Social skills might not seem very relevant to power dynamic relationships but if you think about it, social skills are about communication and that is vitally relevant to PDRs. Being in a power dynamic relationship often lays down boundaries and protocols that can make the interactions between the parties of a relationship much easier. For many it is the structure and defined paradigm of PDRs that makes it work for them.
However, when social skills extend to the wider community I often see things become a little unstuck for some. For example, in the kink community in the UK it isn’t unusual for people to address each other with first names….something that people venturing into a munch for the first time can be a little surprised by, particularly if they’ve had online experience where we tend to go by nicknames and pseudonyms. Calling someone “Sir” or “Maam” in a munch would generally be seen as inappropriate and might even cause offence.
But it goes deeper than mere semantics. I was at a discussion recently where the topic was “anonymity” and the question was asked whether anonymity was an individual thing – should we expect others to have the same view and needs as us when it comes to privacy and anonymity? It might seem a simple question with a simple answer. “Of course, we’re all individuals and will have our own requirements for privacy”. But if it is so simple then why do I see so many people struggling with it? Everyone’s response to “closeness”, physical contact, sharing of personal details, overt expressions of “like” and “dislike” can be seem in their body language, their facial expressions, their tone of voice and sometimes their words.
Figuring out other people’s boundaries perhaps takes a willingness to be understanding and empathic. A willingness to observe and learn another person’s personal “footprint”.
I have to acknowledge that the way people respond to my interactions with them will be largely about their personal boundaries and experiences. Am I prepared to explore them? Or, am I too consumed by my own responses and needs and experiences to notice theirs? And, even if I am aware of both mine and their responses, needs, etc. how will I respond when they don’t match up?
When I meet someone a few times at a munch or discussion meeting I may welcome their presence, I might enjoy social pleasantries and discussion about general topics. I might even share some of my more personal stuff with them relating to our lifestyle relationship if I feel safe to do so and it appears an appropriate thing to do. We might connect on Fetlife. All good so far.
Then I am asked to connect on Facebook and come around for dinner…….woah there! Now I’ve left my personal comfort zone – suddenly I feel vulnerable because this person wants more of me than I willing to give. How I respond now will be all about my uncomfortableness. Now I don’t want to offend but I don’t want my personal privacy boundary violated either. A dilemma that increases the uncomfortableness. My response will be polite but will also be a retreat. Now I don’t feel comfortable around this person anymore so I withdraw….put a boundary in place that wasn’t there before.
What does the other person see? And how do they respond? They thought we were getting on great and for them it was giving them a closeness they needed. For them, connecting on Facebook was something that wasn’t so private and an invitation to dinner was their expression of wanting to get closer to me. But suddenly wait…I’ve backed off, my responses might appear cold, perhaps disapproving of them……perhaps, I don’t appear to like them.
In that moment we’ve learned that our privacy and intimacy boundaries don’t match for this type of relationship. How do we proceed from here?
If we are both willing to respect each others’ boundaries and accept that it is OK for us to have different boundaries and it is OK that we don’t quite match….then maybe we can continue to have a mutually beneficial relationship on the terms we’ve both set down BUT if we respond to our own insecurities, if we don’t acknowledge each other’s’ boundaries, if we put our own needs above those of the other …….then it is likely our future relationship will not be positive.
“She is too in my face”, “She doesn’t respect boundaries” or “She was really friendly and then she wasn’t….she isn’t an honest person”, “She has rejected me and it hurts and now I feel anger towards her”.
It is through my own self-awareness that I have been able to understand social interactions in a more productive and positive way. All too easy to think that my responses are BECAUSE of the other person…..but actually MY responses are because of MY experiences, my feelings, my thoughts. My responses to the people around me are mine. Your responses are yours. Will we recognise them? Will we acknowledge them? How will we dance this dance of social interaction?