Personal Journey

Reflections on Uncollaring

The kink community regards a collar as a powerful symbol. There’s something of a shared respect for collars, even if the understanding of what it means may vary throughout different communities. A play collar can represent the bottom in a scene, while an ownership collar can symbolize a near absolute transfer of authority. 

Today, I’d like to reflect on what collars mean to me. The collar I’ve worn. The happiness of a collaring ceremony and the grief of an uncollaring. 


When I met Fit Miss, I was so excited that she found me appealing. She didn’t want what I wanted, but I was sure that was okay. Either I would become happy with what she could give me, or she would eventually become comfortable giving me what I needed. 

I desired a Master and slave relationship, giving everything I had. I desired a level of micromanagement. Fit Miss desired something casual, less ownership based and service-focused. I thought that I could be happy with that. I thought that Fit Miss was the closest I could get to what I wanted. 

In online forums, multiple people told me that I needed too much. I needed to lower my expectations. So I did.

That’s not to say that Fit Miss isn’t an amazing person and Dominant. She’s wonderful. We just want very different things. Fit Miss and I are incompatible as power dynamic partners. It’s inaccurate to say that she failed me or that I failed her. In fact, our relationship served us both for quite some time. It is not that I want more and she can’t give me that. I want things that she doesn’t desire. She is not inadequate by any measure. Instead, our desires aren’t aligned.

Nonetheless, with that in mind, I really pressed Fit Miss for a collar. Framing it as a symbol of mild commitment, I devalued it to her. I didn’t consider that what I wanted it to mean was absolute ownership. I wanted to give my all. Not just in word, but for a Master to enact their control over every level of my life. 

I don’t know how I did it, because I truly don’t remember my thought process at the time, but my cognitive dissonance allowed me to accept what I portrayed to Fit Miss as a ‘going steady’ collar. 

Fit Miss and I provided for each other for several wonderful months. We set protocols together, developed and achieved goals together, and I served her in the ways I could from a distance. We’ve seen each other in person for three amazing vacations, one which we are on right now. Our physical and romantic chemistry is palpable. Still, I feel sad when I think about it now.

Sad because I misrepresented what the collar meant to me.

Sad because I wanted it to mean something different.

Sad because I feel that I’ve hurt Fit Miss in this process.

When I met Dally and started spending time with him as a Dominant, I realized something. Not that Fit Miss was awful and that Dally was wonderful. Not that amazing cock made me want a cis man as a Master instead. 

What I realized is how I fooled myself and this beautiful person into accepting much less than what I needed. I know every relationship, even power dynamics, involve compromise. I realized, though, that I didn’t need to compromise my desires nearly as much as I had. Even if Dally and I didn’t develop a power dynamic, I know that people like him existed.

Yes, one of the reasons that I asked to return Fit Miss’ collar is so that Dally can collar me one day. That’s true. 

What’s also true is that, even if Dally wasn’t in the picture, I would want to return Fit Miss’ collar. If Dally decided to drop me tomorrow, I would still want to return it. I asked for it without respecting what it meant to me. 

It needs to be returned.


The standard narrative that I have heard about uncollaring or returning a collar involves a conflict. A fight, then a forced removal. Someone takes off their collar in a fit of rage, returning it to their Dominant.

I don’t want this uncollaring to go that way. Fit Miss and I are partners. We have released each other of any power dynamic expectations, and declared that we are polyamorous partners who sometimes have kinky sex.

Some people might think an uncollaring is sad. And it is. Change is often sad.

However, I’m partnered with three amazing people. Very different people. One of those partners is the intelligent, witty, and beautiful Fit Miss. It’s not sad to declare that. 

People might anticipate that we’d distance more from each other. That we’d promise to be ‘just friends,’ then avoid each other at events. 

But I want this wonderful person in my life. Yes, I may not be in service to her anymore. But I love her. I want this uncollaring ceremony to be a celebration of everything we’ve provided for each other. A celebration of our egalitarian partnership. A celebration of the connections we have. 

I’ve heard funerals described as a celebration of life. Why not an uncollaring ceremony be a celebration of what was, what is, and what will be?

Fit Miss and I try to be emotionally intelligent about all of our relationships. One aspect of that is recognizing one’s mistakes and working to fix them. We made our mistakes. Alignment on the meaning of this powerful symbol, this collar, wasn’t present. Here’s how we’re fixing it: We are, together, removing the collar. Filled with grief with what could have been, yet ultimately happy that we have such love and care in our lives.

