Charlotte and I are in a liminal space.
After our threesome, things went a bit… sideways. Partly because of the jealousy that flared up in Charlotte during the threesome, sure. But mostly, I think, because we were just in an unsustainable, overwhelming spot. I was controlling – or trying to control – Charlotte 24/7. She was wrestling with the conflicts in her between wanting that, on the one hand, and craving a lot more – physically, emotionally, temporally – than I can offer, on the other. Charlotte does and doesn’t want to be my girlfriend, in all the different ways that word can be used. And I want her to be my girlfriend, but in only one, pretty specific, way.
As Charlotte pursues some oats – she’s really enjoying exploring sex, sexuality, non-monogamy, and to a lesser extent, submission – we both are trying to ascertain just what the implications are of all that for us.
In general, I relate to jealousy with a pretty open, welcoming spirit: I know that an inevitable consequence of the sorts of relationships I have is that I will have to contend with the fact of my partners’ having sex, having relationships, with other men. I never, ever find that easy. I never, ever see it as a reason to (seek to) constrain the behavior of my partners. I don’t offer enough to demand that a woman limit herself to me, so I never, ever make that demand. Instead, I see it as mostly my job to manage things so that the jealousy I feel is tolerable.
Historically, I’ve used two interacting strategies to accomplish that goal: structure, and information.
When a woman with whom I’m involved has sex with a man (not me), I worry. I worry a little bit about the other guy (Is his dick bigger/better than mine? Is he better in bed than I am? Hotter? More fun? And will you leave me for him?). More than that, though, I worry about the woman, and about my continued existence within that woman’s mind. I worry that she will forget me. And, when that happens, while that’s happening, I experience a sort of catastrophic annihilation. Primal. I relive my childhood experience of separation from and rejection and abandonment by my mother. This happens over and over. On some level, I crave it. (I must, since I organize my life to provide me with the opportunity to have this experience over and over.)
Further: when I interact with a woman in a sexual way, I do so on a knife’s edge of terror. I worry that I will overstep, that I’ll want/need too much, that I’ll push her away, disgust her, alienate her, offend her. This terror has deep roots, but I can sum it up usefully by saying that in some deep, bodily way, I imagine that my mother’s abandonment of me was a result of my wanting/needing too much from her, of my being somehow too much. I’m in my fifties. I’ve been wrestling with this fear for nearly fifty years. Maybe for all my life. I have a much better understanding of it, of its workings, today than I did in my teens, my twenties, my thirties. But I’ll be damned if understanding it doesn’t, actually, make it go away. It doesn’t. Instead, it’s allowed me – seeing it clearly, identifying its mechanisms and its functions – to devise increasingly clever, increasingly effective strategies for organizing things to minimize it, to contain it, to manage it.
I’ve evolved the strategy of organizing my sexual and romantic relationships, to the greatest extent possible, such that they provide some structural reassurance to me that I’m in a woman’s mind, that I’m special to her, that I’m safe. That I don’t want too much or that, if I do, I understand clearly, precisely, where that “too much” line is so that I can live with the wanting too much while safely avoiding the asking for too much. On some level that’s why I started this blog. Why I live this portion of my life. To accomplish all this.
Boundaries are a big part of this. As is power.
I use boundaries to know the limits of my power. And I use power to defend against the danger of rejection, judgment, abandonment, that looms always, everywhere. I struggled with all this mightily in my relationship with Marina, because she always wanted to offer me a nearly boundary-less degree of control. Until she didn’t. So instead of being safe, I was constantly vulnerable. The edges of what she could tolerate constantly shifted. That’s fine. What I found most difficult was her lack of clarity on her boundaries – and how that lack of clarity resolved itself in the minute, how she communicated it to me. She never said, “You know, I’m not comfortable with x, can we talk about how to get you what you might like but in a way that feels better to me?” No. She would promise x. And then would fail to give it to me. And, typically, not acknowledge that she was failing to give it to me.
