This is about power imbalances and the controversial concept of ‘least interested’, so buckle up :).
“Do people really believe that the person that is the least interested in the relationship has the power?”
Yep. Absolutely yes. This is actually a real thing referred to in sociology, unimaginatively, as the ‘principle of least interest‘.
Power imbalances exist in relationships for any number of reasons, and I’d definitely say that the person who is the least interested has more power, whether they use it to control the relationship is a related, but slightly different question.
And I don’t think that somehow makes the person who is ‘least interested’ a bad person even though this is an assumption in many of these kinds of discussions, and is often implied whenever the question is asked. A kind of pearl-clutching horror of the idea as inherently abusive and terrible.
Someone can be kind and loving and sweet and fully invested in the relationship, and the other person can STILL be more invested, more interested, and there IS an inherent power imbalance in that. This can be a power dynamic that just… exists. Not because ‘manipulation’, just because… it does *shrug*.
Neither party has to say it out loud, nor does the one with the power need to use it in nefarious ways to non-consensually control or manipulate or coerce or threaten or abuse the other person. None of that is inherent in the premise. They both just know it to be true: It is what it is.
For me, I’m not all fearless emotion and raw love and I don’t joyfully swim in the depths of my own feelings, and I am very much drawn to those who ARE that and who DO that, so it’s almost inevitable that there will be that power imbalance between us. We operate at different levels of emotionality and, in a lot of ways, that’s exactly what makes the relationship work.
Mostly, I feel like I’m the rocky shore and he is all the turbulent and excitable waves that crash up against me over and over. In that sense our respective ‘levels of interest’ are inherently and clearly unbalanced. It looks like it, it feels like it. Because it is.
Most of my relationships (including vanilla ones) have had some of that kind of power disparity plus the power disparity of ‘force of will’, both of which put me in the ‘more powerful’ position in those relationships. It’s organic and happens before we make any agreements about it: The organic dynamic of the relationship exists whether we negotiate it or not because that’s about feelings.
You can’t negotiate feelings, you can only negotiate behaviours.
In a D/s context, by the time we explicitly agree how it will work, the feelings are already there, our power differential is already clear. Both because ‘this is who we are’ and because ‘this is how we fit’. The D/s part formalises what already exists in some form, and and what we are negotiating is agreed behaviours, not feelings.
All of that to say that yes, the person who is least invested does have more power in the relationship, and people can be perfectly happy in a relationship that has that imbalance :).