The trickiest single moment in all of D/s, in my opinion, is the moment when a Dom has to inform their sub that expectations have not been met, and the sub must react and respond to that information.
Yes, I’m still on about the stupid package. I’m not beating a dead horse here, though, I promise. Well, actually I guess I kind of I am, but I prefer to call it “tenderizing the lasagna“. (I don’t really prefer to call it that.) Anyway the point is I think there’s still some really good unexplored material here. You’ll recall that on Monday I blogged about delegating the task poorly and yesterday I wrote about how I feel the failure to accomplish this task constituted less a failure to execute on Beth’s part and more a failure to lead on mine. Today I want to talk about how I flunked the confrontation. As I write this post, however, it slowly dawns on me that I may not have failed it as hard as I thought.
We all know lots of bad ways to confront our partner. We attack them instead of discussing the issue. We run from a fight that we really need to. We judge their character instead of their actions. I remember learning about D/s and thinking it would result in one-sided, and frankly abusive, confrontations. But as many of us get into it we realize that having clearly demarcated Dominant and submissive positions also means we have clearly demarcated responsibilities. This tends to keep a discussion from turning into a fight, and when it does, it helps keep the fight clean.
I kind of flubbed the confrontation. I saw the box and just said out loud “Oh. That’s the box I told you to send back to Amazon… two weeks ago… that now cannot be refunded because it’s too late… Fine. Take it up to my office and I’ll decide what to do with it.”
I should point out that the ellipses there were not me leaving my words hanging to make her feel bad, but literally my slow brain processing each step of the problem. I had to get from “I see a box there” to “well, that money’s gone but crying about it won’t bring it back”, and I did it out loud and in a way that kind of came across like I was trying to browbeat her verbally.
I was frustrated and I let a tone of exasperation creep into my voice. Beth felt pretty bad, and I felt bad that she felt bad. I definitely let my tone imply “you should have sent it, and you should have sent it two weeks ago, and now we’ve lost money, and we can’t ever get it back, and it’s your fault and you can’t fix it and you should feel bad.” Fortunately Beth knows we never fight dirty like that, so the words didn’t hit as hard as they might have, but they were poorly thought out and they didn’t exactly not hit her, either. Taken purely out of context as a moment in time, can we all agree that that’s a flunk on the confrontation?
But here’s the thing. Beth felt bad, but not about anything I said. The implications, yes. But not the actual facts I stated. I felt bad, but I felt bad about how Beth felt, and again not about the actual facts. We both stewed quietly for a few minutes. During that time both of us processed a lot of data internally.
Beth went online and discovered we still had two more weeks to return the package. She went to her desktop computer (which has a printer), got into our amazon email account, printed the label, wrapped up the box, affixed the label, and set the box by the garage door. All the implied frustrations about losing money and how the situation could not be remedied were now addressed. The only thing left to regret was that she hadn’t sent the package off earlier. And that’s actually a legitimate reason to reflect and experience remorse.
I also felt bad, but mostly because I’d made Beth feel bad. As I reflected on this, I realized the implications of what I had said, and I knew I needed to let her know I was not disappointed or upset. I needed to remind her that it is my decision whether or not to punish her, and I needed to reassert my authority that it is entirely up to me to decide how acceptable or unacceptable the outcome was. If I decide it’s acceptable, then I really mean it and I don’t want her beating herself up! Sixty bucks is enough to buy more than a few cheeseburgers, but it’s not enough to make us miss a mortgage payment. As I thought through my delegation and follow-through, I realized that it was me, and not her, who needed to mend their ways.
I found Beth and apologized for dumping on her instead of keeping it clean and aboveboard. She knew that I hadn’t meant it to come out that way, and told me that she felt bad that she didn’t ship the package when I told her. I agreed that this would have been the ideal outcome, but I also reminded her that I distracted her, I did not keep track of her progress, and in the middle of it all she spent some time sick. So! I announced that her feeling bad for the past half hour was more than enough punishment, and that I would work to make sure not to put her in that situation again. The reaction was immediate: Beth brightened up and felt much better.
Given the delegation and follow-through, I basically set Beth up to fail. Given my ADD and the surprise discovery that the box was still sitting on the desk, I set myself up to fail at handling the confrontation. Did we fall short of perfect? Yes. But did our D/s habits come together to give us a way out of the mess? Absolutely.
We went to bed happy and in love, and with the issue completely behind us, except for these blog posts and several informational discussions we had later to learn from each other and what we could try next time. Beth snuggled up to me and said “Daddy? Tomorrow night… could I have a bedtime story?” This is not the request of a sub who feels threatened or ashamed or miserable. This is the request of a Little who is once again back in her happy and balanced place.
I didn’t get through this alone. Beth did some heavy emotional lifting during this process as well. She’s writing some of it up in her blog; I’ll link to it here when it’s up.