The power/structure I use, I prefer, boils down to a single set of (rules? principles? guidelines?) that I’ve articulated on this blog over and over and over, in a multiplicity of ways.
- I want (need) to know, to feel confident, comfortable, that within our relationship, my partner wants me to get what I want, wants to give me what I want. That she will do so to the greatest of her ability. And that it will pain her when she can’t.
- I want (need) to know, when she can’t, that not only will it be disappointing to her that she can’t, but that she will communicate that fact to me promptly, earnestly, honestly, openly. And that she will do her best to find, identify, offer what she can offer that might approach (or even exceed) the value to me of what she feels she must deny me. [That last caveat – the part beginning “… that might approach” – is tricky. Because it requires a special sort of communication. I give an example of that not working very well Charlotte here.*] My perversion is in full flower with this requirement: it’s very easy for words to land wrong with me. I have very specific, very hard- (-for-anyone-other-than-me)-to-anticipate requirements. They boil down to my wanting a woman to understand intuitively both what I might want and the omnipresent danger that she might fail to understand that perfectly intuitively. The tactical work-around for this? I want to be offered control, within bounds; not gifts. My reply to Charlotte’s saying, “Would you like pictures?” was, “I would much prefer being offered the opportunity to request pictures than being offered pictures.”
- Related: I. Need. Power. I need to know that there is some zone of control I enjoy. I am, generally, ok with boundaries to that control, whatever they may be. [I often want more than I have, but I rarely feel annihilatingly unsafe because of the presence of boundaries, however tight they may be.] I told Charlotte I felt a bit like a dog on a tight leash being taken for a walk. I long to be let loose in a dog run. I want the dog run to be as big as possible; I fear the snap-back of the leash. When there’s no zone of control I enjoy, when we’re just… equals, exploring sex/uality together, in an egalitarian relationship? Well. That’s just not very compelling to me. Or rather, that’s not what I use this corner of my life to accomplish. The absence of power transforms a relationship into precisely what it is I use this corner of my life to medicate. So now we’ve moved from a relationship serving as a balm to its serving to exacerbate the need – a need which pervades my non-N life – for balm.
- Finally: I need to feel special. Charlotte’s asked me several times if it bothered me that she had sex with this or that guy. My answer, generically, is “no.” I don’t care who Charlotte has sex with. I care how she integrates me into her larger sex life, what role I play for her, and how that interacts with the other men in her life. Recently, I told her that I want to avoid being just another man in her harem. This is big for me. It gets to the next heading in this post (“Information”), my second strategy, but before I get to the “information” part, there’s the sexual, structural part: I want to occupy a privileged, unique, role in a woman’s mind, in her cunt. Maybe this means that there are certain acts that are reserved for me (I asked Charlotte not to have a threesome without me, a month or so ago; I asked her not to allow herself to be dominated by, not to submit to, another guy; I asked her not to wear certain items, not to use certain toys, with other men; I asked her to allow me to choose at least one item of clothing she wears on dates with other men). Maybe I devise, we devise, other strategies to ensure my safety, my confidence, that my role is special, unique, secure. Which leads to…
I use information – perhaps masochistically – to create a sense of safety for myself. If my greatest fear is being forgotten, then telling me comprehensively about the moments from which I was absent provides reassurance – even if painful – that I haven’t been forgotten, that somehow our relationship is greater than/more important than/supersedes whatever other relationship there may be. Something I’ve done with more than just Charlotte is to ask a woman I’m dating to return from dates with others with manifest demonstrations both of vulnerability/submission (“Send me a photo of your thighs/cunt”) and of disclosure (“Tell me about everything that happened, in detail – and tell me your feelings about it all.”). This information does not, in and of itself, make me feel good in any way. But it does accomplish two things for me: first, primally, it replaces my fantasies/fears of what might have happened, what a woman might have felt (which always boil down to some sort of evisceration of me – “THIS NEW GUY WAS THE BEST EVER AND I’VE NEVER EXPERIENCED ANYTHING LIKE THAT AND, IN THE MOMENT AND AFTERWARDS, I REALIZE THAT WHAT YOU OFFER ME MAY WELL HAVE BEEN GREAT, BUT I DON’T NEED IT ANY MORE!”) with the reality of what did happen. Which always, always, always, is less painful for me than my imagination. Alone with which I am left until I get that informational reassurance.
