Relationships, Assumptions & Responsibility

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.

• • • • •

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…

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14 Responses to Relationships, Assumptions & Responsibility

  1. Cath says:

    I’m in a pretty ‘normal’ type of relationship and I still find it too complicated.

    • LadyGrinSoul says:

      No doubt in my mind that ALL relationships have the potential to be complicated. Seems like a given.

  2. Aisling Weaver says:

    Are you ready?

    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?

    The answer to this question, in my worldview, depends on the people, the relationship, and so forth.

    For instance: There’s space to argue that the interactions we have day to day with someone on a social network like Twitter constitutes a relationship. Certainly by one of the definitions of that word yes, there is a relationship, a sort of connection, there. However, if there’s nothing more than that, nothing more than a superficial, public, level of interaction, I see that the level of responsibility is little. It amounts to the same as the waitress you exchange pleasantries with at the coffee shop or the gentleman that shares the elevator every morning. You know enough to say good morning, evening, etc, and maybe a bit more, but likely neither of you have made the investment to take that connection further.

    Now, to continue the analogy, say that communication on twitter is carried into dms or email and becomes a private sort of connection. This is a change in dynamic, and again, in my wordview, I would say it also depends on the people whether there’s a change in responsibility. I’ve had interactions with individuals on twitter that were private and found that these people would suddenly up and vanish. I have, also, just ceased to contact these people. In most cases, it was understood that the connection was more of a recreational one and as such when it ceased, it ceased.

    However, in other instances, it’s very different. You talk to someone in a social setting and hit it off. You take that very casual connection and you both decide to broaden and deepen it. It’s a mutual decision and, theoretically, in the communication about it, you discussed what it would mean when that happened. It’s that whole conversation..”I’d like to know where this would go but I don’t want to jeopardize our friendship.”

    Whenever we change the level, dynamic, anything about a relationship with another person we take a risk, and the responsibility, that the relationship won’t survive the change. And that’s not to mention the other responsibilities that may be inherent in the change in relationship. I think that to a certain extent we *are* accepting that there are certain responsibilities that come along with different relationships. My responsibility to a stranger on the street is completely different than that to my best friend, my mother, or my partner, and it’s all built into the relationships I’ve built with those people.

    where do our expectations about how we need to be treated become assumptions about how we should be treated?

    This is a hard question, and part of it is in the phrasing. We should never assume we should be treated in a certain way. If you’re interacting with someone in a new relationship(I’m using that in a broad term) and you have expectations for a certain level of communication or interaction then I believe that should be a part OF the communication.

    I have a friend that I hear from once or twice a year. I call her once or twice a year. This translates into contact every three or four months. When we first became friends we im’d almost daily, spoke on the phone 2-3 times a day, and so on. However, our lives couldn’t sustain that sort of communication. We talked about it, and now we pick up the phone and catch up with 1-2 hour conversations. It works for us.

    I had a discussion last night with a friend who’s in the early dating stages with a guy. She commented that she said something to him about the fact that he’s not affectionate. At all. No holding hands, no kiss goodbye, nothing. His response was that he doesn’t do PDA, which she’s fine with, but the affection isn’t there when they’re alone either. She said she’ll end up having to either be the initiator, or she’ll have to talk to him some more about why he doesn’t do it.

    I think assuming that we’ll be treated a certain fashion is a good way to insure there will be conflicts. If you have an expectation it’s only fair to relay that expectation to the other person. It’s like having a rule but not telling the other person about it then holding it against them when they break it.

    how do you personally deal with relationships?

    Haphazardly? LOL
    I try to communicate. My girlfriend and I have a very communicative relationship. We talk about what we want and expect and what has happened in our past alot. Both of us have been trod upon by partners in the past and neither of us want to repeat that. I’m getting better about relaying hopes and expectations. It’s a learning and growing process, that’s for certain. I’ve not been so good about it with friends but I am improving.

    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?

