Training vs. Romance: The View from the East Wing

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The East Wing Perspective on Training vs. Romance

As my peers have noted in their articles, this subject, while completely clear to us as we discuss it within our group is somewhat more difficult to express to the community at large. I myself sat on this subject for more than a month (actually, much more) before I finally pounded out the draft you see before you.

In my experience, the conflict we see when we look at relationships that encompass these concepts is one almost entirely of priorities . While both the terms training and romance can indicate the totality of relationships, generally I find that they are more useful as indicators of motivation. Relationships always have a goal, and that goal is usually roughly divided into two extremely broad categories.

The first category is that of a relationship simply for it’s own sake. In this case, the primary purpose of the union is simply to spend time with each other, in the most pleasant way possible. The common idea of the ‘love affair’ falls into this grouping… it exists for itself and to perpetuate itself. Roughly, the goal of these relationships can be summed up as romance.

In contrast then, we have relationships that have a goal for the partnership outside of simply spending time together. These relationships may have as a goal the accumulation of wealth, the creation of many children, to bring together two bloodlines and so on. One of the possible goals in this type of relationship is training.

Of course, many relationships actually mix those categories in various proportions. And it is in the structure of that mixture that there can arise conflict. With all that in mind, let us look at the Dominant/submissive relationship, and how those motivations may cause friction or difficulty.

As we at The Estate use the term, training is exactly what it sounds like… the structured acquisition of skills and mannerisms by the submissive to conform to specific standards of ability and behavior. Training a human is of course radically different than training a dog, or a horse, but the purpose remains exactly the same… there is no need to sugar-coat that aspect of it.

By it’s very definition then, training requires a degree of distance and objectivity on the part of the trainer so that they can evaluate the trainee. More than that, many of the goals of the training may cause transient discomfort or upset in the trainee as he/she becomes adjusted to the new conditions or skills. Even when the trainee is in complete agreement with the goals of the training process, when the difficulties of actually going through that process arise, there may well be a part of them that will balk.

In those circumstances, the trainer must be able to continue the training even in the face of transient discomforts and difficulties. The trainer must be able to harden themselves to resistance, fear, or discomfort… so that both the trainer and the trainee can achieve their goals.

Here of course is where things can get very sticky in short order. It will be assumed for this discussion that the trainer is capable of separating genuine damage and harm from transient discomfort, and a genuine withdrawal of consent or reversal of purpose on the part of the trainee.

Let’s take a fictional example: A trainee has been given the task of polishing the house silver. This task does not come easy to her, so she must spend a considerable amount of her free time accomplishing it. When the time comes to inspect it, it turns out that the job has not been done to the standard. The temptation, seeing that the submissive has genuinely given her ‘best effort’ would be to overlook a minor flaw in the work. One cannot allow her dedication to the task, or her hatred of it, to alter the standard. This simply cannot be done.

Doing the difficult is how we grow stronger, achieving standards we previously could not achieve is how we get better. The most effective thing a trainer can do is to maintain this ability to see past the trainee’s discomfort when needed, to put aside momentary pleas for leniency and stick to the task at hand.

It turns out this is not an easy thing. The good trainers I know are empathic people. They have to be in order to see past the outward face of their charges and to know what is going on inside. That empathy means that they are also often very fond of those training under them – if you do not like someone, it is basically impossible to get deeply enough into their mindset to effect the kind of changes that are often wanted. Objectivity is hard at times like this, and it is no easy thing to maintain, to do what must be done in the face of the tears of someone you consider a friend.

When romance, or love, is involved then this task becomes infinitely more difficult. Taking joy in the tears of one’s lover is not that hard to do for those in our community when it is clearly something that loved one will be thankful for, during a sexual encounter, for example. Take the situation of a physical punishment for failing to achieve a standard. One may be placed in the position of having to inflict physical pain on someone you love, despite the fact that they are already sorry, already know they have to do better, and assure you it will not happen again.

Finding people who will do that, who will do it because they genuinely like to teach, who like to make people better than they were before by their common standard, is a very rare thing. Of the group that will do it, now select out the ones that have the skills needed, the aptitude to know when to push, and when not to push… you are looking at a very small number of ‘trainers’ in this world.

Want to know more about the mind of a trainer? Find anyone who was in the military, ask them about their basic training. Almost universally they will tell you that their Drill Instructor was a bastard, a heartless unfeeling scum without an ounce of compassion or humanity. Then they will tell you that somewhere along the line they realized that their D.I. cared a lot about what was going on with them… he noticed more than they thought he did. A trainer.

