It’s been a while since I felt simultaneously very into someone, and very sure about him. It’s a strange feeling. I’ve been playing with theories about how “flirtation is basically an exercise in strategic ambiguity” and “insecurity is an integral part of romantic intoxication” and “uncertainty is an emotional amplifier,“ and I do think that those ideas are true in many ways. But I got so wrapped up in theory that I forgot how it feels to be way into someone … and only a little bit scared.
I met Mica at a Saturday night party. When I left the next morning, he said he wanted to see me again as soon as possible. “Monday?” he asked. “Tuesday?”
“Monday,” I said. “Tomorrow.”
He’s a smart, creative thinker. There are layers to him, and he practically shines: so why not call him Mica? I would love talking to him for those reasons alone. But there’s also a kind of certainty to him; a calm presence; an extraordinary quality of attention. Once he’s focused on a partner, there’s a rhythm behind everything he does. He’s so precise that when I’m kissing him, I feel like an awkward puppy.
I observed this very quickly, and something else: that the quality of his attention often overtook him. Controlled him. In a sexual interaction, it’s difficult to distract him from catering to me. And since he’s excellent at reading my desires, I usually don’t want to distract him.
It made me think of what I was like, years ago, before I understood my submissive tendencies. Mica hadn’t done much explicit S&M before, and when he’d done it, he was dominant. I didn’t want to project too much, or make any assumptions about him … but I couldn’t help noticing.
The second night I was with him, I asked him to inflict light pain on me. Very light. I didn’t want to go further with him, yet. But his instincts for delivering pain and watching my reactions were, as I suspected, beautifully calibrated.
The third night I was with him, he touched my face and kissed me. I felt my eyelashes flutter and my body melt, and he smiled. Then he said, “I’m feeling really gentle tonight. I don’t know how much I’m up for.”
He doesn’t want S&M right now, I thought. Sometimes guys date me and get anxious that I’ll be disappointed when they don’t want to do S&M. This is understandable, given that I’m an S&M writer. But I hate that, because the last thing I want is for one of my partners to feel obligated … and besides, even I don’t want all-S&M-all-the-time. I smiled directly into Mica’s eyes and told him I was fine with it.
In bed, I watched him. Watched his extraordinary attentiveness. Eventually we got to a point where I was leaning over him, kissing him. I watched him give up his body to the kiss. He doesn’t want S&M right now, I thought, … except that his main experience with S&M, so far, is being in charge.
“Do you trust me?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he said. “Absolutely.”
I clenched my nails into Mica’s side, and his back arched. It was the clearest invitation I’d seen from him and, I suspected, the clearest invitation he knew how to give. If he even knew that he was giving it. It can take a lot of time and experience for a submissive to learn what they want well enough to give good feedback for it. It’s one of those submissive skills that people don’t think about enough, because for some reason we’re always too busy teaching dominant skills.
I kissed Mica again, and tore into his back.
He was ready for it. His breathing fast became irregular; he gasped; he shook in my hands. After a while, I pulled back and simply observed the intensity flooding through him. His body undulated like a wave.
“I knew you were dangerous,” he breathed. “In exactly the way that I want.”
“Dangerous,” I repeated. I hesitated. “What do you mean?” His eyelashes flickered, and I saw that he was too far under to answer me. He probably barely knew what he was saying. (In S&M, we call this state of mind subspace.)
I pushed him a little farther. I only used my nails, but you can do a lot with your nails. I said his name, over and over. He struggled, he fought his own body. I observed the struggle and saw myself in it. “I know,” I told him.
Eventually Mica said, quite seriously, that he wanted to stop. I was certain that he could take more. A lot more. I might have been able to convince him to continue, and had him thank me for it later. But he needs to know that I’ll respect him when he says to stop. Also, in a somewhat self-interested way, I don’t want to set a precedent where his boundaries are entirely nonverbal; where his limits depend on my capacity to see through him. Maybe someday, when we know each other really well. Right now, it would make it too easy to seriously harm him … and for him to hate me afterwards.
So I stopped.