Personal Journey

Personal Update, Spring 2021

I wanted to provide a bit of an update, as I have been a little silent or intermittent for the last few months.

As you may or may not know, I have struggled with symptoms like extreme fatigue, migraines, and dizziness since I was a teen. These symptoms were mild for several years, but in February 2020, they came roaring back with a vengeance. 

I’ve found that overexerting myself causes these symptoms to flare up in ways the average person wouldn’t experience; A late night out at the local dungeon, The Woodshed, leads to at least one but often up to three days where I barely have the energy to leave bed for a shower. 

This has fluctuated and remains unpredictable. In the time that these symptoms have been troubling me again, I have overexerted myself many times, leading to multiple days bedbound and putting all projects on hold.

I’m still learning how to pace myself. I’m scheduling breaks that I must take, even if I’m frustrated by them. I’m taking days off with no expectations. I bought a shower chair to make my daily routines easier. Ultimately, I’m fighting the internalized ableism that tells me my value is in hustling and grinding my way to the top.

Right now, my focuses include writing for my personal blog and The Kinky Butler, continuing to learn, and serving Fit Miss. However, my top priority is caring for myself. As is a common refrain in the power exchange community, I must protect the property before all else.

Thank you.

Kink Reflection

Universal Needs and Power Exchange

I am fascinated with the mental aspects of power exchange. Rope and pain play are wonderful, and yet they only call to me as a physical manifestation of the mental control that power exchange offers. And I often wonder how needs play into power exchange relationships. Does one person give up their needs for another? Who really has a choice in the matter?

I have found that the best methodology to discuss needs in a meaningful way is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). For those unfamiliar, NVC is a communication methodology and philosophy of life that was pioneered in the 1960s by the late Marshall Rosenberg. NVC has flourished and is practiced all over the world, in interpersonal relationships and international crises.

A core principle of NVC is that there are a universal set of needs that humans share. You might relate this to a pyramid representing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs that you have seen. Everyone, across all time, geography, gender, race, and other separations share the same needs, yet strategies to meet those needs differ. For example, we all desire connection, yet while I might want to catch up over coffee, you might want to go to a dance party. (Ohh, to be in the days of coffee dates and dance parties once again!) 

As I am deeply interested in both NVC and power exchange, I often wonder what different needs are being met for various people in power exchange relationships. Perhaps a particular submissive craves safety, belonging, and demonstrating competence in their relationship, while their Dominant may desire pleasure, consistency, and ease. These roles are intentionally different, so the needs satisfied are also different. 

I can see that a power exchange relationship, and in fact every relationship, is made up of a series of strategies. In my article “What’s Choice Got to Do With It?: Thoughts on Choosing Submission,” I explored choice. I contradicted a common refrain about Master/slave relationships when I discussed choice in these relationships.

Even in a relationship with a blanket consent policy, we actively choose to view how we perceive the actions of those that control us. We chose who we gave that power, and we choose to stay with them every day. Our lives are full of choices, even a life filled with submission.

Yet, that’s not the full extent. 

In the past, when I was first taught the language of Nonviolent Communication, I believed that strategies that met someone else’s needs must be at the expense of my needs. If my partner wants to watch a movie, and I want to play a card game, when we watch a movie at the end of the day, aren’t I sacrificing for him? Thus, I have the moral high ground, and I can leverage that against him when we next have a conflict: “I watched a movie for you! Don’t you want to meet my needs?” I know now that this is using the language of NVC to contradict the intentions.

The intention I’ve been focusing on lately has been prioritizing connection. According to Miki Kashtan, this involves “…[focusing] on connecting open-heartedly with everyone’s needs before seeking solutions, even in challenging situations.” When I watch a movie with my partner, I am choosing to meet one need over another. Perhaps I wanted stimulation through the game, yet I chose peace by preventing a conflict with my partner. Again, this comes back to choice. Even when I’m in a dire situation, I choose how I view a situation and that impacts the needs it meets. If my initial strategy isn’t the one we do, I can choose to pick a fight, thus satisfying my need to be seen and express myself authenticly. However, by turning the mind, I can focus instead on empathy and companionship.

