This month, I am delivering a post coauthored by sonnet, my friend and writing partner on other projects.
“Failure or success seem to have been allotted to men by their stars. But they retain the power of wriggling, of fighting with their star or against it, and in the whole universe the only really interesting movement is this wriggle.” — E.M. Forster
Dominance and submission is more art than science, and like all creative endeavors, is inexact, messy, and perilous. Like clay used to make a pot, a Dominant or submissive may try one style of dynamic or relationship with a partner and then another, casting and recasting in search of the right form. The result of this process may eventually be a thing of beauty, but there are always bumps and starts, hiccups, and a lot of unseemly efforts that look like failures.
Doms and subs are, at the most basic, human. We come with diverse limitations, possibilities, and kinks. Finding the right shape for a relationship can be, as E.M. Forster observed, like wriggling with a nuclear reactor — with results ranging from euphorically hot to devastatingly explosive. This post explores the “failures” that happen along the way — those times when a dynamic doesn’t work out or partners don’t gel — when things fall apart, sometimes spectacularly. We will describe some of our own experiences with relationships that ended and how we came to see them not as devastating failures, but as progress and opportunities for growth.
The First Cut Is the Deepest
Things end. Right or wrong, good or bad, nothing lasts forever. But if we imagined the end at the beginning, we might never have the fortitude to begin at all. And the first beginning, one’s first steps into the world of D/s, are made in faith, without any understanding of the shape that endings might take. Entering into a D/s relationships for the first time is — for many, if not all — a partial redefinition of one’s identity. One may have submissive longings or Dominant tendencies, but that is different than having experienced a relationship in which you hold someone as a Dominant or give yourself as a submissive. It can become a part of your identity, and losing the relationship can bring back the rigorous self-examination that led one to D/s to begin with.
sonnet says: People shouldn’t be afraid to have a relationship end or fail, because even if it is painful, sad, and yucky, you will love again. This is something that’s hard to know when it’s your very first experience losing a dynamic. When my first Dominant told me he did not believe he could fulfill my needs and released me, I questioned everything. I doubted whether I was really submissive after all. I had fantasized about devoting my life to this man, and his support allowed me to overcome difficulties I had thought were insurmountable. Most of what I knew about D/s and about myself as a submissive was built in dialogue with him. And if it had not worked with this extremely skilled and experienced Dominant, how could I hope that it might work with anyone? It required both courage and optimism from me and my next Dominant, with whom I was open about the difficulties in my previous relationship, for me to become willing to try again.
Sinistar says: As sci-fi author Frank Herbert said, “A beginning is a very delicate time.” New is exciting, but it is also shaky. My first dynamic did not last all that long, just a few weeks. We were both new, wanting to explore this thing called Dominance and submission. Neither of us really knew for certain if we even fit into BDSM, but we were eager to find out. As discussed in a previous blog post, long-distance dynamics can be difficult, but we found ways to make it work. We tried a few tasks, but we also found ourselves clashing. The personality conflicts, combined with some factors in her personal life, lead us to decide to go our separate ways. I was crushed, of course. I didn’t really come into this expecting something to last till the end of time, but more than a couple of months at least. Already prone to depression, I went into a bit of a tailspin. I recovered bit by bit and realized that, contrary to my suspicions, the world still spun on. And I was soon to find something even better down the road in a stable, permanent dynamic.
Entropy rules the day. What is built falls. And the end of any relationship — dynamics included — hurts. Pain is OK. It can even be good. Pain lets us know we are alive, but it also lets us know that things are working. If something is broken it should hurt. Pain fades. Scars heal. And the fact of the matter is that nothing lasts forever, including hurt. It often seems different in the moment, but life bears that out. Much like an old broken bone, there might still be a twinge when the wind blows just right, but it is an echo, not the injury. In The Lion King, Rafiki tells Simba that “the past can hurt, but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.” No matter how these relationships end, there are lessons to be learned that can make us stronger people.
To Everything There Is a Season
Whether within a dynamic or as part of a series of relationships, there will be beginnings and endings. It can be hard to sit with the anger, sadness, or guilt that are the result of the end of a dynamic or phase of a relationship. It’s tempting to rush into another relationship to try to fill a void. Yet we miss an opportunity for growth if we don’t give ourselves time to grieve and to assess, to find our part in a problem or to celebrate contributions. Endings are painful, but if they are embraced and examined and taken in perspective, we gain insight and wisdom that help us shape future dynamics. As Samuel Beckett said, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” These moments are ones we can learn from, if we are willing.
