good Enough, or substantial enough, to make you loveable.
It’s really hard to do this stuff when everybody involved is hurting. And soooooo many of us are hurting. ❤
One suggestion I have for this is to practice under lower-pressure circumstances. Some people do this by having a regular weekly Relationship Check-In date, where they set aside 20 minutes to bring up Stuff that's kind of annoying or that's weighing on their minds, or that's going swimmingly well, or whatever. Other people ask each other "Whatcha thiiiiiiiiinkin'?" and "How's my Person?" through-out the course of a day or week, and offer honest answers in return ("I'm thinking about steam engines" or "Reading an article about emotional labour and the goddamn patriarchy" or "Feeling a little jumpy and paranoid, and I can't put my finger on why" or "Gosh I'm besotted with you" or "I think I'm maybe hungry? What do you want to do for dinner?" and similar).
It may feel clunky or weird at first, or you may be tempted to gloss over the maybe-not-so-great stuff because you figure you'll be able to solve it yourself once you've got it All Figured Out. But try. Try to build kind-and-honest information-giving AND kind-and-active (not just with your ears, folks) information-requesting & -receiving into your relationships from the get-go. It won't make the scary conversations any easier or less frightening. But it will make YOU more aware of your ability to actively participate in them, and survive them, with each other.
We signed up for consensual non-monogamy, folks.
We signed up for a love-style that is pretty-much guaranteed to smack us in the face with our worst fears (of being abandonned, of being devoured, of being unworthy of care or kindness no matter what we do). Open relationships are graduate-level relationships because of this. But every one of us has decided “I am up for this challenge”.
So be up for it.
Ask questions, even when it’s exhausting and frustrating, even when you’re not sure if you’re asking the right questions, even when your partner might offer dead-end answers that aren’t any help but *are* all they’ve got to go on right now.
Offer information, even when it’s terrifying, even if you’re offering it unprompted and you don’t know how the recipient will react, even when you’re not sure you’ve found the right answer, or the whole answer, yet.
Every time we do this, every time we (request)-offer-recieve information with kindness and courage, with care and attention and action, we strengthen and deepen the connections we’re building together. And what are we here for if not for that?
 Did you notice how this answer involves (a) the recognition of a possible need/want (“I’m maybe hungry?”) but also (b) the coding of its possible solution through the lens of someone else’s desire (“What do YOU want to do for dinner?”)? This stuff is hard to unlearn, folks.
Tag Archive: cultivating entitement
My year-at-a-glance horoscope for (big shock) the year my Saturn Return began said “Scorpios can stay in a bad situation longer than is healthy for anyone” (or words to that effect).
I think I’ve only (sort of) initiated a break-up once in my life, and it was kind of by accident. I’d been trying to tell my then-boyfriend that I needed him to shape up and contribute financially to the household (hahaha, in retrospect this was so unlikely to happen it was a joke I even asked, but hey) and, well, that wound up being the end of the relationship. Now, something like a decade-and-a-half later, I find myself contemplating a more-recent breakup (The Archivist and I stopped dating at the end of January). Maybe it’s because I’m hitting that particular stage in post-breakup grieving where I get pissed off, or maybe it’s for some other reason, but I find myself thinking a lot about how much of that (long-distance) relationship I spent feeling exhausted, anxious, lonely, frustrated, or otherwise in the Seriously Unhappy end of the emotional nebula.
It’s not their fault. They were giving me everything they could (and, as such, were probably feeling a lot of similar things, a lot of the time). I just needed more than what they could give me.
Which is what brings me to my titular question: How Do You Know When To Quit?
If you’ve been here for very long (or know me in person), you know that I’ve had very little dating experience. Like: Six people. Two of whom I full-on married, and two more of-whom didn’t make it past the 3-month mark. I’m still just starting to learn the patterns of my own romantic Healing Process (e.g.: I’m at the familiar, slightly heart-achy, slightly embarassing stage where I think about how “five years from now”, after we’ve both done a lot of Emotional Growing and got our business in a bit more of a heap, maybe we could be lovers/confidants/neighbours/partners (pick a stand-in for “close”) again, and not fuck it up so much. Note: This has yet to actually happen – though I’m on fairly friendly, if “acquaintancy”, terms with the guy I think of as “my first boyfriend” – but you never know) and my data sample is pretty scant when it comes to trying to figure out My Patterns.
None the less, that thing from my horoscope rings pretty true for me.
You know all that Brené Brown stuff I’ve been reading? The stuff where, if it feels like someone is hurting you because they are understepping, rather than overstepping some line, somewhere, it’s still an issue about Boundaries?
I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around that one, but I think I’m starting to get it. Not grok it, by any stretch, but get it.
Because, so often, those situations feel circumstantial. She’s not emotionally available because she’s trying to do DIY therapy. He’s not making time for me specifically, because he’s out of town for the summer and can only come in for one day at a time. They’re not around as much as I’d like because they’re trying to find their feet in a new city. She’s not interested in sex because she’s exhausted from working two jobs.
…Sometimes that stuff is true. Sometimes that stuff is true, but there’s other stuff going on that they’re not telling you about, or that they can’t yet name. Sometimes that stuff (the circumstantiality of it) isn’t true at all, and they’re never going to smarten up and treat you as well as you treat them, make as much time for you as you make for them, love you the way you love them, want you the way you want them. Sometimes they are just not that into you, and sometimes they’re totally into you but… they still can’t give you what you need.
So. How do you know?
I was talking (elsewhere) about how “relationships, even when they go through sucky periods, are only hard when they are not what you want them to be”.
…And I’m still not sure how to discern that. How to catch it when those clouds aren’t just a passing storm, a temporary grey period, but a situation that you can’t Process or Self-Care your way out of?
Brené Brown – among numerous other people – basically says that when someone’s behaviour is not meting your needs:
1) You have to actually use your words and make sure you’ve stated your needs out loud to the person in question. (I can do this bit. I’m graceless about it, halting and stumbling and sometimes needing to try a few different ways of saying it before I actually hit on The Thing that I actually need, but I can say that stuff out loud).
