What does submission mean to you?

Quite some time ago there was an interesting discussion about whether it’s okay for s-types to blow off commitments. It did eventually start to go sideways, but there were a lot of interesting points made.

The point I want to get at is that different people have very, very different ideas of what submission means and you need to talk that out if you’re going to have a d/s relationship with anyone. I fully agree with KinkInExile’s statement that “It has to be possible to say “no, that’s a limit” & still be submissive for saying no to be emotionally safe.“, and I also agree with Ferns’ when she says “That’s great kids, but *how is that submission?!*

Obviously it’s never okay to coerce someone, full stop. I’m also too fucking lazy to make my (purely hypothetical) submissive do something he doesn’t want to. But if I did have a submissive and we’d made plans together that he canceled on at the last minute (which is the scenario that inspired Ferns’ post), I feel like it would be kind of a dick move not to warn him about how badly that would damage our relationship. Does that count as coercion? Personally I think it depends on the exact form that warning takes (“You know that being able to trust you to do what you say you’ll do is a really big deal for me, right?” vs “Get your ass to the party or we’re through”), but you can make a case either way.

I think it’s more of a problem of mismatched expectations than any given behaviour being “fundamentally unsubmissive.” Everyone has bad days and emergencies and just plain screwups, no one can be the perfect submissive (or the perfect dom) every minute of every day. I enjoy a noodling theoretical discussion of what submission actually is as much as the next person, but if you want a relationship to work I think it’s much more important to figure out exactly what you expect from each other and how you’re going to handle it if your expectations don’t get met. Sometimes that means a serious talk and an apology, and sometimes that means the relationship ends because it’s just not working.

Another thing to think about is that while expecting a dom to tolerate bad behaviour is nowhere in the same ballpark as actually coercing someone, it’s still massively unfair to expect me to hold up my end of the d/s relationship when you’re not holding up yours. Power dynamics are incredibly fragile, all you have to do as a submissive to break it is to say no and keep saying no (yes I link to that post all the time, I’ll stop when it stops being awesome and relevant). I can’t dominate someone I can’t trust. I literally can’t, trying would put me in a headspace like the one Ferns describes in her post:

Should I ask him to get me some water? What if he says ‘no’? He looks pretty comfortable, maybe he won’t want to get up. Ahhh, he’ll say ‘yes’, I’m sure he will. Maybe he won’t… what if he doesn’t. Ahh, hell, I’ll just get it myself, I don’t want to fight about it.

If you don’t want a d/s dynamic anymore or need a temporary break or need things to change that’s totally fine, but don’t pretend your dom can magically keep a dynamic going without you doing your part. You don’t get the hot fearless dom if you’re not willing to be the devoted submissive.

The reason I’d be so unhappy if my submissive suddenly cancelled plans for no particular reason is because of the way I define submission. If I were going to call someone my submissive I’d expect him to do what he says he’ll do. Someone else might have a vastly different definition of a good reason to cancel plans, or they may only expect their submissive to text and cancel instead of standing them up or they might just think “Hey, there are plenty of other people at the party to hang out with if my submissive doesn’t show up.” Personally “I don’t wanna” is a shitty reason that would destroy my trust in him but “I had an unbelievably shitty week and if I have to spend any more time around people I might start screaming and not be able to stop” is disappointing but valid and “my friend just got dumped and needs a shoulder to cry on” would make me happy that I picked the kind of person who would put his friend’s needs above his desire to have fun.

For me, I define submission as putting my wants above your wants and treating my needs as extremely important (but not necessarily more important than yours). That does mean that I expect my submissive to keep commitments when he doesn’t feel like it but doesn’t have a serious need to be elsewhere, because I can’t keep a d/s dynamic going if he doesn’t. It doesn’t mean I get to ignore his limits or that he can’t tell me we’ve run into a limit he didn’t know he had, just that I expect him to keep submitting to me when it’s not convenient.

That’s only my personal definition of submission, though. Yours is no less valid just because it’s different, although it might mean we’re not compatible. Readers, how do you define submission?


11 thoughts on “What does submission mean to you?

  1. Man, I remember when that discussion went down, and my takeaway was that everyone else had great points but I was backing away very slowly from MayMay for, like, forever…

    Anyway. Interested to see what other people have to say! I am not quite sure if I’m able to put my definition of submission into words yet.

  2. Hello there. First comment, so please be gentle. For me, submission is my strength under my wife’s control. We are a couple of years in to this aspect of of our relationship, and have been married since 1998, just before the dinosaurs went extinct. Even now I find it hard to fully articulate; suffice to say that when I am submissive the best, most authentic, and generally most decent version of me emerges. And my wife, whom is in the process of discovering what dominance means to her and to us, is also on a growth curve. As Jack Nicholson says in the movie As Good As It Gets, “She makes me want to be a better man”

    • when I am submissive the best, most authentic, and generally most decent version of me emerges.

      That’s really lovely

  3. Submission is the cream filling in the great BDSM Oreo…

    As far as cancelling things at the last minute – well, it always leans towards jerk-face territory. However, it sometimes can’t be helped (my boss is literally holding a gun to my head and forcing me to work an extra shift!) and we are unintentional jerk-faces. It happens.

    Dominance and submission are, I would argue, a frame of mind, first and foremost. A non-Dominant woman asks her non-submissive partner, “Will you wash the dishes?” It isn’t really noteworthy in BDSM terms. If it is a Dominant woman saying the exact same thing to her submissive partner, it’s totally different.

    D/s is also a commitment to each other, as neither can truly function in those regards without the other. When a person commits to a particular behavior as the basis of a relationship – whether it is not screwing other people or simply doing what the first person says – then they have a responsibility to uphold that commitment. Violating the basic commitment of a relationship is generally considered to be “cheating” and a person who is cheated on should be expected to feel…well, cheated.

    I’ve been in a relationship where the other person effectively ended the relationship without actually leaving. In a way, it was worse than if they had just left because there was this insane hope that things would go back to “how it used to be.” Every day that it wasn’t “how it used to be” was a fresh dose of hurt, a fresh round of betrayal, and another load of resentment.

    I don’t think it is necessarily coercion to say, “You are free to do what you want to do; however, there will be consequences. Here is the most likely consequence…” The alternative would be to embrace the passive-aggressive and say, “Okay, do what you want.” Then toss their shit out the window and let hem discover it in their own time.

    • The alternative would be to embrace the passive-aggressive and say, “Okay, do what you want.” Then toss their shit out the window and let hem discover it in their own time.

      Ha! So true.

      I keep thinking about it, and if a friend of mine was only a friend when it was convenient, they wouldn’t be much of a friend. I mean we literally have a word for that. Maybe “fair weather submissive” needs to be a thing too:)

  4. “You don’t get the hot fearless dom if you’re not willing to be the devoted submissive.”

    Funny how that works the other way around as well: “You don’t get the hot devoted submissive if you’re not willing to be the confident/demanding dom.”

    My partner at some point went from being dominant pretty much every day in some way to only being interested in expressing it maybe 1-2 a month. I can’t keep up my undercurrent of subspace/devotion/responsiveness for someone who does not regularly make use of them either. This needs to be a positive mutually reinforcing feedback loop most of the time, else a form of trust necessary for things to work just isn’t there.

    • That sounds really sad and frustrating, even more so if your dom expects you to keep up the devotion/responsiveness when they’re not holding up their end of the bargain.

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