A big part of what the world reads as submission, I read as respect. And not just respect of the sort a sub should show a dom, but the sort of respect we all should (I always aspire to) show others in all our interpersonal dealings.
Because what I mean by “respect” is (I infer, from my interactions with various humans) not a universally agreed-upon set of norms, I thought it might be helpful for me to lay out some principles and strategies for being respectful. I try to live up to these. Sometimes I fail. I’ve tried to indicate not just what I try to do, but why, and, when I fail, what information likely is communicated by my failure.
Basic communication guidelines:
Response time and deadlines
In general, I strive to reply to any communication – email, text, phone message, etc. – as promptly as practicable after receipt. I don’t drop everything to reply. (Well, often, I do, but that’s more about my compulsivity than it is about respect.) But I do make every effort to respond promptly and, barring truly extraordinary circumstances (like travel in North Korea, say), I always reply within 24 hours.
Exceptions: Sometimes, I take longer than ten minutes to reply. Sometimes, longer than a day. There are many reasons it might make me take longer than ten minutes. There are vanishingly few it might take me longer than a day. If I take more than ten minutes, I might be busy. Busy states, in my life, tend not to persist in a way that prevent response to most emails for more than a couple of hours.
If I take more than 24 hours, it’s almost always because my response is complicated and requires thought (rather than, say, “Yes!” or “No!” or “Please show me your ass!” or “Please come for me.”). Sometimes, this thought might be because you’ve sent a thoughtful email that requires a thoughtful response. Sometimes, it’s because I’m ambivalent about how I want to respond, and want my ambivalence to resolve with the passage of time. And sometimes, the response is one that, for whatever reason, I don’t relish delivering, and so I’m cowardly avoiding doing so. Maybe hoping I magically won’t have to.
Often, in life, people ask me for things. I prefer to say “Yes,” whenever possible. If I can give what I’m asked instantly, I do. If I can’t give it instantly, but I expect to be able to give it in time, I generally say that: “Thanks for your request/note/message/call. I expect to be able to give you what you’ve requested by ….” And I give a date and time establishing an expectation. Which I then, almost always, meet or exceed. If, for any reason, I anticipate failing to meet an established expectation, I communicate this politely, respectfully, as soon as possible: “I know I told you I’d give you X by next Thursday, but I want to let you know that it’s now seeming unlikely I’ll be able to deliver on that commitment. I expect the soonest I’ll be able to get it to you is (establish the next deadline). I apologize for this.” (If appropriate, I might add, “and I hope you’ll accept this small gift as a token of my appreciation of the inconvenience this may present you. I know it’s not what you asked, but I hope it’s something you want/like.”)
This all seems to me fairly basic, fairly straightforward. If I blow through a deadline without apologizing, without seeking to manage the disappointment that I imagine reasonably might flow from my failing to deliver, I am communicating disregard. It may be low-level, garden-variety disregard, or it may be something larger. It may not be conscious on my part – I may not be thinking explicitly, “Oh, I don’t care if I disappoint him.” But it is, inevitably, disregard. That’s just the truth.
I always say “please” and “thank you.” If I don’t, it’s almost always because some form of urgency precludes it, whether it’s danger, or time, or ardor. But it’s very rare that I fail to say these things, basic markers of consideration and respect for the people with whom I interact.
A Tinder correspondent recently chided me, “Don’t say ‘please.'” She wanted me to be more domineering, less respectful. Alas, this old dog may well have learned some new tricks, and may have some more still to come, but, for the time being, the form my requests take – whether of a waitress, bringing me a beer, or a sub, crawling toward me to suck my cock – is polite. “May I have a Brooklyn Lager, please?” “Would you suck my cock, please?” “Go a little more slowly, please. Use your tongue, not your lips, please…. Thank you.”
In my New Year’s resolutions, I mentioned my intent to put generosity and compassion at the forefront in all I do. This is a pervasive intent, and it can be grand and elaborate (organizing an event or trip or present for someone), it can be small (leaving the nutmeg off the string beans because, though I like it, I know you don’t), or it can be truly minuscule (making the link I’m sending you in my e-mail be clickable, rather than making you do the work of copying and pasting into the location bar of your browser).
In each of these cases, I strive to remember that, even if they seem affirmatively kind, thoughtful, considerate, their opposites are similarly opposite in what they communicate. If I put nutmeg on the beans we will eat together, knowing full well you fucking hate nutmeg on your string beans, I’m privileging my preferences over yours, saying, “What I want, how I like things, is more important to me than how you do.” When I make you copy and paste a link that I’m sending you, I’m saying, “I want you to see this, but I value my time more highly than I do yours, so rather than spend an incremental two seconds of my time to make it easier for you, I want you to spend those two seconds.”
These are sentences few of us would dare speak explicitly, and rightly so. But it’s what we say with our behaviors, often. I try hard not to.
If I’ve been interacting with someone and, for whatever reason, I decide I want to stop interacting with her, I tell her. I may tell her in a slightly passive way – by allowing a conversation to die. More likely, I’ll tell her actively. (Just today, I wrote, “There’s something in me that’s pushing me not to engage with you. I’m not sure why…. But I don’t have the sense that I’m going to be a good interlocutor for you, or that you will be for me.” This was open, honest. I don’t know why I was feeling that in this particular instance, but I felt it, and strongly. I could have simply stopped responding, deleted e-mails from this person, even set a Gmail filter to move her messages directly to the archive, or trash. That’s what, I have the sense, the vast majority of people with whom I interact in this wacky internet world would do. It happens to me all the time. Women make me disappear mid-conversation in Tinder. They simply stop replying to e-mails. It’s a fascinating study for me in my emotional reaction to this, as I’ve written a number of times.)
If I don’t do this, if I abandon an interaction without saying good-bye, it’s a safe bet I’m deeply uncomfortable – so uncomfortable that I’m unable to or unwilling to live up to my own values. I can’t remember the last time I did this (though I’m sure a reader will helpfully remind me).
I expect I’ll write more on this subject in the coming days. I have lots of thoughts on it….