Posts Tagged ‘love languages’
As I’ve been exploring deeper into power theory, like D/s and M/s, and as I’ve been trying to understand how my relationship with Kristen went wrong and in what ways power played into that, I’ve been thinking more and more about responsibility.
I’ve been meditating on the basics: What is it? How does it work? How does one “take responsibility”? What kind of responsibilities does one have—as a partner, as a lover, as a Daddy, as a dominant, as a friend? How does responsibility shift and changes when circumstances are not ideal, such as when someone is grieving (you know, hypothetically)?
Raven Kaldera and Joshua Tenpenny, whose books on M/s I have been recently devouring and whose theories I astutely agree with, mention in one of their books that a dominant’s hunger for responsibility must be equal to or greater than their hunger and lust for power. That resonated deeply with me, so I have been chewing on how to act from a responsible place, how to behave responsibly, how to hunger for responsibility, how to be responsible with my power.
We commonly use “responsibility” to mean our obligations—the things we have agreed to do, or the things other people have put on us to do that we may or may not have agreed to—and how we cope with those obligations. It is my responsibility as a cat owner to make sure my cat is fed, for example.
But when it comes to interpersonal relationships, what our responsibilities are vary greatly from person to person, and from culture to culture. My responsibilities to my parents might mean, to me, calling them on their birthdays and going to visit once a year, but to another person, their responsibilities to their parents might be visiting them every day, or might be sending one holiday card annually. Same with lovers and partners: I might think my responsibility is to respond to texts or emails from lovers is to respond when I can get to it, but my lover might think it rude and irresponsible of me not to reply right away (especially when now, with iMessage, you can see when your texts have been read). I suspect some of the expectations in relationships are built on our love languages (quality time, acts of service, gifts, physical touch, words of affirmation).
The expectations we place upon responsibilities of those around us are often unspoken and unconscious, and therefore difficult to make clear. Making those clear is a key piece of good communication, I believe.
But that’s just one piece. We also use the word “responsibility” to talk about one’s behavior in any given situation, such as, “They’re not being very responsible,” or, “they’re not acting very responsibly.”
I started breaking down the word responsibility into its two parts: response and ability. Response-ability. And that led me to my first conclusion about it: responsibility is your ability to respond to any given situation. But how does one “respond”?
Most of the time, I think we are reacting, not responding. Reacting is the knee-jerk impulse our combination of body, mind, experiences, emotions, and self tells us to have. We get an email from a boss with some critique, we feel insulted. Our lover asks something taxing of us, we feel put out. Not everybody has the same reaction, of course—depending on our unique histories, unique bodies, unique patternings, we react in different ways; many of us have different reactions to the same emotions, too. Some people feel insulted and fight back, some people feel insulted and become paralyzed, some people feel insulted and run away.
I think that responsibility is your ability to take the reaction you have, process it through your thoughtful higher self who wants the best for everyone involved and can see many perspectives, and choose your response and your next actions intentionally.
Let me put that another way. My ability to respond well to a situation, to be responsible in my role or job or relationship, depends upon my ability to notice my knee-jerk reaction and use that as one piece of the data that I gather before I decide what to do next. Other pieces of data you could use as you analyze the situation include:
- What would the high wise imaginary counsel inside your head, made up of all of your mentors and favorite people, advise you to do?
- What would your counsel of very favorite people advise you to do? (Perhaps you should call them to ask?)
- What would the best possible outcome for all people be?
- What would you say if you were really telling the truth about this situation?
- How do your ethics ascribe you to behave?
- What would yourself in ten years say about this situation?
- How do your spiritual or religious beliefs guide you in this quandary?
- Where are the places where your ego, pride, or stoicism are getting in the way?
- Where can you use your great strength to be more vulnerable in this situation?
- Where do you feel this pain, sorrow, longing, anger, or frustration in your body?
- What does your bodywork or therapy point you toward?
I’ve been chewing on this difference, between reaction and response-ability, for at least a year now, trying to figure out how to be sure I am exploring what it means to be responsible with the privilege and power that I hold. Because, as the cliche saying goes, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and as I’ve been seeking more and more great power, I want to make sure I have the great responsibility part down as well. I don’t think “responsibility” dictates a code of behavior specifically so much as it dictates an intentional response, and that is a comfort to me, as I try to continue to sort our my own wounds, heal my own heartache, and continue to pursue my lust for power.
