Good Girls Revolt (quietly?)

I spent the day yesterday watching the one season of “Good Girls Revolt,” an Amazon original that had sneaked under my radar when it was released a few years ago. It’s historical fiction based on the real-life 1970 lawsuit filed against Newsweek by 46 of their female staff for gender discrimination.

Only 10 episodes. Worth the watch when you have some time.

Anyway, as happens in most cases when there’s a female-driven ensemble cast, I find myself relating to pieces of each of them. And, as I’m pretty sure I’ve written before, I know this happens because characters in stories tend to be one-dimensional for a purpose, whereas real-life people can be unpredictable and have fluctuating wants/needs and personalities from day to day.

So, as much as I’d like to say I related best to the free-loving, fiercely intelligent, and sexually liberated redhead Patty, or the shy, stammering (until she gains some confidence) but passionate Cindy – I really felt kinship with the privileged, sexually and socially repressed, daddy’s girl Jane, played by Anna Camp.

It’s a character Anna Camp plays well…it’s similar to her role in Pitch Perfect, only set in the late 1960s and with far less puking.

There’s a scene in the last episode (spoilers) where she confronts her wealthy, privileged father and tells him she no longer wants to take money from him to support a lifestyle beyond her means.

He responds by trying to instill fear, “I won’t let you go live in an unsafe place” and then disregarding her ambition, “Okay fine, i’ll see you Thursday when you run out of money,” and then anger and projection, “What the hell do you mean you hired a lawyer to sue your employer – are you on drugs?”

Eventually he plays the hurt daddy card – the last possible card in the deck: “If you don’t need my money then you don’t need me. You don’t need anybody.”

Tearfully, she says she does need him, and somehow without saying it, she expresses that what she needs from him is love, emotional support, and to feel that he believes in her ability to achieve her ambitions.

And that’s where the break happened between this fictional character and my own experience. Because my dad didn’t respond to the tears, nor to the anger that followed. He still treats me like a first-class daughter, and a second-class human being. What’s more remarkable is how he still responds with pleasant surprise any time I show that I’m capable at anything.

What that’s caused is a break between the phi you all see here and the phi that is presented to my family. The part that sucks the most? I’m so proud of my accomplishments in this world, and they’re something I can’t share with them no matter what. They will never get to see what I believe are the best parts of me.

This morning, a friend of mine on facebook posted a status update lamenting that, when asked by a friend what she’s been up to, she felt she had to “self-edit more than half her life.” Because, since the election, she’s become a vocal activist, forming secret groups to help in the resistance, attending rallies and protests, informing herself, and contacting her representatives every single day.

“I am so much more than just a woman who goes to yoga, tennis and mahj, but some people just don’t want to or can’t know that. How long can any of us maintain this kind of charade….,” she asked.

And I wanted to respond, “Years.”

These things that drive us, that make us feel alive and give us purpose – these are the things we want to share with the world, and no-one more than those who mean the most to us. They are also the things that we feel we have to hide from those very same people because they won’t understand, and will belittle, ostracize, and reject us because it goes against their status-quo.

For the Anna Camp character to risk losing her father’s love was heartbreaking for me. There was a time when I believed my dad would respond the way hers did – eventually realizing that his daughter is a person who he helped raised to be capable of more than marriage and baby-producing.

But my dad didn’t make that jump. And I don’t think he will.

And so I hide the best part of me from him, because …

…because I don’t want to stop loving him.

Another post-GRUE Post: Part 2 – Ownership of time

In the first part of this post, I shared my epiphany on thinking in terms of needs of a relationship instead of talking about the needs of a person.

But then I had to go to work, because I’m a responsible adult and stuff, who fills my time with all manner of things that are important to me.

Key word: my time.

So, from the last post:

The language I use and the way that I use it is specifically selected to internalize the very big lessons I’ve learned from past unsuccessful attempts at dating poly: that I cannot own someone’s time, nor can they own mine.

