The Four Stages of Topping

When I started topping, I was self-conscious, nervous, easily crushed, and full of bravado and swagger. (I’d like to think that all of that was somewhat subtle, and that I was being at least a little transparent and honest about all of it, though when I look back at my old writing I think there’s more nervousness than I’d like to think.)

Sometimes, some beautiful girl would come along and our chemistry would be so amazing and the whole evening would just … flow. Then, I felt like there was no game, it was all just authentic interaction, following my energy and hers. Those were the nights I grabbed on to and scrutinized (and often wrote up, play by play, as a way to study them), trying to learn what it was that went well and how I could harness that.

As I gained more confidence, the way that I topped shifted a bit. I started wanting to control more, to push more, to play with more edges. I started wondering why I was so drained after I’d had a scene, and realized I wasn’t getting fed energetically in a way that felt replenishing.

That was mostly my fault, for the record; I wasn’t open to receiving, I was too focused on (fueling my ego by) giving.

I’ve really opened up since then. My style is really different, and I’m a lot less delicate. I have more confidence and certainty in what I’m doing. This is at least in part because I started identifying the kind of topping I was doing, and playing with other styles of topping.

In trying to articulate my own journey from a nervous I-wanna-be-a-top to an actual top (and beyond), I’ve noticed some patterns, and come up with a list of some of the different kinds of topping that we can play with. If you want to become a better top, I’ve found that it’s really useful to identify the area you’re primarily playing in right now, and the areas you’re interested in exploring. That way, you can start to feel your way along the path from where you are to where you’d like to be, and start identifying the barriers to being where you want, the places you need to focus and explore, and the next steps to get you there.

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Please note!

I’m using the word “stages,” but they’re more like “flavors,” different kinds. The stages aren’t necessarily linear. My goal is to make the unconscious more known, so we can start actually deciding if we do want to do the topping (or dominating or daddying or mommying or parenting or mastering or whatever verb you want to use for the person-in-charge) more intentionally. This is not comprehensive.

The Stages of Topping

1. Service Topping from the Bottom’s Palette of Pleasure

In service topping, the bottom lays out the things they like (what I’m calling a “palette of pleasure”), and the top then does those things. The top is the person who is doing the action, and the bottom is receiving, but the bottom is the one basically in charge of the actions that are happening.

Sometimes the negotiations are very specific, like: “So now that you told me what you like, I’m thinking that in this scene, I’m going to spank you over my lap with my hand, then get out the cane, then start fingering you, and keep using my hand on you until you come. How’s that sound?”

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

Either way, all actions have a specific green light from the bottom for the top.

It’s not that the bottom dictates each move play-by-play: “Okay, now put your hand there. Now hit me this hard. Now flip me over and fuck me hard!” Some folks would call that “topping from the bottom,” which is often meant to be an insult. (More about that another day.)

Sometimes the palette is picked up through conversation, like: “I really like my hair pulled.” “I can’t wait to suck your cock.” “Please make sure to bruise me up before you get me off.”

It can be such a huge relief for a top to have a palette to work from. Topping can be nerve wracking as you’re getting the hang of it: we have to make split second decisions about what to do, when to change something, when to stop or when to keep going, and what else to add. Figuring out what actual things to do on top of all that other stuff can sometimes make us freeze up. Having a palette can help this!

When service topping, the top is not necessarily (and sometimes neglectfully) attending to what they are feeling or what pleasures their body would like. The bottom’s needs are being attended to and they are being played with, but sometimes, service tops crave … more. (I certainly did.)

When I work with new tops who are trying to up their game, this is most often the stage they’re stuck within.

2. Topping from the Top’s Palette of Pleasure

Shifting the focus from the bottom’s palette of pleasure to what the top specifically wants to do right in the moment can be a big mind-fuck for the top. It seems simple, but having to make decisions or be in touch with what we want while also Being In Charge can cause our minds to lock up. If you’re the kind of top who goes along just fine and then when your bottom says, “I’ll do whatever you want; what do you want?” and you draw a total blank, this one might be for you to play in.

Step one here is to start brainstorming about what’s on your “palette of pleasure.” What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so? You need more than “blow job” on the list, buddy. See if you can come up with 10 things, then see if you can come up with 10 more. These might be things you love having done to your body, or things you love doing to the bottom’s body.

The more comfortable you are with a broad list of options, the more likely you are to come up with the exact right thing to do in the moment, based on consent and what tools you might have with you and the energy between you both.