    I’ve been pretty well bucking societal norms all my life. I came out as a lesbian when I was 20, have been married to a transman, and am back around where I started. I try to follow what’s comfortable for me but I don’t try to force that on others. If I know it’s going to make someone squirm like they’ve ants in their pants I’ll simplify my views a little. I’m in a monogamous relationship and don’t see that changing, so I’m not going to push the envelope there.

    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?

    Get rid of the model and see what happens. I’d really like to see what humanity can come up with when everyone isn’t playing dress up in clothes three sizes too big or small and out of style to boot.


    • LadyGrinSoul says:

      I pretty much nodded along reading all of that!

      I was going to get further into the responsibility thing but was nervous that I’d go off on a tangent, so I’m glad you raised the point of there being some levels of relationships where you really don’t have that much responsibility. The online factor isn’t actually one I’ve considered in a while, but you’re right; I think often online, particularly when it’s just a public forum, there isn’t a lot of responsibility. And if you enjoy being in contact with someone, you’ll keep in contact with them. But often there isn’t much more to it than that.

      I couldn’t agree more about the problems inherent in assuming you’ll be treated a certain way, and I definitely didn’t allow enough space in my article for the communication thing: SO important. But then I have friends who seems to assume the people they meet are supposed to be mind readers!!

      Oh, and personally I also agree on your last point; I’m not convinced it can work for everyone, but I think it’s important that those who can, allow their relationships to develop naturally, without forcing any agendas onto them.

  3. Mina Lamieux says:

    “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?”
    Yes, oh god yes! One cannot simply be friends and then become boyfriend and girlfriend without changing a few things and adding some new responsibilities. This is also true in the reverse. Here is my best example. My ex Master and I were in a very deep, loving and intense Master and slave relationship. Then, one day, he simply decided he had no more time for this and that we could continue to see each other as recreation only. Does this change his responsibilities to me? Absolutely! Needless to say, this relieved him of all his responsibilities of me because we were “no longer in a Master slave relationship”. I was to merely be a plaything he called upon once in awhile for a playmate. We spilt up, because I could not accept his new conditions. It was too much to ask of me. Just like it is too much to ask of someone to be treated as “just a friend” when your relationship is much deeper than “just friends”.

    I try not to hold too many expectations, as that is the first guarantee to becoming disappointed, but still, there are things I do expect and require in order to be happy in my relationships. There are lots of assumptions I make based on my interactions with people as well. For instance, I met someone online and we had instant chemistry. We spent an afternoon having a very heated exchange. I assumed that we would probably engage in this again and if not, that we would at least be talking quite a bit because obviously there is something to be explored here. I was wrong and sadly disappointed when this guy barely said a word to me the next day or the next and so on. On a separate occasion, he and I engaged in phone sex. I assumed that maybe this now made me more “real” and not just some random internet chick. It was hot. Some of the best phone sex I have ever had. It was clear we liked each other… again, he has faded into the background, choosing not to pursue things farther. I admit, this confuses me. I thought we had something electric, but I suppose I simply filled a boring spot in his day. No, I will not fall for it again.

    In regards to my personal relationships, I am in an open marriage. Though I do not necessarily take advantage of this very much, it is nice knowing that should I meet someone special, I am free to engage in a relationship outside of my marriage. I would actually love to see open lifestyles embraced more. For many people monogamy works great for them and I am happy for them. For others, open relationships make more sense. Personally, I think it is asking far too much in life, that one person provide you with everything you desire. I think that is not possible. For me in my life, I have a loving husband and a wonderful life with him. I do not wish to change that. However, being open means I can explore my dark side with someone else (because my husband has no interest in D/s). I really do like keeping the two sides of me separate. One man to love, be my husband and live my life with. Another man to be my Master, and guide me into the dark side from time to time. Perfection in my eyes.

    • LadyGrinSoul says:

      You actually sparked a whole new question with me here:

      A big part of the reason I don’t deal in expectation any more is that I’ve been disappointed so many times in the past; with that in mind, it’s also hard to know what I need to expect and what I’m afraid to expect…

      I wonder if that could be incorporated into the discussion as well.