During the course of the poly discussion at this weekend’s GRUE in Los Angeles, someone brought up a very familiar topic in the mono/poly dynamic. It was that sense that the partner that’s not dating additional partners would get sad or lonely when their only partner was out on a date with someone else; and that the partner that’s out with someone else feels responsible for this unhappiness.

I’m going to add that this isn’t only a thing that happens in mono/poly relationships. Not too long ago I read a post a friend of mine wrote about feeling lonely when his wife was out on another date and he was home with the cat.

This sharing of his feelings prompted many well-intentioned folk to offer advice on how to “fix” his loneliness. They suggested he find another date for any night that his wife was having a date. The suggested that he not “allow” his wife to spend the night elsewhere, that she should come home to him. Many people offered to keep him company while he sat alone with the cat.

Thing is, he wasn’t asking for help or advice. He was sharing a feeling – a natural, non-life threatening feeling. In a way, he was removing the “photoshop” elements from the relationship and showing that it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, even in the strongest and most open of marriages.

When I am home alone on a Saturday night while my partner is out doing fun things with another partner, that is my choice. Nothing and nobody is stopping me from having a social life if I want one. I can invite people over. I can go to the movies. I can hang out with friends. Hell, if I wanted to, I could go on a date.

I don’t want to.

This isn’t some brand new revelation. I’ve written about it before, and often.

When we were still figuring out how all this was going to work between us, there was plenty of discussion on how I was going to adapt to fulfill the needs of a relationship with a poly partner. There was also a point at which I asked him if he was comfortable having a monogamous partner.

That’s when I became somewhat aware that there was a sense of concern he felt toward my not having a good time when he wasn’t around; or that he might not be “enough” for me to feel happy or fulfilled in the long term.

I realized I wasn’t the only one that had to make some concessions in order to make this relationship work. There was a very real insecurity that he had to overcome on not being “enough” for me. The irony, of course, is that you’ll frequently hear the monogamous partner in a poly relationship complain about not feeling like they’re “enough” to satisfy their partner.

But, a post on the relative meanings of “enough” are for another time. (Plus, I think I maybe already wrote one).

I made a conscious decision not only to remember that I cannot own somebody else’s time; but also to own the responsibility for my own time. He’s not responsible for the nights I fail to make other plans. He’s not responsible for my loneliness. I cannot force him to spend time with me.

He has to want to. And he does.

If and when my loneliness presents itself, is not a problem that needs to be solved. If it does need to be solved, I need to solve it myself, by taking it upon myself to engage in other interests with other people.


Related writings:

Another Post-Grue Post: Part 1 – Addressing the needs of each relationship

I’m a fan of using precise language to break down concepts in my own head. For example, differentiating between “my night” and “the night he spends with me” in relation to my partner and how he divides his time among his partners.

Key word: His time.

Does it mean the same thing if I’m trying to get a point across that Friday night is “my night” and that’s why I don’t go out on Saturdays as much anymore? Probably, to the person I’m talking to, but not to me. The language I use and the way that I use it is specifically selected to internalize the very big lessons I’ve learned from past unsuccessful attempts at dating poly: that I cannot own someone’s time, nor can they own mine. We choose to spend time with each other, and it just so happens that it’s usually on Friday nights.

During this past weekend’s GRUE in Los Angeles, I participated in another discussion – this one on polyamory. I do wish it’d been able to go on longer, but it was toward the end of the day and the circumstances were what they were.

It was very cool to participate in the discussion and have two other mono/poly participants in the room. While a lot of the issues that face polyamorous couples and groups have similar themes, the monogamuggles tend to adapt to them with slight differences – but enough of a difference that it felt good to not be the only one in the room.

During the course of the discussion, I had a bit of an epiphany. It wasn’t groundbreaking or anything, but it was another one of those things where the slight adjustment in language used helped deflate a common struggle I have with the concept of being “needy.”

Often, when you take a hinge partner, for example – the partner that has multiple partners, they’ll talk about what each of their partners needs separately. Partner A needs this, Partner B needs this, Partner C needs this. It sets up this sense that the hinge is the sole provider of any work in the relationship, and that at some point they might resent or burn out on this pressure of having to cater to the needs of all these different partners.

