Separating the Experience from the Person
The relationships and activities involved in kink and BDSM are as varied as its participants and community. The purpose of this article is to address common challenges many people face when exploring BDSM, especially when relatively new to BDSM play in the scene. That challenge is about separating the Experience of play, from the Person. That is to say, how to recognize and be mindful of when an intensely pleasurable experience causes us to project feelings on to another, perhaps unwarrantedly so.
When new to the scene, you will be faced with many new inputs, experiences, and challenges. Usually basic safety and common sense are good foundations, but so much is different from your prior experience that it can be both overwhelming and exciting. I have often heard the expressed desire to “do all the things” – which leads one into a potential frenzy* state where reason and logic leaves the building. Like any new experience, you need to spend some time to adjust and recalibrate to the environment.
Calibration is about adjusting to a new magnitude of experience and adapting. There will be many new people, new experiences, new sensations, and lots of information flooding your brain and your bloodstream via hormones and feel-good compounds like dopamine, serotonin, and adrenaline. Your body and mind will be sent to incredible heights, and afterwards experience just as astounding descents or “drop”.
Give yourself a chance to process all of what you have experienced, and remember its more than just the immediate sensations, but also that the lingering effects of neurochemicals and subconscious processing of emotions, which can last for days. It’s therefore wise to take it easy, and with a measured pace. Like any marathon, you want to enjoy the experience while lasting through it, and preferably without incident. Remember there WILL be other occasions, unless of course you ignore the warning signs and choose to be dangerously reckless (See my post on Dom/sub Frenzy for more information).
So, let us assume you have someone you trust and have arranged for a “play date”. You do all the right things – meet beforehand and talk, confirm goals and limits, review safe-word or signals, discuss after care needs and any other possible risks, etc. You slept well the night before, ate reasonably and stayed hydrated, and in general feel really good. You are all ready to go – the dungeon is active but not too busy, the music is awesome, and you have a FANTASTIC time. Actually it was your best experience yet – whether intensely intimate, cathartic, deep sub/dom-space, whatever. What matters is – it Rocked Your Soul.
Now the bump in the road – can you separate the experience from the person? What really gave rise to these emotions, the partner or the activity in the play? Are you mistaking the pleasure of the activity for person or relationship? This confusion can create the potential of projecting the byproduct of the experience (the dopamine high of warm floating goodness) on to the partner. This may create some misplaced desire regarding the direction the relationship needs to take.
Any groundbreaking scene with a play partner is likely to have some very intense emotions. There is no question that the individuals involved are certainly the biggest factor in that experience – a combination of mutual moods, skill/technique, timing, awareness/attention, etc., can make all the difference. But there are other environmental factors too that also make a difference, such as the lighting, music, and scents/smells. Lastly, one cannot underestimate the impact of factors within each of us – where we are mentally, our stress and comfort levels, and biological factors such as blood sugar, (de)hydration, sleep & energy, impacts of any medications, etc.
Even knowing all this doesn’t necessarily change how you are feeling. So then, how do you avoid projecting all that emotion onto the partner? How do you keep some measure of clarity? For starters, by being mindful that the bonding you may be feeling isn’t a result of any “magic” of the person, but rather of all the circumstances combined into that one amazing experience.
Our tendency to bond has to do with our innate wiring has humans, as social /people focused, and relationship oriented. There is a reason why we, as part of the human species, can feel the rush of “love at first sight”, easily see faces in abstract and common objects, respond to sounds of voice, or scent of breath, body, or hair. Our brains are nearly consumed with the concept that, somehow, we must anchor ourselves to another person. Be that partners, spouses, child to parent, etc., there is a drive to bond which is built in and possesses a tangible force. While that most primitive drive may have been for procreation’s sake, it is the same series of mechanisms regardless of gender, orientation, or general lifestyle – it’s just a conspiracy of biology and part of the human condition.