When I bring this to a power exchange context, I am reminded of a passage from Slavecraft:

…[S]laves with this point of view get to a place in our heads where every time we give something up for the Master, we feel that our slavery, our surrender, is renewed and reinforced. So i’ve lost the pleasure of seeing the building [that i wanted to see], but i’ve gained my slavery. i’ve lost the opportunity to make that phone call [that i wanted to make], but i’ve gained my slavery. And when slavery is the most important thing in the world, joy is the result in my life.

SlaveCraft: Roadmaps for Erotic Servitude by Guy Baldwin

The perspective of slavery, that intentionally cultivated frame of mind, deeply meets the needs that the author prioritizes. He chooses to see the denial of his personal strategies as a strategy in itself. It’s beautiful to me.

Perhaps I’m getting too heady here. Does this view of needs within power exchange resonate with you? Please let me know.

Personal Journey Reflection

In Favor of Unstructured Thinking Time

Meditating is really fucking difficult. The way meditation has been explained to me – by therapists, mindfulness apps, and Buddhist monks alike – is emptying one’s mind. Noting thoughts, but not getting attached to them. People admit that it’s a challenge, and yet it’s worthwhile for the benefits. For me, it’s bordering on impossible.

I can hardly keep my body still, let alone my mind, and both seem mandatory for the meditation everyone describes. My brain makes quick, seemingly random connections, like relating oat milk to Texas in 15 seconds flat. (For those curious: Oat milk. “Oat milk is made with water. I wonder how much water is wasted making it. What else probably wastes water? Water parks! What was that water park jingle? ‘We’re going to Schlitterbahn! It’s the hottest coolest time in Texas!’” Texas.) 

That quick connection process seems common with people who are neurodivergent. This term was coined to refer to folks whose brains don’t work in the ways that society defines as normal. Think ADHD, autism spectrum, OCD, traumatic brain injury. While many people have found my ‘random’ connections frustrating, my friends who are also neurodivergent often find it familiar and sometimes even comforting. I’ve also found that neurodivergent folks especially struggle with ’emptying the mind’ meditation. Perhaps the jumping of focus from one topic to another becomes an issue for them as it has been for me.

I’ve never quite given up on finding some way to still and center myself, though. Nonviolent Communication, somatics, Paganism, and mental health spaces all advise something to this effect. Recently, I have found something that works for me. Something that doesn’t quite look spiritual or enlightened. Something mundane.

I make a cup of coffee or tea, head to the backyard with my dog Ajax, and slowly sip on my drink. I listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, the nearby construction, the traffic on the highway. I think my thoughts if I want to, but not with any intensity. I follow them wherever they take me. If I remember a jingle, I sing it out loud. I fidget, talk to my dog, and usually accidentally drip hot tea onto my lap. My time is measured by how long my drink lasts and how much patience Ajax has for me. When the time comes, I head in, rinse my mug, and continue my day. Mundane.

There’s an area of philosophy that is concerned with knowing. Epistemology. You probably remember an important piece of Western epistemology: “I think, therefore I am.” I’m not an epistemological scholar. However, like most people, I’m concerned with things like what I know, what I can know, how I can prove I know things, and how I can teach things to other people. What I’ve found is that I know things that I cannot articulate in words. With my unstructured thinking time, I know definitively that I have learned things – Yet, if asked, I couldn’t articulate what. It’s not that I’ve forgotten, I just don’t have the words. 

I’m not sure if this is a common experience. I know many people sit outside and sip nice drinks. Do they have this calming, centering experience as well? Do they come away with inarticulable knowledge? I ask because I genuinely don’t know. I honestly hope so. Perhaps someone could have told me about ‘a cup of tea on the back porch’ meditation sooner. Maybe I can be the one to pass it on to you.

In the six weeks, frequent unstructured thinking time has helped me combat overwhelm and connect with my purpose more than any yoga class or meditation retreat. It requires no gongs or cushions unless you want it to. If you haven’t tried it, especially if you’ve struggled with most meditation, I encourage you to do so. Follow your thoughts wherever they take you. It need only last as long as your favorite drink.


Knight & page, Vampire & thrall, and More: Archetypical Inspiration for Power Exchange

During the Master/slave Conference 2019, I met people in a variety of dynamics, all under the wide umbrella of Master/slave. While walking through the hotel, I met a woman and her companions. The woman had a strong presence and was dressed to the nines with a beautiful vintage updo and gown. Her companions, a man and a woman, both wore button-up shirts and slacks. After speaking with them, I discovered that this woman was Queen to her companions, her devoted knights.