And second, harkening back to #4 above, in “structure,” this degree of disclosure makes me feel special. If you’re willing to tell me everything, that at least distinguishes me from the guys whom a partner of mine is fucking in a powerful way.
An afterthought: there’s a sort of homosexual threat/victory in all of this that I don’t really understand. A big part of these strategies – both structure and information – really are directed not at my partner, but at the men other than me in her life. I’m seeking somehow to reassure myself that I > them, and equally importantly, the same relationship expressed in the inverse – that they < me. This part of it all I understand less well, but it does seem somehow… Oedipal? As if, “If mommy’s gonna fuck daddy, I at least need to know that I’m killing daddy at the same time.”
Conclusion (or, “Charlotte”)
I’ve written all this because I’m trying to figure out where I am, what I feel, at the current moment in my relationship with Charlotte. Where we are is that Charlotte’s uncomfortable with the distance I’ve been taking, even as she’s uncomfortable with giving me what I would need to take less distance. And I’m trying to figure out just what I’m comfortable with, in the face of what Charlotte might be comfortable offering me.
The bottom line for me: the vanilla, power-exchange-free relationship is difficult for me with someone with whom I have a sexual, even romantic relationship. Maybe “difficult” is the wrong word. “Not something I want.” I told Charlotte I was trying to remember how this all had worked in the non-power-exchange-y parts of my relationships with V and Sofia. Not to compare, but to recall, to strategize, to remember what might have worked, felt better…. Even as I write this, Sofia and I – now well more than a year past our most recent sexual exchange – are chatting, comfortably, safely, in real time, about our lives. Somehow, that relationship has evolved into one in which my absence of power doesn’t feel threatening, doesn’t feel dangerous.
I think… I think… that part of what makes the powerlessness I feel at the moment with Charlotte most difficult is the degree to which I’m subject to her control, and the complete absence of any zone of my control. We went, as I told her, from nearly 24/7 control in my hands to… nothing. Zero control. I don’t have the right to ask Charlotte for anything at the moment. Of course, that’s entirely her right. There’s no reason any woman needs to submit to me, and I respect that right.
I similarly have a right to establish my own conditions, my own requirements. Not in a bullying “YOU MUST GIVE ME X, OR I’M OUT OF HERE!” kind of way. More like: we are both agreed that this relationship is a relationship of power exchange – that’s not in dispute – and in order for me to believe that, I need, at a minimum, x. And if you don’t feel you can provide me “x,” I entirely understand that. That’s entirely reasonable. But I need to protect myself, then, and to pull back a bit.
I said to Charlotte, yesterday, that I wanted us not to be “playing” by text, that I wanted us essentially not to be in touch with one another – except about our relationship – until she is prepared to offer me something that will enable me to feel a bit safer. (It was in response to that that she offered me pictures. Which didn’t work.)
I don’t know what I want. I don’t feel entitled to anything, of course. I do know that I want to be in touch with Charlotte, that I like her – I like her sexually, and I like her as a friend. But I also know that as she protects herself, taking back the control that she needs to feel safe, I find myself needing to take care of myself a bit. And it’s all very. Very. Confusing.
I think… I think… I think….
What felt worst about the photos Charlotte offered was how… circumscribed… the offer was. One thing, in one moment. Nothing ongoing. Nothing open-ended. It was a present; not an offering. Going from all to nothing was hard for me. I think what I was saying to Charlotte was, given the nature and history of our relationship, a relationship in which I have zero control is – well, there’s nothing wrong with it, but then I need to think about just what that relationship is, how it is that I want to function within it. As I’ve written: Sofia’s and my relationship (and my relationship with L, and with any number of other women) has/have evolved to be quite comfortable in spite of my absolute lack of control. But those relationships are not sexual. They are not romantic. They are platonic friendships. That’s not what either Charlotte or I is/are contemplating at the moment. Which leaves me, then, confused, in the absence of any zone of control.
