I encountered a really tough problem recently on reddit:
My sub’s ingratitude is destroying our relationship. I took him under my wing. When I met him, he was another college drop-out with no body to speak of. Thanks to my guidance, he now has a good job, goes to gym regularly and looks his best.
Now life’s going well, suddenly I’m too controlling? He wants to challenge my rules? Rules we both agreed on BTW.
He was always shy about his fantasies. I kept at him until he opened up. He didn’t know how to apply them. As usual, I took over. I taught him how to service me. I tied him up and played with him until he was a quivering pile of ecstasy. I taught him all about the prostate and gave him the best orgasms possible. And he loved every minute.
So how does he repay me? He starts safe-wording nearly every time we play. He suddenly wants to renegotiate scenes. He says he doesn’t like some of the stuff we do. He says used to go along with it because he was scared of disappointing me. That’s crap. He loved it – he wouldn’t get off if he didn’t.
Why is he testing me like this? And how do I remind this boy exactly which of us is in charge?
Ouch, that’s one sad femdom! This one resonated with me, because it’s close to a bunch of problems I had to tackle. I don’t think the problem is precisely ingratitude, but nevertheless, it’s a nasty situation to find yourself in as a dom.
Reddit mostly attacked her attitude as not taking her sub’s limits seriously enough, but it’s really hard to deal with someone whose kink limits evolve within a relationship or someone who is not consistently on board with what you want. It’s also very frustrating as a dominant, to have the urge for control stifled by someone being more interested in their fetishes and the parameters they want them expressed under, than in supporting your sense of control, while trying to balance that with your own need to meet and respect whatever limits a person asks for.
And it can be hard when you a have an expectation to push through and reach someone and do the hard work of making judgement calls for both of you, and then sometimes they need you to do that and sometimes they don’t. However…
You can’t use investment in someone as a reason why they have to listen to you, which is a first place where the dom in question has gone wrong. You also can’t trust people who rely on someone else shoving them in the right direction to be 100% honest about their needs or to be good at communicating their comfort levels. It sort of goes with the territory of excessive passivity.
Unfortunately a lot of subs in new relationships think that they have to do absolutely everything, even stuff that seriously damages them, to be truly submissive. This is a particular problem a lot of male subs have, because of their perception of femdom scarcity.
Case in point, when I started seeing Wildcard, one of the things he was ready to do was try to become a super masochist/no limits sub at the expense of his own happiness. It would have been very easy for me to go along with this, and chances are, just having me would make it seem like he was enjoying things. He certainly sold his willingness, treating it like a challenge he was just going to figure out. However, as a good dom, or even as a good partner, I have to pay attention to what he wants and what he can handle- Wildcard isn’t a wuss, but he wouldn’t be happy being beaten to a pulp in elaborate pain games on a regular basis.
And even when someone does get off on something, you still have to watch out for not being 100% on board with things. In another personal example, my Ex really did seem to enjoy more than he wanted to consent to of his own accord- but you know what? That lack of ability to consent without motivation was a good reason to never, ever do it. My Ex might have loved all sorts of degrading things- forced bi, being used and slapped around, but only the threat of a breakup (as in I would seriously convey the lack of kink was a deal breaker and he’d turn around and try to prove I was wrong that he wasn’t kinky in the way I was) or being sozzled would make him interested in initiating the more edgey things in his ange of acceptable. And for that reason, it was simply no-go. No free consent, no fun. That’s non-negotiable for the same reason safewords are sacrosanct.
And while some dynamics are founded on pushing through stuff for subby feelings, the challenge, as a dom, is that most of us want our sub to want it, at least on some level, and fear of losing us is not a good enough source of control. We manage that some of our fantasies would be otherwise crazy or monstrous by a strict focus on the fact that our subs and bottoms want it as badly as we do. To discover that something we had been led to understand was above board was being coerced is very deflating.
Now as far as gratitude…
I know Wildcard is often grateful to me. Many of my partners end up having ‘gratitude’ on their list of feelings about Pearl, probably a result of my caretaking shtick, and specifically seeking out relationships where I get to feel all useful. That does not, however mean that it’s going to work to be ‘bought’ with kink out of gratitude.
In the case of the sub who is trying to change the rules on their dom, it seems like someone who was love starved and desperate for a relationship decided to go along with the fetishes in question until they no longer had the same intense need.. Now, more stabilized, he’s backpedalling. That really, really hurts. I have a lot of sympathy- there’s few more shitty feelings as a dom than that sort of fundamental rejection.
