Forgetting

I’ve written some about forgetting to do things one has promised and whether or not it is abusive, and I’d like to add some thoughts to that specifically about what it means when a submissive forgets to do something she has promised her dominant, expanding a bit on my answer to The Eroticist’s excellent post on punishing a masochist and why it is likely to end a dominant up no longer having a submissive.  There are, of course, many other things a dominant can do that will have the same result, but let’s look at forgetting for the moment.

Eroticist posits, in essence, that forgetting to do something she has promised to do basically means that it has been done deliberately, and she likely no longer wants to be in the relationship.  A lot of people think in these terms in vanilla relationships, too, though, and all of it is fueled by pop psychology that tries to put all of human behavior into neat little black and white boxes.

Well, unfortunately, life is just not quite so cut and dried.

You need to remember that there are many reasons why a person might forget to do something (or decide not to do it) despite promising to do so other than deliberate disobedience and not wanting to be in the relationship any more.  I’ve outlined many of them in my prior post, which is somewhat more focused on whether or not forgetting is outright abusive.  Here we are talking explicitly about why a submissive in particular might forget and what it might mean to the relationship, particularly if the dominant calls her to task for it.  The prior post’s points about reasons for forgetfulness all still stand, but the twist of whether or not it means one wants to remain in the relationship was not mentioned there.

The notion of punishment in a BDSM relationship context is one that is very controversial.  Some love it, some hate it.  Whatever your feelings about it are, however, it is undeniable that it carries some risks – including both crossing the consent line into abuse, causing lasting psychological harm, and that of driving the submissive off entirely if it is done inartfully or inappropriately.

There is also no question that raising the issue of whether or not forgetting to do something means the submissive no longer wants to be in the relationship or not could well end up as Eroticist cautions with the end of the relationship, for many possible reasons.

A dominant is very likely indeed to lose his submissive (or at least end up with an increasingly unwilling and unhappy one), if he does things like continue to accuse of her of deliberately forgetting things despite knowing full well that she has a poor memory to start with, whether inherently or because of medical issues, and continues to argue the point, refusing to believe that there was nothing personal about her forgetting something whatsoever if she tells him that, and if he continues to hammer on themes like “If you really cared, you wouldn’t have forgotten”.

That latter idea is a landmine-in-waiting anyways.  It’s like the eternal, “If you really loved me, you’d <fill in the blank>.”  These sorts of expectations are often utterly unrealistic in any relationship, and inappropriately tie things together that frequently have zero cause/effect relationship to one another except in individual people’s minds.  Their partners may well have an entirely different set of constructs, and indeed, a lot of the strife that occurs in relationships results from such mismatched expectations.  There are few, if any, real universals about what people who really love or care about their partners will or will not do – and even those are likely to have some exceptions in certain circumstances.  There are different kinds of love languages, and even within each type, there are huge variations in how love and caring are expressed and thought about.

Once you set this kind of ship in motion, too, continuing to ascribe intent and deliberation to what is actually accident (and likely already very distressing to the forgetter), then it may very well become the herald of a greater problem where it never was to start with.

When people are browbeaten and accused of things they either have not done, or of doing something deliberately that was entirely accidental and coincidental in this kind of manner, it tends to breed both resentment and ultimately fear, neither of which tend to improve memory or performance. Contempt also tends to end up coming along for the ride, ultimately replacing both love and respect.

When people work in an environment in which they feel intimidated by their employers, for example, productivity drops, and errors skyrocket.  No one can work well in an environment of fear, and of being disbelieved, mistrusted, unjustly accused of doing things they never did, or having small infractions blown entirely out of proportion.

It is no different in personal relationships.  And when what one is accused of doing deliberately is a result of a condition over which they have little control to start with, particularly in an intimate relationship, the stress and pain will invariably eventually lead to the breakdown of trust and ultimately the whole relationship.

When you try to punish something over which a person has little control, and is already feeling distressed about, you create a no-win situation that will almost have to create a vicious circle that will destroy the relationship.

If you are in a relationship with someone who is forgetful, it would behoove you to just add this factoid to your personal databanks about their features as just another datapoint and try not to take it personally.  If they have explained to you that it has been a problem for them for a long time, you will likely also see a lot of distress.  But you should believe them, and take them at their word when they tell you it doesn’t mean anything about you, because especially earlier on, it almost undoubtedly would not.  Give them the benefit of the doubt, especially if you’re seeing a lot of distress and contrition once they realize they’ve forgotten something – and recognize that she knows herself and why it happened vastly better than you ever will.

And why would you even want to believe that a long-standing problem somehow suddenly means that they have it in for you?

Now, if a given person doesn’t want to be in a relationship with someone who is forgetful, there is nothing necessarily inherently wrong with that.  To each his own.  Some of us have more flexibility than others.