2) You have to leave if they say no.
Which is maybe over-stating things a little bit, but that’s what it boils down to. You can’t force someone to turn their “no” into a “yes”. That’s not on. Which means either (a) you change what you need so that you don’t need The Thing, (b) you accept that the price of admission for having a relationship (or whatever kind) with Person X is that The Thing is not going to happen, and you will need to get The Thing via some other avenue, or (c) you do not have a relationship – or at least you don’t have that kind of a relationship – with Person X.
And it feels like such an ultimatum. “Do what I want or I’m leaving you!”
Maybe it’s just because I have big ol’ fear-of-abandmonent Issues, so this tactic feels like the nuclear option from where I’m standing. Like: How could you threaten someone you care about with The Worst Thing In The World???
Or maybe it’s the bone-deep suspicion that if I actually pulled that on someone who was already not ponying up on the kind words, quality time, or caring actions fronts, they would be like “Fine. G’bye.” Either because they don’t have the energy to play That Game, or because they’d really rather just get rid of me and I’ve just presented them with a way to not be the Bad Guy while doing it.
Maybe it’s because I have a ridiculous degree of Scarcity Mentality going on when it comes to Love And Belonging, and some part of me really does believe that I have to take what I can get when someone I’m nuts about has – for some inexplicable reason – decided that they want to be with me at all. (Yeah, I know. 😛 I’m working on it).
Regardless, it seems like a Horrible Idea. The kind of thing that’s doomed to failure and regret and wondering how you could have been so stupid as to let them go or push them away.
And I need to stop feeling like that.
I keep thinking – wrongly, I know – that if I could just stop caring about people I care about then I could have relationships (well, no, not really) and they would never hurt. Or – maybe more accurately? Maybe not? – that, with enough practice, you just get used to functioning and getting things done through small but constant injuries, the way you do when you work in a kitchen or a workshop and just get used to burns and nicks on your hands and forearms.
How do you know when to quit? Even if you do know how.
My first queer relationship was one hurdle after the next and, yes, I was prepared to stick it out for years (that mythical five years, as it happens, though she broke up with me after a year-and-a-half), even though I was miserable more and more of the time and my girlfriend was unreliable and, frankly, mean to me quite frequently.
My second queer relationship? Reader, I married her. And we have had some BIG bumps in the time we’ve been together, but our relationship is also solid and still working.
My third queer relationship just (well, “just”) ended.
Do you know it’s time to quit because you’ve said “Hey, this Thing keeps happening. How can we deal with that?” and the answer has been “Let’s break up”, and you officially know that they can’t (or won’t, depending) do the Big Scary of fumbling and talking and trying again? And, if that’s the case, does that even count as you doing the quitting?
Do you know it’s time to quit because you’ve said “I need The Thing” in half a dozen different ways, and the answering actions have been consistently Not The Thing?
I think maybe you (I?) know it’s time to quit when you are consistently more unhappy in that relationship than you are happy in it… I just don’t know what the time-line is for that. How long do you let something run to see if it gets better, if the Crisis Machine of someone else’s life will let up enough that she or he or they have the emotional energy to turn towards you and try to collaboratively fix The Thing, or if it’s just… time to pull back, pull away, even though it hurts.
 …And didn’t neccessarily know many of the underlying needs my wants were pointing to, or standing in for – which is kind of a key thing that I may revisit in a later, more generalized post.
 I have yet to make this work, in spite of trying it in every relationship I’ve ever had.
 Not always an option. If you need consistency and reliability from all of your partners, the fact that Partner Q is solid as a rock is not going to make it any easier if Partner X is a big flake who never calls when he says he will. If you need all your friends to be up on the latest episode of Jessica Jones, or Orange Is The New Black, or whatever, and I don’t want to get a netflix account just to hang out with you, then I’m sorry, but we’re not going to be friends. (I’m sure you’re awesome).
 Not always an option. Sometimes you have to grit your teeth and deal with the fact that your coworker participated in March For Life (I am so sorry) and you can’t just fire him for believing his uteris-enabled co-workers don’t have a right to bodily autonomy.
So, yesterday was Queering Power 2016.
It was, surprisingly, an easier day that QP usually is. Which isn’t to say it didn’t have its hard bits.
One of the workshops was on trauma-survival and kink and I was expecting that to be pretty hard. It… wasn’t. I mean, I had my knitting out and was basically listening with half an ear. I have to work at it to remember what people said in the small groups we broke into to talk about stuff. The main thing I remember about it was (a) getting colder and colder and colder during the workshop itself, and (b) This:
Apparently there’s a thing called “hyperarrousal”, which is a thing that happens (or can happen) when you’re Triggered. Hyperarrousal isn’t the same as “hypervigilance”, and it includes a whole bunch of things like a distorted sense of the passage of time, anxiety, irritability, & fatigue (among lots of others). It’s been described as a “chronic state of fight/flight/freeze”. (Particularly interesting to me is that decreased body temperature is – apparently – associated with PTSD. I’m cold ALL THE TIME – like, up to and including shivering in a hot room, under blankets – when I’m freaking out about something).
The things you learn.
The first workshop I went to was a Facilitated Discussion (we *love* those faciliated discussions in this crowd) about chronic illness – physical stuff or mental health stuff or both – and dominance. I talked a little bit about how (a) I have physical pain that doesn’t go away + a brain that tells me horrible, bullshit stories (that are so easy to believe), but that (b) my Owned Property is dealing with the same stuff, but several orders of magnitude worse than I’ve got it. In that situation, how much of this relationship, where she’s “supposed” to be taking care of me is really going to be like that? And what does that mean?
And, when the link between anxiety and vulnerability came up (again and again and again),the words I put around it were (paraphrasing here):
I’m not supposed to want. And I’m not supposed to need. But, as someone’s owner, I am supposed to want. Actively and openly. So what do I do here? The story I tell myself is that how this is Supposed To Go is that I pretend to want/demand only those things that my Person already wants to give/provide. So when I have something I actually want, something that doesn’t fit the script I’m (secretly) assuming my Person is (secretly) following… It’s terrifying. Asking means admitting that I can’t just do it on my own. Because if I could thrive without X, or could provide X to myself without anyone’s help, I would already be doing it. Asking feels like danger. Like “this is me, putting my chips down, and asking”. And I feel so fucking powerless.