Sinistar says: As I said, my first sub and I did not really even know ourselves if we were truly Dominant and submissive when we started out. The dynamic was an experiment of sorts. Its “rapid unplanned disassembly” (as the aerospace industry likes to call it) might be seen as a failure. True, the experiment did not yield the desired results, but it did yield results nonetheless. My sub discovered that she was, in fact, not all that submissive. I, however, was able to put to rest those questions of whether or not I was Dominant. I still had (and have) much to learn, but the way I thrive on Dominance and the need for the control that I discovered helped to confirm it for me. That early boost helped me move forward and made me more determined to learn more. Which, in turn, lead me to my mentor and ultimately the one I call Mine.
sonnet says: I’ve been very fortunate that each of my relationships have deepened my understanding, not only of Dominance and submission, but of myself and my needs. In releasing me and telling me he could not fulfill my needs, my first Dominant set me on a path of exploration, challenging me to discover and articulate what I need in a relationship. In the course of several dynamics, I’ve been a pet, a little, and even a Domme — and although all of those relationships did eventually end, each one ended a little better than the last in terms of my ability to celebrate the connection I made, the ways my partner helped me grow, and how I had fulfilled my partner’s needs. My most recent ending has been one of joyful sadness as my partner identified a need that I could not fulfill, and I supported him in finding what he needed — in some ways coming full circle from that first dynamic. I mourn, I feel lost, I doubt myself, but all of these are familiar now. I recognize them as part of the process, not a sign that I’m a failure and will be alone forever.
Getting by With a Little Help From Our Friends
D/s dynamics can be absorbing. Intense focus on one’s partner’s needs and desires (and having that focus and attention returned) is part of what makes D/s such a fulfilling relationship model. When a dynamic ends, one appreciates anew the need to maintain other relationships — friends, family, colleagues, mentors — to provide balance and perspective. To paraphrase John Donne, no Dom or sub is an island unto themselves. Each is a piece of the continent that makes up the kink community, a part of the main that is the web of interpersonal relationships that make up our lives. When things go south in a dynamic, we all need someone to turn to, but our kinky friends in particular can talk us through it from the perspective of people who understand and embrace our life choices — while also providing reality checks if we romanticize our former partners or fail to acknowledge our own deficits in a relationship.
sonnet says: Often it is the dark and difficult moments that most reveal a person’s character. When I first met Sinistar, his gentleness and mild manners didn’t shout “Dom” at me. And as a baby sub, I couldn’t claim to have highly developed Domdar in any case. It was the way he handled his first submissive, his prioritization of her needs, that showed me the Dominant he was beginning to become. He wrestled with what this meant for him, what it meant to be a Dominant to someone who didn’t want to submit — perhaps not to him, perhaps not to anyone. Yet he didn’t focus on his ego or his feelings of rejection or disappointment — instead, his concern was for his submissive, creating a safe space for her to explore her needs. This is the mark of a true Dominant. As I remember it, I told him so, but I didn’t need to — because he was recognizing that truth for himself.
Sinistar has likewise been my faithful friend through my own disappointments and losses. Like many submissives, when things go amiss I often fall into a cycle of self-blame. I believe that I am somehow damaged, undesirable, no good. Sinistar has been there to remind me that I am loved, that I am worthy, that I am a good girl — even when I don’t have a Dominant to tell me so. Although he’s never been my Dom, he has held a space and structure for me sometimes in a low-key, friendly way, a sort of life preserver that keeps me right-way up when things go topsy turvy in an ocean of doubt. I owe my growth as a submissive at least as much to his friendship as I do the capable Dominants to whom I’ve submitted.
Sinistar says: Sonnet was my first friend in the lifestyle. She has served as a teacher and as almost as big a cheerleader as Mine. She is also a good enough friend to tell me when I’m being bullheaded. When I first started considering whether I might be Dominant, she encouraged me to learn. She passed along lessons she learned from her Dom and eventually introduced us and helped me to have him as a mentor. She was excited when I landed that first submissive, and just as important, a shoulder when I needed it when the dynamic fell apart. Even though the experiment did confirm my own Dominance for me and I ultimately found Mine, the loss still struck me hard at the time. Having a sub walk away after such a short period of time, no matter the reason, is a blow to the ego, potentially fatal to a Dom so new to the lifestyle. In the face of such misfortune, it becomes tempting to turtle — withdraw inside yourself and shut out the world. This tactic rarely proves a good move, however, and it was friends such as sonnet who helped me to keep my head and limbs out and moving forward, however slowly. I owe her a great deal for that, because without that encouragement, I may well have missed the opportunity that brought me together with my loving submissive. D/s may be largely about self-discovery, but friends help plant signposts along the way, both in times calm and tempestuous.
As Kahlil Gibran said, “Your friend is your needs answered.” Friends come and go. Fair weather brings them in droves, people with whom we can laugh and joke and just simply hang out. Storms test the mettle of a friendship. Everyone needs someone to lean on, and that need is often best met by a friend. Someone who understands and is there for you with sympathy and truth as you have need. When things go wrong, submissives tend to blame themselves. Dominants want to stand tall and strong and usually alone. But remember, you are not an island. Someone who laughs with us is a joy, but someone who can weep with us and keep our feet moving is a true gift.
At the End of the Day
Most people want the fairytale ending, the happily ever after. Many even get it with a bit of luck and a lot of effort. But the odds are often not in our favor. Do not go into a dynamic predicting its end, but also do not blithely assume it will simply exist forever. Cherish the endings, even when they feel like failures — because in the end, they are waypoints on your path. And you’re not alone in the journey, so keep your friends close.They amplify your joy and soften your pain.
As always, remember: This is your life; live it your way!