The problem comes when the dominant is aware that there are other factors contributing to or causing the problem and does not adjust his own expectations to meet the reality of what the actual person he is with is like and continues to bash her for it vs just ending the relationship if he’s that unhappy.

Furthermore, even when it’s true that the forgetfulness is the manifestation of some ambivalence or problem in the relationship, it may only be about that particular area, and may not have global application at all.  If you try to force the issue of it being all or nothing, that she either wants to be in the relationship or not, you will lose a lot of nuance – and likely the opportunity to work out and negotiate something that will get past a particular obstacle that will allow the relationship to continue and flourish.  You will never, ever get 100% of what you want in a relationship all the time.  People are just not built that way.

No matter what the “party line” in the scene is, compromise and negotiation are the cornerstones of successful D/s relationships the same way as they are in vanilla ones.  This very much includes learning about and accommodating many of your partner’s personal challenges and foibles.  If you’re a “my way or the highway” kind of dom who doesn’t get this, you are likely to burn through a hell of a lot of submissives and throw out a lot of babies with the bathwater, leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.

Leave if you must, by all means – but please don’t brand everyone who is forgetful as automatically inherently unsubmissive, not wanting the relationship, a manipulator, etc.  It just ain’t true.

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Please do read Eroticist’s post and the excellent comments that follow it (and his comment below here), especially if you are interested in punishment dynamics.  He and I are looking at different aspects of one issue here.

When Is Abuse Not Abuse?

One of the things that has struck me as I read and learn more about abuse is how so much of the literature on the subject seems to pathologize a lot that is either entirely normal, or which can easily be explained by other means, ranging from the organic to poor communications skills, to people reaching the end of their rope, and more, some of which cannot be changed, while some of it just requires some training.  Any list of characteristics and behaviors of abusers will always contain items of this type, that can be either truly abusive or not, depending upon the rest of the context and circumstances.

Forgetting is an example.

In her book “The Verbally Abusive Relationship – How to Recognise It and How to Respond”, Patricia Evans reportedly has this to say on the subject:

“Forgetting involves both denial and covert manipulation.

“The declaration by the abuser that what occurred didn’t occur is abusive. Everyone forgets what happened now and then. However, consistently forgetting interactions which have a great impact on another person is verbally abusive denial.

“Often, after the partner collects herself after being yelled at or put down, she may try to talk to her mate about it. He will have conveniently “forgotten” the incident, saying, for example, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m not going to listen to this.”

“Some abusers seem to consistently forget the promises which are most important to their partners. Often the partner is truly counting on a very important agreement made by her mate.  He will have “forgotten” the agreement.”

Yes, this is unquestionably often a problem.

Some people just have terrible memories, too, often for clearly documentable organic reasons, such as learning disabilities, fibromyalgia or CFIDS, ADHD, or even dementia, and there are likely other possibilities.  Some just have never had good recall of anything.  Some people only forget an occasional thing, while other people have trouble remembering everything, or close to it.  We used to have a saying that “So-and-so would forget her head if it weren’t attached” for people who are particularly forgetful.

It is also not unusual for such people to even forget things that are important to their partners and other people, even when they are most highly motivated to remember them.

It’s hard for people with steel traps for memories to understand that this is just the way life is for a certain segment of the population, but it is.

Even with a variety of reminders and alarms set up to remind a person who is naturally forgetful, they may still forget.  It can be a real curse on a person’s life, and cause them no end of pain and difficulty.

But does that make the forgetter abusive?

Hell no.  It means they’ve got a bad memory, end of story.  This particular person.

Such people often suffer badly because of that poor memory.  It can cause them many problems in life, both personal and professional.  It hurts badly to see someone they care about hurting because the forgetful person didn’t remember something the partner may have been counting on.  To be accused of not caring about someone else’s feelings because of forgetfulness and a bad memory can be absolutely devastating – especially if the problem has already been explained multiple times, and affects other areas of that party’s life.

The distinction between abuse and not-abuse is actually often largely in the frequency of what is said or done – but also in the reactions when the problem is pointed out, and in the particulars of any given circumstance.

In the case of forgetfulness, does the person ‘fess up once they realize they’ve forgotten something?  Do they accept it at face value, or do they get belligerent and protest and deny it, even when you point the truth out?  Maybe they really don’t know what you’re talking about initially, and dismiss it as a result, but when reminded of it, and particularly if proof or documentation is shown, do they apologize?  Or do they still just blow you off as the example above describes, even when the evidence is incontrovertible?

On the other hand, when you know for a fact that someone has said or done something, and then denies it, even when confronted with evidence, and they still deny it and tell you that you don’t know what you’re talking about or the like, as in Evans’s example, then that very much can be abusive.  Gaslighting.  Might be; isn’t necessarily in and of itself.  The continuing denial in the face of evidence and proof kind of locks it in, though.

