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Romanticism vs. realism

Author: Polly Peachum

Filed in: submission, needs, romanticism, realism

From, a now defunct website.

Polly originally wrote this article on a private mailing list to explain to the small readership, most of whom were self-identified romantics, why she took such a hardcore stance in some of her writings. We thought that this piece should be published on our site as well, as it helps to explain, in clear terms, the importance of a realistic stance, whether you're communicating what it's like to be a submissive or trying to discover the extent of your submissive needs.    

My stance toward S&M and toward writing about submissiveness is a hardcore, practical, nut & bolts, Rosie-the-Riveter approach. I'm far less concerned with talking about the wonderful, thrilling feelings and states of submission--although once in a while I will rhapsodize--than I am with describing, in practical, realistic, clear terms, how a submissive gets to the place where she can experience these things on a regular basis. In other words, I assume my readers already know that there are fantastic and profound aspects to the submissive experience--whether they have experienced those things or not--and that what they most need to hear is not more accounts that get their blood racing and their minds drifting on clouds but add little to their general store of knowledge, but detailed information on how to get from where they are to where they want to be and then, once they are there, how to get the most from the experience. In other words, I'm a realist, someone who is disposed not to be influenced in her decisions or observations by idealism, speculation, or sentimentality.

I didn't used to be. I started out my adult life as a romantic, as so many of us do. (What is a romantic? He is a person marked by the imaginative or emotional appeal of the heroic, adventurous, remote, mysterious, or idealized characteristics of places, people, and things. But I prefer, when talking about attitudes toward D&S relationships, to use T.R. Fyverl's definition: one who is "capable of seeing the world as he wishes to see it.") But after getting continuously burned by the emotional blindness that seems to be romanticism's constant bedfellow, I began to pay attention to anything I read or heard or observed that might help me to stop getting fooled so often. For me, the weakness of the romantic stance is that the experiences it caused me to seek out, the experiences, in fact, that I became emotionally addicted to, while intensely moving at the time, hurt me due to their transitoriness (that is, my inability to sustain them due to my romantic ignorance) and the bitterness that always followed their loss. In other words, what goes up must come down; the higher you go, the harder you fall; Icarus. You know the story.    

I'm not entirely against romanticism. For someone pallid and worn with dealing with reality too much or for too long, a small dose of romantic feeling, whether inspired by the beauty of a well-written poem or a natural scene or by something delightfully unexpected (it's hard to give any good explanation for this, except to liken it to the illicit thrill that Victorian men are alleged to have felt when they caught a glimpse of a lady's ankles, but I once nearly swooned when I happened to catch someone slowly putting on a pair of bicycle gloves; there was no obvious reason for this feeling--it just happened) can be a wonderful, vigorous medicine. It can restore in such a person a long-missing sense of hope for something better, which, while not always entirely realistic, can be tremendously cheering and revitalizing.

Now, I don't know if it's the times we live in or this particular culture, but most people I meet seem to be the opposite of what I've just described (an individual beaten down by reality). Most people I know are not only deeply addicted to some form of romantic unreality but are strongly encouraged in their addiction by the media that surround them. Wiccans, UFOoligists, astrologists, conspiracy theorists, people who talk to angels, people who talk to faeries, people whose pets talk back to them, Creative Anachronists, Gorean warriors and kajiras, Scientologists, Creationists, Art Bell enthusiasts, and magical thinkers and fantasizers abound in this day and age. I think that the source of a lot of these modern "dark age" beliefs is greed: one of the easiest ways to make money is to encourage others to attain the difficult or unattainable by buying a magazine, a spiritual program, a mystical item in a catalogue, a facial cream with pseudo-scientific qualities, a retreat, a "pure and natural" diet, a TV show, a CD of uplifting music, etc. For people who are already wallowing in romanticism and unrealistic fantasies, giving them still more "unbearable light"--particularly when it concerns things that they really need--is like giving someone who's already made herself sick on three boxes of candy another 16 heavy, rich truffles. Although the candy lover may thank you profusely for your gift, you aren't doing this individual any good.
For someone who likes to write, one of the most useful and also the most irksome things about living in a time like this, with several thousand years of recorded history at one's fingertips, is that it seems that no matter how well you try to convey something, there's always someone out there who at some time has said the same thing better. And that's the case here, too. Here, for instance, is a mystic, talking about transcendent experiences, and while I have never experienced the way in which he talks about "illumination" (and, given the sort of person I am and the choices I have made, doubt that I ever will,) I find it directly applicable to many other sorts of things that are within my experience, including what I talk about above: the relative worth of the romantic versus the realistic perspective for submissives:
"The famous romance of Majnum (`the madman') and Layla is used to allegorize the power of the `shining' and the inability of the traveler (madman) to sustain the brilliance of that shining without having passed through a necessary preparation.

"The tribe of the madman interceded with some of the people of Layla, asking that Majnun be allowed to be illuminated with the `sight of Layla's beauty.'