I think I owe Charlotte a bit of a proposal, some sort of suggestion of what we might try, how we might try to move forward. And as I’ve written this, I think that part of what I need – what I truly need – is, before we resume our chit-chatty, this-is-what-I’m-up-to-today, this-is-what/who-I did-last-night relationship… I need a dog run. I need a space – well defined, with boundaries and a fence the height of which I know – in which I’m free to run free. I need rules.
That said, I know that, for a variety of reasons, I need to be the Home Depot selling dog runs, and she needs to be the shopper, choosing the dog run she likes.
So here are some possibilities. I don’t know how any/all of them would feel to me, how much “safety” I could extract from them. Only time and experience will tell. But here are some thoughts:
- I own x minutes a day of Charlotte’s time, to spend as I may choose.
- She agrees to offer me y photos per day/at a time/z times per day, as I may request.
- She offers me partial control of her solo orgasms: maybe it’s during a certain window of the day, or the week. Or maybe it’s in some interaction with the solo orgasms I don’t control. (I get one for every two she has without me? I get one a day? I get x a week? I get x minutes/hours/days an hour/day/week?)
- She pledges to follow – in her own life, for her own benefit – certain rules that she and I establish/discuss – and, to discuss with me when she violates them (and for me to be free to punish her – for her own good – within certain constraints).
- I choose an item of clothing she wears each day/every other day/x days a week.
- A million other possibilities.
This list is incomplete, gestural: there are lots of other possibilities. And I don’t know how I’ll respond to whatever it is that Charlotte offers me if, when she does. I don’t know how I would respond to her offering me, say, all five items above plus five more for us to work through together. I know that what I will respond best to is something along the lines of what I wrote near the top of all this: “My overarching goal is for you to be happy, and for me to be safe. For you to receive as much as you can of what you want, consistent with my taking perfect care of myself, and feeling completely unpressured, and here are some boundaries, but also, here’s some space within those boundaries.”
Bottom line? I think I need something. Something valuable. Something ongoing. Something open-ended. And I’m eager to structure that something in a way that feels safe to Charlotte, and (as) satisfying (as possible) to me.
But that needs to be what we’re doing. Not the playful banter, the small-talk chit-chat. There’s a time and a place for that stuff, and I like it, a lot. But I’m not quite there yet.
Post-postscript: safe words and safety
I confess I feel a little… awkward? embarrassed? ashamed? about all this. Because I see that there’s an angle from which all of what I’ve written could be read as a sort of rape-y, control-y, unhealthy-dom-y kind of rejection of a woman’s establishment of limits/boundaries, or even, if a bit metaphorically, use of her safe word. If Charlotte said “Orange,” or “Red,” and I said, “Ok, I’m leaving the room. Text me when I can start back on you,” that would be horrible. I see that. And I can see, metaphorically, how the distance I’ve taken, the discomfort I’ve articulated – to her, and to you – could be seen as a sort of equivalent to “pressure” in that context. I am very uncomfortable with that. And I’m working hard to counter it. (That’s why I didn’t say to Charlotte, let’s not be in touch until you can offer me something, but rather, let’s only be in touch about us until you can offer me something.)
* Not written yet. But basically, an account of how Charlotte offered me pictures, and I felt like a dog chasing a bone. In the example to which I link, of Charlotte’s offering me pictures, it would have been so much different for me if she had said, “I think I would feel comfortable sending you a few pictures. How would that feel for you? Is there a way we could play with that to make it feel as good as possible?” Or if she had said, “I would like to offer you some pictures, but I understand that might not feel good. What are your thoughts?” Or something that… anticipated my subjectivity. That’s a lot to expect a woman to intuit, and I don’t, ultimately, expect Charlotte (or anyone) to know the inside of my head. That’s why the structure – the continued, continuing, omnipresent organization that what matters in this relationship is what I want – provides me with reassurance.