Even when pulling from all those beautiful favorite things that the top loves, you still has to practice making decisions about what to do in the moment, which can be incredibly hard when there’s a lot of pressure on us, and especially hard when all of the blood is flowing in places other than our brains.

What’s on your “palette of pleasure”? What acts do you totally love and would be thrilled to bust out to do at any given moment—assuming, of course, that you have the permission to do so?
This is still a negotiated, consensual palette of sex acts and kinky explorations, and the bottom is explicitly involved in determining what’s on the palette. But the difference is that the top generates the ideas, and the bottom gives consent (or crosses them off the list).

Of course, a top’s and the bottom’s palettes of pleasure might completely overlap. On the one hand, that’s amazing and you’re very compatible. On the other hand, it makes exploring more complicated power dynamics a little harder. Some power dynamics and authority-based play revolves around being “forced” to do something one doesn’t want to do, but will do because it’s what the top wants.

So let’s talk about playing with edges.

3. Topping the Bottom’s Edges

Once you’ve built some trust, you’ve had lots of sexytimes, you are consenting to each other, you’re both dirty kinky folks who just want to do all sorts of things together, and you’ve done all the things on the top’s palette and the bottom’s palette—twice—but you still have some domination hunger … where do you go from there?

Here’s where edges come in. Find some edges to work. Identify some places where you’re curious. Have your bottom make a list of the 10 most favorite times he ever had sex, and talk about it, see if you can make any connections. Then have the bottom you’ve been playing with make a list of 10 things he’s never tried, but is curious to try. Talk about those, too. Delve into them with your smarty brains and see what is nervous but exciting about them. Read up on those kinks. Learn how to wield a flogger or a cane or a knife or whatever object they’re curious about. Learn how to punch with a roll of quarters in your fist for a deeper hit. Find a topping mentor to show you how. Have some threesomes. Go to a play party. Go to a kink retreat conference.

Whatever those edges might be, take it upon yourself to gently push them, making it a safe experience—emotionally and physically.

This takes a lot of trust, and a lot of ability to tell each other what’s going on between you, verbally and non-verbally. Always be more aware and cautious when playing in new arenas of play that are more unfamiliar. Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.

When I’m playing with someone else’s edges, by which I mean when they are edges that the bottom has handed to me and asked me to play with, I think about it like this: I have consent to go this far, so I slowly approach that edge, and then back off. Then I do it again. And again. Each time I approach the edge, there is an opportunity for something new to open up, for that place to become a little less edgy and for it instead to be more fun and interesting and playful. Or maybe it doesn’t ever get easier, it stays hard, but it becomes a little less scary just by actually being there with it.

Cultivate impeccable aftercare skills.
I think of that process as somewhat like making an orgasm more intense. If I get out my vibrator and start going at it, I’ll slowly raise energy and pleasure in my body until eventually, most likely, I will come. It’ll be fine, but probably won’t last very long or be particularly memorable. But if I get close to coming, but pause just before I actually do, and then get myself close to coming again—if I edge a few times before I actually let myself get off—my orgasm will be longer lasting and more intense. I’ve inflated my capacity to hold energy and pleasure just a little more, so I end up with a bigger experience.

I think of it that way around kink and top/bottom edginess, too. If I work an edge by approaching it and then letting it dissipate, I can build it up again and again, and get to a greater capacity.

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Illustration by rife

4. Topping the Top’s Edges

It might be easier to work your own edges than to work your bottom’s, or it might be easier to work your bottom’s—just depends on who you are and what your style is like. For me, it was much easier to work someone else’s edges (hello, control issues plus stone identity).

Regardless of the order you’re playing with, another palette to play with when you’re enhancing your own topping skills is with your own edges. Make the same lists: make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to. Make a list of areas of topping and sex and kink that are challenging for you, but that you’d like to be better at.

This is a place where your bottom gets to hold and witness some of your vulnerability with you. It takes more trust and transparency than some of the other stages. But to quote Sini Anderson: “Ask yourself how well you really know them. If someone you know really well asks you to trust them, try to trust them.” The best way to work your own edges is to have other folks there who are willing to support you while you’re taking small or big leaps toward what you want to be doing.

Say, for example, that you want to get better at humiliative dirty talk. Your partner has been asking for it for a while, and loves it whenever you can squeak out something diminutive, but it’s so hard for you to channel that kind of talk because you’re a nice person and you don’t necessarily like to say those kinds of mean things. But, since your partner is super into it, you’ve noticed that it makes you really, really hot to play with it. And it makes your partner hot. So you want to get better at it. But … it’s so scary and hard and edgy.