Many years earlier, I was exposed to the word ‘archetype’ in a college-level psychology class, but I was familiar with archetypes before I had a word for them. For example, think of a thief. What are they wearing? What personality traits do they have? How do they move through a room? What motivates them? In this context, archetypes are characters that recur so often in movies and other storytelling that the word itself provokes detailed imagery in the reader’s mind. 

In Lee Harrington’s Sacred Kink, the chapter on ritual discusses archetypes that may inspire kink practices: “Perhaps you are drawn to roles inspired by literature or history such as Gorean/Kajira, Vampire/Thrall, Muse/Artist, or Lady/Knight/Vassal….[N]o matter the archetype chosen (if any is chosen at all), it is what one does with that archetype that matters.” Lee goes on to elaborate on ways that different archetypes can create unique rituals that shape a relationship. 

Let’s consider two relationships. Both are nominally Master/slave relationships, yet one is based on the roles of a Knight and his page, while the other is a Vampire and her thrall.

A Knight/page relationship might be very values-based. For example, feedback on the page’s demeanor may include aspects of representing the honor of his Knight while in public. Rituals may include actual or symbolic armor, swords, shields, or other items of close or mounted combat. If service is an aspect of the relationship, it might be framed as a training regime. The main goal of relationships may be mentorship in exchange for service, as with the idealized Knight.

In contrast, a Vampire/thrall relationship may be very hedonistic and focused on energy transfer from the thrall to the Vampire. Rituals could integrate actual or symbolic bloodletting, biting, or hypnotism. There also might be aspects of animals related to vampirism involved, such as bats and hounds. From a higher level, the purpose of the relationship could be sacrifice and devotion in the name of the Vampire’s pleasure.

Again, these are both Master/slave relationships, yet having an archetypical foundation provides so much imagery that the participants and their community can play with!

When I started talking with a friend about archetypes, they asked if there was a comprehensive list. Barring that, at least someplace to begin. I couldn’t find anything to that effect, so I decided to write down every archetype I could think of that might be useful as the foundation of a power exchange relationship. I’ve decided to keep them separate because they could be paired together in many ways. 

Before I start on the list though, I want to speak a little about a related project of mine. The Kinky Butler is focused on exploring and integrating the butler archetype in kinky service. If this archetype discussion has interested you, I ask that you read the landing page of the website and see what you think.

Archetypes for Higher Hierarchical Relationships












Bad Boy




Big Brother/Big Sister/Big Sibling










Chosen One

Christ Figure


Commanding Officer







Cult Leader



Dark Lord


















Femme Fatale























Mad Scientist





Master of the House/Mistress of the House







































Spoiled Boy/Spoiled Girl/Spoiler Child

























Archetypes for Lower Hierarchical Relationships



















Chosen One





Cult Follower

Cult Victim














Femme Fatale

First Mate






Head of Staff






King’s Guard



Little Brother/Little Sister/Little Sibling

Major Domo









Permissive Daddy/Permissive Mommy/Permissive Parent






Prized Possession













Stuffed Animal





Vice President








Roles for Roughly Equal Hierarchical Relationships






















“Mental Stuff Like Confidence or Self Esteem”: Vital Skills for Dominants

A gentleman on Reddit’s r/BDSMcommunity posted asking for advice, saying he “[feels] overwhelmed with the sheer amount of stuff I need to learn, want to learn.” He was essentially asking what kinky play and sex skills should a Dominant develop, and specifically mentioned that he wasn’t interested in “mental stuff like confidence or self esteem.” This was my reply:

Yeah, to echo some others, the mental stuff is more important than how you throw a whip or spank. So to directly contradict you, this is what I find admirable and attractive in a Dominant I’m considering for a power exchange relationship:

  • Consistency & Integrity. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say you’re going to keep doing something, be able to keep it up or re-negotiate.
  • Self-insight. Know thyself. What motivates you? What type of play appeals to you and why? Do you have trauma? If so, how does it affect how you view relationships, kink, and sex? Keep investigating.
  • Self-motivation. Ambitious, motivated people are just sexy. If someone has the self-control to continue to motivate themselves, they can probably help motivate others.
  • Leadership. Have a plan for when shit hits the fan. Be able to command a room if necessary. Keep a cool head when things are challenging. Develop the ability to process several sources of information without becoming overwhelmed.
  • Empathy. Understand where other people are coming from. Listen to someone’s words, as well as their body language and facial expression. Confirm with people if you understand them by reflecting back what they’ve said. Seek connection over anything else.