With a slight adjustment in the language, I think it might be easier to alleviate the perceived burden of responsibility.

Relationship A needs this. Relationship B needs this. Relationship C needs this.

P.S. there is no hierarchy implied in my selection of variables.

Anyway, in my own mind, it helps to think of it that way. When the needs of the relationship are addressed then the burden of being “needy” is taken away from one or the other partner specifically. When the needs of the relationship are addressed, it more evenly distributes the responsibility to either party to fulfill those needs.

And, when you’re in a situation where one of your partner’s other relationships needs something that somehow affects you, it might be a little easier to not grow resentful of that need by attributing it in its entirety to your metamour; and remembering that your partner has a vested interest in wanting that relationship to work. Their needs are wrapped up in the relationship’s needs as well.

That’s it on this. I have another point to make that came out of this discussion, but I gotta go to work. To be continued.

Tops and Strength and Vulnerability: a post-GRUE post-mortem post

Let’s get organized…..Here’s what I want to accomplish in this essay:

1) To share my thoughts on a recent discussion in which I both observed and later participated on the subject of Tops/Dominants and vulnerability

2) To explore my own thoughts on “strength” and “weakness” as it pertains to the concept of vulnerability and/or the exposure of said vulnerability.

3) To offer suggestions on how someone on the topside might find comfortable and meaningful ways to express their vulnerabilities without losing what it is that helps define that role for them.

Here’s what I do NOT want to accomplish in this essay:

1) To share personal information about real people who participated in the discussion without their consent, or make them feel like what they shared was not done so in a safe environment where it would not come back to hurt them. To avoid this, I will speak mostly in the abstract; but if you were there and you recognize your words and you want to help clarify, you are welcome to do so publicly or privately as it suits you.

2) To make someone feel like if they cannot or will not expose their vulnerability it makes them a bad person, so if you’re reading this and you think “nope, I can’t do what she’s suggesting,” that’s okay. You don’t gotta. I’m not the boss of you or the leader of the planet. Yet.

3) To tell anybody how to live their life. See above.

And one more thing…

What I inferred from the discussion may not be what the person speaking had truly intended to convey. On a couple of points, my partner (who also sat in on a large part of the discussion), picked up different messages than I did from the same person’s comments. Therefore, I’m not saying my interpretation is the be all and end all to what was discussed, so take this for what it’s worth. An incomplete attempt to understand a concept I do not have personal experience with as a Top; but I do as a person who is very much in control of her own understanding of her wants and needs, if not those of anybody else.

On to the meat of it…

Over the weekend I attended the Los Angeles GRUE. This is my third time attending this annual event, and in many ways it was the best one yet.

I participated in more discussion sessions this time than in hard-skill types of sessions. So, while last year I spent a lot more time in rope than I did this year; this year, I spent a lot more time engaging with people than last time.

And that’s pretty cool.

One of the earlier sessions during the course of the day was a discussion of the vulnerability of dominants. At the top of the discussion the person who’d organized the session asked for people to only speak if they were doing so from the perspective of a Top/Dominant; and to hold off on offering perspectives from the bottom. I completely understood the purpose for that request and myself and may of the other “bottom only” types in the room gave the rest their space to speak.

(Thankfully, after some time had passed, the discussion leader opened up the discussion to everyone in attendance and there were some really great insights brought up by the bottoms in the room who’d remained silent up to that point).

The big takeaways I had from the Tops only portion of the discussion were as follows:

1) A significant portion of the vulnerability a top feels stems from the idea that they find it uncomfortable to express needs. I want to say it was mostly emotional needs, but i think there were physical needs as well that they did not feel comfortable addressing with their bottoms.

2) Another portion of the vulnerability stems from the cognitive dissonance of being a sadist, for example – of recognizing that somewhat frightening part of you that gets off on hurting someone else, and trying to reconcile that enjoyment with what you know to be “right” or “wrong.”

