I Don’t Believe in Soulmates (But…)

“A true soulmate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert

I don’t believe in soulmates.

Well, it’s not quite that simple. I don’t believe in soulmates in the “one person on earth for everyone who will complete you” kind of way.

Aside from the previously discussed mathematical absurdity of imagining there’s exactly one person designed for one other person, the One True Soulmate thing doesn’t account for polyamory, or people who are widowed and then find love again, or just people who have multiple serious relationships in their life because something isn’t retroactively less real because it ended. Then there’s the fact that we are all whole already and don’t need another person to complete us.

I’m not sure I even believe in souls, at least not in the metaphysical or religious way the term is often used. I’m both an atheist and fundamentally quite cynical.

So no, I don’t believe in soulmates. That doesn’t mean I am cynical about love. I’m not. I do believe in powerful connections between people, which might happen quickly or might grow over years.

When I hear “soulmate,” I think it implies a situation where you’re so made for each other that everything is easy. It’s the Disney-fied, romcom-style happy ending where all problems vanish and you live blissfully ever after.

But that’s not real. It’s a seductive lie, a dangerous fiction, a marketing ploy that leads real people to believe their relationships are inadequate.

I don’t want always-easy, because always-easy does not exist when it comes to meaningful relationships. What I want is someone who sees me completely. Someone who sees everything – the good, the bad, the ugly, the broken – and loves me anyway.

And, yeah, someone who can call me on my bullshit.

I don’t believe that anyone can know us better than we know ourselves. That is a fallacy. No-one else will ever be in your head or your body and you are always the ultimate and final expert on you. But I do believe that another person can see the bits of us that we’re not seeing, or choosing not to see, or trying to choose not to see.

Of course, it requires trust and vulnerability to let someone in that far. I’m not very good at either trusting people or being truly vulnerable. It takes me a long time to get there and the rest of the time, there’s a protective layer around me. Sometimes it’s a steel wall a foot thick, sometimes it’s barely perceptible and almost permeable.

A soulmate, in that fiction, would be someone who immediately fixed all those issues with their True Love. That doesn’t exist. What I want is someone who takes the time to see everything that is behind that wall, makes the effort to understand it, and wants to stay even then. Someone who does not expect pretense or perfection, but who embraces all that I am and – and this bit is important – all that I will be.

The “soulmates” ideal implies something static, something immovable and permanent. Real love isn’t necessarily like that. Our souls – our selves – are not static. Instead, I want a person who commits to growing alongside me. Someone who is all in, for the messy as well as the tidy, for the worse as well as for the better. And honestly? Someone who will walk away if it is truly no longer working, rather than someone who is so attached to an ideal that they stay to the detriment of both of us.

So no, I don’t want a soulmate. I want people who will do the work, make the effort, and show up again and again when it’s hard as well as when it’s easy.

It might not be quite so picture-perfect, but at least it’s real.

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Things That Matter More to Me Than Looks

I won’t pretend that looks are completely unimportant to me in a relationship. There does need to be a level of physical attraction – I need to be physically into my partners and have them be physically into me. But looks only get you so far and they’re so much less important than a great many other things.

I have met people I was physically attracted to, only to have that attraction greatly diminish or completely switch off due to some other trait in the person. At least a couple of crushes have been snuffed out when the hot person turned out to be an asshole.

So here are a few things that are ultimately way more important than looks.

Kindness

When it comes to dating someone or having them as a close person in my life, this is probably the single most important attribute they can possess. If someone isn’t kind, I’m unlikely to want to get close to them.

Even if I’m not immediately physically attracted to someone, kindness is one of the most reliable indicators that attraction could grow.

Things in Common

Obviously, no two people have everything in common. And separate interests and activities can be healthy in a relationship. But if we don’t have enough in common that we can share at least some hobbies and enjoy doing some things together, that’s unlikely to be a good fit for anything more than a very casual fling.

Matching Goals for the Relationship

I’ve been in relationships before where we wanted wildly different things out of it, and this is its own special kind of hell. While some things are open for negotiation, our core hopes and goals for the relationship should match. If one person wants a very serious, entangled relationship and the other wants friendship with casual sex, that’s likely to lead to resentment and frustration on both sides.

Compatible Kinks

Sex is important! If I’m going to have a romantic relationship with someone, chances are that sex and kink are going to be a part of it. That means that compatible kinks matter.

Again, no two people will have 100% crossover. Kinks and preferences are far too unique and nuanced for that. But there needs to be a pretty significant overlap for things to work.

I’m primarily a submissive, so while I enjoy dating switches, dating someone who wanted to bottom a lot of the time wouldn’t work for me. Likewise, dating someone whose main kink is my hard limit is unlikely to end well for either of us.

Similar Politics

Some people believe you can have very different or even opposite politics and still have a relationship. I do not believe that. I need someone whose politics are broadly aligned with mine if we’re going to be partners, lovers, or even close friends.

We don’t need to agree on everything. I think nuanced discussion and learning things from each other can be a wonderful part of a trusting relationship. But realistically, no-one who is right of centre is ever going to be a good match for me. We need to be on the same page about the important stuff.

What matters more to you than looks? Let me know in the comments.

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Reflections on Four Years

Yesterday (11/11/20) was the fourth anniversary of my relationship with my secondary partner, The Artist. This year has not been easy – we only live an hour from each other, and at the time of writing we haven’t seen each other in a little over 9 months. (For context, in non-pandemic times our average was once to twice a month.)

In honour of them and all they’ve given me in our time together, I thought I’d share a few reflections on our relationship.

It’s possible to have a secondary relationship that is truly, deeply joyful

Years ago, I wrote a defence of hierarchical polyamory and how people need to lay off judging it as Always And Absolutely Unethical. I said at the time that I was happy being The Artist’s secondary partner, and I stand by that now.

We have no desire to be each others’ primary partner. We each have our person that we live with and have entangled our lives with, and we love them very much. What we have with each other is different.

When people decry secondary relationships, it’s usually because they’ve been in one where they got burned. And I’m sorry for that, because I’ve been there. But this relationship has affirmed what I’ve always believed: that it’s possible to have a secondary relationship that is loving, nourishing, and joyful.

Because secondary doesn’t mean “just sex” or “less important” or “I don’t really care about you.” In the last four years, The Artist and I have had some amazing experiences together and shared mutual care and support in crises. We’ve held each other up and we’ve had each other’s backs. It might be secondary, but it still matters. A lot.

Taking it slow works out well sometimes

There’s been a post sitting in my drafts for over 2 years that I might publish eventually that explores this point in more detail. The working title is Fucking is Easy, Loving is Harder.

Because it took me a long-ass time to fully open up in this relationship. I got very adept at slamming a lid on my real feelings, keeping my emotions in check, because I was still convinced there was a catch. That I liked them more than they liked me, that they’d get bored with me, that I’d fuck it up. Saying I love you took me just shy of two years.

Because love is high stakes. The highest. Letting someone in is fucking hard when you’ve been hurt multiple times, especially when you’re an abuse survivor. By taking it slowly, my brain had time to catch up to my heart. And the trust we built was real, not based on impulsivity or rushing headfirst into something without thinking it through.

We can get through a lot

As I mentioned at the start of this post, we haven’t seen each other since February (it’s now November.) We currently have no idea when we’ll be able to see each other again. The UK is back in lockdown, and COVID-19 cases are still soaring. At this point, I’m expecting the total length of our separation time to stretch to a full year or more. If it doesn’t, I’ll consider that a pleasant surprise.

Is it easy? Fuck no. Does it suck? Yes. A lot. But have we got through it so far and do I believe we’ll keep getting through it? Yes and yes.

It’s not all been hot sexting and mushy online dates, either (though there has been some of that.) Some days, it’s been nothing more than an “everything sucks, but I love you” message. Of course there have been moments I’ve wondered if our relationship could survive this, if the long separation will result in them deciding they don’t need me any more, if one of us will just get too fucking depressed to keep this thing going.

But overall? I feel like if we can survive nine months to a year of lockdown, we can survive a lot of things.

I love them super-much

Basically, I think that’s what I’m trying to say, here. This is a fucking weird love-letter, but it’s a fucking weird year, so this is what I have right now.

I love you, sweetheart. Here’s to the next four.

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Pancakes

I love making people pancakes the morning after a night of filthy sex.

I don’t know quite when this tradition or this association started, but it’s now firmly entrenched in my mind that an overnight date should ideally end with a lazy, late-morning pancake breakfast.

Food is one of my love languages. I love the ritual of making a loved one a cake for their birthday (or, let’s be real, any other special occasion.) Adding flour and eggs and chocolate chips and infusing the whole thing with love. I love dashing around the kitchen whipping up a feast for a group of friends. God, I miss dinner parties. Years ago, I taught myself how to cook vegan (I wasn’t yet even vegetarian at the time) because a dear friend adopted strict veganism overnight and it seemed like a good way to show support.

And I love making pancakes the morning after the night before. Whether we’re grinning at each other across the kitchen table with filthy, hot memories still fresh in our minds, or balancing trays on our laps and trying not to spill syrup on the bed, there’s something delightfully intimate about eating breakfast together.

If I’ve let you stay over (or I’ve stayed over with you,) it means I trust you to see me at my most imperfect. It’s one thing to get dolled up and go out to a restaurant and then go home and fuck and slip out before we fall asleep. It’s another entirely to let you see me with bed hair, morning face, pre-coffee blearly eyes.

A lot of my sex is pretty casual, but I still care deeply about everyone I get naked with. Whether we’re long-term partners or friends who also fuck occasionally, I want you to know how loved and valued you are. Making breakfast is my little way of saying “I want to do all kinds of hot and dirty things with you. But I also want to hang out in our pyjamas and eat pancakes with you.”

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Loving Someone You’ve Loved Forever

“We had roots that grew towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossom had fallen from our branches we found that we were one tree and not two.”
– Louis de Bernieres (from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin)

I won’t knock New Relationship Energy for a second. It’s fun and it’s wonderful. Who doesn’t love that part at the beginning of a new relationship, where you’re feeling each other out, learning each other’s bodies and minds, figuring out how you fit?

But for me, the best things in a relationship have always come with time. Things like learning how to move around each other in the kitchen as we make a meal together. Knowing exactly what treat to bring back from the store to make the other’s day a bit brighter. Hearing I love you in words like “drive safely” and “you need to rest“. A whole shared language of jokes, memories, experiences, trips, fights and resolutions, fucks, films, friends, and so much more.

And sex with someone I’ve loved forever? For me, that’s where the really good stuff is. When there’s no pressure to be perfect. No worries about what if we don’t fit, what if it doesn’t work, what if what if what if

No fear I won’t be good enough, because they’ve already seen me at my worst and they still love me. Knowing that if I don’t come, they won’t think my body is too finicky or complicated. Knowing that if a body makes an unsexy noise, we’ll laugh it off and carry on. Being 100% certain that if I say no, they’ll respect it and still love me. Not being scared to take my clothes off, because I know they find me hot, stretch marks and body hair and all.

All other things being equal, I’d far rather have sex with someone whose body I know. Someone who knows mine. The creativity that comes with keeping the lust and the spark alive over years. Morning sex when we’re still half asleep, afternoon sex when we’re both working from home, giggly sex when we’re just on the right side of tipsy, sex club sex when we’re getting off on showing off.

I’ve never understood people who think long-term relationships are boring, that forever love is unexciting, or that sex with someone you’ve loved for years has to be less passionate.

So yes, casual sex is fun and NRE is wonderful. Give me the breathless excitement of fucking someone for the first time. Give me the heart-skipping moment when one of us finally moves to kiss the other. Bring it on – I love that stuff. The ability to enjoy that stuff over and over, without hurting anyone, is part of why I’m polyamorous.

But more than that? Far more than that, give me waking up next to someone I’ve loved for years. Bodies that can keep rediscovering each other every time we come together, again and again and again for years. Give me the two puzzle pieces that know they fit together.

Give me roots that have grown together underground. In the face of all that, the pretty blossom is just decoration.

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[Quote Quest] Love is Many Things

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself- and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.”

Love is many things.

Yes, sometimes love is red roses and grand gestures. But more often than not, it’s the quieter things that speak so much louder.

Fingers reaching for yours as you walk side by side. A hand on the small of your back as you wait in line at the supermarket, or resting on your knee as you watch TV.

Sometimes love is, “I love you”. But other times, it’s let me know you got home okay. It’s you’re exhausted, why don’t I pick up takeout on the way home? It’s I set the coffee pot up for you.

Love is the silly trinket they saw and couldn’t not get for you, because it spoke to some inside joke. It’s the meme in your inbox that they knew would make you laugh.

Sometimes, love is the person you’re fucking. Other times, it’s the best friend who peeled you off the floor when you were at your absolute worst and loved you unwaveringly anyway. Sometimes it’s a person who will hold you with strong arms until you feel safe again. But other times, it’s a gently purring cat who somehow knows exactly when you need a cuddle.

Sometimes, it’s I just met you but you’ve completely commandeered my thoughts. Then again, sometimes it’s also I’ll wait patiently for two years for you to fully let me in, because I know how badly you’ve been hurt before.

Love can be lavish dinners on special occasions, but it can also be homemade pancakes the morning after a night of filthy sex… or the morning after you’ve handed in your Masters thesis and all you want to do is fuse with the sofa and never move again.

Love is having your back and fighting by your side when someone has wronged you. But it’s also calling you out on your shit, because they love you and they know you’re better than this. It’s respecting your boundaries, and communicating theirs. It’s saying what they mean, so you don’t have to play guessing games.

Love is letting you feel your feelings. It’s allowing you to be where you are, without trying to fix you. It’s listening with curiosity and empathy, letting you define your own experience. Letting you sit in a space of uncertainty, not knowing, figuring things out.

Love is many things.

Love is not all you need, but it’s a damn good start.

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Firework

Something a bit different today. I actually wrote a draft of this post a long time ago and am only just ready to share it. This is the true story of the girl I call my firework.

You are the reason that I breathe…” I hear our song, quietly playing on the office radio all these years later, and I am transported back. I don’t remember her birthday or what her favourite colour was any more, but I do remember the important things. The way she grabbed me for that first kiss, the one where I thought my heart would stop. How she was so tiny I had to bend to kiss her, yet I still felt so protected when I was in her arms.

For months, she was only words on a screen. We typed, typed, typed our words, back and forth, night after long night, but it was never quite enough. It was a long time before I even saw her face. I didn’t need to. Just her name, just those three little ellipses to indicate her typing, was enough to send my foolish teenage heart into a tailspin. She was the first person I ever knew who I could be completely myself with. With her words, she reached through the screen across the miles separating us and wrested my truth from my fingertips.

I was only eighteen; she, twenty-five. The first moment I saw her, 3D flesh-and-blood, real and alive and right in front of me on the platform at New Street Station, I knew I was lost. I knew that, whether she was with me for a decade or walked out of my life tomorrow, she would always linger like a brand upon my skin.

She taught me how to make love to a woman. But much more than that, she taught me how to say yes when something I desperately want, but am afraid to want, is offered to me. She taught me how to love unreservedly, how to give of my whole self and then more. With her, I dared to hold hands in public and kiss in front of people who might not approve.

“To hell with what they think,” she told me. Her bravery made me brave, too. We only got abuse shouted at us in the street once.

Of course she broke my heart. We broke each others’. I fell too hard, too quickly. She withdrew. We were both too young, too afraid. We didn’t know how to communicate. There was the built-in inequality, right from the beginning, of age and experience – of the fact that she was my first love, and I was not hers. We didn’t know what we wanted. With her, I entered a second rush of adolescence, when I was barely through my first.

It was only later, when I’d finished crying into bottles of strong alcohol and convincing myself she was the only great love that would ever come along in my life, that I realised a fundamental truth: I will never love anyone else in the same way I loved her. And that is okay. That is even good.

What we had, though beautiful for its brief time, was neither comfortable nor sustainable over the long term. She was not the gentle, comforting fire of long-term companionship. She was a firework; beautiful and dazzling and then… gone. And fireworks are precious, but there is a reason we don’t set them off in our homes to keep ourselves warm.

We will never be friends. Of that I am absolutely certain. On the one occasion in the last ten years that I’ve seen her face – Facebook is a curse – I found the longing still there. Dulled, yes – dulled by time, by the memory of how things ended, by the more real and present and immediate affection for the person I love now – but still there. Indelible. She is indelible, a handprint in the book of my life.

It took me a long time to get over that heartbreak, and longer still to get over the anger that I manufactured to protect myself from the pain. But now? Now I am thankful for those brief, fleeting, perfectly imperfect three months.

She, my firework, taught me to be proud to be a queer woman, and for that I will always love her.

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The Love Stories That Weren’t

I don’t believe in “The One”. I’m a hopeless romantic, yes, but I’m also something of a realist. The mere fact that there are nearly seven billion people on this planet makes it absurd to me to think that there is exactly one person designed for everyone to love. I mean…

“It’s just mathematically unlikely that at a university in Perth
I happened to stumble upon the one girl on Earth
Specifically designed for me!”

– Tim Minchin, “If I Didn’t Have You

Aside from the sheer numerical absurdity of the idea, my own experience shows that “The One” just isn’t a meaningful concept. I’ve loved a number of people in my life. Not all of them were healthy for me – some were pretty terrible – but the love I felt? That was real. And it isn’t retroactively less real because I don’t love them any more.

I say that Mr CK is the love of my life, and that’s true. But that doesn’t mean he’s the only person I’ve ever loved or could ever love. It doesn’t mean I think we were somehow predestined to find each other and be together. It means that in this chaotic world, we did find each other and he’s the person I have chosen to spend my life with – to walk hand-in-hand with along the path of life, hopefully until one of us runs out of heartbeats.

Don’t you think the idea of choice, of choosing each other again and again every day, week, month and year, is more romantic that a notion of some pre-determined fate? I do.

I’m also very aware that, for all the people I’ve loved or been in relationship with in my life, there are others which could have happened, and didn’t for whatever reason. So this is for the almosts, the maybes, the “right person, wrong time”s. The love stories that weren’t.

There was the one who was my first “what if…?” We were seventeen and I was already in a relationship. I didn’t have any kind of language for non-monogamous feelings, so I thought I was bad and wrong because I couldn’t stop thinking about someone while in a relationship with someone else. I don’t think he ever realised his crush on me was reciprocated. We’re friends to this day and he was one of the first people I ever came out to as bisexual.

There was the one who was significantly more fundamentally-monogamous than I am. We knew it had no long-term potential, but we were powerfully drawn to each other anyway. He and I danced around each other, kissing and pseudo-dating and doing kinky play and pretending it was all very casual, for the better part of two years. At one point, we were talking on the phone almost every night. He used to call me Kitten. I used to say “I love you” after he’d hung up.

There was the one I got on a train and traveled six hours, on little more than a whim, to meet. This woman who looked like a 1950s pin-up model and kissed me with lips that tasted of green tea. I was recently out of my first same-sex relationship and exercising the age-old wisdom that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else. She was curious, and her husband graciously gave her a one-night pass with me. I just wish I’d known the pass was only for one night.

Then there was the one with whom the chemistry was so intense and so immediate that I felt the zing from across the room. Though ultimately it amounted to little more than a single very hot scene, it’s a memory I cherish.

There was the one who I shared just one incredible date with. I remember looking at him across the table of my favourite Thai restaurant, wishing I could pour the moment into the empty wine bottle, cork it and keep it forever. I never did learn why he ghosted me afterwards. That one hurt for a long time.

I don’t like the concept of “the one who got away”. It has too many weird implications for me – and, again, is too tied into this notion of There Can Be Only One Real Ultimate Love. I prefer to think about it in the sense of how much possibility there is in the world. None of us, even the most polyamorous, could ever possibly explore every single possible love that might theoretically be out there in the world for us.

But isn’t that abundance of possibility just wonderful?

The Kinky Love Languages: Quality Time

This is the third in a series of five posts covering the five love languages as applied to kink and BDSM. If you don’t know your love language, take the quiz linked above to find out! Today, we’re talking the love language of Quality Time!

A person whose love language is quality time is all about spending meaningful, one-on-one time connecting with the people they love. In some ways, it can be the easiest of the five to give – but in long term relationships, quality time often falls by the wayside in favour of “just generally being in each other’s space.” It can be especially difficult if your relationship is long distance, or if you work long hours, have children, are on a limited income, or otherwise have factors in your lives which make spending time together difficult.

But you CAN do it! Read on to learn some ideas for your kinky dynamic.

How to love a submissive whose love language is quality time

As a submissive, their undivided time and attention is one of the greatest things my Dominant can give me. I need to feel wanted in a relationship, and planning quality time with me – and following through on it – is a huge way for my partners to show that they love and value me.

One obvious, and super fun, way to love your submissive whose love language is quality time is to plan and carry out a fun kinky night with them! This might mean staying in and getting your kink on in your bedroom, or it might mean taking them out to a fetish club, kinky event or play party.

Not all your quality time together has to be active play time, of course. Snuggling on the couch can be just as meaningful as a full scene, and can show your submissive that you love them as a person and partner, and not only as a kinky plaything. Of course, if you want to make a low-key date night kinky, you could always order your sub to wear a butt plug throughout the movie or edge three times before you take them out to dinner…

In smaller ways, a good way to show love to your submissive is to carve out small pockets of time in your day just for them. If you live apart, a nightly phone-call will mean the world to them. If you live together, a few minutes each evening where you cuddle and talk about your day can help you to feel connected amidst your busy lives.

Finally, ritual can be an incredibly useful tool if your submissive values quality time highly. This could encompass a task (“make my coffee for me each morning then sit quietly and cuddle with me while I drink it,”) or could have a play element to it (“five spanks every night before bed.”) Equally, it could be a simple connective ritual like watching an episode of your favourite TV show together last thing in the evening or setting aside Friday nights to be your glass-of-wine-and-debrief-of-the-week time. Whatever it is, the predictability and regularity of it is likely to be comforting and meaningful.

How to love a Dominant whose love language is quality time

It can be tempting, as a submissive, to think that showing up and getting beaten is all you need to do to make your Dominant happy. This really isn’t the case, though – especially if their love language is quality time! Quality time needs to be intentional, deliberate and, well, quality. When you’re spending quality time together, make sure that you’re showing up ready to completely focus on your partner.

Don’t expect your Dominant to do all the date planning, either! Just because you’re the submissive, doesn’t mean you can’t take charge of making plans from time to time. Most Doms want to be wooed and taken out on dates just as much as most submissives do.

If your Dominant likes surprises, tell them you’re taking them on an adventure – and maybe the barest bones info on what to wear or pack – and do all the planning to make something cool happen for the two of you. You can easily view making plans and taking them somewhere that will make their eyes light up as an act of service. If they’re not a fan of surprises, ask their permission to treat them to a date night/day/weekend doing any activity they want to do.

Another possibility for your Dominant is to give them the gift of you, completely available with no interruptions, for a period of time to have their kinky fun with. “I sent the kids to a babysitter, my phone is off, dinner is taken care of... and I’m all yours for the whole night!” What a yummy and wonderful gift.

Additional tips that are good for anyone

Regardless of dynamic and role, quality time is key to all relationships and this is especially true if this is one of your main love-languages. Whether you’re a Dom or a sub, the best gift you can give to someone whose love-language is quality time is an evening, day or weekend of your undivided attention where you can do fun things together and enjoy being in each others’ company.

If you’re long-distance or live apart, quality time will by necessity be harder to plan – but you can manage it with good scheduling and a little help from modern technology! Skype dates, phone dates, IM-dates, regardless of whether you are doing long distance kink or just catching up on your lives, can go a long way to bridging the quality time gap left by distance.

Planning quality time is also a part of this love-language. This might be sexting about all the kinky things you’re going to do when you’re next together, or it might be looking through a brochure and deciding where you want to go on holiday – or anything in between. Having plans to look forward to can be an amazing boost for your relationship and can make you both feel loved, valued and wanted.

Finally, a word on what not to do. Being flaky or cancelling plans is the worst thing you can do to someone whose love language is quality time! Emergencies happen occasionally, of course, and flexibility when they do is important. But making plans and sticking to them is paramount and if you frequently cancel, blow your partner off or mess them around, they’re going to start feeling unloved and unimportant.

What’s your favourite way to spend quality time with your partner?

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The Kinky Love Languages: Giving & Receiving Gifts

I started this series months ago with Words of Affirmation and then it fell by the wayside along with many other things as I coped with the overall garbage fire that was 2019. But we’re back and today we’re talking the love language of gifts! Let’s go. (And if you don’t know your love language, take the quiz to find out!)

A content warning that this post does discuss spending money, so if that’s difficult or stressful for you please feel free to skip this one. I have tried to be mindful of different budgets and provide a range of options for each suggestion.

Giving and receiving gifts is often regarded as the poor cousin to the other four main love languages. Those who feel an affinity with this method of showing and receiving love tend to be derided as materialistic, shallow, or throwing money at a relationship in lieu of actually making an effort.

However, I believe that is unfair. The people I’ve spoken to for whom this is a primary love language take care to point out that it’s not about the money spent or the value of the gift. Instead, it’s about the love and affection that goes into picking out the perfect thing for your partner.

The “gifts” in this context do not have to be big, expensive and extravagant presents – nor probably, in most instances, should they be. This love language is about paying attention to the things your partner loves or what they need, and giving them things that reflect that care and attention. Buying their favourite brand of tea before they sleep over, bringing them a bar of chocolate after a bad day, or picking up a cute trinket you saw for £1 because it made you think of them all come under the “giving and receiving gifts” love-language umbrella.

So how can this one relate to kinky dynamics?

How to love a submissive whose love language is gifts

In my experience, very often what submissives want more than anything is to feel truly seen and known by their Dominants. Another thing that is very often important to submissives is to feel taken care of. The love language of gifts gives you, as a Dominant, tonnes of opportunity to provide for these basic and important needs.

So pay attention to what your submissive likes! Listen for cues, watch the things they lust after or buy for themselves. Take note of things like any favourite colours, foods, hobbies or artists. That way, when you have cause to buy them a present – for a special occasion or “just because” – you can get them something really perfect.

Is your submissive always working hard and barely taking time for themselves? You could give them a gift which says “I’m giving you permission to relax” – say, a nice bath bomb or the latest issue of their favourite magazine? Perhaps the heating in their apartment is wonky, so you buy them a big snuggly blanket to keep them warm on cold days. Have they been wanting to write more? A beautiful notebook might be the perfect present.

Sexy gifts are also a great option, if your relationship includes sex! Why not surprise your submissive with a new vibrator, masturbator, or super pretty dildo? They’ll think of you fondly every time they use it!

Finally, consider the meaning of gifts that signify your relationship and importance to each other. You’ll need to negotiate its meaning fully, of course, and I don’t advocate springing this on someone without discussion – but for many submissives, their collar will be the most precious gift they ever receive. If that’s not right for your relationship (or they already have one,) then other options might be a special piece of jewellery, a harness, some beautiful underwear, or even a kink toy that is only for the two of you to use together.

How to love a Dominant whose love language is gifts

A good way to think of this is to frame the idea of giving the perfect gifts to your Dominant as an act of service. Many Doms love the idea of a submissive who pays attention and can anticipate their needs. Notice what their favourite snacks are and make sure you have them in. Bring them a coffee when you meet them at the end of a long day. Stressed out Dom? Buy massage oil and read up on how to give a really good massage. As with any other partner, keep notes on their favourite things and use this knowledge to guide your gift-giving.

A way to take this a step further, if you’re so inclined, is to make it your mission to seek out something special for them that they haven’t been able to get. Is there a book they really want that’s out of print, an edition of a game that’s no longer made, or a limited edition version of something that would make their eyes light up? If you have the chance, making an extra effort in this way can be a profound show of love – and service.

Kinky toys and tools are absolutely ideal gifts to give Dominants, too. Pay attention to what things they pick up and admire when you go to the fetish market together, or what things they’ve mentioned they really want to try. File this information away for later then, when you have occasion to give them a gift, you can surprise them with something that they’ll get endless joy out of using (on you, naturally.) Have you ever given a sadist a new whip as a present? I recommend it.

And kinky presents don’t have to stop at physical things. What about a ticket to a kink event you’ve been wanting to go to together, or a course of lessons in rope, whip technique, or some other skill they’ve been wanting to learn?

If you wish, you could even turn giving gifts to your Dominant into a kinky thing in and of itself. I am far from an expert in “financial Domination” and it’s something I encourage you to be extremely careful with and set firm limits around… but if the idea of showering your Dom with gifts and treats as part of your submission, or pretending you are being “made” to do it, gets you off then this can be a fun thing to play with.

Additional tips that are good for anyone

At the end of the day, most people love to receive the kinds of gifts that show thought, consideration, and a true knowledge of who they are. Regardless of whether you’re kinky or vanilla, a Dom or a sub or something else, you can show love to your partner by giving them the occasional well-considered, well-timed gift.

If you’re in a long-distance relationship, consider gifts that help your partner feel connected to you. This could be as simple as sneaking a shirt that smells like you into their luggage before they leave, or as elaborate as buying them a fancy app-controlled sex toy for use during your sexting sessions.

Homemade gifts are almost always wonderful. So if you have a talent, use it! I own two paintings and several pieces of jewellery made for me by my partner The Artist, and I absolutely cherish these things. I’ve made everything from chocolate chip cookies to knitted items for loved ones, and they’re always really well received.

Finally, gifts don’t have to be physical items! Something I treasure immensely is when a partner gives me a gift of an experience for us to do together. This could be buying dinner at their favourite restaurant, going to see a show together, or almost anything that they’ll love doing and love doing with you. This works particularly well for anyone who sits at the intersection of “receiving gifts” and “quality time” in their love languages.

What’s your love language? Has your Dominant or submissive ever given you a really amazing present? Tweet me or tell me about it in the comments!

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