This is further complicated by how our memory works, where there is a bias regarding impact. The human brain tends to favor retaining what has created the biggest impression over that of other memories. Smaller details become hazier as a result – pushing us to view either end of the spectrum (what was very favorable or very unfavorable), much more clearly. Now combine that with the mind’s tendency to re-author our memory, to develop a narrative to support what we would rather or already believe; a form of cognitive bias.
What we have is a conflict between the objective reality, and what we are feeling, compounded by faulty memory in scale/magnitude and detail which rearranges the experience towards a preferred outcome. How do you keep your feet on the ground knowing your own mind is not really working with you??
Bonding is something we also do because of how we relate to our sense of the world around us. Due to our social and bonding tendencies, other people are often the most concrete parts of our lives. While these bonds may not necessarily permanent, we often grow up thinking they are eternal and forever until we experience our first personal loss – be that loss through death or loss through a broken relationship. Both are equally catastrophic losses through which there are periods of mourning, reflection, and recovery.
We may “know” we had a special moment – there was a person, a place, and the distinct experience which produced this significant feeling. A person is very concrete; they are the very weight and substance which makes for the quality of our lives, from our infancy through adulthood. A place is definite, but perhaps less concrete; moving through space and time there are many places which we may reside or work for a time, both short and long, and often has the context of what people we know there versus just the thing itself. Lastly, an experience is perhaps the most abstract; for though our experiences is the vehicle through how we learn, love, and grow, they are transitory and subject to distortion of memory.
Personal bonding is something that is perhaps far more natural and part of our being, versus the more abstract notion of an experience at an event or activity.
Experience, Expertise, and Perspective
So what’s the trick to figuring this out? Will you get this overwhelming sense that you will fall in love every time you have this really amazing scene or experience?? Well, yes and no. That urge may come up initially quite often, and create significant confusion – but over time you gain experience, a deeper perspective, and build expertise in being able to enjoy without it bowling you over emotionally.
Part of the BDSM lifestyle is acknowledging that what we are doing is enjoyable and fully consensual – bringing (we hope) mutual satisfaction. There is quite a bit of mindfulness that this culture can offer us, and often demands of us. Mindfulness of risk and safety, of our wants/limits, of the state of the other we engage with, etc. We need to also be mindful that what we are doing, and deriving pleasure from, is not necessarily something that only one person can provide.
That’s not necessarily an easy thing to admit when you are on the other side of the glass, as it were. Jealousy can become an issue when a partner is genuinely turned on in play with someone other than us. It’s a natural response, and yet we must remain clear headed to know that whether it’s a scene or sex, it’s largely the experience that is special, far more so than the individual may be. Just as one may connect when ballroom dancing, or sharing in a spiritual practice – there is a moment shared that can create an emotional impact, but your Perspective is what keeps your heart from running away with you.
Being aware that your scene partner is little different than a dance partner can certainly be a struggle. After all, it may be a great experience of mutual fun and fulfillment, but it’s more the gestalt of the experience than it is the person. You have to be mindful of this, know your own tolerances & tendencies, so you can balance the benefits and risks associated with casual play.
For example, a play partner may be perfectly content with their lifestyle, with little need to bond deeply to another. Yet another may naturally fall in love quickly, bond quickly and deeply, and should be prepared for the emotional storm that may await them after an intense scene. Then there are others who are very needy and thus bond hastily or easily emotionally controlled. Conversely there are those that tend towards seeing the enjoyment as being an invitation to own, possess, and claim. The dance is the dance, nothing more or less – significant in its own domain but not necessarily anything more.
I don’t believe there’s any trick to it – it’s really just being aware of what one is getting into, and being mindful that these emotions are natural and need to be acknowledged, but neither projected nor attached on to another. I have seen some manage it where one may play with a scene partner but the aftercare is done by their relationship partner. This solution leverages the heightened emotions of an experience to creating a deeper bond with their regular partner.
Being mindful when flush with emotions isn’t easy. Can it be done?? Yes – with time and effort, and considerable practice. Only you know if that journey is right for you, and under what circumstances.
Copyright (C) 2015, Limits Unleashed, LLC