3) This is the part that might have been up to interpretation – what I was hearing was that some of the tops felt like they couldn’t be as open about not “having all the answers” or not “being in complete control” of every situation. They felt the need to hide their vulnerabilities because it weakened them or glaringly exposed their inability to control all things.

A while back I know I wrote something about finding the strength in exposing my vulnerabilities. I can’t find it, though I found bits and pieces in other writings that support that notion. I recall I went on a date quite a while ago, after which I received a text from him that said that something about my vulnerability making him want to jump up and protect me from anything or anybody that may want to hurt me.

He saw my vulnerability as a weakness he wanted to protect and defend. I saw it as a strength that could draw in an army of protectors. And, of course, with great power comes great responsibility; so I mitigated the temptation to take advantage of that power by attempting to solve my own problems before asking for help.

But I also am able to recognize when I do need help to solve a problem, and am quite capable of “exposing my vulnerability” by asking for that help when it’s appropriate.

I don’t believe that makes me weak. I actually thing it is a show of strength that I am capable of opening myself up to rejection by asking for help.

People have needs. Take away the labels of top or bottom or switch or whatever being a “dominant” means to you and you are a person who has needs. The people who love and care about you are invested in helping you get your needs met.

It is very likely that the people who love and care about you are not mind-readers. Some may be highly intuitive and may be able to make you feel like you’re a really good communicator; but in the end – if there is something you need that you’re not getting, one of two things have happened: 1) you are not asking for it, or 2) the person you asking it from doesn’t want to or cannot give it to you.

I feel like this is the part where a few caveats must be explained: 1) the way one interacts with a long-term or intimate partner is different than the way things go down with a play partner or someone in a one-off situation. Most of my examples and analogies are more in line with how I think long-term relationships work, over pick-up play situations. Also, 2) I have a very clear-in-my-head differentiation between a want and a need; so when I say “need” I am talking about things without which a relationship suffers.

So, let’s take the second takeaway as an example…the cognitive dissonance. That thing that makes you feel vulnerable when you admit to yourself that hurting someone else just made you wet.

I don’t experience this. What I know of this feeling is purely through having heard from many people and empathizing with the feelings they have expressed. On more than one occasion, people to whom I’ve bottomed for or submitted to have been the ones to tell me that these feelings exist.

One very specifically told me what he needed from me. He told me he needed me, as the person he just got off on hurting, to absolve him of his guilt by letting him know that I enjoyed it. That I wanted it. To tell him that he was not an evil person for wanting to do this to me nor for enjoying having done it to me.

That was a very vulnerable thing for this very domly dom person to admit to me, and it did not take away from his ability to exert his control over me (when that was our dynamic). In fact, from my point of view, it strengthened his control because he exposed his humanity to me; and I was able to trust more that there would not be unexplained passive aggressive retaliation toward me for his negative feelings because he’d been honest with me about how he processed what he does.

To be honest – what killed that relationship was when he STOPPED being honest with me about his vulnerabilities and he started behaving in passive aggressive, retaliatory, and explosive ways to our disagreements. I lost my ability to trust him with my emotions when I felt like he couldn’t trust me with his anymore.

I don’t think there’s a “solution” to cognitive dissonance. I think the best we can hope for is acceptance and coping. Similarly, I don’t think one needs to “fix” vulnerability. I think the better option is to lean in to it, expose it, and accept the consequences, whether positive or negative.

As a bottom, that’s kind of our jam. When we are hit, it hurts. But for masochists, we’ve found a way to lean into that pain and transform it into something our brains find pleasurable. By virtue of what we do, we place ourselves in vulnerable positions for fun and profit, and we get a ton of enjoyment, catharsis, and in some cases, growth from it.

As a top, you might also be able to harness the power of vulnerability by exposing yourself to the potential to be disappointed, let down, or ….wrong.

The example I gave as a concrete step to take to open oneself up to their vulnerability is something I do all the time and have written about on several occasions. When I am having a negative feeling, I dig down into it until I understand what is causing it. Until I know what it is that I want or need from someone else that I am not getting that is causing this negative reaction. And then, I tell my partner what I want or need from him.

