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.

Sex-Specters, Orgasm Demons, and Jizz Sheets: An Evolution of my perceptions of other people’s sex lives and *my* space

 

I was in a love-full and sex-less marriage. I don’t remember the last time I had sex with my husband before he died, but I’d estimated it’d been at least three years, if not longer.

When I started dating again…well, the first guy was poly and his partner wasn’t comfortable with him having sex with me because I have genital herpes. So, we didn’t have any sort of genital contact in that direction. My mouth made plenty of contact with his genitals, though.

Then the second guy was deathly afraid of my fearsome hoo-hah. He was also attempting poly. He ended up having sex with his other partner but continued to refuse me, though he said he loved me. He just couldn’t bring himself to cross that line.

Again, he had no issue with my touching his genitals with my mouth.

By then, I’d re-discovered the local kink community and started throwing house parties now and then, inviting friends over for weekends of food and fun.

The one thing I asked was “don’t have sex in my house.” See, ’cause if I wasn’t having sex in my house then I didn’t want anybody else to have sex in my house. It was my space and if I didn’t get to use it that way, I didn’t want anybody else to use it that way.

Not all my friends got that memo, and it’s not like I had the rules posted on the wall. One of my friends and their partner went to go take a nap in the guest room, and ended up having sex while I was in the house entertaining other guests. I could hear them. Eventually, I got over it, though I was admittedly annoyed they left the sheets on the bed at the end of the weekend for me to change.

A year later, I had another friend come stay with a partner for an extended period of time. That friend knew how I felt about being abstinent in a sexually charged world and asked if it would be okay for them to have sex with each other while staying with me. I still wasn’t having sex, but …whatever. It was a guest room and it had already happened with other people, so why not?

I told them as long as they washed their own sheets that was fine.

It wasn’t fun, knowing other people were doing things in my house that I couldn’t do because the string of partners I’d encountered up to then didn’t want to do it with me. Of the mouthfuls of men who didn’t fuck me over the course those two years, there were a couple I would have wanted to have all-the-way sex with if they’d lasted long enough for me to trust them.

All of them opted out.

I’m glad of it now. I’m especially grateful for the one who opted out because he KNEW I had feelings for him that he didn’t return. His opt-out wasn’t about the herpes, it was about being a good friend and not tarnishing that friendship by leading me on any further.

Eventually I met someone who became (and still is) the partner who didn’t opt out. I recall the first time he invited me to stay at his place, which he shares with one of his partners. I jumped into my poly chatroom and asked a bunch of questions. What is the proper etiquette for this? They don’t have a guest room. I’ll be shagging on her bed. Should I offer to wash the sheets? Bring my own? How do I ensure that I am not encroaching on her space?

And someone in the chatroom reminded me, “it’s his space, too.”

Turns out, if my metamour takes any issue with others sleeping in her bed, it’s a surprise to me. Our partner takes it upon himself to wash and change the sheets before and after I leave. I help him re-make the bed on the few occasions I stay there.

I realized I truly admired her for this. The more I’d think about it, the more my original feelings about other people having sex in my house feel odd to me now. Like, who cares? I stay in hotel beds all the time that have probably had thousands upon thousands of people fucking on them before I got there.

That never bothered me. It’s just a physical space, and …yes, technically within my house that I own it is my space, but it’s still just space. There aren’t little sex-specters hanging around haunting me…”ooOOoooOooOOOooooo! I am the ghost of your sexless past, phi!”

And yet, not even two months ago I wrote a post here asking if it was normal to feel weird about wanting to masturbate in my coworker’s apartment while she was out of town and letting me stay there during my water-leak fiasco.

Spoiler alert: I did. She’s none the wiser and I’m sure she’s not being haunted by my orgasm-demons; though I’ll admit didn’t do it on her bed. I sat on the floor in the bathroom.

All of this was inspired by a friend’s recent situation. While the friend is out of town, their partner is entertaining a guest in their shared apartment. It’s all well-and-good, except just prior to the trip, this guest and my friend had a falling out, and now they are not feeling so good about having their space “invaded” by someone they’re not on good terms with.

And I see the point. But I also see the point of the people in the chatroom a long time ago who reminded me that “it’s his space, too” and regardless of metamour-relations, their partner is still entitled to use their space the way they want to within the boundaries and agreements of their particular poly relationship, which (up to this point) includes inviting other partners over when one is out of town.