      Also I like that the kinds of relationships you’re talking about are very deep, as opposed to Aisling examples of more casual meetings. It gives a good variety already…

  4. Mia Lee says:

    I am moving more towards the open relationship side of things. I would still like to find one person who meets the ‘boyfriend’ role, but the more I explore the more I know he will not replace any thing I am doing now, I will have to find someone who wants to be part of it.

    The thought of one person satisfying every want, need or desire for the rest of your life is absurd!

    I am having to break a habit of a lifetime in terms of relationships where I inherently expect people to behave in a certain way towards the things I get up to, like jealousy. Surrounding myself with like minded people means it’s ok for me to talk, flirt and fuck openly.

    I would like it if more people were open to this idea and wasn’t so shocked that a person could have more than one partner or get turned on by their husband fucking other women, just so we could be more open about the people in our lives who are important to us.

    Mia x

    • LadyGrinSoul says:

      As with SO many aspects of writing about sex and being kinky and being non-monogamous or monogamish, it would do the rest of the world a hell of a lot of good to just open their eyes a little and see the opportunities they could have.

  5. Jilly says:

    Well, here’s my two cents!

    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?
    Depending on what the relationship is like. If you make a crucial change about a relationship, there are some things you need to take into account. Feelings on both sides are more vulnerable at first. It’s new, it’s slightly terrifying, what should I do,…
    You have a responsibility to make the change or the new work for both you and your partner, I think.

    where do our expectations about how we need to be treated become assumptions about how we should be treated?
    Either early on or deeper into the relationship. I think we all have certain expectations about relationships, and these tend to become assumptions when the relationship gets more serious. You assume that because this is the situation, this or that should happen. It comes with the habit of a steady relationship.

    how do you personally deal with relationships?
    I’ve not had much experience with relationships, and when something serious happens on that front, I tend to deal with it quite badly. I enter a sort of panic mode, because I don’t know how to deal with people who are attracted to me.
    At the moment, I’m not in a relationship, but there is a guy in my life. I’d like to see where we go with our friendship and take it slow.
    Are you happy with the norms society has given you, or do you try and transcend to your own personal model?
    I’ve never been one to follow the norms. So I try to transcend. I’m already at a stage where I’m not doing what is expected of a 21-year-old.

    If the latter, how?
    Well, I’ve recently joined a website for swingers. Not that I consider myself one, but my friend Cooper got me curious. I don’t know what it will bring me.

    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?
    I would love to see gay relationships being embraced on a wider basis. And definitely bisexual relationships.

    • LadyGrinSoul says:

      Feelings on both sides are more vulnerable at first.

      You know, I pretty much think that is true with all people in all new relationships. I mean, I don’t like to make blanket statements because I know things are different for different people, but I think that may be a general truth, yes. And not one to be ignored.

  6. Visionaria says:

    While I agree to much of what Aisling Weaver wrote above, I’ll limit my comments to sexual relationships or ones with sexual components.

    1. 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?

    In taking on a new type of relationship we don’t tacitly agree to a new set of responsibilities but we do have to recognize that each type of relationship may come with certain expectations. It is unrealistic to think that expectations don’t exist and don’t change with the roles we play in each other lives. If we choose to take on a set of responsibilities that may come with those expectations is completely up to us. To give you a simple example, I had a lover who then became my friend and then became my friend and “fuck buddy”. In all three incarnations of our relationship I had baseline expectations of how he would treat me and vice versa. One of he reasons we stopped having a romantic relationship was that he could not live up to the expectations to which he had agreed. When he was my friend, I had fewer expectations, he had fewer responsibilities, and it worked for both of us. When we transitioned sex back into the relationship we were both very clear about what that meant for our interaction and careful to keep expectations beyond the ones of our existing friendship, to a minimum.

    2.Where do our expectations about how we need to be treated become assumptions about how we should be treated?

