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by Jacean Mikhael
(c) July 2013 All Rights Reserved This article is the sole property of the author and CAN NOT be reprinted in any format without express written permission of the author.
A quote that always struck me from Great Gatsby has been floating in my head for quite a while now – “The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” I understand that quote quite a bit more personally these days.
When I started writing this article, I began with something else entirely. It was to be an introspective look at the struggles of total power exchange relationships. I found myself getting to a deeply emotional and unhappy place, having just a short time prior had multiple relationships of many years end in quick succession. Along with this came the added loss of the child I had raised as my daughter for a number of those years in the process. It was a difficult place to be in, to be forced to deal with the loss of loved ones and the world you had created torn asunder. It left me with countless attempts to go through all my mental math, self-examining over and over again like a madman at the chalkboard, trying to determine what was the variable that had caused these cataclysmic events to occur. I always came back to the answer I knew I would before I even began. I consider it my Oppenheimer moment. At the end, the primary variable that was consistent was “me”.
Fun times. I had to really sit down with myself and determine all the things I didn’t like about how I had been living my life, and how to go about changing them and that classic Whedonism rang true in my head...“Remember to Always Be Yourself. Unless You Suck.” Of course, as with any relationship, there is usually enough blame to share, enough fingers to point in every direction. Sadly the awareness of the faults, flaws and failings of another will do nothing to change our own lives. Instead we must focus the attention towards finding and fixing our problems. What is it they say? Trying your hardest to blow out another man’s candle won’t make your own burn any brighter. The ending of relationships are good for that type of inward reflection though. It’s in those moments you spontaneously gain this magnificent, deep understanding of the entire world around you that somehow had been completely unseen just moments prior. The most major realization of all, is having to really take stock of how much I had been emotionally unwell, and even now, months later, I am not emotionally where I would prefer. Mental health is a constant balance and one which must always be accounted for. I never really put much stock into my own emotions, even my own physical health usually was pushed off to the sidelines in an effort to care for those around me to the point where my blood work came back looking like I had been living in a third world country. Eventually, I had worn myself so thin there was nothing left. I had tapped every reserve, I had drained every reservoir, I had emptied the last can from my pantry… and then in the end, I was empty.
So how did I get here? Well, to start, I am the child of a military father. Things like emotions weren’t ever placed in high regard in a household which thought any emotion other than anger was cause for immediate deflection or retaliation. Emotions were “manipulative”, and should be punished accordingly. Where my upbringing might have left me a bit short-changed, sadly nothing else in my every day environment had really stepped up to the plate either while in my formative or even adult years. In the world we live, especially for self-identified dominant males in this society, we are often rife with the side effects of societal toxic masculinity* . This is the incessant nature of society – to tell men their value is based on their power, their achievements or accomplishments, their “wealth” or “strength”. This is how we are judged every day. Weakness, frailty, even basic human emotions are often held with such disregard and disdain we are conditioned to never allow ourselves to express our feelings, or if we do fall short, immediately feel guilty for doing so.
Now, as the cherry on top, let’s add the complications of a subculture based around your ability to personify that strength. This idealization of masculinity is the most common basis through which power is exchanged and roles are defined. So, the same power which society judges us on is also among the same things a potential submissive partner desires. What makes them look up with respect? Being that strong, powerful person who has their life together, who is able to show through their own actions and life choices that they exemplify a strong alpha personality, brimming with self-control and self-awareness. As the narcissist that I am, I always strive to be the best I am at whatever I do – being the most Alpha of Alpha males, like I had walked right out of a 1950’s advertisement for shaving cream as Don Draper holding a copy of Justine. Eventually I had just scripted my life so perfectly I rarely ever exited my “role”. I was living the dream. But, no matter how long you sleep, eventually we will always wake up.
This constant pissing match in the “community”, as it were, only instigates it further with our regular shows of bravado and machismo. Being anything less than the idealized version of a Dom or Top was to leave you lackluster and unappealing to a potential mate. So, aspiring dominant personality types fall back to the concept “you shall be master of none until you have mastered yourself” and to be frank here, it is still something I believe in conceptually. What place have I to dictate the will or future of another if my own life is at discord by my own hands? What does it show of my ability to lead an underling to a more prosperous future if I cannot even lead myself there? The question becomes then, what is the basis with which we are to compare ourselves in self-mastery? Must my body look like a body builder or a gymnast? Must my stock portfolio be perfectly well rounded and my savings ample? Must I have reached the pinnacle of my career in my chosen field? In this economy, what if I don’t even have a job? What if I could still stand to lose a few pounds, or how about a hundred even? I believe that you should have your life in order. That I will stand by but the specifics of the rest are a lot harder for anyone other than one’s self to really determine. If you wouldn’t feel comfortable taking on the responsibility of a pet given your current life situation, you certainly might want to think about holding off on starting that new service contract. Just saying…
One thing to understand moving forward, is regardless of your chosen role, you need self-control. Self-control does not mean everything in our life is without struggle or complication, but rather we have set the bar to our own standards and we must hold ourselves accountable to them. Beyond that, the rest is simple reality – it is only by both parties understanding a power exchange relationship is just like any other relationship. You are two, or more, broken people attempting to enter into an arrangement with someone who is inherently flawed, regardless of which role, gender, position or title you might hold. People sometimes forget in the moment, power exchange is about control and control goes both ways. A submissive partner can only give over control if they have it over themselves, but likewise a dominant partner in this situation only has the ability to utilize the amount of control given.