When your head is screaming that you must be crazy because you know you heard (or saw, or didn’t hear or see) whatever it was, and they still deny it, then you should realize that it is most likely that other person who has the problem, and not you.

In an 80+ year old woman, especially one who is slowing down, this kind of forgetting and denial of what was/was not said or done are more or less to be expected – and excused, much of the time.  Memory loss of this and other sorts is often a part of even early dementia; in fact, this is often one of the first signs of it.

In a healthy 50-something (or younger) highly educated professional man, who prides himself on his good memory?  Especially one whose livelihood may depend upon it?

Not so much.

And if you’ve just told them something – like a new hard limit – and not two minutes later they have totally forgotten it, and start doing the exact thing you just told them was now verboten?  Or they claim that they “didn’t know that was what you meant” when you point out that they’ve just done the very same thing they were doing before, that you had just prohibited?

With this kind of person, you can be much more certain that something else is going on that has nothing to do with organic causes, and everything to do with either actual malice, not giving a shit about his partner, an utter inability to control himself, raging anger at women in general (or men, as the case may be), a deliberate bid to control his partner in a negative way or to make her think she’s crazy (gaslighting), to deflect attention from something else, or some other nefarious reason why he would claim he doesn’t remember something you expected he would – or forgets things you know he ought to have remembered well.

And that, my friends, is when it becomes abusive, particularly when it happens repeatedly, even if the details of the situations in question vary.  Which they will.

When someone who normally does have a reliably excellent memory for other things, for example, seems to go completely (and eventually totally predictably) stupid in some situations, like when he doesn’t get what he wants, there you have a real abusive element.

But just being forgetful?  And denying it when it’s mentioned?  In and of itself, that is really not a problem.  Except when it gets to the point that it is, as discussed here.

Issues such as this are often just questions of degree.  And they almost always require looking at the big picture, and taking all of the elements into consideration.  And really looking to see what the truth actually may be or may not be.

The point, short story long, is that you cannot just accept all of these various lists entirely at face value, lest you start seeing abuse all over the place where it really may not exist – and that is a real danger.  You’ve got to dig beyond the surface of what is said, and get into the details of a particular situation, including context, before you can really know for sure, even if you’re the one living it, never mind if you’re just an onlooker.

It’s also necessary to take backstories into account.

If, for example, someone tells you that his partner was abusive – maybe screamed and yelled at him – did he also tell you that that only happened after he had ignored her safeword multiple times, did things to her that he knew were unsafe, didn’t know what he was doing despite claiming he did, and injured her in the process?  Perhaps multiple times?

Or after he violated hard limits, including those given just minutes before?  Repeatedly?

And then played dumb, saying he “…didn’t know that was what [she] meant by [X]…”?

Or maybe after he cheated on her and got caught, and tried to weasel out of it with some lame excuse, trying to somehow blame it on her and make her into the bad guy instead for calling him on it?

Or maybe he’d been repeatedly wanting to put problems on the back burner to discuss later when he wasn’t under so much stress, but “later” never came, because maybe his life was so full of stress that there wasn’t ever going to be a time when he wasn’t stressed, and she just finally wanted to deal with something now and quit putting things off?  Or so many things got taken off the table in this way that it simply became impossible to ever deal with them all, even if “later” ever did actually come?  And maybe squelched issues had just built up to a breaking point that she could simply no longer tolerate?

What Mira Kirshenbaum calls “off-the-table-itis“, in which various topics are literally taken “off the table” for discussion, for whatever reason, can easily be the death of a relationship, by itself – and can lead to unbearable frustration on the part of the partner who has her issues so removed, dismissed, and not dealt with or addressed.

Someone who screams gratutiously at her partner for trivial reasons like not taking out the trash or wearing a shirt she doesn’t like is quite a different thing from one who screams at him given these kind of legitimate provocations, among others.  It would be nice if we could live life without any kind of screaming at all, but there comes a time when it may be the only thing we have left, and people being people, sometimes we just eventually erupt.

“Eventually” being the key word here.  Not as an initial response.  Not in response to trivial matters.  Not as a steady diet or typical response or way of being in the world in general.  But eventually, at some point, given a lot of provocation, and following many, many attempts to resolve issues in other ways.

Sometimes screaming (or harsh words) may even be used strategically and deliberately on a given occasion, to try to get through to someone who hasn’t been reachable in any other way, by any form of reason and explanation.  Maybe it isn’t her norm, but only an attempt to try another tack when everything else she’s been able to think of and try over a considerable period of time has failed to reach him.

Sometimes a cigar is really just a cigar.

And sometimes it really ain’t.