The Honesty Exchange (Revisited)

I wrote a post many moons ago about this concept, but it was through the lens of two back-to-back relationships ending. The concept behind it was sound and something I continue to practice in my daily life, but the examples I used to present it back then were, in my opinion, too personal and not the most effective ones to get the message across. This is my attempt to do it better.


In the world of kink and BDSM, we talk about the “power exchange.” I love to focus on the word “exchange,” not as a “one gives and one takes,” but as a mutual give and take between the people involved. It looks a little bit like the symbol for recycling – not a one-for-one exchange, but symbiotic exchange running on a continuous loop.

This particular post isn’t so much about the exchange of power in BDSM, but about the give and take that happens in relationships (I’m more focused on romantic, but this is really a factor in all relationships) when it comes to honesty.

So many people say they want honesty. I’ve been spending a lot of time reading and responding to people who are sharing some of their difficulties navigating (mostly) polyamorous relationships in advice forums. A common thread I see is that the person posting feels that they have been lied to in some way by their partner, and want to know what to do to recapture the trust in their relationships.

I hit a wall when I see those posts, because for me lies are a hard limit. I don’t make a habit of giving people a second chance to lie to me, so I just back away from responding because my response tends to be “Walk away from this – the trust is broken.”

But, I also realize that it’s easy for me to expect honesty from the people in my life because I make it very easy for people to be honest with me. That’s part of the Honesty Exchange that I’m talking about.

Expecting honesty from your partner isn’t only about wanting them to be truthful at all time, it’s also about learning to accept honesty graciously when you don’t like what you’re hearing, and learning to give honesty tactfully when it’s not what they want to hear.

I’ll start with that first part. Learning to accept honesty graciously is about not flying off the handle, or abandoning rationality in favor of knee-jerk emotional reactions when your partner tells you something you didn’t want to hear.

I have a very simple default response when I’m being told a truth that I don’t enjoy hearing. It’s similar to that commercial for the candy bar (Twix?) where someone is asked a question or put on the spot and they shove the candy in their mouth to give them a few seconds to come up with something to say….

When someone gives you information that you know to be true, but that is causing you some emotional distress – the default response is to say the following:

Thank you for your honesty.

There it is. That’s all you have to do. Breathe deeply, let your lip quiver, feel the feelings that you feel – but do your best to hold it together long enough to remember that you asked them for the truth.

And thank them for it.

Then, assess your feelings and give them some measured honesty back. Feeling like you’re too angry to discuss it? Say “Thank you for your honesty. This news is a bit shocking. I’m feeling a lot of mixed emotions, and I’d like to ask for some time to process before we talk about it further.”

Feeling like your world is falling apart? Say, “Thank you for your honesty. I’m feeling really anxious about this information. What does this mean for us going forward?”

The result of having a measured reaction to bad news is that the next time your partner has something to tell you that you might not want to hear, they’ll feel less hesitant to share it with you than they would if you’d responded to them with white hot anger followed by three to five days of passive aggressive silence or unfiltered snark.

But, just like the recycle symbol, this feeds back into another benefit for you. If you know that your partner is willing to tell you the not-so-great things because they don’t fear you’ll have an extremely negative reaction, that means you can actually believe them when they tell you the super-fantastic things. What reason would they have to lie? The good news gets that much sweeter when you know it’s true.

There is so much relief in just trusting someone. But in order to reach that with someone whose default setting isn’t “be completely open and honest regardless of feelings or consequences” you have to let them know it’s safe for them to give you bad news sometimes.

Otherwise, you’re asking them to tell you the truth only when it’s pleasant, and that just leads to questioning if everything they tell you is 100% honest.

Now to the other part of this equation. The giving of truth when it’s not a pleasant truth to give.

This is sometimes called “diplomacy,” and not everybody is very good at it. Some people are really good at honesty, and go so far as to brag about their ability to be “brutally honest” with people.

I don’t like to be “brutally” honest.

I prefer to be “tactfully” honest, or as some people recently described it, I practice “gentle” honesty.

It’s the type of honesty that is compassionate in nature. It’s a type of honesty I’ve learned is best shared when requested, because not everybody is as good at receiving the bad news – and when they ask for advice, what they really want is pity.

I feel like the best way to go about being gentle with your honesty is to put yourself in the position of the person who has to hear what you have to say. Figure out how you would want to be told and do your best to be direct, but kind in your delivery.

