Several months ago, a reader wrote to me to say that a fledgling relationship has just ended because the man expected what he called “submission” (unquestioning obedience) from almost the first meeting. This reader is desperate to be taken in hand, seems to have a very warm heart, and is clearly very intelligent, but none of that made any difference to the man. If she wanted him to be in charge, he said, she should stop “topping from the bottom” and “just obey”.
The reader liked my reply so much that she suggested I post it for others to read. This piece is based on that message.
| 2. How relationship must look like|
What the reader's new man didn't have (apart from common decency and civility) was an understanding that relationships do not spring into life ready-formed: they have to be created. Relationships arise out of the wishes, ideas and values of the two individuals and through their interactions together. Each relationship starts from nothing and develops and evolves over time, changing each individual, which changes the interactions, and changes the relationship. There is no shortcut for that process, and there is no recipe.
If you have a fixed idea of what the relationship must look like, and then expect the other person simply to step into the role and read the script you have written, you are not interested in creating a real relationship, you are asking the other person to act a part in a badly-written play. Whilst it can be fun to act in a play sometimes, the idea of spending one's entire life over and over again playing the same role in the same play is, I'd say, decidedly unappealing.
| 3. Playing a stereotypical role|
Would you want someone prepared to do that? Wouldn't you find that a little... worrying? What kind of person would want to play a lifeless stereotypical pre-written role in your play, when he or she could instead create a dynamic, vibrant, ever-evolving, endlessly fascinating, fruitful real relationship? Wouldn't that raise the question in your mind: does this person have anything to offer? and a whole host of other questions?
It may be fine to read someone else's script in a scene of limited duration. But a relationship is not just a scene, and not just an unending scene either. It is qualitatively different. It is no surprise to me that the very experienced owner of an SM dungeon said that relationships is the scariest thing she has ever heard of. Handing over real power to another is dangerous. And the more power a woman might want to hand over eventually, the more dangerous it is for her.
| 4. A conventional relationship|
Even in a conventional relationship, the early stages of the process of creating a relationship will not and cannot look like a well-established relationship. That is all the more so in a relationship. A woman wanting to give considerable power to the man needs to check very carefully and thoroughly that the man she is getting to know is worthy of the power he will have. It would be foolhardy to hand over unlimited power to a man you barely know! Be realistic!
At the beginning, the two people need to do a vast amount of talking, negotiating, and questioning, to make sure that they are actually compatible. You need to know that you probably aren't going to end up in several pieces in the freezer. It takes time for an individual's true colours to show, and it is completely unreasonable to expect the other person to pretend that you have already established that you are compatible, decent, and worth the risk.
The woman needs to know that it will be possible for both to be happy in the relationship. She needs to know that the relationship will be compatible with and supportive of the growth, development and endless improvement of both individuals. She needs to know that the relationship will be able to withstand major as well as minor problems that will inevitably crop up. She needs to know that the relationship will have the problem-solving institutions necessary to address and resolve problems. She needs to know that the man does not merely say that he believes himself to be fallible, but acts as though he believes himself to be fallible. If he treats every problem or disagreement as a power struggle or insubordination, he is acting as though he is infallible, and until he stops reacting like that, he is never going to be anything other than an abuser. The woman needs to know that he will listen to her rather than silencing her with complaints of “topping from the bottom”. She needs to know that he will care about her needs and wishes in the relationship rather than be a self-serving megalomaniac. She needs to know that if or when she reaches the point where she can never bring herself to disobey him, he will not abuse that power.
| 6. A red flag to the woman|
The correct attitude to the woman's questioning, raising problems, seeking discussion on anything that is troubling her, is to welcome it, not accuse her of “topping from the bottom” or “controlling with complaints”. If a man expects perfection or the absence of any problems to resolve, that kind of disconnect with reality is, or should be, a red flag to the woman.
Not all men are ready or will ever be ready for a relationship. It takes more than wanting one. It takes great strength and good character. It takes the ability to admit mistakes and make changes when there is a problem. It takes a lot of things. The mere fact that a man is dominant does not make him strong or in any way a good person. There are some dangerous, abusive men out there. Expecting her to hand over power without checking that you are not such a man is completely unreasonable and unrealistic. She needs to take the time to check what kind of man you are.
So please, men, do not expect a woman to hand over power casually. Do not expect it to happen immediately. Expect it to take a long time – and I don't mean a few months or a few weeks. Assume that the vital process of checking that the two of you will be good together will take the entire first year, and you won't be far wrong. It might even take longer. The relationship will still be developing 30 years down the line, so what is a year in the greater scheme of things? Think of it as an exploratory adventure! Be patient. Be realistic. Be reasonable!
If the woman says that she wants you to be in control, take her at her word. Don't think that that means that she is saying that there is no need for the checking process! Don't think that she is saying that she has thrown caution to the wind and is going to become a yes-woman and do your bidding without question from now on. Don't think that the need for negotiation is over.
What it means when a woman says that she wants the man to be in control is the same thing it means when a sensible, reasonable man says that he wants to be in charge: it is a statement about the desired direction of the relationship rather than an unrealistic suggestion that it is possible just to step into a role without so much as checking out the script first. This is not about stepping into a preconceived role at all, let alone without reading the script and checking that the production company has what it takes to bring the production to Broadway. It is about creating something real – a relationship that has life, energy and the capacity to change the lives of both individuals in a positive way.
The woman who wrote to me said that her new man had accused her of being “afraid of losing control”. Of course she was afraid! You'd be crazy not to be afraid! This is dangerous! If this is not obvious to you, you just don't get it! And if you don't get it, you shouldn't be doing it.