Thank you to all of you who have emailed and posted comments during the past few months!
In the (relative) peace following the election cycle, I took the winter off to work on a new art series and a new book on strategic political communication, and with all that going on, didn't realize until recently that I hadn't posted a new article since October!
Part of the delay has been a preoccupation with other projects. Part of it has been that I try only to post when I have something to share that might be of interest, and I haven't felt like I had any insights relevant to The Disciplined Feminist for quite awhile. Now perhaps I do.
After a year spent trying with mixed success to live together in a more traditional arrangement, my partner has moved back to the city to pursue career opportunities available to him there, and I'm still out here in my beautiful mountain hideaway working on my various projects. Our DD relationship is suspended indefinitely while we try to work on the larger issues that need resolving between us. I still have hopes that we will be able to get past our current difficulties, but the future between us remains uncertain.
And while I don't believe that DD is responsible for the problems between us, neither do I believe, as I once did, that DD is the solution to those problems. That's not to say that I don't believe DD is a powerful and effective lifestyle choice. Only that I'm starting to realize that, at least for my partner and myself, it's not the "fix" that makes things better. It's the reward that comes from having made things better in other ways.
In a prior article, written during the time when DD was working so well for us, I wrote that I believed that DD could serve as a way of building trust and communication between two people when all else has failed. (see "If DD Is the Glue, Do the Parts Really Fit?", Jan 07).
Given the experiences of the past year, however, I'm no longer convinced it's true that DD can "save" a troubled relationship -- at least not long-term.
Recent experiences have largely convinced me that for DD to work, it must be built on an existing foundation of love, trust and mutual respect. I now suspect that as wonderful as DD is as a lifestyle, it can't create love, trust and mutual respect if those things aren't already present in the relationship. DD can help, perhaps, to resolve minor day to day glitches in communication, adjust minor power imbalances and bring increased intimacy to a relationship already based on love and trust, but it can't fix the larger problems that lurk beneath the surface.
In short, I now suspect that while DD can be the icing on the relationship cake -- the tool that smooths over the rough spots and takes a good relationship to a whole new and richer level -- it can't be the "glue" that holds the relationship together, as I once thought.
In retrospect, it's easy to see the error in my earlier cause & effect reasoning. Just as scientists often draw false conclusions by failing to adequately screen for external causes in their results, I look back to when things were going so well between my partner and me and see that what made everything click into place for us was not DD, but a series of events that occurred just before we started our DD relationship. I mistakenly believed that it was the DD that made everything work for us. It was actually the series of circumstances beforehand that made the relationship work -- which in turn allowed DD to work.
When I first moved out to my beautiful mountain retreat, it was largely because my relationship with my partner had fallen apart. Indeed, we were in much the same situation we're in now -- hurting, angry, barely able to sustain a conversation without one or the other of us getting angry and upset and hanging up the phone. Wondering how on earth to untangle the complex web of professional, financial, emotional and psychological ties that bound us together, so that we could go our separate ways without ruining each other's futures -- but still loving each other so much that neither of us was willing to end it completely.
So I left to give both of us some much-needed space. And in leaving, I pursued my professional path and he pursued his. As a result of this estrangement and separation, we became financially independent from one another. After being dependent on him to create professional opportunities that paid the bills, I got my confidence back that I could take care of myself and create those opportunities without his help. He, in turn, felt less pressure to create opportunities for me, and thus more able to focus on the emotional, nurturing, erotic parts of our relationship. We fell back in love -- more so than we'd ever been before. We talked about marriage, about sharing a home. I once again brought up the subject of DD. He agreed. Paradise ensued. (I started the blog to share my new-found wisdom about how to have the perfect relationship.) I felt like the luckiest woman in the world.
And then we decided to take the DD part of our relationship one step further. We both longed for an even more traditional, archetypal dynamic between us and wanted to make that happen.
Our arrangement was that I'd quit my political career and work on the more feminine pursuit of art, ceding the alpha power position entirely to him. I'd be the arty feminine domestic goddess who was able to pursue my artistic passions without the pressure of having to make money at it. He'd be out in the world, fighting the dragons, affirming his own archetype of provider and protector. It would be bliss -- the recipe for a perfect relationship.
Let's be clear here -- working for a living is not something I have ever enjoyed. Even when I enjoy the work itself, I deeply dislike the pressure of having to do that work to pay the bills. As such, I have always fantasized about having a successful man swoop me up, carry me away to his castle and take care of all the money issues for me while I did whatever I wanted to with my life. It's the Cinderella fantasy. (And I don't for one moment believe I'm the only "modern" woman who still entertains it!)
So we moved in together and I bowed out of one of the most interesting and dynamic election cycles in our history to focus full-time on my new art career and on being a nurturing caretaker to an alpha male. He worked around the clock, paid the bills and slew (slayed?) the dragons.
During that year, my art career took off -- I had solo solo shows in major venues, reviews of my work in prestigious arts publications, won national competitions. In short, I had all the success I could have dreamed of in my first year as a serious artist.
But art doesn't pay the bills. For all my success, the more I worked to build my art career, the more financially dependent on him I became. The more dependent I became, the more resentful both of us were at the power imbalance. I resented not having a dollar to call my own. He resented that I wasn't contributing financially. Not to mention that the more financially dependent I was on him, the less able he was to pursue his own career aspirations.
Things deteriorated between us very quickly, until we were back to the way things were before we started DD -- on the brink of falling apart. This time, he's the one who moved away -- back to the city to focus on his career. I stayed up here in the mountains, not sure what to do. Things got so bad and so scary between us that in the last few months, I've woken up to the reality that I need a way to take care of myself financially in case everything falls apart and I'm left with no way to pay the bills.
So I've started working on my political career again, in addition to my art. And as I create new financial opportunities that will once again make me financially independent, things are getting better between my partner and me again, albeit very slowly. He calls me again just to say hi, I send him sexy emails. We're back to the point where I'm once again dreaming of a future with him, and a revival of us DD relationship. Not there yet, but I have hope again.
Way back when, when we started DD, I assumed that it was the DD that made everything so magical between us. But looking back, I wonder now if perhaps my analysis skipped a step.
It seems that what makes our relationship work isn't DD per se, but rather our individual financial independence, which in turn makes each of us feel safe and confident enough with ourselves to be able to engage in a healthy DD relationship. In short, if he's paying the bills, neither of us is happy, and DD along with everything else falls apart. If we're both doing our share to contribute, both of us are happy with each other -- the relationship -- and DD -- works.
I had hoped that the traditional female role of nurturing my mate and creating a home would be sufficient contribution to the relationship to compensate for not bringing in any money. Perhaps for some people, it's enough. It may be that I myself don't really, in my heart of hearts, value traditional feminine labor enough to believe it's enough of a contribution to offset not making money. Or perhaps my partner doesn't value it enough, either. What I do know is that if I don't have my own money, our relationship doesn't work. If I have my own money, it does.
Oddly enough, the conditions required for a traditional dominant-submissive power dynamic between us seem to be that I break archetypal tradition and pay my own way. I'm not sure how to reconcile my experiential reality with my belief that relationships do better when traditional sex roles and archetypes are honored. It seems that in order to have a traditional relationship, I have to take on some un-traditional sex roles. A paradox.
But then again, everything else about DD is a paradox -- why shouldn't this be?
Thank you to all of you who have emailed and posted comments during the past few months!