I’ll give a really basic example. You go to your partner’s place for the first time and they want to cook for you. They spend a few hours preparing a meal and they’re very proud of it. You take a bite and…well, it’s not edible.

They ask you “How do you like it? Be honest.”

Do you lie? You don’t want to hurt their feelings. You don’t want to be an ass and just say “Oh, this is disgusting.” That’s honest, but rude.

So put yourself in their position: How would you want someone to tell you your food isn’t great? How would they tell you this so that your reaction wouldn’t be defensive or self-hatred? (And if you think there’s no way somebody could be honest with you without pissing you off or making you hate yourself, work on that whole “Thank you for being honest,” trick).

Personally, I’d find something good to say about it – “The meat is well cooked, but it’s a little salty for my taste.” Or “The flavor is great, but I prefer it a little more rare.” Or “Well, it’s not what I’m used to…I think I might like it better next time if…..”

What do you do if they’re hurt by your honesty? Be compassionate. Show them that it upsets you to hurt them, but it would hurt you more to lie to them. Give them the space to feel how they feel, and let them know that you aren’t going to react negatively to their negative reaction.

Again, earning the reputation from the people in your life as someone who won’t lie to them and won’t fault them for having reactive emotions has really excellent benefits. People tend not to ask me what I think unless they really want to know. Most of the time, I just listen.

And people respect you because they trust you.

Trust and respect are sexy as hell. I think they’re the best aphrodisiac and my top two kinks of all time.

So, well….hopefully this is a more accessible and comprehensive understanding of the Honesty Exchange as I see it. If you want people to be honest with you, you have to be able appreciate their honesty even when it hurts; and if you want people to trust and respect you, you have to be honest with them and give them the space to react however they’re going to react, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Seven: On the occasion of my wedding anniversary

Seven years ago last night…

I’m going to be honest. I don’t remember much. Bits and pieces, but I don’t remember my emotional state. I don’t recall having the jitters or what I talked about late into the night (or with whom). I don’t remember it being difficult for me to fall asleep.

But I remember just about every moment of the next day. All of the amazing ones and all of the stressful ones, too.

People still tell me it was the best wedding they’ve ever been to.

It’s so far away now. Seven years – If we’d broken a mirror that day the curse would be ending today.

But all we did was break a glass. One of the three concessions we gave my parents – the glass, the chuppah, and the blessing over wine.

There’s a part of me that will always love him. When people call him my “ex” I have to correct them. He didn’t walk away. We didn’t divorce.

I still refer to him as “my husband,” because that’s what he was. It amuses me. I once told a friend that there’s a part of me that will always be polyamorous because my love for him continues to exist, though he does not.

Some time ago I wrote something on an alt account. I can’t remember if I ever shared it here or not. I went back and looked at it tonight, and I think that…in honor of my seventh wedding anniversary tomorrow, and the 18 months since I’ve found love again, I’ll share it here now.



Passing the Torch

There was a version of him who worshipped the light in my eyes. Before the darkness overtook his soul, and maybe even still then. He’d stopped going to church, but he still prayed in his own way.

Now, he is a memory, an idea, a series of stories that have been carefully curated into an album one pulls out to show company.

And here is the time that….

And then there was the time that….

It’s hard, sometimes to pinpoint exact moments when I felt his love, but not at all to remember how it felt to be consumed by his love. Not the kind of love that is fleeting and temporary. The kind that is unhinged, unhampered, and undeniable.

There was love after him but it was careful and methodical and questioning. It was too afraid to fly, and instead it fell.

You are not afraid. You, with your quiet confidence. With your understated presence. You fill the room by not trying. You are just you. Without apology. Without need for apology.

You look upon me as though I were fine art. To be admired, and cherished, and even celebrated; but not worshipped. For you, I am not descended from the heavens but grown from the earth. There is the magic of fairy tales and the miracle of science.

And I do so love to do science with you.

I wonder, had this been a relay and not a reboot, if he’d been around to meet you, how he would have felt about this quirky situation of ours?

He worshipped the light in my eyes. I think, if he could, he’d take one look at me now that you’re in my life and drop to his knees before you with gratitude for bringing it back.

Cold Water

I like warm water.

One of my favorite feelings in the world is to be submerged in or have very warm water cascading down my skin.

He knows this. I noticed that he knew this a few weeks ago during a shower together. The memory of what it was he did is fuzzy now, I just remember realizing that he’d figured out how much I like it.