But the problem is not that he has lost his way and will go back to being as he was before, the problem is that, given a safe nurturing environment, he’s blossoming into who he really is (or had the potential to be) and that was not as advertised when he started- possibly because he never had the space to become that person. I can predict (and I bet I’m really accurate) that the dom in question put a lot of emphasis on how she was there to look after her sub and quite likely this was one of the first times he felt loved and safe and understood. In return, our hapless dom made herself into his caretaker and got to feel powerful and responsible in return.
But, now that he’s feeling safe and secure, he’s started to assert himself and that’s breaking her power dynamic. I talked about the problems before, of dominants, particularly female ones, getting sucked into the darker side of caretaking, but I think it’s ground worth covering again.
Being someone’s caretaker is one of the ways that lets you pull rank, and indeed in a lot of power imbalances often emphasize how the people on top are simply looking out for the folks down below- I think it’s a basic human urge. But caretaking, while it can be an inherently pleasurable thing, is an unreliable source or foundation for D/s. To be precise either
A) The person you are looking after will never improve and manufacture a non-stop stream of drama that may eventually eclipse your needs, for example turning into codependency
B) The person will get better and take your power way.
Caretaking is part of my emotional satisfaction with Wildcard, but part of making it work in a sustained fashion is that at the end of the day he’s pretty darn self reliant- kind of like the adage about power exchange that a sub needs to have control of themselves before they can give it to someone else. And I still fuck this up sometimes and end up being the sniffly one getting hugs. (Reader beware, Miss Pearl speaks as a person doing stuff, not a professional relationship therapist)
I think our poor dom has poured a lot of her self worth into being the leader who can override a more fragile partner and steer him into the right path. I don’t think she wants a dynamic based on being actual equals or has done much thinking in that direction. On the other hand, the basic inequality the relationship has made one thing get completely ignored: her needs and wants for their own sake.
Caretaking works for a lot of people because it removes the powerless feeling of being “needy”. If you’re busy meeting someone else’s needs, you can feel completely and utterly in control without feeling remotely guilty about wanting power, and incidentally get various and sundry needs of your own met as long as they are justified as being for the good of the subject being looked after.
I wager, without much worry of being wrong, that the author of the comment put a lot of effort into making a safe space for her submissive. He probably spent the last little while being reassured up and down that she was here for him, that D/s was about loving your sub, and that she was going to stay with him no matter how awful he thought he was. What has essentially happened is that he took her on her word- given every reason to feel safe and secure, said person is now expressing themselves with the assumption that dominance means being catered to and that this is what their partner needs from them in response.
What I bet the poster did not tell her sub was that the particular ways that she taught him to do D/s lines bang on with her kinks, and she wasn’t interested in being his personal professional dom doing his kinks on demand. And where the sub said he initially consented to stuff out of fear of disappointing her- boy howdy was he bang on the money to what she is feeling now that he’s informed her these activities aren’t what he wanted at all.
A huge part of the problem going on is that the commentator thinks she made a deal with a kindred spirit (who wanted to do all those kinks) and has very hurt feelings to be told she’s a burden. It’s a double whammy- she’s lost the sense of power from being queen of the fun sexings (note also her emphasis on how she taught him to have better sex), and now she’s gone from being able to dole stuff out and not think about asking for what she wants, to suddenly having to negotiate, and wheedle and even deal with the fact that her sub has basically said they lied to her out of the insecurity of either losing her, or implied that she is irrational enough that her hurt feelings at not getting what she wanted are something he needed to protect himself from.
Unfortunately this is one of those scenarios where the dom with the problem is going to have to do some soul searching. She’s not here to service top, and unless the sub is functionally useless, she’s not going to be able to draw power indefinitely from the imbalance of looking after him. She needs to decide what she will and will not tolerate, but more than anything else she has to do the hard thing of deciding how much she cares about her own needs.
For me, to a certain point, I need to have my personal kinks addressed, and no amount of love can change that it’s my sexuality. I know I can be reasonable (eg not breaking up if they have an off week) and address and enjoy people’s tastes outside my core set of fetishes. But I’m a dominant sadomasochist, and those aspects of my sexuality are also key to feeling emotionally valued for me. And that includes needing to feel like my kinks are also something they like- as irrational as it is, someone doing it out of a sense of duty makes me feel like an icky rapist and my kinks like nasty chores.
So functionally, what the dom needs to address is that she did what she did for the good feelings of power, and that this is her need and not about him. That’s pretty important, as far as attempting to get what she wants- I can’t promise that she will have her partner find a compromise, but she has to accept and deal with the fact that she is allowed to be deeply disappointed with her partner, but also that the scenario she set up and negotiated her relationship in was temporary, before she can more forward.