Which was hard, but good, to say out loud.
By the end of that workshop, I was having my usual reaction to having let myself be “seen”, which is equal parts “I need a hug”, “I need a good cry”, and “I need to remove myself from mixed company before I hit somebody non-consensually”. I don’t know if that’s a vulnerability hangover, or what, but there it is.
But the part of the day that was the hardest for me was the opening plenary.
The current Ms Leather Toronto, who ran the plenery, included an exercise that was done by a couple of volunteers… They could have been me and Ghost, but they weren’t. In spite of Ghost nudging me in the shoulder and trying to convince me to give it a go.
I didn’t want to.
The exercise was that the members of a given D/s dyad would take turns saying:
“I see the beauty of your [dominance/submission] in your [action/characteristic/etc]” + asking if the other person could accept that their beauty was seen and acknowledged. (Each person does this five times, and then they switch).
I did not want to do this. Not with an audience, and not with my wife. Not right then.
I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to come up with five things, off the top of my head, and that my inability to do so would reflect badly on me (because I’m clearly not focusing on the good things that my Person brings to our dynamic) and also on her (because what does it MEAN if your owner can’t praise you for specifics??)
I was afraid that, if I could come up with five things in-which I could see Ghost beauty as a submissive, that I would pick the wrong things. That I would spot her beauuty in the ways that I spot it, but that I would totally miss some aspect of her submission that is super-central to her identity and that she needs to have recognized and valued. I was afraid that I would screw it up and/or let her down like that.
And I was afraid of – and overtly hostile towards – having to hear Good Things about myself. The point was that I would have been supposed to accept those things, those “I see your beauty as a dominant in [XYZ]” and… I wasn’t sure that I could. In fact, right at that moment, I was absolutely certain that I couldn’t. That I’d have reacted (or at least wanted to react) with a snarling “Stay away from me!” if someone had tried to show me that much praise.
I’m not sure what my shame was, right then, but letting someone be gentle with you, letting yourself absorb that kindness… it means taking off your armour. And I deeply, deeply didn’t want to be unguarded.
Someone once said to me that she found it hard to hear me tell her that she’s easy to love.
I think I understand a little bit better now what that was about.
 Which is very likely The Patriarchy talking in my head, but is also something that I have huge, vast, awful amounts of shame around. Wanting means I’m Too Demanding, Too Much, Too Pushy. Needing means I’m a burden. Asking, unless I’m considerably more than 90% sure the answer will be Yes, is basically putting social pressure on someone else to do what I want them to do which, in some cases, equates to assault inside my head.
 My much-neglected-of-late Cultivating Entitlement tag is all about my struggles with this.
 As if a 24/7 d/s personal relationship was supposed to play out like a paid, time-bound session with a pro-domme wherein all feminization is “forced”, and where one is “punished” with exactly the thing that will get one off. My brain is weird.
I have noticed something important: they often can give, but they can’t receive. They can reach beyond their walls, but their walls don’t let anything in.
I bought into the bullshit that my value was only worth what I could do for other people.
Take those words. Couple them with this passage from Cuntext’s Hurt People Hurt People:
Last relationship’s shit fucking this one up good, and most of the time, we don’t get to compost it and we don’t get to take that rich soil and grow something better next time.
…And you are going to get an idea of what this post is about.
Twenty-five years ago. Twenty-five fucking years ago, that’s a quarter of a century, people! Twenty-five years ago, my brother – in the way of elelven-year-olds looking to find out where their power lies – gave voice to my most deeply and dearly held fear, the metanarrative that has been shaping my life for waaaaaaaaaaaay too damn long.
They only like you ‘cause you give them stuff.
I believed him.
I believed it.
I still believe it.
And I have no idea how much having those words said out loud by someone other than me, as though it was obvious to everyone and not just some horrible suspicion I held, made it true – or truer – to my ears, my mind, my heart… But it’s something I’ve been dealing with ever since.
It’s more than a bit of a piss-off, I don’t mind telling you.
Because this stuff goes deep and it takes for fucking ever to get through.
Linear time is a coercive lie of the white colonial patriarchy and it is fucking all of us up. Growth happens in circles and so does healing. We come back to the same hurt over and over, we come back to the same patterns over and over, and this is not failure, just life.
I know that my jerkbrain tells me stories – you know the ones (maybe your jerkbrain tells you the same ones) about how the people who say they love you don’t really love you, how you’re unloveable, unwantable.
And my jerkbrain is reeeeeeeeeeeally good at spotting the signs that it’s right, finding the proof, noticing the patterns that back it up, but completely missing the ones that contradict those stories.
I’m getting better at catching it, but I’m a long way from “fixed”, and I fall down my own rabbit holes a lot. Like weekly. Sometimes I can pull myself out of it without letting it show, or without saying anything more than “Brain weasels. I’m dealing with it” and then just dealing with it… And sometimes I need a lot of help.
It occurred to me, today, that I’m thinking of my partners – on some level – as though they’re stray cats. They’ll come around as long as I keep feeding them, as long as I don’t try to get too close, too fast, or start expecting them to turn up.
They couldn’t possibly want me because there’s something good about me that they actually like. Oh, no.
So I think it is really important […] to acknowledge how hard it can be to receive. Because receiving a gift is risking closeness. […] Each time someone gives you the gift of any kindness—acknowledge the gift, breathe and take it in like a long drink of water. Drink it way, way into your roots like a tree that has lived through a drought. Because it has.
I keep a file of text messages from people who love me, saying kind things to me. I keep it so that I can read them when my heart hurts, when I can’t physically remember the last time someone said “I miss you” or “you’re beautiful”. I can open up that file and find examples with fucking date-stamps on them. They’re not wishful thinking. They’re right there.