Even if they never learned how to suspend someone with rope or intimidate them with knives, someone with all of these traits would be a wonderful dominant in my opinion.

I’m wondering how that resonates with readers. Do you have anything to add to the list? Am I totally missing the mark? Please let me know.

Personal Journey Reflection

Silence Can Change a Dynamic

In December of 2019, I overworked myself in the name of service at The Woodshed. I had been assigned to escort a friend who was new to the kink scene to an event and then the dungeon afterward. In order to make a good impression, I wore my button-up and tie along with a binder to help flatten the appearance of my chest. Over the course of a few hours in the busy dungeon, I began to feel uncomfortable, but I ignored these indicators, thinking that a good servant should be able to withstand a little discomfort. Ultimately, I developed heatstroke, and while I was fine at the end of the day, I was a little embarrassed knowing that my suffering and the concern of my friends was completely preventable.

Like me overheating in a restrictive outfit and sweaty dungeons, many servants tend to aspire to selflessness. If only we could focus wholly on the person we’re serving and turn our needs off like a light switch, we’d be perfect. Without feelings or needs, we could be wonderful tools, used with whatever purpose our chosen person or people desire, right?

I must constantly remind myself that all tools need maintenance. If I tried to mow the lawn without putting fuel in the lawnmower, I wouldn’t get anywhere. Washing the dishes with an old sponge could take longer than with a fresh, clean one. Disconnecting from our feelings and needs is equivalent to never checking to see if our saw is sharp. Tools, whether human or inanimate, have certain requirements. Not caring for ourselves is neglecting our first and most important tool: ourselves.

This maintenance can be built into a dynamic. For example, a simple body scan meditation could begin and end a period of intense service. Self-managed check-ins could be part of an ongoing protocol and include different phrases for different levels of formality.

As a Dominant or Master, whether you have a casual dynamic or a serious, decades-long relationship, encouraging your servant to assess their feelings and needs can allow them to serve you with greater quality and duration. Additionally, a servant that has a great deal of insight can more fully surrender power, as they know what motivates and drains them.

For the servant currently without a dynamic such as myself, I encourage you to begin this practice daily. A short body-scan meditation can connect you with your embodied emotions in a few minutes, and this insight can help you manage your emotions when you’re alone and offer detailed information about your mood regulation when you enter a dynamic.

If we aspire to be effective tools, we must maintain the tools we have at our disposal.

Personal Journey

The No That Changed My Life

I’ve been to many sexy parties in my adult life. Hell, during my first bachelorette party, I wore lingerie and danced through the apartment while all my friends cheered me on. Yet, the parties I attended when I was eighteen and nineteen silently drew the line at lapdances and sexy outfits. There were rare moments where we took the things further, but it always felt taboo – like we were doing something we shouldn’t. I always felt tension at these parties because I wanted to go further, yet I lacked the language to ask for what I desired. I didn’t want someone to say yes because they felt obligated. My relationship at the time was monogamish, and I felt conflicted about how to move forward to live the sex life I wanted. Eventually, that friend group spread all across the world and my relationship ended. I didn’t think I would ever have an opportunity like the sexy parties I attended in that era.

Later, I moved to Orlando with another boyfriend, but monogamy and conflicting kinks quickly ended our relationship. When I first entered the online dating scene, I often found myself matching with polyamorous people. After I had befriended several of these norm-breakers, I was invited to my first polyam party. There were several rules, but two stuck out to me:

  • You can ask for anything as long as you accept whatever answer your receive.
  • No means no, and yes means yes.

Ask for anything? Well of course I couldn’t ask for my weirdest desires to be met, I thought. I’m sure they do some weird sex stuff, but of course, I can’t ask for anything. I would see what it was like at the party.

I discovered a hedonistic paradise that night. Walking in, I saw both men and women in sexy outfits. There was dancing, but also cuddling. Both lively conversations and silly stunts. People asked each other for hugs. I saw one man ask to be slapped and his friend obliged. Still shocked by that, I turned to see one attendee come through the door. A woman in lingerie asked to hug him, and he said the most important thing I heard that night: “No, I don’t want to be touched right now.” She didn’t guilt him into it or shame him. The conversation wasn’t over – They negotiated a greeting that worked for both of them, waving at each other, and then went about their night.