The trouble with dating this sadist is that when he learns I really like something, he has gained a new tool with which he can torment me.

And when I say “trouble,” it’s with a smile.

So, yesterday morning, we were heading over to shower and I hesitated to step in, realizing it’d not yet been on long enough to be hot.

He checked the temperature with his hand and I asked, “It’s not hot yet, is it?”

His sadist face came on.

“Get in.”

I stammered and resisted. He grabbed hold of my wrist and pulled me toward the shower door. I watched as he pushed the handle away from “hot” to “cold” and held me there.

There’s this moment where I’m faced with something I don’t want to do and the option to not do it is taken away from me. I recall, as a child, standing at the edge of the diving board when I was still dry and I knew the pool would be cold. I feared the initial shock of the cold water. Yet, I knew after a few minutes acclimate I would to the temperature and it would be a welcome contrast to the hot summer day.

Eventually, I convinced myself that all I had to do was jump. Once I was in the air, the decision to land in the water was out of my hands. I found that the lack of control mid-air made me feel less anxious about what I’d face when I hit the water.

It’s that same moment, when my brain switches from “I don’t want to go in the cold shower,” to “He’s going to make me go in the cold shower,” that brings up a similar sense of tranquility.

And then he pushed me in.

The water was warm.

This is what I love about a sweetheart sadist. He knows I love warm water. He also knows I love it when he pushes me toward the things I resist (plus, he loves the pushing). Yesterday morning, he found a way to give me both.

What’s next?

He’d been driving at least an hour to get to my house. He’d told me before he left that he’d want a shower upon arrival, so I responded that I’d wait to take mine with him. He also usually wanted a drink, and sometimes a smoke. And at some point, we were going to have to eat.

And fuck.

“What would you like to do first?” I asked, after kissing him hello

“Pee.” He answered.

“Okay,” I answered, smiling and stepping aside so he could move past me and toward the bathroom.

When he emerged, I was waiting for him in the living room. I inched closer to him, staring into the deep blue pools of his eyes. “What would you like to do second?”

What started as a soft kiss quickly escalated. His hands were everywhere: around my throat, in my hair, clawing at my breasts and thighs. I gave him what I could, and what I couldn’t he took from me.

I paused to catch my breath. “I still need a shower,” I whispered. He chuckled, “So you’re saying you’re a dirty whore, right now.”

He spun me around and held me tightly against him with his forearm across my chest. “Yes, Sir,” I answered.

Then I was bent over a chair, my skirt hiked up. I could hear zippers and rustling. When I looked down on the floor I saw his shadow cast from the lights behind him. He’d undressed. He was walking toward me, carrying something.

I feel the first strike of the belt across my ass.

By the fifth or sixth they were making me jump.

He’s fucking me. My god, it feels amazing, but my leg is cramping up. I try to shake it out, but my calf is seizing. I tell him so.

He drags me by the hair up to the bed.

I’ve come more times than I can count. We’ve reached the point where I’ve stopped asking for permission to come and I’m growling at him, “I want it. It’s mine. I want it, now!”

I explode. I can feel him starting to twitch. He surprises me. In a flash, he’s pulled out, flung the condom off and he’s coming on me. A drop lands directly in my mouth, the rest on my neck, chest, and belly.

It takes a few minutes to regain coherent speech.

“What do you want to do third?” I ask.

Tourists in Dropland

Those of us who’ve spent some time in the kink/BDSM world are eventually educated on the concept of “drop.” Google “BDSM drop” and you’ll get over 770,000 mostly relevant results.

After an extreme experience, there’s a period of time that last hours or days, or depending on the longevity or intensity of the experience – longer, of feeling mildly down, fatigued, and maybe a little self-loathing.

Our friends out there in the non-kinky world don’t really have a frame of reference for this concept; and these are nothing if not extreme times.

I’m starting to see it again today – the fatigue. There is a constant onslaught of news, and it’s not good news. For many who had previously lived a relatively neutral existence (read: those with significant, albeit unrecognized privilege) this is the first time that they’ve been on the business end of a series of emotional wallops for which they were completely unprepared.

Even the ones who raised the alarms during the election are now starting to fade – to say they just can’t anymore. Not one more thing.

But we don’t have a national safeword, and I have a feeling the Tyrannical Tweeter isn’t one for aftercare.