For the most part, people are going to try to do their best. The issue here is what happens when the path is wrong? When all the math you have done in your head is based on faulty logic and results in an unavoidable collapse? Is it more important they adhere to your authority, or that the best case scenario is achieved? If you chose the former to the latter than you have some serious questions to start asking yourself. So, yeah, you get it, we all make mistakes, but what about when neither party intentionally makes a mistake and something just happens? What about the devastating or at the very least life-altering aftermath of an event that fundamentally transforms or hinders the capabilities or expectations of the people involved, such as; pregnancy, terminal or chronic illness, onset of disability, an accident, a bout with mental illness, the tragedy of the loss of mutual partner, or one partner’s loved one or any number of other spontaneous acts of chaos fate likes to throw.
We all eventually hit those brick walls while we are attempting to move ever steadily forward, sometimes rather spontaneously, and often with no awareness whatsoever we are stopped or irrevocably hindered. In those moments we have no option but to pause, reevaluate, and proceed on a new path accordingly. It is a true trial, for those in a power exchange dynamic to deal with these situations. So often our submissives, and especially new submissives, will look to their dominant partner in these moments in the manner in which they’ve been conditioned. As the source of solace and solutions throughout the relationship, the submissive partner often will place their dominant upon a pedestal. They raise them to an almost godlike position of power in which nearly anything they do is infallible. The shattering break happens when they realize their partner is in fact human, their partner has faults, and their partner may fail. It is at that time these relationships really begin to genuinely struggle. The submissive entered into this dynamic, seeking guidance, and now they are losing their faith. When their faith starts to disappear, the lengths to which ones submissive partner might go tends to shrink concurrently.
For me, it was always the most heartbreaking moment as a dominant to have to look into the eyes of my submissive while they stare back at me, completely aware both of us are powerless to change the current situation. During which, the submissive endures the sadness of not being able to make you better, along with the fear and disorientation that if their dominant can’t fix it, who can? As the dominant partner, you have the internalized guilt and stigma of being “weak” in front of your partner, to be fully aware this was your ship to steer and you just hit an iceberg. Perhaps you can even console yourself that it was due to no direct action of your own, but regardless, you are still the captain of a now-sinking ship. You still have to cope with the release of emotion and the shell shock that all your love, hope and wishes can’t prevent the waters from rising. You just want to change things…. but you already have. What is to be determined still by the course of action that follows is whether it is going to make things better or worse. Whenever you share a depth of emotion with a partner who has love for you, there is no leaving this scenario unaltered or unaffected. It is often out of love and compassion people find each other, it is what pushes us ever forward and further… but love and compassion alone are not enough to sustain to a relationship.
This moment, as hard as it is, can also be a moment of beauty and intimacy, to be able to allow yourself to break down those walls and let your partner see your humanity. There are few things more potent to a submissive partner than the tears of their dominant partner. Now I have to be direct – it is a hard fact to accept for people like myself; being vulnerable in front of your partner is not a weakness, but a strength. Allowing them to see that aspect of your humanity can do wonders; and, truth be told, you should have been doing it all along. Now don’t take this as a recommendation to act without logic or analytical thinking and resorting to irrational outbursts. Instead attempt to be freer with your emotions and use that willingness to proactively have those hard talks where you sit down and express your feelings and allow it to benefit both of you. I know, it sounds horrible and sometimes it really is, but hopefully in the process you can foster an environment in which your submissive will feel comfortable sharing their emotions with you as well. It is out of that same love and compassion that keeps people together that also insists we not burden others with our problems and sets us up for failure. You will start to gain an openness where you are sharing those feelings hardest for you which you might otherwise have been hiding, perhaps even from yourself. In order to get there it takes trust and faith on both ends and an ability to communicate with out the fear of hurting feelings or getting in trouble.
I challenge others reading this to understand, if you desire to have a long lasting, functioning and healthy relationship, openness wins out over stoicism every time. Even with the best of intention behind it, hiding from your partner will still cause damage, they don’t need to hear the words come from your lips to be hurt by them. When you do not share honestly with your partner you are doing a disservice to both of you and providing your partner with a false representation of reality in which things are fine or acceptable when they are not is not only being dishonest it is also ensuring things will not get better. A sustainable relationship requires this commitment to open communication from both ends, without fear of how you might be negatively affected, so when your partner does share with you, try not to react – try to listen. Understand the basic point that feelings are never wrong, whether they are yours or theirs – it does not matter if why they feel this way is illogical, or even factually inaccurate. Reality doesn’t matter to our feelings, but our feelings will shape our realities; so proceed accordingly, knowing we have now stepped out of the world of black and white, right or wrong, and into those yield-less shades of gray. Of special mention for submissive partners who might fear punishment or other repercussions for expressing themselves, realize if you have never made yourself clear and spoken with clarity and certainty that something is an issue, you can’t have the expectation your dominant partner should just know something is wrong. Most people will inherently just believe things are okay unless they hear otherwise. Also if either of you are expressing a serious concern, address it as such, being sheepish or avoidant serves benefit to no one. The assumption of mind reading is a coffin nail to so many relationships with guilt laid on the shoulders of dominant and submissive alike.