At that moment, I realized that it was true. I could ask for anything as long as I could accept a no. In previous sexual spaces, I feared asking for what I wanted because I wasn’t sure if someone agreeing was doing so out of obligation or guilt. But in a space where no is respected, you know that yes truly means yes. One of the misconceptions about consent culture is that it makes sex less frequent and less enjoyable, but that’s the opposite of my experience! By respecting no, I can ask for anything I want. Even if someone doesn’t want to do exactly what I want, we might be able to find something to do that satisfies both of us. Consent culture has freed me to ask for anything my heart desires throughout my life: At sexy parties, in kinky dungeons, and in my own bedroom. That powerful no opened the doors to so many wonderful, sexy, and satisfying ways to say yes.

Personal Journey Reflection

What’s Choice Got to Do With It?: Thoughts on Choosing Submission

Due to a recent dissolution of a long-running dynamic, I’m re-reading what I consider the central texts of kink. It’s a time to work on myself by reconsidering these books, and the ways my understanding of them has changed. As I read, I had a thought that while an outsider may see choice and submission as opposites, choice is vital to power exchange relationships. I know that the more self-understanding I have, the more powerful my choice to submit becomes.

My guiding philosophy is Nonviolent Communication (NVC). One foundational principle of NVC is that we always have choices, even when we feel disempowered: “Regardless of the circumstances, we can meet our need for autonomy by making conscious choices based on awareness of needs; at the very least in terms of the choice of the meaning we assign to the circumstances.” Here Inbal and Miki Kashtan explain that the bare minimum of choice can be found in how we decide to perceive our circumstances. I also believe this is the basis of choice.

If you think you can’t do anything but argue with your partner, that will happen. Once you turn your mind to the possibility that other strategies exist, you have more choices. Ultimately, deciding to see alternatives in a difficult situation opens up so many more choices. As Oren Jay Sofer has written in Say What You Mean, “The more aware we are, the more choice we have.”

From a logical standpoint though, why would anyone choose to submit to another person’s will? ? Dr. Rosenberg admonishes us when he writes in Nonviolent Communication, “With every choice you make, be conscious of what need it serves.” In NVC, needs are described as universal aspects of the human experience that everyone shares despite any differences in time, geography, and culture. What universal need does the desire to submit satisfy? For me, safety and stability come to mind when I consider how I feel when other the control of another. After experiencing the intense vulnerability that a life of submission offers, I believe that being owned by someone allows me to be known, seen, and understood in one of the most profound ways possible. 

According to Oren Jay Sofer, “One of the benefits of identifying our needs is that it gives us more choice. It gives us access to more creative options.” My understanding is that submission satisfies any number of needs for different people, and understanding how those needs differ allows us to find greater satisfaction. For example, the ideal rules, rituals, and lifestyle of someone who desires submission to challenge them would vary from someone who submits purely as an aspect of sexual expression. Or, perhaps their lives would look the same, but the intentionality behind every action would differ.

Ultimately, we make choices every day when we submit. Even in a relationship with a blanket consent policy, we actively choose to view how we perceive the actions of those that control us. We chose who we gave that power, and we choose to stay with them every day. Our lives are full of choices, even a life filled with submission. 

I truly believe that the more information we have, the more choice we have. I’m always learning from my life experiences. That’s why I’m dedicating the next three months to deeply understanding myself and what I desire out of submission.

What needs do you meet with submission? Do you have a different perspective on choice? Please share your thoughts with me and continue the discussion in the comments.

Personal Journey

My Biggest Communication Fuckup & What I Would Do Differently Now

Right now, while I begin the journey of becoming an educator, I want to be honest with you. I want to be authentic. If I claim to be a communications educator but don’t share how I’ve fucked up along the way, I fear that I’m concealing something. Making mistakes and learning why you made them is key to developing communication skills and maintaining healthy relationships. That’s why I want to tell you how I destroyed a relationship with codependency, a lack of responsibility for my own feelings, and the expectation of romance.