It was someone on a kinky social networking site I frequent who first identified it for me. He posted a status update after the Women’s March suggesting that many of his friends seemed to be suffering from March drop, then followed up with a comment on one of my posts with the point that his “vanilla” friends (not my preferred terminology for the non-kinky) didn’t understand what was happening to them.

But, we do.

I was chatting with another friend┬áthis evening and he made a very astute observation: “We live in the extremes, they don’t. So protest drop is gonna be bad.” He went on to say “We’re the locals in drop-land. They’re tourists.”

I sat in the parking lot outside of my office building for an hour today, scrolling through the day’s twitter updates and facebook posts. It was an hour of informed consent to the harshness of a very cruel and very scary reality to which I was willfully submitting myself. It wasn’t until I looked up and noticed how dark it had gotten that I looked at the time.

Just like how an hour in an intense rope scene can fly by, only with fewer orgasms.

Right now, I’m sitting cross-legged on my bed. My brother’s phone number is still written in sharpie across my ankle, where I’d scrawled it yesterday on my way to the Los Angeles International Airport.

I regard this marking similarly to the marks I receive in the course of play, only this is a little different. As I’m not an enormous fan of bruises for bruises sake, I accept them as a consequence of the type of play I enjoy with my consenting partner.

This was different. And yet, not so different.

It is a visible, lasting reminder of an extreme shared experience. Only instead of being in a dimly-lit room with my loving partner, I was one of tens of thousands assembled in peaceful protest of the Angry Mango’s latest Executive Order.

Recognizing the feeling, I went in search of connection to those with whom I’d shared this awesome, powerful experience – only to find that many of them have gone rather quiet on social media today.

I wish I could just go on facebook and explain “drop” to them. Those who intersect with kink have already figured it out. As soon as you say “drop,” they go “Oh shit. Yes. Time for some self-care.”

Me? I like bubble baths.

Anyway, it’s not as easy a concept to convey to the unkinkformed. Less easy if I’m attempting to protect them from having a little too much information about my sexual preferences. (Sexual is not the best word to use there. It’s not necessarily about sex, but like “vanilla,” it gets the point across quickly.)

I’m starting to get a few more twitter followers now who’ve added me in the last week or so when I’ve been a bit more of an “activist” type than a “sex blogger” type, so maybe this post will help a little.

But to the rest of them…I don’t know.

I want to find the words to explain it to them. To help them understand that taking a break to go see a movie, to make love, watch funny cat videos, or to have a bubble bath with an old-fashioned is not the same as going into a “news coma” and willfully turning a blind eye to a world that needs you by hiding in an impenetrable bubble.

We absolutely have to keep doing the things we enjoy, and finding ways to express love, compassion and care for ourselves and each other. That’s what fuels us to keep going. It’s what brings back the equilibrium that helps us stay in this resistance for the long haul.

That’s how you fight drop.

Find a little peace tonight. Your voice makes a difference, it absolutely does….but screaming until you go hoarse will silence you for too long. We need to pace ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves.

Even our heroes sometimes take a moment to stop and smell the falafel.

The Frustration with French Fries

The most painful part of my monthly waxing isn’t the part where she’s ripping the hair out my most sensitive places. It’s having to maintain a conversation with her for the two hours I spend on her table.

Yes, two hours. She’s meticulous. She’s “tweezers to the ass crack” meticulous. This is why I put up with her.

Anyway, so she knows about the kink and the poly. The kink, ’cause…well, I’m naked and spread eagle on her table once a month. Sometimes there are bruises. And the poly, ’cause I hate lying and unless we’re talking about a situation where my relationship dynamic is going to harm my career or cause my grandmother a heart attack, I tend to not keep it a secret.

In case you’re reading this and you’ve not been following along, the tl;dr of my relationship is that I am not polyamorous, but my boyfriend is. And it works out just fine.

Anyway, so she knows. She’s known all along. And last year there were a couple of sessions where she asked a lot of questions and I had the patience to explain it to her. She asked all the regular questions: “don’t you get jealous?” (not about sex) “doesn’t it bother you he’s with someone else?” (no.) “Don’t you want to get married though?” (negative.) And my favorite, “I’m just afraid you’re going to get hurt.” (yeah, ’cause monogamous men have never hurt me)

Eventually the novelty of the thing wore off and we didn’t really talk about it anymore. Or, when we’d talk about my relationship she’d ask about what we’ve done for fun or what our plans are for holidays and she knows when I talk about my metamours (who I am good friends with) that they are also my partner’s partners.