Now what do you do if you find yourself in a relationship which has been damaged? First and foremost, regardless of the reason, you have to both make a conscious choice if you are going to work on fixing it; because one person alone, no matter how hard they try can’t do it. It will take all parties involved to be committed to do whatever it takes for it to work. You have to be willing to fight for it and have the decisiveness to give it your all. Live in the present and not the past, and don’t waste time playing a blame game that isn’t going to solve anything. Set realistic expectations and don’t go into it blindly thinking restoration and healing will be easy. A close friends father told him “a relationship isn’t 50/50 its 100/100” and I think truer words were never said.
Sadly some people simply aren’t compatible and no matter how much work both parties do, they will never endure, at least not in a way that is healthy for both parties. To those that do decide to part ways, attempt to do so amiably and try to keep in mind that you did love this person once and you had legitimate and valid reasons for doing so. For most relationships though, while salvaging a relationship will take considerable time and resources it is worth it. Every relationship will struggle and if you’re just starting another repeating the same behaviors is setting yourself up for failure. Having a lasting relationship is less about finding the perfect person and more about the determination to stay together and work through the problems rather than the easier option of just walking away. It’s no surprise that so many relationships crumble once they hit this point if there isn’t a willingness to sacrifice.
We live in a world which conditions us to simply replace what is “broken” and that it takes too much effort to repair what you already have. In these moments of intense emotion, pain and fear people often forget that people are not interchangeable material goods despite how we might treat them. People too often put more importance on the role than on who is fulfilling it. It is easy enough to find someone to fulfill a similar role but you can never replace a person and you will never get the same relationship. People aren’t their roles and understanding that moving forward will help. Instead, focus on what makes them special and on what brought you both together rather than where they fell short or didn’t match up with the picture of them that we created in our minds. Clear up the confusion and make sure that needs and wants of both parties are clearly communicated. Usually it is early expectations we enter into relationships having of one another about what that role is supposed to be that eventually leads us to conflict and could have been easily avoided with a bit of directness.
So I’m not going to end this with a bullshit mantra that you have heard a thousand times, instead I will just say this; life has a way of giving you what you need and not what you want and sometimes those lessons are very hard. As they say, “you pays your money and you takes your chances”. You have no option other than to just keep on moving forward trying to make sense of a senseless world, and do whatever is in your power to make today a better day than yesterday. We have one shot at this whole life thing, regardless of what comes after, this is our only time in this life. Right here and right now, your options are to just sit back and wait until the ride is over or take a proactive step towards learning from your mistakes and working towards making tomorrow better for yourself and any current or future relationships in which you might engage.
Lastly, whether it be together or alone, just learn to let go. Let go of your expectations, let go of your fantasies and your preconceived notions of what your partner was supposed to be like. Let go of your shortcomings and your failures and similarly let go of theirs. Let go of your fears and let go of your triggers and your pain, it won’t serve you here. Let go of your past and let go of trying to control the future because you never will. Just let go.
Let me take a brief second to go on a tangent here, in my article I was over-generalizing here to relate the information more directly to myself and my own experiences. My statements above are about my own struggles and that is not to say all dominant people are male or all submissive partners are female. I realize all dominant partners fall into the same line of toxic expectations of perfection regardless of gender or sex. I acknowledge dominant females face similar yet struggles of societal backlash being immediately assumed as man hating “bitches”. I see how, for similar reasons, as to why dominant males feel constantly in a pissing contest, submissive partner males are viewed, often even within our own subculture, as inherently dysfunctional, weak and powerless.
* Reference: HTTP://www.policymic.com/articles/54105/the-one-thing-all-men-feel-but-never-admit
Jacean Mikhael has been challenging the BDSM community since 1999, when he formed his first TNG chapter in Orlando and continued on with TNG International Council, SL,UT TNG, Utah Power Exchange. In 2009 he opened Orlando’s first and only public dungeon, Darkside Acting Studio with a “free-to-play” model that encouraged local community service and involvement as opposed to membership or admittance fees. Jacean has been offering his unique teaching style for over a decade as an educator at prominent BDSM events throughout the country and private mentor-ships. Outside his commitment to BDSM education, Jacean has also had an extensive career as an artist, chef, musician, and event promoter. His first book in a educational literature series “BDSM Without the Bullshit” will be published later this year promoting a radical new methodology for practical application of titleless power exchange relationships.