Given that “feeling nervous and uncertain” is called “having cold feet”, I doubt that I’m particularly unusual in this, but:
I get super-phsyical reactions to emotional stuff.
Like: My feet are a barometer for my sense of security. If I can feel it, know it in my bones, that I’m safe, loved, wanted, that I have Enough… I am warm-warm-warm, pumping heat out from the core of me, right down to the tips of my usually clammy toes.
When I feel the opposite, though, when I feel afraid, like I’m on perpetual probation, like if I put a foot wrong I’ll be abandoned, swiftly and unceremoniously dumped – whether that’s literal (getting kicked out of my home, getting fired, having one or both of my partners end their relationships with me) or something closer to getting ghosted, reaching for support and finding out that I had fair-weather friends only – my feet, and often my legs up to almost my knees, turn to ice. I’ve given myself frostbite (once) while in a heated building. Yes, there were extenuating circumstances (I have some nerve compression in my back that effects my toes, and the day this happened, it was -51C outside my ground-floor apartment… even if the thermostat said 22C indoors, it didn’t change the fact that my floating floor had been installed over a parking lot without much in between the two), but still. Frostbite?? That was weird, folks. O.O
Unsurprisingly, I’m far more used to feeling cold, but in the past… 8-12 months, let’s say, I’ve started really paying attention to it, and noticing how my temperature relates to how I’m feeling. Being warm and being loved, being wanted, safe, secure, and cared for… those are all the same feeling in my body. (Seriously. All that “Fear freezes, Love thaws” stuff from Frozen? Bang. On).
I’m trying to sort out how the connection works. Like, if I’m feeling horrible, if my brain weasels are screaming and they won’t shut up, will making myself hot, good food and wrapping myself in a blanket help? (You’d think but… beyond adressing the basic “Everything Is Awful and I’m Not Okay” stuff? It doesn’t actually do anything. Hm). Can I figure out a way to push heat frommy core into my feet and toes and, if I can do this, is there a corresponding possitive change in how I’m doing emotionally?
Part of what has me thinking about this is the recent piece over at Cuntext, where the author writes:
We do not exist without our bodies, we do not exist without our bodies, we do not exist without our bodies. Mind and spirit and body are all parts of each other; body and spirit and mind are the same; same space, same person. Even after all the self-love work in the world, all the cum and sweat and mirror-work, the good loving friendships, and only following aesthetic blogs that feature fat babes, femme babes, dark-skinned babes, disabled babes, trans babes, and learning that not wanting touch or sex or romance is okay, even after all that self-love work, there is still so much in this world that tells us our desire is wrong and so are our bodies.
And so we are crazy. Many of us.
And also partially because, honestly, I’m tired of sitting on this nail and, frankly, I spent this morning PMSing like fuck and, consequently, dealing with the same damn Brain Weasels that have plagued me for 20+ years. And I’m really fucking tired of it. That and I don’t want my fears to fuck up my relationships (again) (any more).
I’m tired of “having cold feet”.
My wife got me a copy of Girl Sex 101 the other day, and I’ve been devouring it,trying to figure out (at 36) (with two partners) how to fucking flirt without either (a) actually getting pushy or being too demanding or putting pressure on my partners to do stuff if they don’t wanna, OR (b) feeling like that’s what I’m doing. (Femme problems…)
I spent the afternoon giving myself a tarot reading on the question of “What Do I Need” while, at the same time, reaching out for emotional support to a partner who hasn’t seen much of my insecure side (though I would guess she’s seen more of it than I tell myself I’ve shown her, so…) and spending a shockingly agonizing hour Just Breathing through the waves of fear that she might have ghosted on me when I asked for emotional support.
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha has a poem, that is more like an essay, that is a chapter/piece in her memoire Dirty River: “The Opening”. But what if there is nothing more precious than a femme with her legs open?
I am tired of expecting the kick or the curse when (if) I open my legs/hand/heart/arms and ask for something. I’m tired of expecting that, and I’m also tired of projecting that (presumed) impending, casual cruelty onto people who aren’t actually going to hurt me.
I gotta tell you, it is a weird fucking feeling to be holding, in one hand, the faaaaaaaaaairly confident certainty that you already know the (affirmative) answer to “Do you still love me” and, holding in the other hand, the really, really deep need to hear her say so out loud, while, down between your frozen feet, are the twin fears of “What if I’m wrong? What if she doesn’t answer me at all?” and “What if, by asking that question at all, you are just being emotionally manipulative? What if you drive her away because you’re too much like her mother/asking too much by asking at all/being passive-agressive, and it triggers the shit out of her?”
I mean, how messed up is that?
And yet? Me.
But I asked for what I needed.
And I got it.
I got it.
My feet aren’t exactly toasty right now. But I’m doing a lot better than I was.
 Yeah, I read Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking, the other day. that phrase is basically shorthand for “You are going to keep repeating your patterns and making the same mistake until you are actually sick and tired of it and decide to take some steps to change how you deal with stuff.
 My period’s never been massively regular (except for about a year or two in my very early 20s), but when I get super klutzy/uncoordinated (more than usual) and have a LOT of difficulty getting on top of the shame-rage-grief-fear spiral that lives in my head? It’s a good indicator that I’m about to start bleeding.
 And also this (relevant…):
Linear time is a coercive lie of the white colonial patriarchy and it is fucking all of us up. Growth happens in circles and so does healing. We come back to the same hurt over and over, we come back to the same patterns over and over, and this is not failure, just life.
 She hadn’t. And I knew the answer already, anyway. But sometimes I need to her it out loud, just to confirm that I’m not just kidding myself, and given where my head was at, it was not an easy hour.
So, about four months ago, maybe five, my wife formally came out as sex-positive asexual. The way she describes this is “It’s like… I love food, it tastes great, eating is wonderful, sharing a meal is fantastic… But I never get hungry”. Basically, any time she’s inclined to pursue sexual interaction with someone, it’s because she’s made an intellectual/emotional decision of “Oh, hey, don’t mind if I do,” rather than because her body is sending her physical cues that translate in her unconscious brain as “Maybe this would be a good idea now”.
