The Darker Side Of Caretaking

After a conversation with a friend about the challenges that we face in relationships, I’m going to talk about something I’m not good at. Which is to say, letting go with other people in a way that gets my needs met.

At it’s best, my penchant for caretaking is a good thing that is inherently rewarding for me. I’m very commonly the tea-and-blankets lady. I genuinely like looking after people and it’s good for most people around me. 

A pretty big fetish dynamic that I like is hurt-comfort. I want to fuck the person up and then patch them up after. It’s a reason why I’ve never been able to do hateful D/s, since the aftercare is pretty important to me too and the nastiness is not the end point of where things are for me- my domliness extends into cuddling them and fussing, and so forth.

Of course I think that caretaking is a very common permutation of D/s. I also think it’s significantly more common in women, because of the gender training we get to do it as a duty, but also because being the ‘mother’ is a classic route to power in a world that penalizes other forms of self promotion. “For your own good!” is a great way to control people.

But it also feeds into a particular sort of self sacrificing martyr loop that can be inherently toxic. The script runs something like this:

You learn, pretty early on, that people need looking after. It could be physically, like if you attend to a person with a regular illness, or emotionally if you have a family member who is less than sane. It could be related to self denial in the face of poverty. For various reasons you get very good at rising to the occasion, putting other people’s needs first, being extremely accommodating, etc… The environment heavily rewards this, both by having the hysterical/hurt/helpless people around you being less splah but also a measure of control and power- that allows you to learn that you can push people’s buttons in a non-guilt inducing way, and they may even praise you too and want to be with you more when you’re in nurturing mode. Suffice to say, because this blog is self referential and i use myself as the main example or everything, I had an upbringing that encouraged subversion of the self as a virtue, as well as being accommodating to crazy to the point of getting enmeshed into it.

It’s not a bad thing for people to be loving and giving, but if you deal with lots of needful people, your own needs may not get met and you don’t experience as many reciprocal dynamics to learn off. And if life throws a lot of drama your way, situational or interpersonal, you come to associate being needy on your part as bad behaviour, especially if when you had needs you were neglected. Of course since people you love still have needs you don’t precisely develop a rejection of all neediness, but it becomes important to subvert your needs for another person. This can be an addicting sensation of power and invulnerability and may even lead you to reject overtures of others looking after you because you don’t trust its reliability, and more to the point you don’t want to be the Weak Person because that chips away from the ego- or you’ve seen people with worse shit to deal with so you feel like an imposter when you’re being nurtured.

Another draw back is that you tend to also develop a higher than average tolerance for human frailty which means that you will, for example, collect strays or form relationships with people where you’re a Jesus Girlfriend. Which is where the need-to-be-needed can exceed whether or not a relationship has anything to offer you, and serve as a way of making yourself indispensible to something that wasn’t worth the investment.

Some people also end up in a guilt-anger spiral where they exceed their tolerance or get taken advantage of while biting their tongues, presuming that the other person wouldn’t be so selfish if they didn’t need it; and then get pissed at the person and then feel wildly guilty because (s)he can’t help being a useless tit. A warning sign you’ve gone too far into the wrong side of nurturing is that you end up feeling that everyone around you ‘can’t help it’, but would be unable to find their pants without you.

It also leads to some of the usual cognitive dissonance coping skills or all the stuff every person has to deal with, caretaker or not. Since everyone does have needs, you included, it’s not uncommon to package your needs in ways that don’t make you have to give up that ego thing. If you feel lonely, for example, you find someone who needs things and go be helpful at them. If you worry about being unpopular you become the person who does stuff for everyone. If you need to break up with someone it becomes necessary to frame it in terms of “I wasn’t meeting their needs anymore”. It’s certainly a lot less insufferable than how many people cope, but it still deserves analysis.

A classic example of the dark side is thought patterns like deciding that the person can’t handle that you are upset with them, because you not getting your needs met would make them feel bad- so you pretend it’s all okay. On the flip side when you want to get territorial it’s easy to sell yourself that you are simply being self sacrificing to take over something and organize them better- I’m sure there’s at least one person who knows this who thinks I’m actually pretty needy and can’t find my own pants without help. Caveat lector; author is biased.

It also makes you extremely vulnerable to people with the exact match on the opposite pole of “I need to be looked after all times to feel secure!” Since abusive relationships often have a foundation in the other person demanding that you leap through increasingly absurd hoops to make them feel properly attended to, or the person will go splah (which can range from physical violence, to emotional abuse, to simply attacking themselves or going into incoherent self castigating hysterics, which is a particularly effective tactic against someone whose empathy is overly keyed into people) you can end up mired in some pretty nasty scenarios. I know from personal experience. Maybe, you, dear reader have seen that in action.