It was interesting, though, as I was listening to my friend’s story, how different my reaction is today as to how it would have been two years ago when the thought of someone else having sex in my house made me feel uneasy, much less in my bed with my partner.

In this particular instance, I think I would feel similarly – that someone who’d disrespected me should not be taking advantage of my space for their orgasms; but then again – I live alone. I think if my partner lived with me, I might have to swallow my discomfort because it’d be his space, too.

But, that particular example notwithstanding, I no longer feel that other people (in good standing with me) fucking in my house would bother me, as long as they wash their jizz-sheets and re-make the bed before they leave.

Go figure.

Factions and Class

(Originally posted on FetLife April 2015)

I remember the day in the 9th grade when my English teacher was talking to us about social classes.  There were the lower or working class, the middle or *bourgeois* class, and the uppper class, which was split into old money and nouveau riche,  or new money.

“These are new money people,” he said.  “They’re the ones with the decorative towels you don’t use, and the bedspreads you don’t sleep on, and they drive BMWs and Mercedes and have nannies that drive their kids to and from school and to soccer practice and dance class and piano lessons. They go on cruises and all-inclusive resorts for vacations.”

He said all of this like they disgusted him. And, in fact, members of the elite upper class are known to look down upon members of this rising class who made their wealth doing such things as business.

He was describing my life, right down to the decorative hand towels and cars.

I was really upset.  Why was my family a target for that derisive tone?

There’s another way to describe what my family had accomplished – it was the so-called American Dream.

My grandparents all immigrated to the United States in the 1960s.  Both sides separately, but with the same story.  Grandfathers who arrived with little to no money – one with a wife and two children in tow, another with a wife and four sons.

They worked. They saved. They started their own businesses.  They became entrepreneurs.  They succeeded.

Two separate success stories.

My parents met here.  They got married. They worked. They saved. They started their own business.  They succeeded.

It continues.  My brother barely graduated high school.  He got to work. Started a business with his friends.  They have all succeeded.  He has his white picket fence and 2.5 children and married his high school sweetheart.

Somehow this is a bad thing? This fun little scapegoat in the middle for the elite to look down upon and the working classes to hate on because we have stuff.  And things.

There’s a point here.

I’ve heard people talk about the “Old Guard” in BDSM and the “New Guard.”  Then there’s a group that’s probably something along the lines of a complete “Disregard,” I’m sure.

I don’t care if you have been in this scene 5 minutes or 50 years; if you’re in a high protocol leather family or you just created your fetlife account yesterday because you finished reading *50 Shades* and can’t wait to find your very own Christian Grey or whatever the girl’s name is in that book:  I think we’re all in this together and we can all behave with civility and respect toward one another. (Until you disrespect me, and then I will just ignore you. I won’t even give you the satisfaction of disrespecting you back.)

I was at a play party last Saturday during a Leather conference where most of the play happening was not what I’m used to watching or participating in. It was different. It was fascinating.  It was not any more or any less BDSMy than what I’m used to.

A few weeks ago I was at a different play party where there were mostly newbies in attendance. The play there was different. It was fascinating. It was not any more or any less BDSMy than what I’m used to.

We were all new to this once.  I mean, maybe there are some “old money” BDSMers where the Gospel of Kink has been passed down from generation to generation; but for many of us, we’re still building our wealth of knowledge from scratch – learning what we can from those who came before us, and modifying it to suit our wants and needs as we travel along this journey.

And there are, of course, those who only have an inkling still.  Those who do not have much to go on other than a fantasy that makes them question their sanity because they haven’t figured out that this thing we do is a thing with a name and a community behind it.

I’d love to stop being reminded how it felt sitting in class with Mr. M talking shit about the *nouveau riche* without realizing that sitting in the 2nd row was 14-year-old girl sinking into her seat and feeling like shit because she dared to be born to a family that succeeded.

I’d like for all of us to stop feeling that way.

I came into this scene only knowing that my fantasies were not like other people’s fantasies.  I figured out how to make it work for me.  I’m still figuring it out, and I think that’s respectable.

And I’ll respect the newbies who are just getting started on this fantastic trip, because I was them once.

And I’ll respect the Old Guard who have been doing this since before I was born, whether or not their way is one that interests me in the slightest.

And above all, I respect the Right Guard, because people who smell good are definitely worth my respect.