It’s a good analogy. One that I’m planning on stretching all out of shape over the course of the coming post.
Yeah. In the going-on-six years that I’ve been with the woman who is now my wife? I’ve generally been the “good partner”, meaning that I’ve tended to be the one who didn’t need constant reassurance, or late-night crisis counseling, or otherwise demand that she be On Call for emotional and psychological support 24/7. For good or for ill (oh, for ill…), I’ve put a lot of store in my “status” as The Good Girlfriend, the one who was NEVER Too Demanding, or High Maintenance, or Neurotic, or whatever. The one who could, more or less, process her own crap most of the time.
And, right now, that is emphatically not the case.
Blogging, as they say, is cheaper than therapy. I did a tarot reading, almost a month ago, that basically said “Honey, get out of your own way”. So I’m going to blog about this, and talk a little bit about where my head is at, and how I’m getting in my own way.
So. If my lovely wife describes herself as “never getting hungry”, I’ve personally felt like I’ve spent the last couple of years, well, starving. Hungry to the point that I’ve forgotten what “normal hunger” feels like and don’t even notice it until I’m shaking and having trouble staying upright.
Recently, I’ve come to learn that:
A) What I thought were pleas for food (“food”) so loud and obvious and desperate that they were laughably pathetic in their naked neediness, were actually so subtle – or so easy to lose in the generalized “all smoulder all the time” signal that I’m apparently constantly putting out (really?) – that my non-Ace partner couldn’t spot them either.
B) All the things that made it difficult for my wife to cook (“cook”) with me? Those are still factors. She still has constant joint pain. I still have constant back problems. Our respective ideal sleep schedules don’t overlaps as much as we’d like. She still has as many partners as fingers and we all have a claim to some of her time, energy and attention. That hasn’t changed (much), it’s just that now I know there was a root cause underneath all of those factors that played a larger role than I ever knew.
C) I’ve buried my need to eat under so much shame and guilt (“I shouldn’t be this hungry, she’s not hungry, what’s wrong with me?”, “Stop pestering her for food, she obviously doesn’t want to cook, just wait ‘til she’s at work so you can eat crackers without her having to see you doing it”) that I seem to have developed some kind of an eating disorder where being offered food, sure, fills me with longing… but it also fills me with aversion and the distinct impression that I probably won’t be able to digest that, no matter how much I want to eat it.
…Which, I think, probably stretches the “hungry” metaphor to the breaking point. Moving on.
When my wife got shop space outside of the house and was able to Quit Her Day Job (more or less) and work for herself full-time, I had high hopes that my over-worked, exhausted beloved would suddenly have the extra time and extra energy to come back to me and be my sexual partner again.
And she did.
Maybe not in the way I was expecting. I wasn’t particularly expecting a “Honey! I know what’s up with me! I never wanted you sexually in the first place! But also I still love you and do want a sexual relationship with you, even though I’m not wired to feel sexual desire!” (I’m paraphrasing, although not by much).
Cue a solid MONTH of trying to find a way of talking about this that didn’t send me into a complete tail spin. (This is where the “never feel hungry, but enjoy food” analogy came from).
What I’m saying is that she did come back to me, sexually. She started making advances. She started flirting with me a lot more. She was trying, and still is.
But I was running smack into a wall of rage and resentment that I hadn’t even known was there. Telling myself that she didn’t really want me, couldn’t really want me, so why was she faking it for my benefit? Telling myself that, if she’s faking it for my benefit, and I’m faking it for her benefit (so she feels like a good partner, so she’s not wasting her efforts), why the fuck are we even bothering? Why can’t we just fall asleep in each other’s arms like we’ve been doing for years? Why can’t I be left with my loneliness and sadness which, while they suck, are at least things I know how to fucking deal with??
Note For Readers: I do not actually want to be left with my loneliness and sadness. They suck, and they are not improving with time.
It’s easy to get angry. It’s SO easy to think things like “Why do you even care? It’s not like it’s any skin off your back if we NEVER FUCK AGAIN!” So easy to think “Oh, sure, after years of NOTHING, years of broadening my definition of “sex” to the point that I could claim “two minutes of making out, in a four-month period” as a reason to believe we were still sexually involved, NOW you expect me to turn on a dime, rebuild all of the desire that I fucking squashed out of existence, and act like none of it ever happened?”
Maybe she was expecting a dam to burst, too.
I know I was.
She says she misses me.
I know I miss her, too.
My Feeeeeeeeeeeelings situation is affecting our relationship – because the last thing someone who’s devoting most of their spoons to pain management wants is to have to play counselor to someone else at the same time, but also because the amount of ruminating I’m doing means that I’m distracted and miserable half the time we’re in the same room – and it’s affecting my relationship with my out-of-town partner, too (because she can’t, by her own admission, be the only “place” where my sexual needs get met. That’s way too much pressure to put on someone who only sees you for two days in a given month).
Every message I’m getting (like “message from the universe”, ‘cause I’m Woo like that, but also straight up “message via actual words out of someone’s mouth”) is all Baby, Just Say Yes! and I’m still balking like woah. My wife says “Be selfish, it’s okay.” She and my girlfriend have both noticed that kissing me tends to drag on and on and not get any farther than that and… I sort of know what that’s about. But that doesn’t tell me how to move forward. How to move myself forward.
For whatever reason, I’ve convinced myself that I’m always going to want my partners more than they want me, and I’ve been watching for “back off” and “that’s enough” cues to the exclusion of the ones that say “come closer” and “I want more”. Thing is, I’m doing that around myself, too, and I’m learning that the way I talk myself back into my body isn’t helping, because it involves a lot of “calm the fuck down”, a lot of clamping down on whatever I’m feeling and quashing the good stuff as well as the stuff I don’t want to be feeling. (Like that thing that Brené Brown says about how you can’t just numb the “bad stuff”, you numb out everything).
My wife says “Why not come to sex with goals of what you want to get out of it?”
