Bottoms Up: You Are Not My Dom

I’m dating again. Being treated warmly by someone who knows me only from an OKCupid profile feels really, really nice after a long dry spell. But I’m finding that because I’m open about being a submissive and kinky, almost as soon as we meet, people start to act like they’ve been my dominant for years. Why the hell would someone do that?

My submission must be earned. Sometimes people can earn it over the course of a date; I’ve met people at a bar, gone home with them, and let them be “my dom” during our play scene on many an occasion. Sometimes it takes longer. But if the first thing someone does after meeting me is try to order me around, it’s not going to turn me on — it’s going to piss me off.

Any kind of kinky play or dynamic requires so much conversation, and so if someone hasn’t even brought up the idea of kink but starts to behave in a dominant way, it makes me nervous that boundaries and consent aren’t something that they’re thinking about, and as a submissive, those are things that I’m always thinking about. I have to.

If consent and boundaries aren’t on my mind from the very beginning, it makes it easier for people to play mind games on me. “I bought you drinks and dinner, what do you mean you won’t let me fuck you in the ass?” “You said you like to be choked, why are you so angry?” This shit has happened to me before. The longer we hold off the conversation where we talk about our limits, the harder it is for me to have that conversation at all. So if someone approaches me with actions that imply that they don’t want to talk about boundaries, I get nervous that we won’t. It’s too easy to get sucked into a dynamic where they’re in charge and I comply, without ever sitting down to work out what that means.

Just because I’m a submissive doesn’t mean that I’m your submissive. If you’re a dom on a date with me and you really think that you’re the one in charge, you’ve got it completely backwards. I am in charge of everything in my life — my finances, my emotional world, and my sex life. I get to decide who tops me, when they get to top me, and how. Allowing someone to be my dom is a gift; my submission is not to be taken by force. If that doesn’t work for someone, then we aren’t meant to be, even for a moment.

But even though I viscerally believe this, it can be super hard to convey it on a first date without seeming like complete bitch. So I try to show doms that I’m just as much in charge as they are on a first date. I don’t let people open doors for me, I pay my own way, I typically take charge of the conversation. And while it sometimes works, it sometimes just makes people think I’m being a brat. Which I am, to be honest. But I’m my own brat!

If I’ve come to any sort of conclusion about this sort of exchange it’s this: I’ve got tons more work to do when it comes to communicating. I’ve gotten so much better over time at talking about sex, what I like, and what I don’t like, but I haven’t figured out the right way yet to say to someone, “Hey, really glad you’re dominant and all, but you’re not my dom just yet, so slow the hell down.” I guess I could say just that, but I typically want someone to see me at my sweetest on a first date, and that doesn’t feel very sweet to me.

Dating is hard. There are all these things I feel like I need to get out in the open as soon as we sit down, but that feels like it takes the magic out of everything. It also feels like I’m assuming we’ll last long enough to make it to bed together, which doesn’t always happen. But also, when I don’t bring them up, things get weird and uncomfortable very quickly. When I figure out a balance, I’ll let you know. In the meantime, got any tips?

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Ari is a 20-something artist and educator. They are a mom to two cats, they love domesticity, ritual, and porch time. They have studied, loved, and learned in CT, Greensboro, NC, and ATX.

Ari has written 330 articles for us.


  1. I think pausing the convo after they do or say something that makes you uncomfortable is totally appropriate, and you can say it in a way that is soft enough that it doesn’t feel like a total rejection. Like “hey, I know I put that I’m submissive on my profile, but I’m really not into being treated like a sub 24/7 by someone I just met”

    Or “I like to be submissive in bed, but not anywhere else in my life. It seems like maybe you got the wrong impression, and I just wanted you to know your dom posturing isn’t working for me, sorry”

    Or “I really prefer to get to know someone before I let them dominate me. Trust is a really big deal to me, and when you try to tell me what to do before gaining my trust, it feels like you don’t respect my boundaries”.

    Or “I don’t really know you well enough to be receptive to that yet, would you mind slowing down?”

    How they respond to that honest request will tell you a lot about them. Maybe they’re just a bossy person (me) and didn’t realize they were doing it, and will immediately back off. Maybe they will take it as a challenge and will think you are “acting out” to be punished, and you can run away fast and far. Maybe they’ll apologize for making an assumption about you and start a conversation about their own boundaries.

    Your writing style is very clear and concise, so I know you’ll be able to figure out something that feels right for you, I just wanted to give some examples in case anyone else was struggling too. The more you practice and get used to the words, the easier it will be to actually say them out loud when you need to.

  2. I haven’t dated in several years (thank you Mistress), I certainly remember that feeling. I ended up saying, before going on the date, something along the lines of “This is a date, this is us getting to know each other, and I’m not your sub yet. Please don’t treat me that way, and you’re more likely to get to a date where we’ll discuss limits and play with each other.”

    I’m old enough we didn’t really have profiles and OKCupid or similar, but it laid out expectations. Good Dommes would broadly respect the rules, and might push a little (Dommes tend to bossy for some reason, go figure) but wouldn’t do the things that Mistress now does routinely like order for me and so on. Some would offer to pay, some would get the door, and I’d play that by ear – it would depend on how I felt with the person really. It gave me a sense that they’d respect my limits when we discussed them too.

    And if they didn’t respect how I asked them to behave for a date, well how could I trust them to accept my limits?

    Good luck with your dating!

