Dear Patrick: My question relates to the topic of BDSM and open relationships. I have a girlfriend who seems to be backing down from her initial interest in exploring both of these things, even though it was something we talked about frequently when we started dating. Whenever I try to get her to go to a sex party or a workshop about dominant/submissive role-playing or bondage or some other form of kink, she refuses to attend. If I go on my own, she sulks. When I see her again, there are a lot of questions about how many attractive females were in attendance, how many I talked to, etc. I feel I am being punished for following through with goals that we often longed to be able to fulfill. My attraction to her was based in part on her intelligent comments about these things and the fantasies she said she had experienced since childhood about spanking and bondage.
Lately the topic of marriage has come up a lot. Her parents, she claims, expect us to get married. I don’t see why we should listen to that. I’m not sure I believe in marriage. Shouldn’t a decision to make a legal commitment be based on how we feel about each other rather than on our families’ needs? I have told her this, but my attitude either makes her cry or she becomes very distant. Then I wonder if perhaps she needs the security of marriage to open up and enjoy some of the things that I have always wanted to do with a woman I love. Do you have any insight?
It’s one thing to fantasize about becoming a sex radical, and quite another to cross the line into the forbidden zone and put your body where your fantasies meander. It is hard to know why your girlfriend is not following through. Maybe she just feels intimidated and needs more support or encouragement to see what the BDSM community is like. Perhaps she was not honest with you and mirrored your enthusiasm because she wanted to be with you, or simply wanted any man who would be her boyfriend and potential husband. An honest conversation on these topics is long overdue. I highly recommend couples counseling with a qualified therapist who is knowledgeable about sexual variations and polyamory. You don’t want a counselor who will advocate for going to a sex party, for example, or not going. You do want somebody who won’t think you are weird if you DO want to attend such events, and has the experience to understand what a first timer might need to feel at ease.
If your girlfriend won’t even go to counseling with you, she doesn’t leave you with very many options. There are few things more safe than having a trained counselor help you to talk about your fears and concerns. Without her cooperation in that endeavor, communication will remain stalled, and I don’t know if you will ever get a clear picture of what she really wants, other than getting married.
Like you, I question the idea that the state should dictate one form of legal contract that all committed couples are required to endorse. For one thing, this process precludes any relationship that is not restricted to just two people. If you want an open relationship, getting married seems like a poor beginning because the state sees any sexual activity outside of the marriage as adultery. Adultery remains illegal in many states.
I also want to ask if you can really continue to love someone who says one thing and then does another. This woman has left you in the dark for quite some time. Furthermore, she has been emotionally negative and difficult when you simply did the things you told her, from the beginning, you wanted to do. Is she hoping to change you, by her disapproval, into a more mainstream person?
I can tell you from personal experience that there are lots of people who not only enjoy the fantasy of BDSM but also want to actually do it. Unless you really can’t live without her, I can image an easier way for you to go about exploring your own fantasies, which you certainly have a right to do. Giving up BDSM, even temporarily, to appease a partner is a strategy that many people regret. Whether this is a good idea for you or not may depend on how important this sexual style is to your happiness. If you only want to play lightly or once in a while, maybe you won’t miss it. For me, it is like a sexual orientation. I like vanilla sex too, but if BDSM is never going to be an option with a particular person, I quickly lose interest in them. Without it, I feel closed off from my own inner truth and happiness. But there are many other ways to experience this sexuality. Can you discover your own balance with someone who has dragged their heels when it comes time to actually do something about these fantasies?