Better sit down, because I’m about to reveal something shocking! You know what? Once in awhile I make mistake. Don’t anybody tell Joy! I’m sure she has no idea that this is true, and I don’t want to burst her bubble!
The reality, of course, is that everybody makes mistakes. Though I am a planner and I try hard to think about contingencies and prevent anything from going wrong, sometimes I don’t foresee the way events will go, or how Joy will react to something, or exactly how one uses that particular toy. And the thrilling adventure I have planned goes off the rails, or the task I set for Joy doesn’t work, or the new idea I have doesn’t translate well into reality.
Joy, being the wise woman that she is, understands and cuts me some slack. That’s good–we all need a little slack sometimes. But here’s the question I want to talk about today. When something goes wrong and it’s my fault, should I tell Joy that I’m sorry? Should a Dominant ever apologize?
I believe that it is inarguable that in offering an apology, the Dominant gives up power. By it’s nature, an apology asks for forgiveness, and in a D/s relationship, the “D” tells instead of asks. That’s part of the fantasy–the submissive has no choice but to comply with the Dominant’s wishes. Asking for forgiveness breaks that paradigm, and in doing so, weakens the dynamic between the couple. If that were the only consideration, then perhaps the right answer would be “No…never apologize.”
However, it is not the only consideration. There is also the small matter of trust.
In BDSM, the submissive literally places themselves in the Dominant’s hands. They give up power to the point that they may be made helpless and unable to move, may be made to experience pain, may be required to do things that they ordinarily would never do. To do so, the submissive must trust that the Dominant will take care to see that they come to no harm, that they are kept safe. They must not only trust their partner’s intentions–that they will not do something harmful or abusive on purpose–but also their competence–that the Dominant is sufficiently knowledgeable and practiced to take proper precautions and avoid causing harm by accident.
Any Dominant mistake threatens the perception of competence, and any mistake that goes far enough to have unintended consequences to the submissive, such as discomfort or pain (the bad kind of pain, not the good kind), calls it into real question. In situations like this, where something has gone wrong enough that the submissive has felt the consequences, it is not only okay to apologize, but it is imperative that the Dominant do so.
If you, as the Dominant, do not acknowledge your error, it leaves the impression that you do not realize that you made a mistake. It also builds resentment within your partner, who may feel guilt that the activity did not go as planned, and who may easily believe you blame them for the problem. And it eats away at that bond of trust between you, the trust that allows submission to exist.
Asking forgiveness for your error does give up a modicum of power, it’s true. But it also conveys that you realize that things went wrong, that you take responsibility, and that you don’t blame your partner. It demonstrates that you are willing to learn from what happened, and therefore are less likely to make the same misstep again. And it shows as well that you’re not afraid to admit a mistake. There’s an old saying that “it takes a big man to apologize”, and there is much wisdom in these words.
The preservation of trust easily offsets any relinquishment of power the apology causes. It’s an easy trade. So the answer to my questions are “Of course I should tell Joy I’m sorry if I make a mistake,” and “Yes, a Dominant should absolutely apologize if it is warranted.” Of course, it’s better still to not make a mistake in the first place, but who among us can claim to be error-free all the time? I think the answer is likely nobody.
But don’t tell Joy!