the fragments of a healthy relationship amidst the sordid bullshit

The New York Times published an essay by Aly Tadros about the liberating aspects of fucking a creep: “I wanted to be dominated. But not quite like that: Stung by romantic rejection, a woman finds acceptance and catharsis in a man who leaves her with bite marks and bruises.”

Like all BDSM apologia, it attributes the healthy redeeming qualities of the relationship to sexual reenactments of slavery.

It starts:

“Are you left- or right-handed?” Dan asked, walking me down the subway steps.

“Right-handed,” I said. “Why?”

When we stopped at the bottom, he put his arms around me and hugged tightly, nuzzling his lips into my neck. Suddenly, my vision blurred in a flash of blinding pain as I felt his teeth sink into my right shoulder.

I had experienced my share of pain over the years — a broken arm, a split chin — but not like this. Never intentionally.

As we had wrapped our third date earlier that night, he had asked if he could mark my foray into B.D.S.M. by biting me, and I’d said yes. I didn’t think he’d actually do it.

This illustrates that BDSM doth protest too much about consent. They’re like shady lawyers trying to sneak shit through on a technicality. The dude would be absolutely right that he had permission, but it makes me suspicious because neurotypicals are supposed to understand the subtleties of yes means no means yes just from looking at each other. He reverts to autism by thinking she meant it literally instead of on a fantasy level. Her shock and surprise were the point, and also the opposite of what happens when there’s meaningful consent.

After unclenching his jaw, he kissed me on the cheek and said good night. Then he was gone.

I walked through the turnstile in a daze, only faintly aware of the people around me. My skin pulsed.

I arrived at the subway platform drunk on endorphins, running my fingers under my coat to feel the tiny grooves in my shoulder his bite had left. Only later would I realize he had asked if I was right-handed so he could bite where my handbag would rest — the pain reminding me of him.

Beyond-momentary discomfort knowingly inflicted without informed consent.

She describes the relationship she was rebounding from:

Man, that had hurt. What the hell was I getting myself into?

“You O.K.?” Dan texted, minutes later.

I stared at the blinking cursor. If I wanted to back out, now was the time. “See you in two weeks,” I replied.

I hadn’t been looking to date. I was still recovering from the demise of my previous relationship with a journalist who broke up with me after I told him about my struggles with alcohol and family issues.

The journalist and I had met on OkCupid while I was touring the Southeast with my band. Every day we would text each other a single photo from our oddball work lives: a Nascar race in Charlotte; a tricycle factory in Queens.

Meanwhile, I hid what I preferred he didn’t see: Me relapsing on cheap merlot in Raleigh. Crying at a truck stop in Duluth. It was a tough time. My father was hospitalized and dying. But I wanted to be “fun,” so why burden him with unnecessary details?

We went through the motions of building a relationship: cooking dinner and watching movies. But when he asked why I didn’t drink, I made excuses about early morning meetings. Concealing the messy parts of myself came naturally. I had done it my whole life.

As a child, I had learned to hide who I was to avoid upsetting my father, an Egyptian immigrant. In my teens I was chronically depressed, but he didn’t talk about feelings, so I started sneaking shots of the Tanqueray he kept in the freezer. I became a touring musician, and on my short visits home we maintained an unspoken agreement: I wouldn’t bother my father with who I really was, and he wouldn’t ask.

I told all of this to the journalist the night before I boarded a plane to Texas. It was too much for him. Then my father died, and I sank into despair. When it came to dating, I felt hopeless. I thought: Why even bother? As soon as a guy finds out about my baggage, he bolts. I may as well walk around with a “Danger: High Maintenance” sign strapped to my chest.

So she’s not emotionally ready for a real relationship. What’s actually liberating is not having to hide anything and knowing someone will still be there for you. BDSM is maybe liberating in comparison to the sterile role-playing in her last relationship.

Around this time I received an OkCupid notification that someone had “liked” my profile. I logged on, saw a black-and-white photo of a man’s jawline and clicked.

“About me,” it read. “I’m a feminist. I respect women while simultaneously enjoy dominating them.”

Great. One of those “Fifty Shades” opportunists. I was appalled, of course, so I kept reading.

“Favorite things: Sending you to work with marks, the fragrance of your hair lingering on my hands, photography and Dan Savage.”

I slammed shut my laptop. I was, well, turned on. But I couldn’t message him. Kink was something people did on HBO. I had scoffed at the “Fifty Shades of Grey” craze. I could not message him.

Or could I? I was an adult. Just because I wasn’t dating didn’t mean I couldn’t reply.

I opened up a message box and typed: “Big fan of Dan Savage. I’m intrigued.” I hit send and then ran out of the room, screaming.

Yes, you always knowingly ignore red flags at the start of a relationship.

There’s something wrong with feminism and the messages it’s sending if everyone doesn’t read that profile text and immediately see it as self-contradictory, cheesy, and dumb. By definition, you can’t respect the core of someone’s subjectivity while forcibly overriding it.

