I hope you have been enjoying Rika’s Lair, my monthly column dedicated to thoughts and experiences regarding power dynamics in Service-Oriented D/s relationships. Look up “Ms. Rika” in the search box for links to all of my articles in KinkWeekly!
A while back, I published an essay called “Keeping your Dynamics Under Wraps”. In it, I discussed a number of techniques for maintaining and executing your power dynamic – without it being apparent to people around you (kids, relatives, co-workers, etc.).
One of the techniques, which has recently spurred some interest, is the use of furtive signals to improve communications without arousing awareness. I felt it would be good to dive in a bit deeper this week.
The first key point is really an observation: The most effective means of keeping communications private, is misdirection. In this case, giving the impression that the idea for someone’s actions was their own. If it’s done well in a D/s context, it seems that the submissive partner thought up the action themselves, when, in reality, they were actually RESPONDING to impetus from the dominant partner. The dominant gets what they want, but it appears to be the submissive’s initiative.
Why is that important? We are setting up this non-verbal communication system so that a dominant can direct a submissive without it appearing that the submissive is following directives. When we see someone volunteer to do something, apparently without provocation, we assume that the person is doing it out of the goodness of their heart; that they are just a “really good guy”, “a doting partner”, or “someone who really likes to help”. We accept almost anything that way.
Most people with power dynamics will establish protocol and routine ahead of meeting with others outside of their dynamic. They will establish “rules of behavior” that are to be followed without any need for prompting. These are terrific, but tend to be a bit inflexible. When a situation arises that wasn’t anticipated, the routines can break down and the communications can falter. This is where having a set of signals can be of service. The idea is to covertly handle exceptions to the routines that were previously established, through the use of non-verbal communications.
Some basic rules
There are a few rules you will want to follow to make this effective and clandestine:
– Eye contact during a signal is usually a BAD thing. Others can see an increase in intensity, or a “call to focus” when you attempt to communicate with your eyes. Even if there is a signal in play, many people will either look at the signal, or look at the submissive – to either emphasize the signal or gain confirmation that the signal was received. This is usually a give-away: Others see that connection, realize that something out of the ordinary has occurred, and put two-and two together when the submissive partner suddenly gets an idea to do something “helpful”
– Deliberately looking away is not good either: Keep the signal natural and don’t change your focus because you’re using one. If you’re looking forward, keep looking forward. Don’t stare or remain stagnant. Just be loose and natural
– Signals need to be hiding in plain sight. They can’t be something that the sub needs to search for…yet, it can’t be something unnatural that calls attention. Things dealing with objects around
you will work well – like resting a hand on a table or a chair. Stretching, scratching one’s nose, touching an earring – these are all very prominent, but natural motions that can be used – The signals will rely on the submissive partner’s dedication to observation. It is the onus of the submissive partner to be looking for the signals. If they’re missed, it’s on the submissive – Allow time to pass between signal and action. Immediate reaction to a signal can be a give away, particularly if a lot of signaling is going on. Eventually, those around you will notice that when the dominant moves, the submissive reacts. It’s far more clandestine if there is a disconnect in time between the signal and the action. It doesn’t have to be long, just a moment to disassociate the actions
Ways to make it work
Here are some easy ways to make this work:
– Make signals the exception to submissive behavior routines. In other words, the submissive partner is ALWAYS looking for ways to serve as usual. The normal course of events will continue with the routines and protocols in play. Use of the signal is for something outside of that normal behavior. It could be a request for non-submissive behavior – or it could be a request for a specific, predetermined action. A good signal will not mean “Obey Me Immediately”; for that is likely a given…however, a good signal might say, “I want your honest answer, not the one you think I want to hear from my submissive”
– Establish a feedback loop. It’s helpful to establish a return signal for the submissive partner to use that communicates back: “aye-aye” (which, btw, originated as ‘I hear and I obey”). It informs the dominant that the submissive partner has received the signal and is ready to act on it – even if that action doesn’t happen immediately. This allows the dominant to stop signaling, knowing that the message has been received, and then be focused elsewhere when the submissive partner suddenly gets the idea to do something. My hubby and I use a touch of his eye to indicate that a signal has been received. People rub their eyes all the time. I signal; he touches his eye; communication completed