Not to mention that the tendency to go above and beyond the call of duty can also end up giving you fairly high standards for others- or give other people the perception that you do. So your circle of friends, lovers, etc may conclude that if you brush off small overtures of caretaking and you do such a fantastic job than anything they can muster as a mere mortal won’t impress. Or you assume that because you know you put a lot of effort into preemptively looking after people in a way that comes naturally to you, therefore your needs must be so complicated and difficult since nobody has moved in on their own to fill them. One can internalize that that nobody can, and even throw in an extra dash of shame that you must be secretly the *most* needy person ever so all the more reason to be responsible and keep it locked down, right?

Maybe this applies to you, or maybe it doesn’t- either way it’s something for me to think about and analyze. I certainly won’t stop enjoying the caretaking aspect of my personality, but I also feel like this is a phenomenon that’s worth paying attention to.

Post Mortum Of My Relationships To This Date

So various things happened to me over the last month or two, which has strangled updates down to a trickle.  In the first place work decided to be a pain in the butt and then laid me off. Then stuff happened regarding Strong and other… stuff.

It makes me introspective about my life choices, especially in light of what i’m watching other people go through. I am of the philosophy that two people in a relationship both play a role in creating the dynamic you play out, which is not the same as shared culpability should one person abuse the other, but the dissolutions and breakups we have, and the errors we make are still valuable lessons.

Some people like the high school boys I dated, were just nice boys- the first one I was maturing from girl to woman still, and too loopy for a relationship, while the long term high school boyfriend was sweet, but the take away there I got was not to date anyone dumber than you, because you had to respect someone you’re with. Nocturnal was an exercise in working out what I should and shouldn’t tolerate. In hindsight, if you aren’t used to being respected, you can mistake neediness for being important.

With Strong and why we broke up: As far as my perspective on the situation, not all relationships are stable or meant to last, and I went into it with the suspicion that our gulf in ages meant that we were in different places but more to the point, his tendency to precisely box everything off to control it was going to fight our D/s connection, while his communication style didn’t allow for candid admission of failure. To be exact I was his training dom, a safe woman who wouldn’t gut him in the process of him finally getting to feel loved and wanted for his vulnerabilities.

As far as my part in our breakup, since I am, shall we say, not a fan of conflict, there was little I could do in this circumstance beyond letting it be as it would be. I’d like to think I’m still a net positive on his life. And and I forecasted, from our initial connection where I crawled into his head, that was unsustainable, and he got himself increasingly walled off to the point where, as of the end of June, I was dealing with manufacturing my own happiness again. Which is to say, a very gentle  and lucky way to find yourself breaking ties with someone.

For a brief few months before that, Strong had the rare gift of being able to have more impact on my happiness than I could have on it independently, and then I went back to making me happy. I dissolved our D/s agreement when I was no longer helping him, but also as a confirmation that I had learned some of the lessons I was supposed to learn from the Ex.

The Ex is one of those cases where it can be hard to talk about it because of how embarrassed and ashamed that sort of banal awful makes you feel when you survive it. It can be completely inexplicable- how did I let someone treat me like an idiot domestic servant, deny me sleep to the point of contributing to academic issues with my education and exacerbating my emotional health problems, while letting them so terrorize me that I completely unable to resist them? They are not, what you’d describe, as intimidating.

Well, the profoundly fucked up childhood I grew up with sure as heck did not help. Let’s be honest, when you learn your relationship models from a situation with abuse and enablers, it makes it much easier to ignore the what-the-fuck-are-we-doing?! feelings the insanity of an abusive dynamic engenders until you are enmeshed. That’s a hard other thing to talk about, because I don’t want sympathy for the shit that occurred at this juncture, and I’m leery of being treated like I’m dangerously crazy because I survived it- or not being taken seriously because someone hurt me.

The Ex was, to be honest about things, not all bad, but he was a horrible match for my own anxieties and vulnerabilities. If, in a love match, you can feel like you found a key for your lock, the Ex and I meshed his issues and controlling streak with my yielding , appeasing approach. Yes, while a dom (TM), generally speaking I tend to take stuff that’s not in my control and let it slide. I’m not one of those True Leaders people like to brag about being.

If you’re going to get all metaphorical about stuff, I’m a water person. I don’t make walls, I flow around stuff and find my own level. I can certainly be disturbed, but just as much as I can get all choppy and disturbed on the surface, but I can also take in and soak things pretty well.

Strong was an earth person, who put walls up absolutely everywhere, and locks people into them. The Ex? Fire, maybe? At once burning bright, but so fragile, needing to be sheltered and to consume constantly to survive. All appetites and needs, which was fascinating to my dominant/nurturing streak, but no brakes on the devouring aspect.