One week and dozens of emails later, Dan and I agreed to meet at Prospect Park. He was handsome, mid-30s, dark brown eyes and hair. Very fit. He told me he’d been a “dominant” for years and lived with his girlfriend in an open relationship. They had rules: no unprotected sex, no sleepovers, no kissing. I had never met a man who communicated his needs so confidently.

“Where would we meet?” I asked.

“Your place, before work. 6 a.m.”

I gulped. I was not a morning person, nor did I love the idea of being seen naked in the light of day. But Dan felt safe and in control. I liked being near him.

“You need to tell me everything,” he said. “All of your baggage. Any triggers. I want you to keep a journal and send it to me, too. I have to know what might come up.”

And there it is. The fragments of a healthy relationship amidst the sordid bullshit. Communicating needs and psychological problems is essential. It’s a perversion to use that on loved ones for sadistic purposes.

Later, after that third date, we agreed on a set of rules and boundaries. I shared everything I was usually too afraid to tell a new partner.

“My dad died three months ago,” I said, “so maybe we avoid the ‘daddy’ stuff?”

“Got it. What else?”

“I’m not a blackout drunk, but if I drink I get really depressed. I’d prefer you didn’t drink around me.”

“Great,” he said. “I’d like you to be fully aware anyway.”

For the next two months, Dan texted me constantly. His aura of calm control was a revelation for me. Rather than fleeing from my emotional baggage, he welcomed it without fear or judgment.

He’s definitely taking advantage of all the emotional turmoil that comes with a parent dying.

There’s no necessary connection between having an aura of calm control, being accepting and supportive, and beating women.

The nights before his visits I would stay up until 4 a.m. cleaning, eager to please him. He would ring my doorbell as the garbage trucks blared down the street, and it was exhilarating — until it was exhausting. Though Dan wouldn’t admit it, he was a sadist. He would leave me with bite marks and bruises that lasted for weeks.

And I was not a masochist. I hated the pain but found catharsis in how undeterred Dan was by my outbursts. I would cry when his leather belt stung my thighs, but he never tried to curb or deny my feelings. I could sob from the physical pain and then about everything else I had been too afraid to talk about: the relationship I would never have with my father, my impulse to deaden everything with a drink. None of it fazed him.

Then Dan would leave and I would sit alone in my bedroom, his sweat still fresh on my skin, wanting so badly to be held.

In other words, he uses “feminist dominant” as a euphemism for sadist, and she could tell.

Finding “catharsis in how undeterred Dan was by my outbursts” is inexplicable to me, unless it refers to the peace of surrendering to a hopeless situation.

I know all about being “undeterred by outbursts” from doing research with lab rats. They aren’t really tame, and they fight back. They kick and scream and shit and piss and bleed when their toenails rip off. Sure, I’m capable of dissociating and suppressing my empathy and just getting it done. I’m horrified at the idea of that mindset having to do with having sex with someone I care about. Whatever strength or control it’s supposed to demonstrate can be demonstrated in other ways.

What’s really making her feel better is crying about her life. She’s just set up an elaborate system of psychological defenses that can only be unlocked by a violent douchebag. She could totally find someone who’d hold her when she cried and also be gentle and accepting with her the rest of the time, without the emotional rollercoaster.

I wasn’t the only woman he visited. He would tell me stories of other women he was sleeping with, and I’d repress any feelings of jealousy. I thought he was more evolved than I, as if attachment were some sort of moral failing on my part.

Then an old fling of mine came to town and asked me out to dinner.

“Uh-oh, he might want to come home with me!” I texted Dan, playfully.

“Careful,” he replied. “I don’t like to share.”

I stared at my phone, startled. Since we weren’t romantic, I had assumed he wouldn’t care.

“Dates are fine, but I don’t want you sleeping with other men,” he wrote. “If that’s a problem, we may need to reassess.”

The hypocrisy is obvious. He knows exactly how much he’s hurting her, and exactly how much effort she puts into suppressing that hurt, and that’s the point.

I told Dan I needed time to think about it, and then I went on the date.

My friend and I stayed out until 2 a.m., laughing and making out, and I saw how much I missed being kissed and the warmth of another body. Dan had a partner to go home to, and I was on my own. Was this really what I wanted?

In the end I kept coming to the same conclusion: This would never be enough. If I had worked up the courage to be forthright with him at the beginning, then I could walk away, too.

A few days later, I texted: “I’m sorry, I just need more.”

“If you change your mind,” he replied, “you know where to find me.”

I had found a strange liberation in submitting to Dan, but it was only a first step. I wanted the domination, but I needed lazy Sundays and walks in the park, too. I wasn’t sure what that kind of relationship would look like. I just knew I couldn’t continue hiding — from myself or others.

So I went back on OkCupid and created a new profile. “I’m looking for a monogamous long-term partner whose natural dominant qualities complement my submissive,” I wrote. “That kind of trust takes time to build, but I’m in no hurry.”

The lack of lazy Sundays and walks in the park is the domination, and he lost control when she demanded them. The whole point of using someone as a sex object is who cares what they think beyond their willingness to fuck you? It’s showing her that her place is loneliness and pain and shame, life in the cold.

By “submissive” she really seems to mean anxious and in need of reassurance.

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