Boundaries: Finding the "Sweet Spot"

I received an email from a regular reader today who was having trouble posting comments to this blog. He emailed me (and I hope I'm not violating any confidences here!) that he'd tried unsuccessfully to post in the past and when his comments failed to appear, he thought perhaps I'd rejected them because he was male and didn't want men's opinions on the blog.

For the record, this is not the case! In fact, just the opposite is true. I see a serious lack of the male perspective in online DD material, and would love to have much more input from the male/dominant point of view.

In light of this unfortunate misunderstanding, I've revised the email policy posted in the sidebar.

My reason for the initial "no emails from men" policy has been that I tend to have a serious problem enforcing personal boundaries. Particularly in the areas of sex and relationships, I tend to ignore those helpful instincts that tell me when a situation is unsafe or unhealthy until it's far too late to safely extricate myself from it.

It's only recently that I've begun to realize I have not only the power, but also the obligation, to keep myself safe by enforcing personal boundaries -- hence the prior "no email from men" policy (and the trouble in my current relationship...). But erring on the side of overcompensating isn't healthy, either -- hence the correction to the policy. So provided I don't become inundated with strangers emailing to ask me what color underwear I prefer, I'm happy to accept emails from any and all.

But the whole incident got me thinking about something very related to DD: boundaries.

As I've explored a bit in the past (see"When I'm Angry"), the biggest weakness of DD seems to be that the dominant partner has the ability to enforce personal boundaries and the submissive partner doesn't. And in many cases, the dominant partner also claims (largely erroneously) the right to decide what the acceptable boundaries are not just for himself, but for his partner as well.

Like many women passionately committed to living a DD lifestyle, I've done back flips trying to rationalize why either A. this isn't the case, or failing that, B. this isn't a problem.

Putting aside for a moment the possibility of discipline going both ways a la the Spencer Plan (the subject for another post), the flat out truth is here is very simple:

A. it is the case and B, it is a problem. At least for me.

The issue of boundaries is, unfortunately, fundamental to why my current DD relationship seems to be imploding at lightning speed.

As long as I don't enforce my boundaries, we're blissfully happy. When I do call attention to something in the relationship that violates my sense of self, he gets angry. If I press the point, I risk discipline. And because I know that there is always the possibility that I will be disciplined for defending my boundaries, my need to protect myself keeps me (rightly) from being able to submit fully to his discipline.

Fundamentally, while I completely trust that he won't abuse his power during the actual disciplinary process, I don't trust his judgement when it comes to determining who's at fault for an "incident" -- me, him or both of us. And trusting the judgement of one's disciplinarian is so fundamental to the feeling of safety and love that healthy DD creates that the experience doesn't hold up long-term without it.

Interestingly enough, I was fully aware of this weakness (minefield? powder keg?) in our relationship before I even suggested DD. In fact, it's one of the reasons I suggested it in the first place. I decided that if I was going to have to back down most of the time anyway to keep the peace, I may as well fill the emotional need I had for DD in the process and turn a negative into a positive.

Wanting my partner so much, and wanting DD so much, I naively thought that the benefits would be so overwhelming that they would make up for this deficit in our core relationship, and that in a sense, we'd both get what we wanted. He'd get to be "right" most of the time, and I'd get the safety and security of DD.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

There is no benefit, DD or otherwise, that is powerful enough to make up for a lack of respect or a diminishment of self. If there were, there would never have been a women's movement (or a civil rights movement or an organized labor movement). Women would have been happy to be cossetted, protected and cared for in exchange for putting up with being talked down to, excluded and dehumanized.

But it doesn't work that way. The innate human need for self respect is too powerful.

Am I then suggesting that DD is, after all, inherently abusive and sexist?

Absolutely not!

I continue to believe that, when it's in the context of a healthy, mutually respectful relationship, DD speaks to a basic, archetypal need in those who seek it -- first, to fulfill unmet childhood and developmental needs, (see "DD as a Reaction to Me Generation Parenting") and second, to balance the male/female archetypal energies that our culture has twisted beyond recognition. (I really need to get around to finishing that post...)

But because there are no external forces checking the behavior of the dominant in a DD relationship, the only check on the system that prevents abuse is self-control, an internal responsibility on his part and a willingness to admit freely when he's wrong. Lose any of those and the relationship -- and the woman specifically -- are in dangerous territory.

As Ollie wrote so beautifully in his comment on "When I'm Angry," (and I'm paraphrasing here), power corrupts. And in a situation where one human being has ultimate say over right and wrong, few of us, male or female, could resist the temptation to avoid taking responsibility for our mistakes.

This is all too human an impulse. In fact, I think it's safe to say that most women attracted to DD are attracted precisely because we recognize our urge to avoid responsibility and want to be forced to accept it.

I imagine myself with a paddle in my hand, and while I'd like to think I'd be fair, truthfully, I doubt it. If I were that good a disciplinarian, if my judgement were that sound, if I were that emotionally balanced, I likely wouldn't have such strong need for an external disciplinarian, and my interest in spanking and discipline would likely revert to a strictly sexual one.

Fundamentally, then, the issue of boundaries goes back to the prior post -- it seems that for a traditional non-reciprocal DD relationship to work, the trust has to be firmly established prior to the introduction of DD. The respect of boundaries has to go both ways -- and his way is harder, because he has to do it of his own free will. Otherwise, there's simply too much temptation to abuse the privilege of power.

Perhaps the ongoing attempts by myself and others to negotiate a successful DD relationship can be compared to finding that "sweet spot" during a spanking -- it hurts in all the right -- and none of the wrong -- places.