If qualified, dedicated trainers who can rise above their emotions when needed are rare and valuable. Then more rare than they are those submissives who genuinely have the ability and drive to be successfully trained to a high level of performance. It takes an extraordinary dedication to the goals of the training to make this work… the trainee must consistently perform at his/her best, proactively assisting in their training, and resisting as much as they can the urge to play upon their trainers humanity.

The BDSM community is home to a large number of submissive men and women for whom the prospect of being ‘trained’ is of great excitement… the very idea of it makes their motor run, if you will forgive the analogy. But only a very small number of those can actually summon the strength needed to do it when it gets difficult. A submissive who enjoys immensely being ‘trained’ to perform a task will often take it as a matter of course that he will not be ‘trained’ if he has a headache, or if he didn’t sleep well the night before, or he is not in the mood. These expectations often persist on the subconscious level, if not the overt.

When placed in a situation of serious training, most tend to lose their resolve rather quickly. For these individuals, their fantasies were best left as that, a fantasy, the reality is simply not something they are equipped to accept or excel at. When they are called to task in a training situation they will quickly become sullen and argumentative, directing anger and annoyance at their trainer. On some level, these trainees feel betrayed, for all their talk previously of wanting to be held to that high standard when the time comes to do it over and over and get it right.

An example: many submissives have fantasies of sleeping at the foot of their dominant’s bed. They crave the feeling of submission and of ownership. Yet, how many of those who desire it routinely do it? How many of those who yearn to sleep on the floor have done so enough that they are happy and comfortable there? Very very few. After a few nights, when the back pains hit (until their body adjusts) many of these submissives will gladly give up the ritual, and their dominants will allow it.

To accept these discomforts, to understand that they are a necessary part of the training, and to strive to make sure that they show their gratitude, these are the marks of those few who can and will achieve incredible things. As with any other road to excellence, the person who wishes to excel must drive themselves as hard as their trainers.

A BDSM trainer can no more transform a submissive single-handed than a gymnastics coach can turn a reluctant student into an Olympic contender. That drive must come from inside the student. In order to succeed, trainees must accept nothing but their personal best. And in those circumstances when the trainer steps in, and expects the trainee to do the hard thing, enforces the standard, asks for a little more, pushes a little harder, it is the responsibility of the trainee to maintain a positive attitude, be grateful, respectful and proactive.

It becomes obvious then that the drive to perfection must be strong in both trainer and trainee. Their resolve must be without question, and their eyes must be firmly locked on their goal. A trainer is not, nor should be, a substitute for strength or willpower. The trainer is an objective mirror, and the voice that guides the submissive on the path.

How often in this community do we hear the lament from submissives that “he doesn’t train me anymore”, or “he is lax and slack with me now”. This is a legitimate complaint, and many times the problem is indeed with a dominant who has no desire to do the work, but it is not as common a case as you think.

At least as often the problem lies with the submissive in question. If every training exercise is met with a bad attitude, a plea to put it off till later, or a complaint about the task, why then would the dominant bother? If the merest discomfort, that is not immediately rewarded with some kinky play, leads to a surly tone and a guilt trip from the submissive in question, where then is the desire for training?

Of course, the motivations I mentioned can mix… for example a submissive may fall in love with a dominant, and her with him. Because of that bond, he wishes to become what she feels is an ‘ideal’ submissive. That would require training. So in the context of a ‘romantic’ relationship, it is possible that the romance will lead to training. This is, in fact, the most common progression of BDSM relationships.

However, this is the most difficult configuration. You have a dominant who is not a trainer, attempting to train someone she is deeply in love with, who is doing this, suffering this, for her sake. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of such attempts peter out, eventually settling down to a few rules and polite words. Since this is generally a happy state of affairs for the two people involved, I don’t know that we could classify it as a failure because they are happy. But if the goal was to achieve a high level of consistent performance, then they did not reach their goal.

A note to prospective trainers: I don’t know of any reason for a trainer to fight to train a submissive. Being trained to a standard of excellence that will be far above those of the community at large is it’s own reward, it’s own fetish, it’s own goal, and it is a privilege. If you are training someone who resents that training (or resents you for doing it) then stop. However, be aware that an occasional skirmish is a sign of spirit and fire, which are valuable qualities in and of themselves.

– Soulhuntre