And, big surprise, I’m drawing a HUGE blank on that one. The only “goal” I ever learned, around sex, was “everybody (in theory) gets an orgasm” and that’s… not actually reasonable under the circumstances. So, to take a page from Captain Awkward (I read a lot of Captain Awkward), let’s see what kind of goals I can set wherein the accomplishing of those goals is something I can actually control:
A) Suggest one thing that I would like to try – “Could you touch me like [xyz]”, “Can I do [xyz] by [abc]?” “Put your hand [here]?”
B) Use my words to express a particular need – “I need to stay warm while we do this”, “I would like you to do the thing that you mentioned wanting to do, but I need you to do it specifically like [lmnop]”
C) Try a thing that you suspect might feel good, regardless of what your brain weasels are telling you. (It’s okay to stop if it’s not as fun as you thought it would be).
These are things I can try. These are goals I can accomplish. Even though it’s scary as fuck. Even though the starving part of me is insisting “You can put up with things not being exactly what you want, if it means getting something into your system”, even though the entitled, angry part of me is demanding “Why do I still have to do the hard things??” These are still things that I can try to do, can make a point of doing.
Wish me luck.
 She says she sometimes wishes she’d never told me, because I’ve got such a hang-up about it. I’ll get to that bit in a minute, though.
 Which is, in fact, the opposite of what she was saying in both word and deed, but conveniently (“conveniently”) was exactly what my Jerk Brain has been telling me for the past 25+ years. Funny thing, that.
So here’s the thing. Occasionally (perhaps more than occasionally) I find myself in a situation where, because I care about someone, I want to do things that make their lives easier but which – because I also sort of a hate myself and can’t imagine why anyone would want to just hang out with me, or value my existence, just because – also conveniently makes me at least slightly indispensable to said person.
This isn’t the most healthy reason to do something helpful BUT it’s just Doing Something Helpful… up until it gets combined with simultaneously trying to be as needs-free and low-maintenance as possible so that you don’t drive the Cared-About Person away due to one having had the unmitigated gaul to, say, want to be valued intrinsically as a human being (a thing which, clearly, one does not deserve, see above).
And that’s where things get lopsided and gross.
Because if you (meaning I) set up a dynamic wherein I am always the helpER and someone else is always the helpEE, then it not only sets up an unhealthy dynamic that actually will (probably) make any decent human being run screaming in the other direction – because, frankly, it sucks to be viewed as incapable of doing things on your own and that’s kind of what happens when you set up a dynamic where someone can’t ever reciprocate your help – BUT it also does the following:
If you are like me, and you tend to minimize your wants/needs/whatever because you think nobody will want you if you maybe want to be taken care of on some level like any other human being (how dare you), while simultaneously trying to make yourself as helpful as possible because it’s awfully hard for you to believe, as Bear puts it, “the idea that [you are] worth keeping around even if [you are] not actively making [yourself] useful all the time”…
You may also set yourself up to become deeply suspicious of your Person’s reasons for getting in touch with you because, if the way you show you love someone is to take care of them, well… the way that they show that they love you may potentially be by needing you: By letting you feel needed.
I.E.: You, in your self-loathing, believing that nobody could possibly want to hang out with you, or value your existence, just because, may start to suspect that your Person will only ever contact you when they Want Something.
Cue deep-seated resentment combined with all the proof your brain weasels will ever need to bolster that idea that you aren’t worth keeping around if you aren’t actively making yourself useful all the time.
For whatever reasons, I’m one of Those People who doesn’t think she’s worth keeping around if she’s not earning her keep, or justifying her existence, or whatever by Contributing (and asking as little as possible in the bargain). It’s one of the many strands in the awful Gordian Knot that is my messed up sexuality, and – in spite of having a streak of entitlement that’s probably a mile wide (otherwise, why get resentful when people don’t just intuitively give me time, energy, and attention, right?) – it’s a big part of why the only relationship that hasn’t fallen apart, one way or another, in connection with this particular bad habit, has been a power dynamic that put me on Top and gave me leave to Actually Be Demanding (cue: worrying that if I’m not Demanding Enough, I won’t be fulfilling my Person’s neeeeeeeeeeeeeeds and she’ll walk… I’ve mostly got that out of my system at this point, but it’s taken more than five years to do it, so…)
And here I am, with a shiny new partner, rather in love, and hoping against hope that I won’t somehow screw this one up… watching myself repeat this crap.
I’m kind of at a loss about what to do about it. I mean, in some ways, it’s just what you do about All The Things that brain weasels (mine at least) like to latch onto.
In the same way that I have to remember to give my People opportunities to reach out to me, in order to avoid creating a weird Chase Dynamic, I also need to give my People opportunities to be nice to me, to want me just for being me, to help me or give of themselves to me… Which means being vulnerable.
‘Cause that’s the thing, right?
There’s power in being the one who doesn’t need… at least when you actually don’t need anything. When you do, and you’re just pretending to be a Magical Fairy of Self-Fulfillment Who is Beholden to Nobody… that’s a different story. A really self-defeating one.
And, I mean, maybe it’s totally easy to Be Vulnerable when you’re fairly confident that your request is reasonable and your Person will probably be okay with it.
But when you’re fairly confident that you’re worthless and a massive waste of energy even when you’ve turned yourself into the most accommodating, wish-granting automaton who never asks for anything and anticipates the other person’s wants so well that you give them what they want before they even have the chance to articulate it… then chances are you’re also fairly confident that any kind of “could you” or “I’d like it if” or “would you mind” or whatever is going to be met not only with a big heap of Fuck No You Greedy Bitch, but also a side-order of shaming and punishment for having asked in the first place.
There’s a thing that comes up in Poly Discussions (among other discussions) which is: Give your partners the benefit of the doubt. Assume that everyone is coming to the table with an open heart and good intentions. That nobody is going to be acting out of actual malice or malignant self-interest.
I need to remember that.
I need to remember that it’s actually pretty unlikely that someone who cares about me (and says so, and acts so), is going to say something sweet to me purely and entirely so that I’ll be predisposed to help them with A Thing shortly there-after.
I need to remember that it’s actually pretty unlikely that someone who cares about me (and says so, and acts so), is going to straight up ask me to have, and name, needs and wants and desires… only to yank some proverbial rug out from underneath me if I actually do.