– Check in with me: I recommend that you always have a signal that means, “Check in with me”. It’s impossible to predict every situation you might encounter and build signals around that. There will be times when only verbal communication will do. The “check in with me”-signal tells the submissive partner to take the initiative to see if there’s something the dominant partner wants or needs. It tells them to observe, or perhaps enquire as to what is needed
– Keep it simple: Make the signals natural gestures. It’s better to have a missed signal than to have a submissive need to noticeably look for, or interpret a signal. Plus, you don’t want to have to exaggerate a signal to have it seen. You want to know that, as long as the submissive is paying attention (which they are on point to do), they will see the signal
– Avoid “counting”: This one is almost funny…but I’ve seen it. “If I tap on my wrist 3 times, it means ask me if I want a drink; twice ask me if I’m hungry”. Fundamentally, don’t do this! Everyone in the room is going to zone in on your tapping – not because you’re tapping, but because the submissive partner will be focused on counting. It forces the sub to stare – and that needs to be avoided. It’s surprising that, although this seems obvious, many people do it
– Keep the repertoire small: Strive to establish the fewest number of signals you can. Pick general meanings that can be interpreted based on the situation. Use them to initiate actions (like checking in) that open the door to natural conversations. Use them to bring general attention to the dominant, who can then help the submissive partner determine what needs to be done. – Practice, practice, practice. Try it with small things. Drop signals when the submissive is busy. The submissive needs to learn how to be alert and observant. When they see the signal, have them say it out loud (when you’re practicing). If you have friends who are aware of your dynamic, practice in front of them – If they don’t see the signals, even though they’re tuned in, people who are not tuned in will never be the wiser
With my submissive, I only have four signals:
1) “I want your real opinion”: Under normal circumstances, his aim is to make me happy, so, if I said, “Do you want to go out for Italian food tonight?” and didn’t give the signal, he would interpret it as, “We’re going out for Italian tonight…and I’m giving you the opportunity to at least LOOK LIKE you have a choice” and his answer will always be, “Yes, Italian sounds perfect!“…but if I give him the signal for his real opinion, he is free to suggest something else. He might respond, “Italian sounds great, or maybe Indian?” The “Real Opinion” signal is very valuable with unknowing folks around
2) “You’re missing something you should be doing”: He knows that he had better stop and figure this one out fast. I’m not necessarily telling him what he’s missing, but I’m alerting him to the fact that something is up. For us, the signal is me playing with my earring. Usually with a little thought, he can figure out what I want pretty quickly, but when he can’t, he enquires. He has said things like, “Are you OK honey? You look like you’re thinking of something. You have the habit of playing with your earring when something is bothering you…is there anything I can do?” Which just makes him seem like the PERFECT husband; observant and tuned into his wife. Then I can choose to either give him subtle direction at that point, or take him to a private spot where I can give him more direct instruction – or, if I want him to figure it out, I can just respond that nothing is wrong. Regardless, others need not know what’s going on – and it looks like he’s initiating the interaction and just being a doting husband
3) “Stop talking, stop arguing, get in line…obey!”: Which has that intended effect! It’s the equivalent of saying, ‘submissives are meant to be seen not heard”…and he will quickly blend into the background
4) Lastly, we have his favorite signal, which says, “You’re in for a treat tonight”… which means I’m thinking of wickedly evil things to do to him when we get alone. This one will always get a rise out of him 🙂
Dominance and submission are between the ears of the unique couple. What you say and what you do is far less important than the understood intent of what you say and what you do. When you’re both on the same page, people around you can be completely unaware that your dynamic is in full-force. Predefined routines and protocols help you to maintain your dynamic when you don’t want those around you to be aware of it. Establishing a small set of private, clandestine signals will allow you to adjust those routines to the realities around you: Handling situations that you have not predicted and adapting to real-time changes in your mood and preferences. Try them out!
Ms. Rika is a lifestyle dominant, educator, and author; living in the suburbs of NYC with her husband/slave. She has written several popular books on her approach to adding Dominant-Centric, Service-Oriented D/s to relationships. You can find her books (in both print and eBook formats) at Lulu.com (http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/msrika), or at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the iStore, Books-A Million, Kobo.com, or anywhere books are sold. Search for “Ms. Rika”.