Wow, this is getting long. I’ll continue after the jump.

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Cargo Cult Career

I’m working straight through the weekend and I feel, overwhelmingly like I’m engaging in some form of cargo cult more than doing anything meaningful. I really, really want a Career with a capital C. Right now I’m underpaid, over worked and messing about with what the trappings I think a career should look like.

I have suits, but nowhere to wear a power suit to. I am doing all sorts of exciting things, designing a sales and marketing campaign, learning Google analytics in my spare time, working evenings and weekends… and I feel like I’m being driven by the idea of what a Good Job is supposed to look like and no idea if this is basically some sort of corporate shamanism where I align the bones and sigils in the hope of uncovering some sort of buzz word laden, money attracting magic.

Let’s face it, despite all the Christian Greys and fur coat having wealthy Venuses, the average dom doesn’t have a high power/high class lifestyle attached. I have no clue what class I am- I grew up on welfare and various government assistant programs due to regular financial insolvency in my family. At first that was the understandable consequence of being the kid of a single mother, but the rest seems to be inexplicable bad luck and quite a bit of mismanagement. On the other hand I’m relatively privileged  I got through shit thus far with a BA and no student debt.

To be honest I want a Career because of a deep seated financial insecurity caused by growing up at the mercy of other people’s employment prospects. I don’t buy into the idea of being an uber Dom with impeccable self control and yet… I want control and security in a wa that borders on pathalogical. I’m honestly really happy to have money, any money. I’m extremely materialistic, not in the sense of acquiring all the latest tech toys but thinking in terms of life being something that’s bought piece by piece.

This month, for example, I upgraded my bedding to something stupendously comfortable. I found an inexpensive bed spread to cover my beat up couch. Just thinking about this *stuff* makes me feel happier. It’s not a popular opinion, because I think you’re supposed to take this sort of thing for granted or be above it. And yet…

This leads me to second guess my romantic desire for dominance. In an ideal scenario, I want some sort of Career with a house husband or otherwise to me the earner, have money and be valued for making money. I also want to be the decider in my relationship beyond the bedroom and that makes me uncomfortable- am I doing it for them or for me, and is it fair to leverage this based on cash? Do I want that because it’s realistic for me, or because I distrust other people? This probably is just Worrying About Being Dominant and Being Guilty.

So not only am I worrying, careerwise, that I won’t be able to hack a system posited on fundamental inequalities that I’m not even sure I should support, but I have to wonder if the sort of inequalities I’m fetishizing are the very ones I’d rather shatter in reality. Never mind, I support amnesty international and have water boarded two people.  There’s room for me to become an evil suit… if I can just figure it out.

I’m Doing This For Me, For You

Subs often talk about how their D/s dynamic is posited on making them better people. The negatives in their life, from house cleaning to working on their mental health, become positives when it’s to serve, please or obey a dominant. It’s not something you usually get at a dom and yet, there’s something motivating about owning someone.

I did not expect to take the “gift of submission” seriously, until someone I really respected decided to submit for me. I won’t go into particulars about Strong…

But he does just that, he makes me feel stronger and more responsible. It’s a weird feeling, but something clicked- “Oh my god, I have to get my shit together.”

And I started working on a lot of stuff that needed fixing about myself. I think I carry a lot of shame about not meeting up to my own standards and with strong, it is easier to ignore the distractions because of the internal voice that counters them with “Fuck it, you have Strong, you don’t have time for this shit.”

It’s not a panacea, and my attitude to these things is pretty distrustful. I don’t think I’m an inherently trusting person at the best of times, and I tend to see strong emotions as particularly suspect. I can’t tell, of course, how much of that is familial habit and how much is a fair take away from experience. It’s always been natural for me to have both a primary emotion and a degree of detachment buffered by secondary emotions, so there’s the raw LovesLovesLoves! torrent ripping its way through my head, and there’s the analytic part of me, taking measurements like some sort of lakes and rivers worker taking water samples from a flood.

So there’s the compulsion to be a better person. I can’t say how long it will last or if it is healthy, but while I might have scoffed at the saccharine “Dom’s Responsibilities” , and still scoff at the facebook forward style lists that make it to the Kinky & Popular section of fetlife, I decided to go with it.

D/s also does weird things to your perspective, because it asks things of you that are otherwise not supposed to be part of your relationship repertoire. For example while caretaking is a great part of any relationship, you’re not supposed to think it terms of over riding other people in healthy vanilla. It’s also a funny sort of game, because if you can have a healthy relationship with someone they need a degree of self sufficiency and mental tidiness as a single person. Being completely dysfunctional, no matter how well intended, is going to scupper your D/s

I’ve got a friend who is a bit older than me, a sub, who I guess I’ll call him the Professor. Nice guy, very emotional in that sort of hedonistic pleasure seeking sort of way. He recently re-hooked up with his old flame, a woman from when he was younger. She discovered she was a dom and they’re attempting to launch a life now.

