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.
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.