I need to remember that it’s actually pretty unlikely that someone who cares about me (and says so, and acts so), is only pretending to be my
friend sweetheart and, instead, is hanging out with dating me so that they can get together later with other people (who are clearly doing exactly the same thing) and laugh about How I Am Such A Loser, Ha Ha Ha.
Yeah. So there’s that.
And, yeah, recognizing that I’m doing That Thing is a lot easier than figuring out how to stop doing That Thing, but recognizing it is still important.
 And, yes, I’m aware that this isn’t always the case. Getting through relationships where that’s not how things go has left a whole lot of us, self included, fighting this stupid, up-hill battle against the red flags of “But sometimes they are lying, and we didn’t get out fast enough…” I know. Been there. Burned the t-shirt when I got out.
 I am not, after all, starring in Book Of Job: The Musical (although if I were… imagine the tunes in that beasty…).
 Did anyone else believe this when they were in high school? Just me? Okay.
So, from time to time, I post links to stuff written for the business-suit set because I find that they can be helpful for dominant folks in full-time power-exchanges.
With that in mind, here are two such articles. Some of you may find them handy. Some of you may find them kind of old hat. Either way, here we go:
10 Rules for Successful Delegation
Giving Constructive Criticism
There you go. I hope they’re useful to at least some of you.
So. Queering Power 2014 happened
last weekend almost a month ago, and Ghost, Kitty, and I were asked to facilitate a discussion about overlapping power exchanges in full-time and ownership dynamics. Here’s the description:
Long term, full-time Power Exchange is never simple, but it becomes exponentially more complicated when you add polyamoury to the mix. How do you hold someone firmly while allowing them enough leash to hold power in another person’s life? What authority does someone have over you when they are your owner’s owner? How do you balance the requirements of submission and dominance at the same time? In what sense is someone your subordinate, and in what sense are they your equal, when they’re in service to your servant… but not to you? Open and overlapping full-time power exchanges stretch far beyond occasional extra-dynamic playdates or the running of a staff of submissives by a single dominant. Regardless of whether you’re in charge, in service, or in the middle, please join us for a discussion of the difficulties and delights of overlapping 24/7 power dynamics.
Basically this was very much like the Poly and Power salons that I host chez moi periodically, but a bit more specific in focus, both in terms of topic and in terms of how heavily it was facilitated.
Usually, with Poly and Power, the discussion just kind of ambles where it will, and I keep a couple of question-prompts in my back pocket in case things lag or get tangled in the weeds. In this case, we came prepared with a series of open-ended questions meant to get people thinking and talking.
Now, granted, the folks who turn up for Queering Power are basically a bunch of nerdy keeners in fetish gear. (Uh… I’ll be in my bunk)… Where was I? Right. They’re basically a facilitator’s dream group: They talk, they listen, and they build on what others in the group are saying. Basically, my job as facilitator was really easy. 😉
One of the participants – possibly because he’s a school teacher, but also possibly because he may have been instructed to do so by his Person – took notes. Posssibly I should have done this, too, since it’s now almost a month after the fact, and I’m trying to remember what everybody said.
The main gyst of what came up, though, could – I think – be boiled down to some fairly basic Poly Principals, possibly with a D/s twist on them:
(A) Remember your Place. This is an important one, and I don’t mean it in the sense of “bottom of the ladder” hierarchies where the person who owns someone else’s owner gets to poly-veto All The Things and the person who is owned by the ownee just has to suck it up and take the crumbs. I mean it in the sense of things like… Remembering that I am Ghost’s boss, but not Kitty’s boss (therefore, just as I don’t get to boss Kitty around, I also have to remember that her Personal Growth is not my Personal Project). OR Remembering that, just because your Dominant is someone else’s Submissive doesn’t mean that you have to, or get to, serve (or answer to) two Keepers. OR Remembering that being In The Middle sometimes requires a lot of triage, but that everything still needs to Get Done.
This feeds directly into (B) Use your words. But also use your ears. I’ve got a friend who, at his day-job, recently acquired some Minions. And, as he is familiar with KinkyLand, we’ve had a couple of conversations about management and about the responsibilities that one has to the people over-which one holds power. One of the major ones – and one that I fall down on a lot is making sure that your People have enough direction to keep them busy, but also to keep them interested and engaged and developing. It’s the counter-balance to all those job-descriptions that require you to be a self-starter or good at working independently, rather than being the kind of person who either needs someone standing over their shoulder going “Have you finished that project yet? How ’bout now?” in order to actually get anything finished, or else who can finished Assigned Task X just fine, but won’t independently go looking for Task Y on their own.
This is Polyamoury’s “Communicate, Communicate, Communicate” blended with the multi-tasking long game of the Master, the attentive, multi-layered listening of the Servant.
S-types need to listen for instructions, sure, and not just the kind that are phrased as a formal request/expectation (see: Self-starting), but they also need to be careful not to volunteer, unasked, on tasks that they know they’ll resent doing, but feel like they “should” do without having been asked for them. On a similar note, presuming to clean the leather of your master’s master might wind you up with a sharp talking-to along the lines of “That is not your privilege!” rather than a “Thanks for taking that task off my hands” from your boss.
D-types need to offer instructions, sure, but we need to determine those instructions based on both our goals (for ourselves, our dynamics, our People, and our to-do-lists) and on the needs, spoken or unspoken, of our People. I can want to instruct my Servant to whip me up a new pair of leather sandals this evening, but that doesn’t mean I get to ignore things like (a) paid cobblery work that needs to get done, (b) pain flare-ups, and (c) social/emotional responsibilities to her own servant and any other partners who are in the mix. Sometimes Using Your Words is going to feel less like Issuing Decrees and more like parenting an easily-distracted kindergartener, but you (in theory) figure out how to make it work.
People in the Middle need to be aware of what they can/should deligate to their own servant(s) – and how frequently they can do that before said s-type(s) start feeling like they’re primarily serving a master-not-their-own – versus what needs to be done by them-specifically in order to continue providing the service (the relationship) they offered to their d-type. A big balancing act, to be sure.