  3. OMG, thank you for this. I recently confirmed a date with someone I had never had a full conversation with… and the day before the date she texted me very specific instructions about what I needed to wear. It felt so inappropriate and borderline scary! like if red flags are popping up around consent and boundaries before we’ve even had a first date, what would things look like in an actual intimate + much more vulnerable scenario?!

    • Yes! Me too! I was looking to go on a date (in a sort of open relationship) and explained I was new to LGBT dating and a bit cautious about everything. She asked if I was more dom/sub, I replied the latter and she sent me instructions about how I should shave, what to wear, and even what nail varnish colour I should go for.

      Panicked, explained nicely that it was a bit too much, did not meet.

  4. My take, from the dominant side, is that I don’t even like to push the edge of showing dominance without discussing limits first, and the author’s experiences make me cringe. Mostly because limits are sacred, in my book.

    I may hold doors or insist on getting the check, but that’s pretty much the last remnant of my social conditioning from before transitioning.

    Just $0.02 from a weird trans domme with a weird fetish for openly discussion of limits.

  5. As someone dominant, I fully agree with you and I’m glad you wrote this.
    Also, from personal experience, it feels incredible when someone chooses to be mine – after months of sex, communication, drawing clear lines that should never be crossed and finding out together what it means to belong to each other in that context. Of course it takes time. Trust always does.


  6. this was helpful to read for a non-sex context i’m currently struggling with. i’m struggling with two really shitty students in my class; they’re constantly disrespectful they’ve got some sort of powertrip agneda happening. i’ve been trying for weeks to figure out how to address the situation while staying true to my values of kindness respect and compassion; like your desire to be nice on your date.

    it’s really hard because we don’t have examples or culture in anything other than being defensive, sarcastic, putting ppl in their place etc etc so i feel like i am trying to invent a new sociology to navigate this interaction the way i want to.

    what i was thinking for you is to try to value the part of your personality that prioritizes this equality, agency, self respect and communication and find a way to make space for that in your self-image of niceness. after all, if we don’t understand and practice being nice to ourselves, we can’t be nice to others.
    and that felt like good advice for me too. we’re not trained to stand up for ourselves as an act of kindness but rather out of anger defensiveness retaliation etc.

    i’m still not sure how to address this issue with these students but i guess i just have to try what feels right in the moment and trust it will work out ok. ugh. anyway, thanks for your thoughtful and forthright article.

    • This reminds me of some parenting advice from my parents- No is a love word. And, as a love word it can operate as such.

  7. I am dominant and I am alarmed about the situations you are finding yourself in. Discussion might not seem so hot, but it is really important to discuss limits and get a feel for the person.Someone may call themselves dominant, but remember some people use these “roles” as a free pass to be abusive and an asshole.Being submissive is an agreement, a gift to your domme/dom, there is some really good advice in these comments.Remember, in most professional domme situations, there is often a 3 page questionnaire getting into the details of what is your kink, what is a hard limit, it might even be helpful to visit the website of a professional dominatrix. Check out their questionnaires and learn the language of setting your own hard limits. Consent is the most important part of sub/domme and it worries me that you are not advocating for yourself for fear of seeming bratty.Clear communication before play is important, being “bratty” is something to contend with in play and can be a fun part of a scene, but getting to know a person is time for you to assess, to communicate and make the decision if a dominant is worthy of your submission.It is all about trust.It might take more time, but time is super important given the nature of submitting and safety.

  8. I’m a switch who does a lot of submission, and I’m alarmed by the behavior of these potential tops as well. “I bought you drinks and dinner–what do you mean you won’t let me fuck you in the ass?” sounds an awful lot like an expression of rape culture. Kink at its best is an expression of extreme trust and extreme respect on the parts of both (or all) participants. If your potential partners are violating your boundaries like this on the first date, then they are either new to the scene or not new to the scene and toxic as fuck. If they’re toxic, you don’t want them, so move the fuck on already. If they’re new to the scene, do you want a project? If you do want a project, go ahead and ask them in a calm and gentle manner if they have prior experience and if they need some good guides on boundary negotiation. If they’re good people, they’ll cop to trying to please you and being clueless on how to do it. If they aren’t good people, they’ll get insecure and angry, letting you move the fuck on.

    That said, “You said you like to be choked, so why are you so angry?” sounds like a potentially genuine misunderstanding resulting from lack of sufficient communication on both sides of the exchange. You did an amazing job of communicating with this article, so it’s clear that you can do it. So do it! Communicate your boundaries and expectations! Don’t coddle your dates. They’re adults and they need to act like adults. Actually, they need to act like mature adults. Someone you are going to be extremely physically and emotionally vulnerable with needs to be MORE mature than average, not LESS.

    Write your expectations on your profile. Link to this very article! Ask if potential dates are comfortable with your expectations when you are arranging to meet for the first time. If they say no, move the fuck on. If they say yes, but start playing the “mind games” you describe, MOVE THE FUCK ON. These people do NOT deserve you. In fact, they don’t deserve anyone until they get their damn shit together.

  9. There’s no greater turnoff than someone assuming they can play the role of having power over me without talking it over first.

  10. Great piece. I’m lucky not to have run into this myself, mostly I think because I don’t really date very much. But I’ve certainly heard your experiences from others as well.

    I know that I’ve very plainly explained in my profiles on OkC and FetLife that my submission needs to be earned. I also have made a point to discuss certain D/s issues in emails leading up to a meeting. I think by my bringing up my questions ahead of time it has made potential dates think fully before moving forward? It’s also I think scared the people off who don’t want to deal with an independent sub.

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