1. What insight about polyamory/open relationships would you share with your younger self?
Don’t assume that because someone you are dating is poly and one of their partners gets tested regularly, that your partner in common ALSO gets tested (or is STI-free for that matter). Do not make ANY assumptions about people’s sexual health; bring it up! If someone doesn’t want to talk about that with you, run far away! And if it’s you that feels nervous because you’re a n00b and you don’t know what poly etiquette is because you’re not the primary/spouse/etc., BRING IT UP ANYWAY. This will help you take care of yourself and your future partners PLUS it will show that you are a mature, responsible individual. In a relationship, unless explicitly negotiated otherwise or something, you can and should ask questions (albeit respectfully).
Even if boundaries make sense, make sure to ask and/or be explicit about the reasoning behind them, so when someone makes decisions on the spot and needs an educated guess to proceed, they have all the information they need.
Also, remember that poly is something you need to work on and think about even when you’re not “actively” pursuing/seeing other people. Think of it as exercising the love muscle.
2. What has been the hardest thing about navigating multiple relationships, and how have you overcome that?
When it’s me juggling multiple partners, it has come down to time-management and making everyone feel valuable while not being able to give everyone equal time. My calendar is busy as is, and when trying to stick in multiple romantic/sexual relationships, it can get pretty wild. The only way it works is because I have BusyCal/iCal/GoogleCal and I’m not afraid to use it.
When it’s a primary partner expanding their relationships, it has been confronting seemingly irrational, sudden feelings of sadness and jealousy. This actually happened recently, when my long-term primary partner began to explore outside our relationship after a long time of not doing so. I felt this intense possessiveness and it was deeply uncomfortable for everyone involved. It’s easy for me to say “heck yeah!” to partners dating others when I LIKE and know the people they’re dating, but when it’s a random person I’ve never met or someone I don’t particularly like? I get uneasy and nervous about it. The reasons could be different depending on the relationship, but in this case, it wasn’t a fear of being abandoned or replaced or anything … it was a fear that the “outsider” wasn’t good enough; it was about not wanting to feel out of control, like the outside stuff would progress regardless of how I felt about it; and it was the discomfort with having to “share” my partner with someone I didn’t necessarily like when I ALREADY was only able to see them one or two days a week.
I consider myself a level-headed and logical person capable of compersion, so in the instances when I reacted very negatively or surprisingly, it really shook me. I have high standards for myself in every way, and not being able to be the partner I want to be (or that my partners deserve) is upsetting. Add that guilt/feelings of temporary weakness/failure to the feelings of jealousy/sadness over whatever the situation is and it’s a pretty shitty situation. The way I’ve dealt with it has been to WRITE MY HEART OUT; have lots of honest, open, and difficult conversations; and cry. Part of it has also been re-reading things I’ve written about polyamory in the past, revisiting blogs I consulted when I was first getting into this, talking to other people going through some rough times, and just immersing myself in the issue instead of trying to avoid it. It’s also been about trusting my partner.
Speaking in general, though, part of it has been unlearning some of the more ingrained ideas about what love, commitment, and relationships are “supposed” to be like. There was a LOT of unlearning and deconstructing when I embarked in my first relationship with a poly (and married) man, but I still find myself unlearning things to this day–things I didn’t even realize were part of those “packaged” notions. I’ve found it’s also about being able to come to terms with those things I DO want and feeling no (or little!) shame about them, since there are ideas floating around about what “perfect poly” is like and how “evolved” some models are, and there’s pressure to conform to those ideals.
3. What has been the best thing about being open/poly?
Aside from the obvious “being able to let relationships take their own individual courses without having to fit into a perfect mold” and “fulfilling more needs in multiple places,” I think another super cool piece of it is being able to feel New Relationship Energy and those exciting sparky feelings of flirting with (and/or crushing on) people many times throughout my life (while still maintaing steady relationships). Furthermore, being able to share that with another partner (whether it’s because I’m feeling NRE or they are for someone else that we both like) is fantastic.