    If I read this correctly, you’re asking at what point we stop hoping for certain treatment and begin to take it for granted. I try to never take my partner’s behavior for granted. I make sure to even say “thank you” for the little things. I expect but try my best not assume. It’s possible to behave badly at any time and we all make mistakes so I try very hard to live up to what is expected of me and hope my partner continues to do the same. Assuming is just too dangerous and a little unfair.

    3. How do you personally deal with relationships?

    My partner and I try to talk about the format and trajectory of our relationship as much as possible. We recognize that it is a changing and evolving “organism” (for lack of a better term) and adjust accordingly. It may sound hackneyed, but communication is paramount. Most of my relationship failures have be due to lack of communication and that was not a mistake I wanted to make again. Not every discussion has to be a very serious one in which we hash out details, as long as we’re truly listening to one another the conversations can be free form. Our exchanges tend to be honest and open – there’s very little, if anything, I couldn’t say – and based in trust. For example, when friends became polyamorous we talked about what we each found unattractive and attractive about the situation. It was a fun and interesting talk. We found that we had varying tolerances for polyamory. I could see it working for me in certain permutations but my partner was intrigued but could see no circumstances in which it would feel right. There was no worry that by my saying I could see it working I was asking to try it. My partner’s response was pretty much, “Huh. You’re just less square than I am”, with no censure or fear.

    4.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?

    It’s impossible to be a woman and be happy with societal norms. The society in which I live is just too white, male, conservative and sexually-vanilla to ever make me happy or satisfied. My personal model is to be politically active about things for which I care, to support others who try to break out of the mold, and to change the dynamic as much as possible. Fight the power, challenge expectations every day!

    5.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?

    Role models are always important, even ones from which we distance ourselves and rebel against. We can pattern our lives on things we admire and in opposition to those we do not. I would like to see mutual respect modeled. I would like to see partners be polite to one another, to be truly kind and thoughtful. I would like to see diversity in relationship models embraced as long as they don’t hurt or infringe upon others. Yes, this is a very, very broad answer and I wish I could give you an example of two (or three or 12 people) who’s relationship behavior I think is exemplary. Unfortunately, I see bits and pieces everywhere and few, if any, who have the entire package. Maybe that just means that the prevailing models don’t work at all and we need to try out new ones until we find some that fit.

    Thanks for asking the question. I’ve enjoyed reading other’s comments and look froward to seeing what you gather from this topic.


    • LadyGrinSoul says:

      If I read this correctly, you’re asking at what point we stop hoping for certain treatment and begin to take it for granted. Actually I was talking about people who don’t realise that their ‘expectations’ are really just assumptions based on pop culture and have nothing to do with what they personally need. BUT – the question you raise is a good one as well, and worth discussing. So thank you!

      I’m actually really pleased people are talking about “communication”; it might seem obvious, but when I asked these questions on twitter, it didn’t come up nearly enough.

      It’s impossible to be a woman and be happy with societal norms. < This is SUCH a good point. Just because society might push women into being housewives and mothers doesn’t mean there aren’t some women who WANT that. I think the point is that it needs to be a choice. But you seem to already be fighting for that politically, which is exactly how it needs to be.

      I’m also really enjoying the answers I’m getting for the final question; they’re not at all what I was expecting, but they’re all so aspirational. Wonderful.

  7. The Righteous Harlot says:

    All our relationships are founded in (and often confounded by) levels of expectation and assumptions, most of which come from the society we have grown up in and which nook of it we inhabit. We tend to imbibe them unconsciously and experience them intuitively as common sense, rather than understanding that they are ideologies and mores that are specific to a time and a place. When you start to step out of the mainstream, knowing the difference between implicit assumptions and defined expectations, and understanding that your needs might be both your own as well as being a product of the messages society feeds you, becomes of paramount importance. As a tender-hearted grump attempting to navigate her way through an open relationship (with alternating explosions of temper and moments of philosophical enlightenment) I share your concern. You’re asking the right questions! x RH

    • Harper Eliot says:

      I could not agree more. And actually, I’ve written about this several times; we are so often crippled by assumptions we don’t know we’ve made. It’s so important that we start asking the right questions. I’m glad you think I’m on track!

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