So, I text him and say “I’m feeling kind of down. Can you please say something nice to me?”

I always get a response. The response is never no. Not with this partner. I’ve had two partners in the past that had rejected my request. They are no longer partners.

Let’s say, (and this is another real example), that I’m starting to feel a little down because my partner doesn’t hit the love button on my fet photos very often. I notice he does with his other partners, but not mine and it makes me sad.

What is that really about, because the comparison to his other partners isn’t fair. The reality is that I know he finds me attractive and I don’t need him to hit a button on a photo on social media to know this to be the case. And yet, I’ve gotten into a situation where I’m feeling down because he’s not doing it, and to further the feedback loop, I want him to do it without my having to tell him to.

That’s where you get into that mind-reading thing. If you’re not getting something you want or need out of someone else, the two reasons are that they either don’t know you want it, or don’t want to give it to you.

So, what am I doing by not telling him what I want? I’m trying to hide from him that something hurts because I want him to intuitively know that it hurts and fix it without my having to tell him. He doesn’t, ’cause he’s not a mind reader, and I just keep on being butthurt because there’s no resolution to this problem through the power of magic.

There is, however, a resolution through the power of communication.

Now, if you think that it’s easy to tell your partner you want public validation of his attraction to you, believe me, it’s not. I processed this shit in the poly chat group for days before I felt comfortable bringing it up with him directly. It was really hard to admit that I wanted this from him; but there was no solution to the problem that didn’t involve my directly telling him so.

Guess what he did?

He loved a couple of my pictures.

And every once in a while, when he does do this without my having to remind him that I want it, it feels really good.

Does that mean I’ve never had to bring it up again? Naah. This comes up. It is what it is. It never means he doesn’t love me or that I don’t make his dick hard. It means that there’s a part of me that wants the public validation of that fact once in a while. By exposing that truth, I took away its power to make me sad.

That’s not a top/bottom thing. This could easily have gone the other way. I might be a top who wants her bottom to like my pictures once in a while and not want to have to order them to do it. I might let it make me feel sad, or become passive aggressive in my behavior toward them because I think that by saying “I want your feedback when I post sexy pictures” means that the feedback isn’t genuine.

At the root of this example is the knowledge that my fear doesn’t stem from any ideation that he’s not attracted to me; but from a place of feeling like he doesn’t want to publicly acknowledge my place in his life. Again – that’s not a top/bottom thing. That’s a relationship thing, and more specifically, that’s a phi thing.

So, something to think about – if you struggle with exposing your vulnerability; start small. Start by not expecting your partner to read your mind when something is nagging at you. Start by figuring out what behavior you want from them, and ask them for it.

Another, much less exposing example is the difference between saying “Brrr….I’m cold.” and “Darling, can I borrow your sweater?” If you’re not getting what you want from your partner by announcing that you feel cold; then follow up with the direct ask. And if your partner says no, then …well, now you know what kind of person they are.

I think that’s all I have for now. I mean, there is so much more but those were the main points of what I wanted to accomplish with this writing. I welcome any continued discussion that comes out of this, though I can’t promise to be very participatory in it until I get home in a few hours.

If you ever have an opportunity and the means to attend a GRUE in your local area…

I highly recommend it. For reals, yo.

Oh, and one last thing. In my search for whatever writing I’d done in the past that had to do with vulnerability, I came across this bit of erotica I’d written a while back. I think it’s a subtle portrayal of how the Top/Sadist/Dominant’s attempts to hide or mitigate his vulnerabilities served only to delay the gratification of a truly deep and personal connection with a potential partner.

Don’t you get jealous?

Usually when I tell people that my relationship is unconventional, they have one of two reactions:  curiosity or concern.  Nobody has really shunned me for it.  Some people have surprised me and shared that I’m not the first person they’ve met who’s been involved in a poly-type relationship.

By and large, the most frequent question I get asked when I explain that my partner has multiple partners is, “But don’t you get jealous?”