Make a list of the 10 most favorite times you ever had sex, and see if you can make any connections. Make a list of 10 things you’ve never tried, but would like to.
So maybe you co-create a scene with the bottom you’re playing with and they give you a list of ten different things you could say that are dirty and humiliating. You might even keep the list by your bed or on a post-it so you can reference it if you get stuck. They know that you are trying to get better at this one skill, so they are going to give you lots of positive feedback whenever it shows up in the play. And they are going to wear just the right outfit and say just the right things to encourage you to play your part.

Then after, they cuddle you and assure you that they loved it when you said those things, and that they know you are actually really nice and didn’t mean them and are very good and loving.

Really, we should all cultivate impeccable aftercare skills, tops and bottoms alike.

That’s just one example, but bringing in the bottom’s support and aftercare and ideas is a really good way for a top’s edge to be worked.

Working with your own edges can often be a place to seek if you want more satisfaction in your topping.

There are dozens of styles of topping

Of course, and there’s no one right or wrong way. I don’t mean to say that any of these are better or worse than the others, just that they’re different, and for the most part, we call all of them “topping.” Where are you at in your topping journey? Where would you like to be? Which are really easy for you, which are really challenging? Hopefully by identifying and talking about it, we can identify some of the places where we might be stuck or unsatisfied, and get to a stronger, more conscious, and more fun place to play and explore.

To All the Tops Who Are Afraid to Make a Move

One of my biggest challenges as a top—and as a feminist dominant, and as someone who is well versed in and vehemently requires agency and consent in my sexytime play—is making assertions of what I want. This is especially hard if I’m meeting or playing with somebody new. I want to be bold, domineering (in good ways), bossy (also in good ways), sexy—toppy. I want to demand and take and get just a little more rough than expected.

But: I won’t do that, until I have consent. Until I have a very, very clear green light that my advances—my dominance, my toppy-ness—is wanted and desired.

Nothing wrong with that, right? I want to do dirty things with the people I date and play with, and I want them to want me to do those things, otherwise I don’t want those things. In fact, one could argue (and I do) that my wanting to do those things is contingent upon them wanting me to do them. I won’t get it up for somebody who doesn’t want me.

But see, sometimes because I am not making big bold moves, or acting with brassy ballsy swagger, people think I am not flirting with them, or don’t like them, or aren’t interested, or am “not that dominant.”

(Well, in terms of that last one, they can suck it—I believe in consensual dominance, and I don’t believe doms (or anybody) has a right to go around spewing their swagger on anybody they come across. I take up my space, you take up yours. Unless we’re in a explicit power dynamic, I don’t assume that I get to be dominant with you. I guess that’s called boundaries.)

But those other things … that depends. Sometimes I really, really, really, like somebody, and I want to do things with them to them for them, but I am not getting a clear green light, so I do nothing.

And this can be crippling! This can mean that a perfectly good top wrings their hands and wonders, wonders, wonders, whether or not they should make a move, but that the other person is simultaneously thinking, I thought they were a top? Aren’t they going to do something?

That sucks, right? Here’s a few ideas.

1. Make it clear you are (kinda sorta completely) inclined to topping

Talk about it. Bring it up. “I tend to like to be in charge in bed.” Talk about topping and bottoming. Talk about the kind of things you like to do. Do you like rough sex? Extensive amounts of bondage? Strap-on sex nine times out of ten? Always being the one who orders at a restaurant? Opening doors? Holding someone down while they struggle?

And … ask them what they like. Talk about it. Get their Fetlife fetish list from their own expressive mouth. Ask again. Ask about specific things. Be fascinated by their answers. Listen closely.

This might be elementary for you, but I find that just about everybody doesn’t talk or communicate about their own desires enough. ‘Cause here’s the thing: They change constantly. Most of us don’t want the same thing all day every day. So it is a constant practice to be in the moment, figure out what we want, and communicate it clearly.

2. Make it clear you are waiting for a green light

Or, explicitly ask for a green light. Many people who are inclined to bottoming or submission, or, often, those who would be into going out with a top, are frequently waiting for the top to make the move. Perhaps they think that the way they’re batting their eyelashes, or the way they shined their leathers, or the way they are rubbing their thighs together, is so fucking obvious that of course you know they want you. But still, you are waiting for that green light.

So tell them that.

