This piece was written with the express purpose of opening a debate which couldn’t find its legs on twitter; as such, I would be very grateful if you would comment and add your thoughts on the topic. If you would like to be kept updated on the discussion, then please check back or tick the box below your comment for email notifications.
Today, debate and discussion are paramount.
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Over the past few days there have been some very engaging discussions on twitter about all kinds of sex-related topics. Today I wanted to move onto relationships and particularly responsibility in relationships. But, as it turns out, it is near impossible to make myself clear on this topic in 140 characters. So I am hoping that a few people will take the bait and we can use the comment space below to discuss.
So first of all, my thoughts – confused and convoluted as they may be.
As many of my articles are, this area of discussion was sparked by personal experience; a few months ago I very almost got involved with a dear friend of mine. We both wanted the same thing – i.e. sex with some very dark, personal kinks thrown in – but when it came down to it it seemed that I couldn’t provide him with the space he needed and he couldn’t take responsibility for the repercussions of playing with such complex kinks (in terms of aftercare and general communication). Considering it today I wondered if perhaps, when we interact with anyone in more than a brief and casual way, we have a certain responsibility to each other. For example, I feel I have a responsibility to my fuck buddies to check in with them from time to time; I feel I have a responsibility to my friends to stay in touch; I feel I have a responsibility to anyone with whom I engage in Ds to make sure we both receive the aftercare we need. Of course, these kinds of responsibilities can become null and void if the situations change, but in general, out of respect and kindness, I do feel those particular responsibilities.
Having written the above, it occurs to me that what I’m actually describing is just common decency: we should all be looking out for each other within the capacity wherein we interact.
But what happens when we move from one situation to another? With the friend I mentioned above, the problem was that once we changed our dynamic, I needed more support and intimacy, and he felt that I simply became needy and clingy; he wanted the same dynamic with the benefits of sex and kinks. All very well if you can handle that, but I couldn’t, and so I felt let down and he felt smothered.
So, my first question is this: when we agree to a new relationship, or change the dynamic of an existing one, are we in fact also agreeing to take on a new set of responsibilities?
However, this idea is problematic for me as well: the idea of responsibility for another’s welfare (to whatever extent is appropriate) could be easily confused with unthinking social norms. I’ve written before about the assumptions people make particularly at the beginnings of relationships; assumptions based on romantic comedies and popular novels. I’ve seen relationships fall apart simply because people I know felt their dates weren’t texting enough and got themselves into a state over it. These kinds of assumptions are just useless, and debilitating. And pointless. However, I do think when you embark on a new relationship with someone, you have the right to expect a certain amount of contact and affection (taking into account the kind of person you are dating).
So my second question is this: where do our expectations about how we need to be treated become assumptions about how we should be treated?
My third, and final, point of interest concerns relationship models; the world’s most persistent relationship model is undoubtedly – in my mind anyway – the nuclear family. A husband, a wife, children. This is the archaic relationship model, and with this model, I believe, come many assumptions and expectations. In the western world (or in my corner of middle class London at the very least!) people have managed to break out of this model a little; I know various couples who are happy just being partners, rather than being married. I also know some who have no desire for children. Then of course there are homosexual couples as well. However, the nuclear family is still the most prevalent – despite how often it breaks down. By being persuaded into these kinds of ‘expected’ relationships, I feel we actually lose some freedom of choice. I grew up unthinkingly believing that I was supposed to find one man, settle down and have children. No one was going to force me, but the society I live in undoubtedly pushes me in that direction. And is that not just another assumption? Over the past year or so I’ve found myself wishing for more flexibility in the definition of the word ‘relationship’. It’s a word I use to describe what I have with friends, fuck buddies and boyfriends; because they are all relationships of sorts. But still the word on its own has certain connotations. Personally, my way of overcoming the path that I’m am being persuaded to walk is to approach everything without assumption or expectation. It’s not easy, but consciously pushing away those niggling thoughts that beg me to wonder “where is this going? How does he feel?”, helps me relax into something instead of overanalysing it.
Of course, some relationships and interactions need definite parameters, but that is slightly different.
This question digresses into several questions: how do you personally deal with relationships? Are you happy with the norms society has given you, or do you try and transcend to your own personal model? If the latter, how? And, if you think we as human beings need some models to rest on, what relationship models would you like to see embraced on a wider basis?
Finally! I’d be extremely interested to hear any thoughts on how non-monogamy fits into this, and of course, anything else which I have failed to mention…