The way they’re asking the question, you might think they’re talking to someone who smokes two packs a day and asking, “But won’t you get cancer?”  OHMYGOD, NOT JEALOUSY! But jealousy isn’t a fatal emotion.  I mean, I suppose it can be if you let it unhinge you, but I don’t let a whole lot unhinge me in that fashion.

The answer is yes, sometimes I might get a little bit jealous.  Sometimes I get downright resentful.  It doesn’t happen very often, but jealousy is an emotion that is not foreign to me.

When someone asks me, “But don’t you get jealous?” I think of it more like someone watching me walk out the door in a sleeveless dress in November and asking, “But won’t you get cold?”

I live in Southern California.  It rarely gets THAT cold, even in November, and if it does, I grab a sweater and put it on.

When I encounter jealousy within my relationship, the “sweater” is usually a product of some self-examination. For me, jealousy is usually related to some sort of insecurity or perceived “unfairess.”  But, like sunny Southern California, my relationship is pretty darned secure and fairness abounds; so it’s rare that those feelings manifest.

When I feel “jealous” I start asking myself “what’s causing this?”  I examine whether it’s actually “jealousy” (I want to claim something that somebody else has) or if I can deescalate it down to “envy” (I want to have a thing somebody else has without taking it away from them). Are these feelings sourced through the comparison trap? I know that for me, comparing is a no-no in this type of relationship, so if that’s where it’s coming from, it’s time to shut it down.

Sometimes I’m able to do just that: shut down those feelings as easily as I would have put on a sweater on a 68 degree day.  No harm, no foul.

But yeah, even in Southern California, we get actually cold days.  We even had a snow day once when I was in elementary school – so certainly there are going to be days that the jealousy can get the best of me.

So, what do I do?  What’s the equivalent of my polyamorous “wool coat, gloves, and scarf?”

Would you believe it’s communication?

What!?  Another damned poly post touting communication as a freakin’ solution to every problem!

Yeah.  Pretty much.  ‘Cause when it gets THAT cold outside, when we’re talking jealousy jacket weather, I tell my partner, “I’m feeling resentful. I don’t like it and it’s affecting my mood.”

And he says, “Gotcha.”

We talk about what’s bothering me. He validates my feelings. He lets me know that it’s okay to feel that way sometimes and that he totally understands why they’ve come up this time.

And then, usually, I get my period a day or two later and the cold weather passes.

Irreplaceable

I had a dream last night. It involved time travel. There was one of him and he was going through time collecting all of me at different ages and in different timelines. It was like a poly dream where he was still my only one, but he had several of me and he loved them all dearly.

I told him about it as I woke up. “Luck you,” he said. And I replied, “Nah, lucky YOU.”

I mean, he had a half-dozen me’s to keep him busy. But each one of me still had to spend time without him, and that was sad.

I thought back to the dream. There was an old version of me with grey hair who wore frumpy sweaters. He loved her, too.

“Whenever I’m with you…. no, wait. Even when I’m not with you,” I corrected myself, “Since we’ve been together, I sometimes forget that….,” I paused, trying to figure out how to say it right. “I forget that I’m not perfect. Or that I’m not everyone’s ideal. I forget that I’m not thin.”

He smiled. He understood what I was trying to say. Since I’ve been with him, I forget that I’m fat. I forget that the form-fitting dresses aren’t really “sexy” to the rest of the world. I forget to feel insecure about myself. “I see me the way you see me,” I said.

“Well,” he answered, “I am unique in the world. Then again, there could be dozens of others who think like I do that could replace me.”

“No,” I said. “Nobody could ever replace you in my life. And I don’t think anybody could ever replace me in yours, either.”

He shook his head, agreeing with me. “No, that would be impossible,” he said pulling me close.

Poly or not, he loves me for who I am. At any age. What we have is unique in the world, and nobody could ever replace us in each other’s lives. That’s enough for my monogamous heart to feel secure in my relationship.

I think that’s what that dream was telling me, but I only need to catch him staring at me with his big loving eyes to know it when I’m awake, too.

Watching a “bad” Dom in action

Warning: This post is about Dancing With the Stars, and while it does not include spoilers on who was eliminated this week, it does describe the dynamics between two of the couples on the show through this week’s performance.