"Layla's tribe replied that there was no harm in this: `But Majnun hath not the power of beholding Layla's beauty.'

"They brought the madman, and for him lifted a corner of Layla's tent. `Immediately his glance fell on the fold of Layla's skirt--senseless he fell.'

"Illumination cannot be sustained by someone who is not ready for it. At the best it will throw him into an ecstatic state in which he is paralyzed, as it were, and unable to consummate the contact. This is why, although [mystical] poets speak of being `mad for love,' they emphasize that this madness is the result of preview, not of genuine experience. It is recognized that genuine experience must take an active, mutual, meaningful form, not a form of useless intoxication.

"Inebriation mystics are those who stop short at this stage, and try to reproduce the experience repetitiously, or approximate them on paper or in emotional art. This is the stage at which much experimentation in mysticism becomes bogged down."    

This is also exactly the stage at which many submissives with a romantic approach to dominance and submission become bogged down. While the content of this quote (the talk about mystic states) has little to do with submissiveness, the pattern of behavior described is one you'll see in many other aspects of life, including the attempts of a romantic submissive to attain the experience of being controlled. In fact, in the latter case, it's remarkably accurate. Newly aware submissive women often start out needing-needing-needing, wanting-wanting-wanting, and any little isolated crumb thrown their way that speaks to the experiences they so badly crave can seem, at this relatively inexperienced level of awareness, to be the equivalent of permanently attaining their hearts' desire. Like the inebriated mystics mentioned above, they confuse a thrilling, transitory high with solid achievement. A weekend "scene" with someone they barely know can subjectively feel like the most profound and intensely sexual experience of a submissive's life, and then, as so often happens, when their weekend lover-master doesn't call when he says he will, when he gets irrationally and childishly angry at her, when he breaks his word in hundreds of small and large ways, she is intensely confused because she does not know how to reconcile her transitory idolization and hero-worship of this man brought about by a frenzied temporary sexual state with the way he actually is.

What Jon and I try to do in many of our writings--on this Website and elsewhere--is to give the submissive reader an awareness that there are useful mental and emotional tools out there: attitudes, approaches, ways of regarding one's self; behaviors; and (my favorite) tests to be put to self-proclaimed dominants that will allow a submissive to discern, before she is terribly hurt, whether her potential partner is a person who will offer her her a temporary and fleeting high, which leaves her all the more bitter and hurt because its promise is not fulfilled, or someone who can offer her a sometimes less giddy but altogether more substantial, emotionally nourishing, and lasting experience.    

Sometimes I see newly aware submissives as starving people who wander around in a garden but instead of helping themselves by eating the nourishing and delicious vegetables and fruits in the garden, become intoxicated with the scents and colors of the flowers and imagine that a deep inhalation of a beautiful aroma or gazing deeply at the intoxicating colors and patterns is the same as taking in actual food that will nourish and sustain them. It's true that sometimes flowers do smell far better than vegetables taste, but only the latter give you the health and the energy to continue to smell and to enjoy the blooms over a long life. In other words, the romantic and practical approaches both have their value, but when you live among people who tend to see only the alluring draw of romanticism, you find yourself wanting to redress the balance with a heavy punch of realism.

If you recognize that this is Jon's and my primary approach in the articles we write, you'll be able to take more of what you can use from them as well as leave what you don't need. I'm obviously not a "do me" submissive. I have very little use for concepts like sub-space (or its loftier equivalents). I am, in fact, repelled by the idea of falling paralyzed in an ecstatic state in which I am incapable of giving something back to my dominant, contributing to our mutual enjoyment, or, as the passage above said, "consummating the contact." Perhaps the fact that I approach submissiveness in this active and aggressive way is one of the reasons why I am so enamored with the concepts of "service" and "slave." These two words convey to me the essence of the active, mutually satisfactory, giving back aspects of submission I'm so attracted to.

As fun as subspace may be and as fun as it may be for my master upon occasion to reduce me (as he most certainly has) to that dazed, drooling condition where even words and images desert me, the mainstay of our relationship, the way I express my submissiveness during the hundreds of hours that I don't spend in some sort of sexual high, is through serving him in whatever ways he requires. While the things I experience through this sort of service are not as intense as those I have when Jon's turning me to Jell-o through physical attention and mind games, they add a solid continuity to my submissiveness without which I would feel bereft and adrift.

In other words, if all I had in my relationship with a dominant were those wonderful transitory states, those occasional super subspace highs, and long periods in between with nothing to sustain me but my memories of the high, I'm certain that I would feel so lost, so confused, so longing, so frustrated, so abandoned, that I would have given up trying to be a submissive long ago. It's because these transitory experiences, as wonderful as they are in the moment, only give you a taste, an illusion of something fulfilling, of something that completes you. They don't give you the thing itself. Only a long term day-by-day living and relating with a dominant in mundane as well as transcendent ways will give you this sense of relaxing accomplishment and fulfillment.

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