For the full story:
My First and I have been gently exploring our past relationship, and in doing so we have been exposing the fact that we never really understood each other. And when I say ‘never really understood’, I mean ‘had wildly different experiences in the same relationship’.
There was the ‘big misunderstanding‘ that underscored a lot of it, but it’s clear in hindsight that we didn’t have the vocabulary or the communication skills to navigate the complexities of our relationship.
I was a new Domme, experimenting with my power, pushing hard, possibly more dictator than compassionate partner.
He was a more experienced bottom, but had never before submitted, was younger, emotionally immature, he fell in love.
The result wasn’t good.
I was flexing some serious dominant muscle for the first time, exercising choices that worked for me, that were my right in the relationship. I don’t at all remember how (or if) I communicated those decisions, or what sort of voice he had in it, if any. On the vanilla-side, I obviously really liked him, we lived together for goodness’ sakes, but I never took him seriously as a partner: it just never felt quite right.
On his part, even though he was an experienced bottom, he had never truly submitted before. He desperately wanted to feel my desire, to bring me pleasure, to gain my approval, but felt the entire time that he was failing. Still, he fell in love. And at the bottom of all of that he harboured feelings of betrayal from quite early on in our time living together.
It was a messy mix that we didn’t have the skills to bring out into the open and discuss. So we each went forward oblivious of each others feelings and struggles.
From my side, our relationship wasn’t a grand love affair, but it was full of warmth, shared exploration, sweetness. I didn’t feel as if he was failing me, and I don’t remember ever expressing that (of course, I called out things if I was correcting him, but I don’t ever remember being frustrated or disappointed by any failure to please me).
From his side, our relationship was a mire of unhappiness with him struggling to keep his head above water. When I asked him recently if he had any happy memories, he talked about moments that were important to him, but even those he didn’t describe as ‘happy’.
He has never submitted to anyone since me: he has worked hard to avoid making himself that vulnerable ever again.
The realisation that we had such disparate experiences of our relationship is both fascinating and disturbing for me. I know I keep harping on about it, but my lack of awareness is shocking to me and over these past months, I have tried to understand how on earth it happened and to reassure myself that it couldn’t possibly have happened since.
On the one hand, I am selfishly pleased that he has never submitted to anyone after me (I’m not proud that I feel that way given it was born of hurt and terribleness, but I still feel it). It’s ego, pure and simple. I was his first, I own that part of him, I marked him: Mine. I’d feel that even if he went on to submit to others, but it is *more* mine because he didn’t.
On the other hand, his reasons for never submitting again are not because I was so awesome that he could never hope to reach that pinnacle again (which is what I *want* to hear of course), but because I damaged him so badly that he didn’t want to put himself in a position to go through that again.
I said once that I wasn’t his relationship from hell.
I was wrong.
Wow, I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you. I want to thank you for sharing all of these painful pieces. It has prompted me to re-evaluate my relationship with my pet to make sure that I have created an environment where he feels safe to come to me when he’s feeling hurt or neglected. He is my first sub, and while I’m not his first dom, I really want to strangle his old doms whenever I think of them. I have had to undo the fears, almost expectations, of abuse that previous partners left behind (when your sub tells you blades are a hard limit you do not try to incorporate a sharpened *sword* into one of your first sessions!). I am occasionally terrified that I will do something accidentally hurtful and he will not want to bother me by telling me so. I think we’re past that point (gods know I hope so) but I still worry.
Thanks Aethel, I’m glad it made you think and self examine.
I wrote a really long comment here, but I think I’m going to turn it into a new blog post. Thank you for that.
Very honest reflection, and I’m glad you’re being forthright with it, as many people struggle and fuck up in new relationships/dynamics.
To think everyone is perfect every time, starting up with no experience, is unrealistic.
What is amazing is that you two are coming to a place where you can dissect and discuss it – I’m quite sure many people never communicate in such a way, and that’s a shame.
The credit for the communication is all his: it can’t be easy to contact someone after so many years and bring up something difficult from your past.
I was oblivious, though it does make me wonder if my *own* ‘relationship from hell’ was oblivious also. He was a blip in my past, so not worth dredging up, but it does make me wonder if he would go ‘what?! really?!’ (hard to believe: dude was an arsehole and we fought all the time *laugh*).
Some thoughts on communication… I’m grabbing one of the textbooks off my shelf here.
“Communication is the process of sending and receiving symbols with meanings attached. In effective communication, the intended meaning of the source and the perceived meaning of the receiver are identical”.
The point here is that even when a person feels free to speak up, there is little guarantee that what they are trying to say will be truly understood, that the communication will be “effective”. No matter how detailed, how eloquent or how passionate your message might be, you will never know if the person who receives it will understand how you *feel*.
The truth is that we were equally bad communicators, but I place far more blame on myself than I place on Mistress Sharyn^. *I* chose not to speak up. *I* chose not to exit the relationship immediately. *I* chose to follow a path, and it’s not the fault of any other person if it led me to a place that I didn’t want to be.
^Mild internal giggle as I use that honorific for the first time in a decade and a half. :)
That brings to mind the ‘can we ever truly know another human being’ question (I vote for ‘no’). But yes, REAL communication is hard even in the best circumstances, which we didn’t have.
“The truth is that we were equally bad communicators, but I place far more blame on myself than I place on Mistress Sharyn^. *I* chose not to speak up. *I* chose not to exit the relationship immediately. *I* chose to follow a path, and it’s not the fault of any other person if it led me to a place that I didn’t want to be.”
I appreciate this, but I think we both can share pretty equally in this blame-party. I created the environment in which you made those choices. Chicken-egg. All that.
I’d be happy to lay all the blame on you if I was all open sweetness and light and encouraging cuddly niceness. I wasn’t. I’m still not because *vomit*, but I am certainly a thousandfold better communicator (‘encourager of communication’) than I was then.
“Mild internal giggle as I use that honorific for the first time in a decade and a half. :)”
I laughed at ‘Mistress Sharyn’ also :). I don’t at all recall you calling me that (I recall ‘Ma’am’, but not ‘Mistress’). Perhaps that was in public? Oh memory, you are a fickle and unreliable thing!
There is a quote to this point that I think speaks eloquently:
“The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.”
–Daniel W. Davenport
Recognizing this is huge in my experience.
@greg: Yes, exactly.