Derek was my favorite. I was glad when he was back because I love his choreography, and I love the way he moves, and I love the way he always wins.

But this time, Derek didn’t get paired with the same kind of partner. He’s frequently paired with partners you might consider a challenge, like the heavier ones, or the ones with a disability you’d think would make it impossible for them to dance; but then their confidence and tenacity and drive are amazing and they make it far in the competition.

But this time he got paired with someone who is challenging in her own way.

She doesn’t believe in herself.

They’re doing something new this season; or at least, something I don’t remember them doing in past seasons. During the results shows, they’re showing more of the behind-the-scenes stuff, including stuff said that didn’t make the show edit – like the stuff caught on live mics during the dances or right after that are usually muted out during the live shows.

And I’m seeing a side of Derek with Marilu that is making me think that he’s a bad Dom.

He blames her when things go wrong. She’s a 64 year-old actress who has trained all of SEVEN WEEKS to work with a highly-acclaimed, award-winning professional dancer who’s been training his whole life.

In these last few episodes, they’re showing him being a bit of a douchebag to her, like losing his patience and outright blaming her for a low score. Last week, she had a fall and when you watch the footage, it looks like he pushed her pretty hard. Then in this week’s package, she says she felt like she was pushed.

It almost seemed like he’s trying to sabotage their scores because he wants out of the losing team, as though dancing with someone who isn’t showing improvement is going to ruin his reputation.

But here’s the thing – the way he keeps undermining her confidence is the REASON she’s not improving. What really struck me this week is how they showed him talking about his plan to build her confidence up. All he did was tell her that none of her mistakes mattered.

That’s not how to help someone improve! When someone you’re collaborating with makes mistakes, you find constructive ways on working with them to improve their performance. Telling them their mistakes don’t matter anymore is a signal that you’ve let your frustration build up to the point where you’ve given up on them. That their improvement is no longer a priority for you.

This week another pro, Val, got emotional when he expressed his pride over his partner Laurie’s pure joy, passion, and olympian-level drive to soak up the knowledge of dance he’s spent his own life learning. To see the big, bad-ass Russian cry the way he did came off very much with a sense of the deep, paternal-like love he seems to have developed for his young partner.

A week or two ago, they had a moment where he was pushing her really hard and she pushed back. He was getting frustrated and she called him out, reminded him that she’s doing her best and yelling at her when she doesn’t get something right away doesn’t help her learn it faster. He calmed down, apologized and they went on to nail their performance.

So this week, when he hides his face with a hat for a while while the cameras are on him and he’s really breaking into the cry, there’s no question that he feels exposed in showing his own vulnerability within this relationship. I think it’s beautiful. Their performance brought tears to my eyes, as it did the judges.

I know it’s just a silly dancing show and it has nothing to do with kink. But very frequently as I’ve been watching this season, I’ve noticed parallels to BDSM with these two couples. Derek and Marilu’s relationship seems toxic and unfulfilling. She’s trying so hard to please him, and his displeasure is palpable; whereas Val and Laurie’s relationship seems very much like the “daddy” types here (non-sexually speaking) in the way that he shows vulnerability, emotion, and pride and even awe in her progress.

But here’s the thing – in seasons past, when Derek has been with the winning type and Val has been with the challenging member of the cast, their attitudes were reversed. I always thought Val was the asshole and Derek was the shining star.

Which just goes to show that the problem in some relationships may not be the individuals within them, but the pairing itself.

Two final thoughts:

In googling Marilu Henner to ensure I was spelling her name correctly, i saw an article in which Derek defends himself by saying that the editing has been doing him a disservice this season; that in fact, he and his partner had a deep heart-to-heart talk where they aired out some things and hugged it out, but that wasn’t shown. I know that editing plays a big role in perceptions of things, so all of this is really based on what I’ve seen on the show and not what the reality probably is.

And secondly: this was my favorite dance of the night, and it’s sexy – so even if you don’t watch the show, watch this: