Today’s question comes from a reader who reached out to me via Twitter. Her question is short and simple, and yet oh-so-complex to answer.
“What are the red flags to look out for when starting a new relationship with a Dom or a sub?”
I have many, many feelings about this question and all the possible ways to answer it. As I often do when I’m mulling over a topic, I took it to Mr CK for a male-and-mostly-Dom perspective (and also because he’s at least as smart as I am!)
His response, I think, was utterly brilliant: “Don’t get into a relationship with a Dom or a sub. Get into a relationship with a person.”
What I love about this answer is that it cuts through all the possible answers I was thinking of giving, and straight to the heart of the issue: get to know somebody as a real, three-dimensional human being before you seriously consider them as your Dominant or submissive. Spend time – LOTS of time – talking, communicating and seeing how they interact with you and the world. A good D/s relationship is a place of profound trust and vulnerability on both sides, and these things cannot be rushed. A real-life D/s relationship is nothing like an endless kinky fantasy – first and foremost, it is a relationship.
My partner is so fucking smart, y’all.
As an aside, I really recommend you check out Loving BDSM Podcast, as they’ve got some great things to say about building trust and getting to know someone at the beginning of a relationship, as well as every other kinky topic you can image. I particularly recommend episodes 31 and 83 for this topic.
In terms of more specific and concrete red flags to look for, I have some thoughts there too! I’ve tried to keep these applicable to people on either side of the D/s slash, and relevant whether you’re meeting online or in meatspace. Your mileage may vary, of course, but I would view any of the following with some serious side-eye and a healthy portion of skepticism:
Demanding too much, too soon.
You wouldn’t give someone the keys to your house or ask them to marry you on a first date, would you? Therefore, you shouldn’t be giving or accepting a collar, issuing or receiving orders, or committing to any kind of serious ongoing protocol or dynamic before you fully know someone.
If a Dominant expects you to kneel and call them Master the first time you meet, RUN. If a submissive expects you to invite them to move in and run every aspect of their life when you’ve barely got past coffee… you know what I’m going to say. Red flags abound.
Referring to themselves as a “Real” or “True” ANYTHING.
There is no such thing as a True Master, a Real Submissive, or a (*inserts tongue firmly into cheek*) Twue Dominate. Those of us who have been around the (spanking) block a few times call this One True Wayism. It’s frowned upon for good reason. People who think their way is the only way tend to be snobbish, elitist and derisive of others at best. At worst, they can be seriously dangerous – thinking you know everything, refusing to learn and refusing to be questioned is a recipe for disaster.
If you identify as a Dom, you’re a Dom. If you identify as a sub, congratulations – you’re a sub! There is no One True Way.
Using language like “if you were really [X] you’d do [Y.]”
“If you were really a sub, you’d give me all your passwords and your bank account login!” “If you were really a Dom, you’d take care of everything for me so I didn’t have to take any responsibility for my choices!”
Extreme examples, perhaps, but both examples I’ve encountered. If someone questions your identity or tries to use it against you in order to get you to comply with something you don’t want to do, run a fucking mile.
See above: no such thing as a “Real” or “True” anything. You don’t owe anyone proof of your subby or Domly Credentials.
Claiming to have no/very few limits.
Everyone has limits, folks. Absolutely everyone. Someone who claims not to have any (or to have “very few”) is woefully unprepared for what BDSM can actually entail. Even if you think you’re the most hardcore true subby who ever subbed, I promise there are things you would never consent to – and this is a good thing! Dominants have limits, too.
Repeat after me: everyone has limits. The sooner you learn what yours are and how to communicate them, the better your kinky fun is likely to be for all concerned.
Lying. This includes lies of omission.
The absolute foundational basis for any healthy relationship, kinky or vanilla, monogamous or polyamorous, is trust. Without trust, there is no relationship. Therefore, lying is arguably the biggest and reddest Big Red Flag out there. This includes big barefaced lies, of course, but it also includes lies of omission. “Forgetting” to tell you he’s got seven other submissives at home is a huge fucking deal and not something you should overlook.
The person who lies to you in the beginning will lie to you all the way along. Whatever your role, you’re a human being first and you deserve to be told the truth.
Breaking boundaries, including small ones.
Abusive people don’t start by trampling all over your boundaries in huge, glaring ways. If they did this on the first date, after all, they’ll never get as far as a second date. No – predators and abusers often ‘test the waters’ with a new victim to see how much they can get away with.
If they persist in using language towards you that you don’t like, touching you in a way you’re not comfortable with, or even subtly negging at you in small ways, you are not being too sensitive. They are testing you. They will push bigger and bigger boundaries if you continue a relationship with them. And more often than not, you will find yourself in a full-on abusive situation.
What do you think, dear readers? Did I miss out any glaring red flags that our lovely friend should know about?
Do you want your question answering in a future Ask Amy column? Get in touch!