Also? It was AWESOME having a loving support system (in the form of my primary partner) when I went through a rough breakup. Having him around as I grieved/dealt with the debacle of that other relationship and its roller-coaster ride helped immensely. It was nice to know someone still loved and supported me in that situation! In fact, my partner even helped me process and think through a lot of what happened, giving me perspective and reassurance when my morale was low.
4. Anything else you’d like to add?
Read up on the Love Languages. Figure out what your style is, and think about what ways you like to communicate. Make sure your partners are aware of their own style, and that you all communicate about this.
Finally, it’s okay to want a label for yourself and your relationships. So much focus gets placed on exploding binaries and breaking categories down that sometimes we forget how labels can be HELPFUL and comforting, how they can help people carve a space for others in their lives and vice-versa. The trick is to figure out what those labels actually MEAN on your own terms and to be intentional about those definitions.
So Babeland did this sweet Valentine’s Day gift guide, and it got me thinking about what sexy toys and gifts I would highly, highly recommend, above all others, for you to pick up for your sweetheart (and, uh, yourself) for this Valentine’s Day.
I’ve been reviewing products for more than two years, and these are some of my personal favorites. The queer porn is especially good as a Valentine’s Day gift I think … plus, if you get a year-long membership, or even a month-long, that will be an ongoing present, one you can enjoy together and that might help take your sex life to a new level. It’s much easier to point to some sex act or product on screen and say, “So what do you think of that?” in order to open up conversation than it is to say, “Hey, I want to try …”
Hope you find something you like, and that the day is fun, regardless of how you celebrate.
So let’s hear it: what are you getting your sweetheart, or yourself, this year? How, if at all, are you celebrating? What are your very favorite toys that I might have left off this list?
How do you reconcile your feminism with your sadism and desire to (gulp) hurt women? (In a completely consensual manner, of course.)—Cold Comfort
The closest thing I’ve come so far to explaining this was in that essay from December 2009 called Reconciling the Identities of Feminist and Butch Top, but this question, about sadism, is slightly different, and I have the impression I haven’t quite answered it all the way.
“Butch top” is very much related to “sadist” for me, but that’s just because that’s my particular version of butch topping, into which my sadism is built. In fact, it’s only been recently that I’ve been unpacking sadism from topping, being with someone who is much more submissive than she is a masochist. Point being, much of that essay is exactly about reconciling those identities.
Yet still, I don’t feel like that is an adequate explanation on this topic. Besides, the culmination of that essay is basically, “How did I reconcile these identities? I don’t know, I just thought about it a lot and then it was better.” There must be something more articulate to say about that.
I hit on it a little more in the essay Yes, No, and Consent too, about agency, in feminist terms. It has to do with the very simple distinctions between BDSM and abuse, even if they are equated by many anti-porn feminists. And it has to do with the Platinum Rule—not the Golden Rule, the “do to others what you would like to be done to you,” but the “do to others as they would like to be treated,” and the acknowledgement that how you want to be treated and how another wants to be treated may not be the same thing, especially when you add in the complexities of relationship through sex, BDSM, sadism, and masochism.
But, if someone wants me to treat them a certain way and something about it feels funny to me, I trust that, and I take a break and pause and ask questions (hopefully without over-processing or projecting), until I feel like we have resolved whatever was coming up or until I decide there’s too much there to open up without adequate containment or backup.
To go back to the Platinum Rule: for a pop-culture simplistic example, consider the Love Languages! Which, cheesy as they are superficially, I think are a very useful system to think about the ways that myself and my partner may be seeking the same things (like love, comfort, security, passion) but may be in different ways (through words of aspiration, quality time, physical touch, acts of service, and receiving gifts). I think we all have some relationship to all five of those ways (and possibly more), but many of us are more focused on some of those ways than others.
All of us are seeking similar things, like love and sex and companionship, but we may be seeking to play with those things in different ways. And figuring out what my own preferences are in playing with those things, and in being in a relationship, figuring out how I best communicate, who I’m attracted to and what qualities I most prefer in someone else, and how to reconcile differences or misunderstandings between us, has been a huge journey, and has been a huge piece of being able to articulate that I want to play with deeper, heavier BDSM, like pain or humiliation, and to trust someone enough to believe that when they say they want to play with that on the receiving end, they mean it, they know themselves well enough to know what they want, they are experienced enough to understand what they’re asking for, they are in touch with themselves enough to tell when they have reached a limit, and they are strong enough to be able to communicate with me around whatever is going wrong (or right).