So I was a little surprised last night when she started using phrases like “on the side.”

Like, “couldn’t you have a guy on the side, too?”

1) We’ve talked about this before. I could have another relationship if I wanted to. I don’t want to. It’s not how I’m wired. I accept this about me. My partner accepts this about me. It is not a cause for concern for anybody else.

2) “Too?” The phrasing makes it seem as though she believes that either I or one of my metamours holds “on the side” status in his mind. That’s not how it works in our relationship. None of us are “on the side.” I don’t like what “on the side” implies, and I really don’t like what “too” implies.

But I didn’t correct her. Not then, because we’ve been through this before and she just doesn’t get it. She really just doesn’t get it and it’s not worth my energy to keep explaining.

Then she decided to throw a hypothetical situation at me. “I know you say you don’t want to get married again, and that’s fine…” (oh, I’m so glad you approve of my life choices), “But let’s say you change your mind and you marry him…would you still let him have other girls on the side?”

let him?

on the side??

At this point, I kind of lost my patience.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. “That’s like asking if I’d ‘let him’ have blue eyes.”

“No, but you know what I mean,” she said.

“No, you don’t understand what I mean. He is poly. It is who he is. I accept that about him. I didn’t get involved with him so that I could change him.”

“So you would be okay with him having other girls on the side.”

“None of us are ‘on the side’,” I corrected her again.

She’s not gonna get it. She’ll never get it.

But maybe you might.

Can you help me? (Or: Why I’ll never allow a television in my bedroom again)

It’s not surprising that he’s crept into my thoughts more during the past week. I learned how to Christmas with him in my life. Doesn’t help that google likes to remind me what happened “on this day” X years ago. Anything more than 3 years usually includes memories of the time that my label was “wife.”

This morning, as I have been for nearly all the mornings during this holiday break, I woke up way too early. The light coming from outside my bedroom window was still dark enough that I couldn’t find my phone on the bed without feeling around for it.

In the process, my hand found the handle of my vibrator. I’d fallen asleep last night before making use of it. I thought perhaps a nice, slow morning orgasm would relax me enough into another hour of sleep.

I peeled off my underwear and pulled the sheet up over my shoulders to keep the chill out before I got started. As I do, I let my mind wander through the Greatest Hits – the handful of fantasy situations I imagine when I’m just trying to get straight to the orgasm without so much meandering along the way.

I lightly grazed my hand over the sheet and felt the little jolt of sensation when it traveled over my pert nipples. I smiled, thinking about recent events that involved my nipples and my lover’s warm kiss.

But then, it happened. The sound of my own voice, in my head…

Can you help me?

Instantly my mind shifted from this happy place by remembering her. The she that was me before he died.

“Can you help me?” as I lay in bed beside my loving husband with my vibrator pressed up against my clit and his hands clutching the video game controller.

The orgasm evading me as I tried to call up the feelings of being desired while he focused all his attention on smoking pot, taking Ambien, and watching documentaries.

“Can you help me?” I’d ask in my small voice, laced with yearning and unmet hunger and the wanting of the slightest bit of attention.

And he would sigh. Hold the controller with one hand while reaching over to grope my breasts with the other.

With my eyes closed, I could pretend he was actually looking at me while he did it.

The orgasm would come. I’d drop the vibrator. And, without a word, he’d pick the controller back up and carry on with his game, or the documentary, or the bong hit I’d interrupted with my request.

Can you help me?

It dawned on me, not for the first time – but for the first time in a long time, that for nearly three years, that was the entirety of my sex life. That was how we “did it.” That was as much as I could get in terms of active participation from my husband in my orgasm.

It pained him, by the way. He knew that he wasn’t giving me what I needed. He knew I wanted more, and more often. But tired. Pain. Depressed. High. Busy.

There was always some excuse to mask the complete lack of desire he had – not just for me, but for anything. The drugs and the pain killed it all.

The best he could muster was a healthy grope on one of my breasts. It was really all he could do for me.

I flashed back into my present tense. I set the vibrator down. I was never going to get there thinking of that. I went back and read some of my texts from yesterday evening from my lover. That’s not my life anymore. She is not me anymore.

But yeah, for a few minutes this morning, I felt really, really sorry for her.