Resistance, Blame and Responsibility

The scene: I'm in the kitchen cooking dinner, banging pots and pans around. My ever-observant partner asks what's the matter. I don't actually know, mind you, but I decide that whatever it is, it's his fault. So I let him have it -- a long list of whiny, bitchy grievances that I have a bad feeling I'm half-making up as I go along.

My tirade has the, apparently, desired effect. My partner starts to get angry, then, to his credit, does what I've asked him to do. He stops and instead says, "Go get the paddle."

Many women in DD (domestic discipline) relationships will recognize this moment as the single most challenging one in creating a DD lifestyle. I'm angry, I'm sure I'm right. I am Woman, hear me roar and there's no way in hell I'm getting the paddle. I turn my back on him and walk out.

My partner, being either very foolish or very brave depending on one's point of view, follows me. "It's not an optional thing," he reminds me. I say nothing. "That ring's supposed to mean something," he adds, pointing to the silver band that I wear as a symbol of my consent to a DD lifestyle. (see "Ritual and a Little Help with Long-Distance DD").

It only takes a split second -- I'm barely aware of my thought process or my actions. But before I realize what I'm doing, the ring that I've fought so hard for the right to wear, the ring that symbolizes the hard work, trust, tears and heartaches that have gone into creating this fragile thing called a DD relationship, is off my hand and tossed onto the counter.

There is a beat of stunned silence on both of our parts. Neither of us can quite believe I've done what I just did. Taking the ring off is something I've promised -- sworn -- never, ever to do in the heat of an argument. Only upon thoughtful reflection and discussion is that supposed to be on option. I have violated the most sacred trust of our relationship.

Even in my anger, I'm sick to my stomach. As my partner leaves the room, I'm convinced that he's leaving for good. I want to go back inside and tell him I didn't mean it, but the truth is, in that moment, I did, and I can't, in all honesty, take it back. I don't feel ready, willing or able to submit to a spanking now, even if the cost of not submitting is the end of the relationship.

It's over.

But he doesn't leave. And hours later, when I'm exhausted and on the way to bed, we finally talk. Sort of. It takes hours -- tears, yelling, awful things we probably both wish we hadn't said -- before we actually "talk." We are acting out the very scenario that DD is supposed to prevent -- hurting one another in anger.

Finally, I confess to the truth. I've taken the ring off because I feel I don't have the right to wear it. Because in the heat of the moment, I virtually ALWAYS say no. Despite the fact that I'm the one who lobbied for this arrangement, when push comes to shove, in the most critical moment, I seem to always fail. My well-meaning, if misguided, "feminist" imperative gains the upper hand and determines that submission is not an option, no way, no how.

I cry and admit that while I wish I hadn't taken the ring off, I can't wear it. If I can't hold up my end of the bargain (pun intended) and submit to his authority when it matters most, when I'm angry and we're about to have a terrible fight, then I have no business wearing a ring that promises otherwise. To do so makes me a fraud, a liar, a hypocrite -- not to be trusted with the sacred responsibility of a DD relationship.

He listens patiently. Hugs me and tells me he loves me.

And then he puts the ring back on my finger and tells me to go get the paddle.

Surprised and confused, I ask him if maybe he hasn't understood what I've said -- that I can't be trusted to submit, that there's no point in continuing with DD.

He smiles, takes me back in his arms, and points something out that I had never considered before.

That losing one's nerve when facing a punishment isn't an indication of a lack of trustworthiness. It's a normal human reaction to the reality of paying for one's misdeeds. Children, he points out, struggle desperately against even the mildest punishments (he has a daughter from a prior marriage who howls and fights when given corner time as though she were being skewered!). He reminds me that resisting a spanking is part of the process of coming to terms with our angry, terrified inner child who desperately needs boundaries, but hates the idea of submitting to them. And that this resistance has nothing to do with whether or not I'm "worthy" to wear the ring.

He expects me to resist, he tells me. The spankings he gives me hurt -- a lot. They are meant to hurt, to be a deterrent -- and I am meant to be afraid of them. That's the point of discipline -- to create a negative consequence that makes us think twice about acting out.

The ring, he points out, is a symbol of my larger commitment to our chosen lifestyle. It is not a promise to be 100% submissive all of the time, no matter what. No one could do that, he tells me, and certainly not someone who is angry and afraid of a spanking.

I had never thought of this issue in quite this way before. That submission isn't a constant thing, but a moment-to-moment, fluctuating dynamic that is more or less possible depending on state of mind. The key is to make it right eventually -- if not in the moment, then later.

As a side note, he also pointed out that since we're living together for the first time, "it's different now. It's more real." And that the reality of more in-the-moment consequences is bound to up the stakes and the pressure on the relationship, making resistance on my part even more inevitable.

The second lesson from this experience didn't occur to me until a few days later. In the days following this incident, I reflected on how much responsibility women in DD relationships often take on in terms of making those relationships work.

More often than not, it's the woman who initiates a DD relationship. I suspect this is as it should be, given the need to have a woman's full consent before whacking her with a paddle. But being the initiator of a DD relationship can mean that a woman feels a disproportionate amount of pressure to be perfect in her submission in order to prove to her partner (and herself) that the lifestyle is a positive experience for both parties. After all, it's hard enough sometimes to convince a man to administer discipline without us kicking and screaming and making him feel like an abusive bastard for trying to do so.

So when things go wrong -- as they inevitably will -- we blame ourselves for being less than perfect. When we resist discipline -- as we inevitably will -- we can wind up feeling like failures at best and untrustworthy hypocrites at worst. This was our idea, we reason, and so we feel we have no right to do anything other than fully consent 100% of the time.

But my partner's very wise words made me realize this is an unfair burden that I was putting on myself and on the relationship. Just because DD was my idea doesn't mean I'm always going to be "good" at it all of the time. In fact, most of the time, I probably won't be "good" at it at all, because if true disciplinary spankings are given properly, they are painful and unpleasant experiences that our instinct makes us want to avoid in the moment, even when our higher functions tell us the benefits are worth the pain. And if we're sure we don't deserve a spanking, our inherent sense of justice makes us even more likely to resist.

This lack of perfect submission isn't an indication that I'm not fit to take part in a DD relationship, but rather it's a healthy, natural, appropriate expression of my free will and separateness as a person. To submit 100% all of the time with no resistance and without questioning the fairness of the punishment would make me a doormat, a person with no capacity for self-preservation or independent thought.

I am fortunate to have a partner who is able to see that my resistance is normal and appropriate, who doesn't hold it against me when I am not able to submit to punishment in the moment.

I'm also fortunate to have a partner who doesn't let my in-the-moment resistance get me off the hook for the spanking I have coming. I am grateful that he is able to honor our agreement even when I can't. To me, this is how a DD relationship (or any relationship) should work. That when one partner stumbles and can't hold up his or her share of the burden, the other steps in and takes it from them.

Spanking given (with extra swats for having said no and for taking the ring off), peace restored, ring back on my finger.

Lesson learned.

PS -- As most of you have noticed, I tend to post new articles much less frequently than many blogs do. This is partly because of my schedule (I work in Democratic politics, so this year is particularly hectic), and partially because I don't post unless I feel I have something worth posting about. To that end, if any of you would like me to email you when a new article is posted, please let me know and I'll be happy to do so.