“I would so love to kiss you, but I’m waiting for the right sign / you to ask me / the perfect moment.” “I know I said I’m a top, but the only way I get all … toppy with somebody is if I am clear they want me to. Are you into that?” “I have this thing about consent—it’s super important to me. So I tend to wait until I get a really really clear green light to make any sorts of moves. But after I get the green light … ”

(Then do that sexy-ass sly top grin you practice in the mirror. Come on, I know you do.)

And then, pay attention to their reaction.

So if you growl, “I really want to throw you down, right now,” and their eyes get all huge and they start thinking about all the grass stains they’ll get, and they say, “Uhhh…” you will know that is not consent. But when they take a step closer to you and say, “I have a really good mattress at my house,” you’ll know they are at least interested.

I hesitate to talk about how consent can be expressed non-verbally, through physical communication, though I do believe that it can be. It’s just harder to pinpoint and talk about, and much easier to misconstrue, miscommunicate, or mistake. For the sake of nervousness or fear or making big bold topping moves, it is always, always safer to get enthusiastic verbal consent specifically.

Regardless of how much explicit consent they give you, always be paying attention for hesitation in their body language or speech. That probably means it’s time to back up, and slow down, and check in.

This can be used when escalating all sorts of play, by the way, not just the first kiss. It could be useful for that moment when you want to get your strap-on out, or when you want to put them in spread eagle bondage, or when you want to hold them down and rough them up, or when you want to ask them—tell them, demand them—to go into the bathroom and take their panties off and give them to you. Sometimes you just don’t know if it’s the right time to do something new, or to escalate, and you don’t know if you have their consent for it. So ask. Make it clear what you’re looking for, so they can give it to you (or not). They just might not know that’s what you’re waiting for.

Sometimes, when I start getting the feeling that it’s time to move in for a kiss or to escalate physical touch with somebody, I make a move kinda like I’m about to do the thing I want to do, but then I catch myself, and say, “Oh, sorry—I really want to kiss you / put my hands on your stockings / grab your belt / take you down right now. That okay?” (Sometimes I say this in a sexy growly voice near their neck or ear while I decidedly do not touch or kiss them because I don’t know if that’s okay—yet.)

And I wait. For their reaction, response, and enthusiastic consent made clear.

3. Still afraid you’re being an asshole?

Here’s the thing: Asking somebody for something, or asserting a decision or a preference, is not being an asshole. You’re not being an asshole when you say, “I’d love to take you out. How about we meet at this great cafe I love on Sunday for brunch?” You’re not being an asshole when you’re on a wandering-around-the-park date and you say, “I’d love a coffee. Want to duck into this coffee shop for a bit?” You’re not being an asshole when you point at a shady spot under a tree and say, “Let’s go sit there.” You’re not being an asshole when you get back to your place and they are on your couch all sexy and biting their lips and you say, “I can’t wait to play with you.”

You absolutely are being an asshole when you don’t honor their response to your suggestion or offer or preference.

If you say, “Let’s go to this great steakhouse!” And they say, “I’m a vegetarian …” When you say, “Great! Meet you there at 7,” you are being an asshole.

Wah waaaaah. Sad trombone. Don’t do that.

But making the offer? Not an asshole. Suggesting a change in place? Great! Shows your flexibility and thoughtfulness. Requesting a date at a particular place? Not too much (until, you know, they tell you otherwise).

Sometimes, being assertive and suggesting things is a relief to the other person. We often defer to each other (especially people we like), saying, “Whatever is fine!” And we mean it! But when someone drives the social decisions, it can be very useful. What’s not useful (have I made this clear yet?), and is firmly in asshole territory, is overriding what someone else expresses they want or don’t want.

So make suggestions. Request—and get—the green light, so you can be confident that your glorious toppy-ness is fully desired and wanted.

PS: I hope this is clear, but just in case it isn’t: This has absolutely nothing to do with getting someone to do what they don’t want to do. Fuck that. This has to do with communicating enthusiastic consent. Okay, clear? Cool.

Open Relationship Mini Interview with Molly: Boundaries & A Reassurance List

Molly Malone, www.naughtymollymalone.com & naughty_molly

1. What insight about open relationships do you wish you had when you started?

In the two years that I have had open relationships, my greatest insight has been around *yawn* boundaries. What they are, how they work, what they look like, feel like, what purpose they serve, and so on.

When I first observed open relationships, and started reading up on polyamory, I found that this word ‘boundaries’ was bandied about, and given a kind of importance, that looking back, I just didn’t understand. If I’m honest, I never really got it. Once I began to embark on opening up my own relationship, I would talk about my boundaries and other people’s boundaries, as if I had significant understanding of what that meant. I didn’t have a clue.