I was a senior in high school. At this point, I’d been dating the same guy for three years, and we’d had nonmonogamous experiences. I’d figured out, through trial and error, that he preferred when I had sex with women over when I had sex with men. We had very little communication about this – Those experienced with nonmonogamy might call it a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” situation. All I knew was I wasn’t getting the attention I wanted with my boyfriend, and I wanted to seek it elsewhere.

Ultimately, I began a relationship with a person I’ll call Jay. We both had some ideas of transitioning socially at some point, but neither of us was out as trans yet. I don’t know what pronouns Jay uses now, so I’ll use they/them pronouns.

Jay invited me over for a small gathering at their house, and I attended with my boyfriend. They invited me to stay the night, and, anticipating something from the flirting we had been doing, I asked my boyfriend if he was okay if Jay and I did sexual things. I don’t remember the amount of detail that went into the request, but he agreed. That was the entire conversation I had with him about my relationship with Jay. No boundaries discussions or assessments of comfort. Just a yes-no question.

The night proceeded as normal. At one point we were laughing, and I kissed them on the cheek. I asked, “Was that okay?” They nodded. “Can I kiss you more?” They nodded. And so it began. For a few months, I would spend the night at Jay’s house about once a week. We would kiss and have faltering sexual interactions. In a light amount of detail, I will say that I  often asked Jay to top and take control, and they seemed enthusiastic about these activities.

This was okay, but I had an ulterior motive; I thought that if I simply continued to be friendly and likable, Jay would develop romantic feelings for me. I desperately clung to the idea that they might love me because I felt unloved and neglected in my primary relationship. This expectation was the source of several issues that grew out of control and destroyed our friendship.

I developed codependency with Jay, my friend with benefits, which is considerably worse than “catching feelings.” My self-esteem was entangled with Jay’s opinion of me. If Jay wanted to have sex with me, that meant I was desirable. If Jay fell in love with me, that would mean I was lovable. Anything else meant I was worthless.

This situation was tense but sustainable until Jay and another friend with benefits started having sex. I didn’t have the emotional literacy to name my feelings and needs. I didn’t have the emotional maturity to know that I was obsessing over Jay’s opinion of me. When Jay entered a monogamous relationship, I fell apart. I took it extremely seriously, and I also didn’t take responsibility for my own feelings – I called them multiple times in one day, weeping that I was unlovable and ultimately abandoned. I put everything I was feeling, all of my baggage and codependency onto them. It was extremely difficult for Jay. Soon afterward, they asked to end our friendship.

What I Know Now

For a while after the relationship ended, I struggled to understand what exactly had gone wrong. I could tell you that I did something bad, but I couldn’t articulate the steps along the path that led me to that moment.

After more than eight years, I can now retrospect on what happened with Jay. Here’s what I know now that I wish I had known then.

1) I can’t make someone love me. No matter how attractive, likable, and funny I am, it’s impossible to develop someone’s feelings for me. Romantic feelings develop naturally or not at all. I also know that even if someone doesn’t love me, it doesn’t mean I’m not lovable. I’m attractive, likable, and funny, even if no one has romantic feelings for me. I didn’t need Jay’s desire or love to be worthy or good.

2) I am open and honest about expectations and desires. I now have a discussion early on with anyone I have sexual relationships today about the expectation of romance or any sort of partnership. If our desires are misaligned, we have follow-up discussions about how to proceed in a way that is satisfying to everyone. Sometimes that means ending the relationship, and sometimes that means intentionally changing the relationship in a way that serves us both. If I had been open with Jay about my desire to have a romantic relationship with them, we could have approached that with mutual understanding, and perhaps parted ways amicably.

3) I am the only person responsible for my feelings. I deeply appreciate it when someone wants to contribute to my life. However, I want people to help me when they want to, not out of guilt, shame, or obligation. I was expecting Jay to help me cope with my feelings around them, which was clearly a tender spot because they felt the intensity of my codependency!

4) My extreme feelings are warning signs. Feelings that are intense or last an unusual amount of time can serve as a signal that things might be out of balance. I didn’t have the insight to examine my intense feelings for Jay. If I had, I could have consciously dealt with the codependency I was developing.

I have learned from this relationship, and I hope that any suffering I caused Jay has healed.

You should know that I don’t want to be an educator *despite* this relationship. I want to teach communication and peacemaking skills because I want others to work through difficult relationships like this one. If I can, I want to prevent the suffering that Jay and I suffered. 

If you’re still here after I’ve shared this, I hope we can continue to learn together. Thank you.