I’ve worked a hell of a lot on my own issues, particularly on being able to say what I’m thinking, to stand up for myself, and to not get swept up in someone else’s psychology and psyche. I’ve been in therapy for about four years now, and that has helped me greatly with my communication. I’ve also done all sorts of “alternative” methods of healing, such as massage therapy, physical therapy, acupuncture, tinctures, supplements, nutritional counseling, bodywork … I’ve done a lot of work on myself and my own issues, and I am continuing to work hard to improve the ways I communicate and relate.
So, this is how I would reconcile feminism & sadism:
- Acknowledge that people want different things. For example, your desire to hit someone is bad when the person you are hitting doesn’t want to be hit, but when the person you are with wants to be hit, in a playful, controlled, conscious way, that’s called consent and it’s (probably) great. Consider the distinctions between BDSM and abuse, and trust yourself when you know you are on one side or the other. Listen to your lovers when they give you feedback about how your behavior affects them.
- Play with people whose consent you trust, and don’t take responsibility for other people’s consent. And, if they consent, then later uncover that it was actually bad for them, they didn’t like it, or blame something on you, you can certainly apologize and take responsibility for whatever your part of it may have been, but it was not your fault that they consented to an act that you then did. Be willing to process a scene after playing, and listen carefully, but know that trying to retroactively revoke consent is a dangerous move.
- Seek out and understand the background and history and texts on BDSM. Find mentors (if you’re in a city big enough to have a BDSM scene) and take classes, or join online BDSM groups and learn. There is a rich history of writings and teachers who discuss what it’s like to go into these deep, dark realms of physical sensation and psychology, and many of them hold important explanations for how this play works. Studying these arts makes us more aware, which can make us more conscious, and more intentional, and better able to be present in our play.
I’ve always, for as long as I can remember, had a deep connection to feminism. And I believe in it the way I believe in psychology or democracy—that even though there are plenty of people out there fucking it up, there is a kernel, a spark, a rawness at its core that I believe is important, necessary, and is deeply aligned with me and my sense of purpose in this world. I don’t believe that because some people are taking these things and claiming them to mean some things that I disagree with that I need to then step out of the ring and let them take it over. I’m glad that there can be multiple perspectives coming from one singular idea, it strengthens the idea to have multiple angles, I think (even if sometimes I believe they are so very wrong).
I know there are plenty of people who say they are not a feminist, especially those who work in various aspects of sex, and that there are plenty of feminists who would probably say that I am “not a feminist” because of my BDSM play or my masculinity or whatever. But I have enough sovereignty around my feminist identity that I know that their version of feminism is simply different from mine, and that mine is no more wrong than theirs is.
So that’s my last prescription for reconciling feminism and sadism: Ask yourself what your definition of feminism is. If you start digging to discover that you think feminists never, ever hit someone, or humiliate someone, or call someone a bitch, or shove a cock down a girl’s throat, well then, you are going to have some trouble reconciling those two identities. This is where the #3 Research on BDSM will come in handy, because BDSM circles know the difference between play and real life. We know that rape is absolutely not the same thing as playing with consent, as someone yelling out “no no no” during a scene. We know that the things that we play with during scenes, like pain, like giving or receiving pain, are not fun to experience in real life. I would never want someone to spank me or beat me or slap me in the face for real! I would never want someone to do that to my girlfriend! But under the umbrella of play, it takes on other qualities. It might look the same, a slap across the face vs a slap across the face, but the motivation, intention, control, and outcome are completely different.
Growing involves seeing more than the black or white definitions that labels, identities, and systems of thought often prescribe. Lots of feminists have written about how oppressive the sexual culture surrounding the subordination of women is; and that’s important to learn. However, equating ALL acts of some kind of sex, happening between consenting adults, that you or “feminists” deem inappropriate with oppression or non-consent is denying a key part of sex play: agency. Hurting someone, especially sexually, is something (some) feminists shun, but when you add consent into that mix, you’ve entered into something that is not black or white. And perhaps not even gray, since consent puts any act in a whole new category.
Did that adequately answer your brief but loaded question? Are there other follow-up questions from what I’ve posted here?