Some great questions are showing up in my search terms lately 😀 Thanks internet randos!
First of all someone can definitely be both dominant and domineering. Just like it’s possible to be dominant and abusive at the same time, they’re not mutually exclusive. Calling it bdsm doesn’t magically make it not abuse, and convincing someone to agree to it doesn’t magically make it not abuse either.
That said, I think there is a difference between being domineering and being dominant. Maybe not as much difference as kinky people might like to pretend there is, but I do think there’s a difference.
Let’s start with the dictionary definition of domineering. According to dictionary.com it’s “to rule arbitrarily or despotically; tyrannize.” Well, doms can be pretty arbitrary, and a 24/7 total power exchange relationship could certainly look tyrannical. To go a little further into that definition, a despot is “a king or other ruler with absolute, unlimited power; autocrat.” Gee I can’t think of anyone who would want absolute power 😉
So what’s the difference? Depending on your definition of dominant and whether you have a laundry list of bad experiences, there may not be one. My personal definition of dominant is “has dominant desires” i.e. likes being in charge in personal relationships, which isn’t actually imcompatible at all with being a domineering asshole. Being a good dom, on the other hand, takes more than just having certain desires. To be a good dom, you have to care enormously about the happiness and wellbeing of your sub, and that’s the difference between domineering and dominant.
Also, domination is supposed to be about freely given control/authority, whereas domineering jerks don’t care whether or not you want to give them control. They only care about whether they can take it.
Of course, there’s some grey area there. Some people find “force” really hot, and not to be an asshole, but not all of those people are great at telling the difference between fantasy and reality. And of course, not everyone communicates especially well, which, you know, can go poorly when you want to do things that are as difficult and easy to screw up as d/s where you’ve handed over a lot of control.
Not to mention many many people just aren’t compatible with each other. If a submissive isn’t interested in giving up as much control as their dom wants to have that doesn’t necessarily make them a bad dom, it just makes the two of them incompatible. Now, if that dom tries to force their sub to give up more control than they’re comfortable with, that’s definitely domineering.
This may not be hugely helpful, but I think it’s less important to be able to decide whether someone is dominant or just domineering than it is to figure out whether or not you’re happy. You don’t have to have an airtight case to break up with someone, there’s no breakup tribunal. If you’re unhappy, you get to leave. You don’t have to prove anyone is a bad person to be allowed not to date or play with or submit to them. Not being into them is enough.