“No one has ever touched me so deeply, so fast before,” Mica said, later. And, later later: “This changes everything.” I lay still, kept my arms around him, listening. “That was total catharsis,” he said. “I mean,” a note of doubt crept into his voice. “Do you actually like doing that?”
“Yes,” I said. I said it fast and hard, because he needs to believe it. I understood why he was asking: I’ve been there. When I was first getting into S&M, the first time I felt that way, I had a hard time believing that my partner actually liked doing that for me. It felt so incredible. It felt like I couldn’t possibly be giving back as much as I received. Sometimes, I still feel that insecurity.
“I’m glad you like it,” Mica said. I felt his body relax next to mine. “Because I’m going to want that again.”
“I know,” I said softly.
I tried not to be afraid. Not only because I like him so much, and it’s easy to be afraid. But because someone like Mica, who wants so much to give, can be seriously damaged by a partner who isn’t careful to offer him space to be exactly who he is.
And, most of all, because S&M is a complex and fickle mistress. Because I knew that if Mica expected me to be able to do that regularly, he was bound to be disappointed. His tendencies are there, and I can learn them, but this one “total catharsis” depended on a confluence of factors: There had been something close to his surface, something he’d practically begged me to pull out, and it had been his first time.
Plus, S&M also depends on self-maintenance and reasonable expectations and respecting our own failures. An S&M relationship will be much less stable if the people involved can’t accept imperfection.
I was scared, scared, scared that Mica believed me to be more amazing than I could ever possibly be.
The next day, Mica was thrilled by his scratches, and showed them off to me. I was pleased by how he eroticized the marks—I do that, too—but I also felt a moment of piercing guilt. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I should have been more careful, before leaving marks like that. I should have asked.”
Mica met my eyes directly, insistently. “No,” he said. “Don’t be sorry. Last night was amazing. You knew exactly where I needed to go.”
I pushed back my fear—he expects too much of me—and answered quietly. I ended by telling him, “S&M can’t be that, all the time.” He nodded. I hoped he was listening.
Fortunately, he was. The next time we did it, Mica was slightly disappointed that it wasn’t mind-blowing—as I knew he would be. But he dealt with it. He articulated the disappointment to me, and he remembered that I’d warned him, and he said that he was prepared to take things as they came. And then, lying on his side next to me, watching me, he asked: “Do you want pain?”
I felt my eyes widen. I felt a spike of fear. I was already so into him. I knew that if I allowed him to get me to subspace, there’d be no going back.
“Yes,” I said.
And again, that attention. In a way, sometimes, Mica’s attentiveness can be strangely inconvenient. He’s almost over-attuned to my desires. Even when I tell him to close his eyes, he can’t lose himself that way; he can’t make himself keep them closed. The quality of his attention is, however, quite remarkable when he hurts me.
“This is where you could take me apart,” I said afterwards, as I surfaced out of that terrible vulnerability.
Mica looked at me, rested his head on me. “I just want to take care of you,” he said.
When I was younger, it took me a while to get around to taking the dominant role. And there’s still something I can reach when I’m being submissive and masochistic that I’ve never reached when I’m dominant. Still, I think of myself as a confirmed switch now—someone who can take either the submissive or dominant role. Yet it’s such a strange binary, isn’t it? If he rips me apart and then says, “I just want to take care of you,” then which of us is in charge?
Mica told me recently that, “When you’re hurting me, my favorite thing you say is ‘I know.’ Because you do know. You know exactly what it’s like.”
By now I’m barely scared. It hasn’t been that long, and I’m trying to allow for New Relationship Energy. I know this could still go up in smoke. But we’ve talked about expectations, and we’ve talked through what we’re both looking for, and we’re both thinking of each other in a long-term way.
If I had to point to events that “proved” Mica has serious potential, two things would top the list. First, in the aftermath of his first incredible S&M experience, when he dealt with the disappointment of realizing that S&M can’t always be that—dealt with it quietly, sensibly, without drama, by talking to me. And second, when he said, in defiance of most aggressive stereotypical dominant roles: “I just want to take care of you.”
Clarisse Thorn is Role/Reboot’s Sex + Relationships Editor.