As a background, generally speaking Professor likes a particularly zany woman, the kind that seems, from his reporting, to be somewhere between manic pixie dream girl and hot mess. Lots of intense, passionate flings and one night stands. Anyhoo I generally assumed this was more of the same.

Now I’m, at my core, a judgmental and cynical bitch, but this is one of those cases where I looked at the actual instructions Blume was giving Professor, who is, himself, a bit of a hot mess. Basically she was having him do the shit that’s good for him.

Oh. Right. Quick reminder these people are still okay as separate individuals, but have found a way to connect. And she was over riding him and it was working out well. Judgmental bitch voice -Silenced!-

But for me, Strong has the weird effect of making me want to be more competent, capable and otherwise able. I feel like I suddenly have to develop a lot more focus on my life. It’s absurd, because he’s perfectly capable of surviving without me, but I feel like suddenly I am needed in a profound way and I must be better at things. All the things.

Non-consent Fiction and Me, Also “Punished!”

Belly button gazing time.

It occurs to me that both I do a lot of writing about non-consent, and that I think this both bugs people and somewhat sets my writing apart from a lot of the other badly written, self indulgent porn. For example this well meaning, distressed person scolded me, after reading the first two chapter of Catamite.

You make us feel and sympathize for Phillip, and then you decide to destroy him w/o any chance of vengeance or retribution (b/c we ALL know you aren’t about to punish the female). It’s kind of like watching a puppy beaten for kicks.

There’s nothing wrong with having a thing for pain/nonconsent/femdom themes, but there’s a line you cross once you start adding depth to your characters that you’ve obviously failed to learn.

There’s a lot to unpack there, and it’s not the first time I’ve gotten that response. I’ve also had people earnestly write to me to tell me that “a man does not submit to evil” and that they’re otherwise bothered by the character of Annette.

I think one of the things people don’t like is that it’s not a clear story of good ‘punishing’ evil, but when you get down to it that’s actually something that squicks me. There’s a lot of non-consent stuff where the victim is introduced, usually off stage and without any evidence other than the narrative voice of god, as adulterous, a thief or some other petty crime. That sets up a dilemma for me: first of all I don’t think torture is actually a good punishment in real life and second of all, for my sexuality I like the idea of my ‘victim’ being worthy.  I’m one of those people who cringes when other people talk slaveringly about prison rape for pedos, and not just because I know that most prison rape is guard-on-prisoner (even though the fantasy of Bubba in Cell Block B is that it’s simply a side effect of being in proximity to evil) and treating it like part of the prison experience is creepy, but also I just can’t mentally do the ‘not worthy’ thing for any sub guy I’d connect with.

So, back to writing criticisms and non-consent. It’s actually kind of flattering that the people who try to reach me do so intelligently and as if they’re only speaking up because this troubled them rather than an incoherent cry that I’m sick, sick, sick.

If you write BDSM, the regular publishing houses, and even many of the freebie erotica publishing areas of the internet are very careful about rape and undesired torture. A lot of them ban it outright. Literotica, for example allows a category of ‘non-consent’ but turns a but queasy at the word rape. Fetlife’s giant erotica group specifically bans rape and non-consent violence in the same category of illegal nonos as bestiality and minors.

On the other hand the stuff that’s okay, is in-itself  a head trip for feminist sensibilities. A small sampling of stories picked at random from literotica’s non-consent/reluctant shows a lot of ‘reluctant’ where it’s rape, but it’s okay because the female victim is being sorted out and goes from stuck up to liking it. Or her rape is a sexual awakening that concludes with her consensually screwing everything in sight and/or loving her first magic cocked rapist.

I can’t defend Annette’s actions in my story from my moral perspective. It’s not supposed to be ‘okay’. But I haven’t the foggiest how her being ‘punished’ somewhere over the course of the story would make it okay. He’s still going to be raped even if he turns around and rapes her. Mostly I’m just going to keep writing fiction that suits me (because it’s my fetishes and fantasies and you’re not paying me) but unless we were all writing about pan-gendered utopic informed consent sex (“May I touch you?” Zie breathed huskily and held back, hir hands hovering. “Yes, you may!” Zie moaned in response, “Treat me like an equal! Respect me! Oh YES! I want this! I am speaking with a clear mind and no social biases! YES!”) there’s always gonna be the ‘Ewwwwww’ moment, and at least my icky-no-bad-wrong doesn’t need to hide under retribution or justice.