No matter what position(s) we play in a given overlap, we all need to remember to talk about it when we’re swamped with Fill-In-The-Blank and need some help or some slack on This or That responsibility/task.
This, in turn, feeds into (C) Be generous with your heart. This means… assume the best of the people in your constelationships. Nobody’s in competition. Nobody is trying to gain control of All The Time, Energy and Attention (even if your Jerk Brain is saying that they are). Sometimes creative solutions (like sleeping three to a bed once a week so that the ownee’s ownee can make everybody coffee in the morning) will be necessary to keep things running smoothly for everyone involved. Something unexpected relationship twists (an owner’s owner becoming – formally or informally – a mentor/teacher to their ownee’s property; a switch in which member of a given diad is Holding the Power) will happen, and the ripples from those changes will also need to be navigated by everyone else involved in the overlaps.
So there you have it.
Some thoughts on “D/s Cubed” and what I learned while discussing the specifics of overlapping 24/7 and O/p power dynamics at Queering Power 2014.
 …Ish. I use the analogy of “auntie/neice” to describe the kind of authority (or “authority) I have where Kitty is concerned. I’m only Tthe Boss Of Her when GHost (her “mom” in this analogy) is out of the house.
 Even when you don’t have a Mommie/girl relationship there are still going to be days where you have to say “Okay, no more TV, it’s time to Tidy Up” or “I thought I told you to Clean Your Room” or whatever.
 Just me? Okay.
I think a lot of us are the kind of people who either (a) were always that one member of the group-work team in high school who actually bothered to do the project, and/or (b) are creative/knowledge-hungry types who tend to self-start on things that we’re passionate about or fascinated with.
It wouldn’t shock me a whole lot to find out that some of you folks who are reading this are the kind of people who really do believe that you can get something done faster and “the right way” (that being my way, of course) if you just do it yourself.
I’ve talked before about Service-Oriented Dominants, and I’m going to talk a little bit about a related topic.
I don’t “do” punishment.
To me, it feels like I’m rewarding bad behaviour with undeserved attention, whether that’s using my Very Disappointed Voice – a tone of voice that feels anything but sexy, but that I’ve learned is a bit of a turn-on… and thus backfires completely when I employ it – or doing something corporal that I’d really rather keep as something that’s enjoyable for both of us.
Likewise, having the give someone a punishment like writing lines where I then have to stand over their shoulder to make sure that they actually do it? Why am I wasting my time and energy on this?
Having the wheedle and badger and, let’s just drag that loaded, gendered term right out into the open, nag a servant to get shit done or behave appropriately… it feels incredibly demoralizing and disempowering.
So if I want to avoid using a “punishment model” (or a “carrot and stick” model where you punish for fuck-ups and it requires fucking bribery to get something done right), what can I do instead?
That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?
I’ve started reading “management” literature. Tips for small-scale entrepreneurs who have a couple of employees working for them, stuff about how to manage effectively, keep lines of communication open, work towards solutions for existing problems while avoiding The Swamp Of Shame and similar pitfalls.
Much as I’m embarrassed to admit it to The Entire Internet, I am a really terrible manager.
I put off bringing up Problems because I know what their sources are – meaning that if I know my managee is overwhelmed in X part of their life, or has emotional issues around Y situation, I’m more likely to cut them some slack when Task Q isn’t getting done to the standards, or with the frequency, that I would prefer – and this means that I wind up with these, just, laundry lists of “Things That Need Improvement” and no clue how to adress them effectively, efficiently, and in a successful fashion.
So I’ve started poking at the idea of seasonal performance reviews.
I know. I kind of loathe the whole idea, if only because “performance review” tends to translate in my head into “job security roulette” or “let’s find out who’s getting fired today”. And yet, I think if I made it just part of the routine, then I could use it as a way to wipe the slate clean a few times a year and, in another way, also track my Person’s progress through the year.
Of course, I’m not managing a business in this context – I’m managing a household. This may require some tweaking of traditional techniques. However, that doesn’t mean those techniques aren’t easy to addapt or incorporate into what I want to do.
For example, this handy list of tips for building and managing a team has a few things I’d like to work into my own house.
I particularly like Suggestion #5, which is Set a quarterly theme and vision.
A theme and vision might be as simple as “establish routines, train as necessary; goal: well-oiled machine” early on in a dynamic, so that the accomplishment of that goal then serves as a foundation for further themes like “increase luxury skills and incorporate into routine” or “find therapist, work on anxiety issues”.
Likewise, the “Recognition” section of this article suggests the (well-known) formula of (1) Highlight something good. (2) Point out what needs improving, and (3) Suggest how to improve. So one might opt for something like: “You’re really putting those cooking lessons to good use. Dinner has been amazing these past two weeks. Well done. I do want to turn your attention to the situation with the left-overs in the fridge. We’ll need to eat those up over the course of the next week. After that, if you can work to cut your recipe quantities in half, that will allow us to enjoy your new sills without having a left-overs pile-up in the fridge every week.”
…Or something. I don’t know.
Similarly, the suggestion to phrase/identify problems in ways that are measurable: Not “Jolene is lazy” but “Jolene typically lets her outerwear pile up in the front hallway rather than hanging them back up in the closet”; not “Frank is disorganized” but “Frank routinely misplaces important documents that need to be filled out and sent off by specific deadlines”. Addressing measurable specifics rather than generalities makes it much easier for Jolene or Frank to suggest solutions without (hopefully) feeling overwhelmed or beaten down by the magnitude and, well, vagueness of the stated problem.
Management Tips for Creative Folks offers a variety of management styles (I tend to fluctuate between “tell” and “involve”, and this may be causing confusion or something on the home front), suggests that successes or emplyee effectiveness be measured by achievement (what they are getting done) and not activity (how they spent their time). It also stresses the importance of measurable goals, targets, and stretch-challenges for employees. Their time-division chart is also handy to keep in mind:
I may have to go and borrow myself a copy of The One Minute Manager, as it might be a handy thing to read.