Dinner is on the table at six as always. Lemon chicken and corn, lemons courtesy of the neighbors and their tree. I send the requisite, Dinner is ready, Mistress, and wait in the standard position. (Since then, we’ve gotten a pager system that covers this message.)
Now that the house is silent after the bubbling of things on the stove and the hum of the oven, I can hear what sounds distinctly like the breathing of a sleeping person upstairs.
None of the usual sounds of motion come in response.
Still, I hold the required position and wait for several minutes in case I’m wrong. Legs together, back straight, head and eyes down, hands behind my back, hands clasped right over left, right thumb over left thumb—every detail down.
But eventually, feeling sure enough, I do a quiet check upstairs. Mistress is fast asleep. Presumably not wanting to be woken.
I go back down and eat, have moved from the table and cleared only an item or two when Mistress comes downstairs and sits. So I approach; she grants, “You may sit,” and I do; she starts to eat and after a moment or two orders, “Entertain me.”
So I start to tell her about whatever comes to mind, prep I’m doing for classes I’m teaching soon, things I’m adding to my website.
She says, “You may get me more coffee,” and hands me her coffee cup.
I say, “Yes, Mistress,” to the order, and go do so, return.
“You may sit.”
So I sit and continue.
She eats most of the corn and a few bites of chicken, stands and starts to wander off while I’m still talking, so I cut to the (at the time) requisite offer of a post dinner snack to have at hand upstairs.
She says yes, requests some of the cookies I made from scratch yesterday, ice cream with shell topping and sprinkles, and continues upstairs. “Yes, Mistress.” I prep the tray for her and bring it up, set it on her desk.
“Would you like to go places?” she asks, offering permission to leave.
“Come give me a kiss; then you may go places.”
So I do. As I draw back, her eyes drop a little, to about my hands, unnecessarily prompting the curtsy I always have to offer before leaving, and I go see to cleaning up dinner as required.
This is a real example, and an average enough night for us, just one interaction of many that I’ve written down in detail, as the writer in me tends to do.
But while I’m happy with this, I’m aware it’s the sort of thing other people sometimes cringe to watch. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of overt deep connection in that above conversation to them.
But it’s definitely there—that little flick of her gaze, waiting for the final exit protocol, the curtsy—says and means more to me than ten I love yous. There’s a lot of ritual and protocol—conscious connection—built into that conversation, that speaks volumes, whether it’s where someone’s gaze moves to or an honorific or a service or a slave position—especially in our mutual quiet expectation of it.
And, at times, obviously, conversations look different—more overt deep connection in the form that most people look for: what they call love. The Hallmark movie kind.
But to me, love is written all over that conversation in exactly the things I mentioned above. Connection. Those services and positions and honorifics are the result of countless hours of research, conversation, contract drafting, reaching, understanding, training. The expectation of those things is built upon sometimes years of habit, routine, co-existing, obedience, consistent service, trust.
None of those things happen without us talking to each other, understanding, adapting, learning, observing, caring, and deliberately carving the power dynamic out of the even ground we met upon. It is the private language we build between us to say exactly what we want to say. I love you. I respect you. I notice you.
Every protocol we have is thoroughly thought out.
There might be research on practicalities. (I didn’t learn to cook overnight.) There might be conversations on what it means to us. (Not being allowed on the furniture, with not being allowed to ask for it, either, waiting for the permission? A whole talk on my views on being offered permission—generously—versus asking for it—a loaded question.) There might be her training me on how to do it properly, or me practicing alone, or both. (That curtsy? Those positions? Hours in the mirror.) There might be adapting it situationally, and figuring out when and how we need to do so. (Cut the titles, positions, permissions in the rare vanilla company, say.) I have to do it consistently. (Thus, setting that expectation). She has to notice and enforce it. (Whether it’s offering a clearly desired permission I can’t ask for, creating service opportunities, or punishing accidental slips.)
That’s a lot of connection behind the tiniest of protocols.
And if commitment to each other and the language we deliberately build between us isn’t love—no matter how untraditional the results appear—I don’t know what is.