I truly wish I did. I wish I hadn’t assumed that I should know. I thought they were somehow supposed to just protect me, and other people, like a shield, just by saying they were there, and promising to respect other people’s. I kind of knew I probably didn’t have that quite right. In reality, I must’ve known that there are no such words in our language that have a special magic ability to protect people, like a spell. But I was too embarrassed to ask, and for a long time, being ignorant didn’t have any adverse effects, so I didn’t think it could be that important. So I never really questioned it, until, of course, everything was in a big messy tangled pile and I thought ‘Oh dear, how did I get here?’

I tried so hard to be the fixer. I felt a massive weight of responsibility for a sticky situation. I denied the people I cared about the responsibility to deal with their stuff by intentionally taking it on. And I did this in my home. My home was the base for a polymess. That was when I had a bolt out of the blue, when my very first boundary came to me, and I knew, that whatever was happening, and however sad I was for all of us involved, it was no longer going to be worked out in my home. That I needed my own safe space to escape to when it all got too much. That it wasn’t my responsibility to create a space for us to all work this out, and that it was ok to stop it. That very moment, I clearly and calmly expressed that boundary, and who knew, from that point on, we didn’t use my home any more for our meetings/arguments/counselling etc.

Since then, I have discovered a few boundaries’, and managed to employ them with varying degrees of success. It’s all a bit of a learning minefield, and you just don’t know about the lesson until it blows up under foot. It’s still a word I have to remind myself the meaning of. And when I discover a new one, or spend time thinking about what other boundaries I have, I often wonder if this thing I have invented really exists, until one is crossed, and I feel like my land has been trespassed. Yup, they really exist. I now know what they are (although they metastasise often), what they feel like when they are working, and when they’re not.

What has been the hardest thing about opening your relationship, and how have you overcome that?

I feel like I haven’t had the ‘proper’ test yet; the person who I was with before I discovered polyamory, I am still with now. We are engaged to be married. This man and I began our relationship under the presumed and customary norms and traditions – one of those of course being “I will not, to the best of my ability, fuck anyone else, or fall in love with anyone else, whilst we are together”. And although we both were already questioning this norm when we met each other, we had not yet gone the whole hog and decided to open up our relationship. That came a year later.

Since then, although there has been a healthy dose of sex and play outside of the relationship, only I have formed a loving, meaningful connection with someone else (and the amazing new-love sex that comes with it). He is yet to fall in love with someone else, and I am yet to know if that will be hard for me or not.

That’s not to say things haven’t been hard.

For me, there have been two areas of difficulty. The first has been negotiating the new relationship. In this instance, the person I wanted a relationship with was in a relationship with my friend, formed under the same conditions as my primary relationship – with all the presumed wisdom of monogamy. The new relationship was formed slowly, over a twelve month period, and was done, for want of a better phrase, by the book. As our new relationship blossomed, their pre-existing relationship crumbled. Their relationship has since ended.

Traversing the many challenges that brought was exhausting and most definitely hard. Initially I tried to fix everything, to take responsibility for their relationship and the problems they were facing as a couple. All the while taking on guilt and shame. It was, and still sometimes is, very difficult to learn how to distinguish between what was my responsibility, and what wasn’t. Being able and willing to hold my friend, in her pain, whilst not taking on guilt or resentment, was exceptionally hard.

Subsequently, having the courage of my convictions can feel hard. I sometimes feel like I have to defend myself, my choices and my actions. When this situation is viewed from a normative context, it looks like this: You fancied your mates girlfriend, they broke up, and you started going out with your mate’s bird… some friend you are! So I think what is hard about this is not having a group of supportive peers. Choosing an ‘alternative’ relationship paradigm sometimes feels isolating because of that. It can be hard to ask for support from friends and family, when first you have to have that conversation. There is fear and vulnerability mixed up in there somewhere – that I won’t be heard, that my feelings will be discounted or invalidated by my peers because I’m being ‘greedy’ choosing more than one lover, that the inevitable question will be “But what about your friend? And what about your fiancé? Aren’t you hurting them?” And I will have to answer “Yes, sometimes they feel hurt, or sad, or jealous. But I’m ok with that, and their pain is not my responsibility, and we talk about this stuff, we have procedures in place to help us through those bits” and it all just sounds like lefty liberalism that is doomed for failure. It’ll be met with the same suspicious eye-roll that my mother gave me when I was a rebellious youth, with that “don’t come crying to me when it all blows up in your face” tone of voice.

A different challenge has been realising, for the first time, that falling in love when you are polyamorous, feels just the same as falling in love when you are monogamous. For some reason I was under the impression that with all these new fancy words, and emotional maturity, and books, that if I fell in love with someone else, I would be somehow immune to all the stupid, crazy, indulgent, ecstatic loonyness that falling in love traditionally inspires.

How foolish of me! It has been quite difficult to come to terms with the fact that I have responsibility to my other relationship. And as great and exciting as new love energy is, and as positive as its effects can be on pre-existing relationships, it is not an excuse, or get out card, for suddenly dropping all your commitments, to your relationship, or anything else for that matter (job, exercise-class, pet, house) and spending every waking minute talking to/fucking/staring at your new love. That’s been hard. We have overcome that by implementing quite a structured framework for seeing each other. We see each other once a week and we see each other somewhere mutual (not in my home, not in hers).

I also spent some time with my fiancé creating a Reassurance List, which is a list of things which I can do to reassure him when he needs it, and vice versa (like taking a bath together, doing some gardening, solving a household DIY problem together etc).

3. What has been the best thing about your open relationship?

Back even before we opened our relationship to others, both my fiancé and I felt that one person could not possibly be all things, to one person, at all times. For me, one of the best things about being able to form meaningful connections with more than one person is just that! I get to explore connections with people without the limit or restriction or fear of developing ‘feelings’ for them. We are multifaceted creatures, different people bring out different sides to our personalities, and we have diverse and changeable requirements. It feels logical, like it makes sense, it enables me to explore the dimensions of myself in a way that I couldn’t with one closed relationship. I remember, way back in adolescence, peers debating over which stage of a relationship was better; the crazy new-love with all its uncertainty and excitement, or the comforting long-haul with it’s predictability and reassurance? I remember thinking, shit! Do I have to choose? I like them both! And the answer was no, I don’t have to choose.

I would also say that the extraordinary level of self-development, of turning yourself inside out, examining the contents, and putting it all back together, is an invaluable process of embarking on non-monogamy. But also, the sex. I have always been attracted to boys and girls. I like having heteronormative sex, with a boy, with his penis in my vagina, but I also like having girlie lesbian sex, I also enjoy genderless sex, and gender reversed sex, I like submissive sex, and dominant sex, and switchy sex. I like having sex with my cock, I like sex with men who identify as gay, I like sex with myself, I like group sex. My fiancé is a heterosexual, cis gendered male. Thus he cannot fulfil all my sexual wants and needs. Although it’s a bit of a carnal and sexually obsessed answer, that’s probably the best thing about our open relationship. Not having to choose or value one type of sex over another and stick with it for life.

On Running Away and Boundaries

Just one more thing, then I’ve got to get focused on some other work today.

Hugo Schwyzer has a post up today called Why Men Run When They Lack the Words to Stay, and it resonated with me with some of the recent complications in my relationship with Kristen and with my emotional landscape history in general.

Give it a quick read, then come back and read my comments on it, which I’ll try to keep to a few.

For the record, Schwyzer divides this into men and women, and generally I think what he’s saying is true, but it may not be true for individuals, and it may not be neatly applicable to a butch/femme relationship—meaning the butch might not have the same experience as the man, in this scenario. And there are parts that he describes that apply to me, parts that apply to Kristen, parts that apply to neither of us. Still, I think it’s relevant in examining some of the over-arching things we get taught that run along the gender divides, and interesting to think about these dynamics in any relationship, regardless of gender.

I have certainly “submarined” a lot in my past. I think that mostly comes from having a history of abuse, though, not a history of me not being able to articulate my emotions and being overwhelmed by my partner’s, though there is a piece of that too. And even though I am a poet, and highly emotional, I haven’t always been able to verbalize what was going on for me, especially not in the moment it was happening. I’ve been working on that a lot in recent years.

I also really like the breakdown of iron vs copper, of using those words to talk about certain styles of boundaries (or lack thereof). Though I’ve done a lot of work on this too recently, I do tend to get overwhelmed by my surroundings, and sometimes I cope with that by running away or shutting down. And Kristen has some aspects of being copper too, especially in taking things personally. It’s interesting to think about those tendencies as a boundary issue.

I do take issue with Schwyzer’s work on occasion, especially around men, masculinity, and pornography, but I find much of his work fantastic and I encourage you to subscribe to and read his blog if you don’t already. Lots of food for thought.