Some Thoughts on Trust

Recently, a certain Perverted Negress of my acquaintance said some very nice things about our time together in her blog. Among them was this little gem:

You know you meet someone and just feel “OK, yeah, this is one of the Soul Family People, and it is great to have you come around again!” This was one of those. I meet hundreds of people a year and have feelings like that, of immediacy and comfort and such VERY rarely. I try to trust that feeling. It hasn’t yet been wrong.

It was weird, as I read that (and thought about our discussions in person) to have her keep using the word “trustworthy.” It’s by no means the first time – in fact, I have somehow acquired the reputation of being the “safe” guy (as in, women I don’t know will come up to me and snuggle just to escape another man’s attentions, because I seem “safe”). No, I get the comment that I make people feel safe all the time, especially from new acquaintances.

Thing is, as I read Mollena’s words, I also had the ghosts of lovers past whispering in my ear. “I just can’t trust you,” they said, and “I never thought you were this kind of person,” and “I just don’t know who you are any more; I don’t feel safe in our relationship.(Note: please do not attempt to guess which lovers or relationships I’m talking about; suffice it to say I’m talking about more than one over a span of decades)

As those echoes went through my mind, I began to have a very uneasy feeling. What if…what if I am one of those guys, the charismatic leeches, the ones who lure in people with the illusion of safety and security and then pounce, suck them dry and leave them a withered and battered shell on the road of life? What if I’m actually a predator? the nasty little voice said.

Um, there’s one problem with that idea, came another voice.

Oh, yeah? said NastyVoice. What’s that?

If you were one of Those Guys, you wouldn’t worry about being one of Those Guys. The fact that you do worry is part of what makes people feel safe.

Um…oh. Right, then. Nice chatting with you, be back later, said NastyVoice, and disappeared in a puff of circular logic.

That particular identity crisis resolved, I began thinking a lot about the concept of Trustworthiness. I began talking about it with other people. And I came up with a few ideas that I, at least, wish I’d thought of years ago, and thought I’d share.

One is this concept of Trustworthiness being an on/off switch. Or a pristine pool that, once a single drop of the Food Coloring of Betrayal corrupts it, will never be quite the same shade again.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe there are untrustworthy people. However, what I am seeing as a problem in my own life and in the community at large is this idea that one act can outweigh an established pattern. I teach a class where one of the sections talks about how you don’t have to be perfect – you don’t have to be always on, all the time, whether that’s being domly or sub or sexual or, hell, even human. If I enjoy a good strap-on ass-fucking once in a while, it doesn’t mean that I’m not going to still kick some sub’s ass up and down the dungeon before reducing them to a drizzling puddle of Yum-and-Rope. It just means that there are, if you’ll forgive me, shades of gray both dark and light in any given predilection.

More to the point, I believe that often people will mistakenly equate

You are not trustworthy”

with

“I am not as good at predicting your behavior as I thought I was, and that scares me.”

I know I’ve done it; I can point to conversations I’ve had with people, moments that have happened that I’ve been surprised, shocked, and the result has been that I have refused to allow that person back into my life in any meaningful way – because I don’t trust them. In reality, what I don’t trust is my own ability to know what they’re going to do – and it scares me, because I might get hurt.

Now, there is nothing wrong with self protection. In fact, at least one relationship I can think of where that happened I was very lucky to get out of, so the instinct is sound. But it should be recognized for what it is – more to do with my own relationship with fear than with the trustworthiness or un- of the other person.

To be truly untrustworthy is to be malicious. In my opinion, anyway, it requires malice aforethought, and a sustained pattern of behavior towards that end. Misunderstandings don’t make someone untrustworthy, but it may mean they are poor communicators. Tempers flaring aren’t signs of being untrustworthy; they are signs of problems with anger management. Leaving a mark or two when “no marks” was negotiated isn’t a breach of trust, it’s a sign of some physical condition or lack of skill that may or may not be mitigated. Not safewording, or not knowing someone should safeword, is regrettable, but, to quote Janet Hardy, it will happen, and there is no blame.

Any of these could be dealbreakers in a relationship – but should they be indicators of a trend? My lover who consistently lied to my face and to my friends, over and over, she was untrustworthy. My lover who told me I would never amount to anything, that I’d always be a failure – she wasn’t untrustworthy, she was simply expressing a fear in a tactless way. My lover who slept with her ex who was everything for her that I was not – she was not untrustworthy at all, it was simply my own self-image that was trying to shift the burden of fear onto that act.

I have ended relationships in the past for a single act that seemed, to me in the heat of the pain of the moment, to be unforgivable betrayals. I have had others end relationships with me for similar reasons. I have had my own skills dismissed as inadequate due to one slip of the hand, and seen others lambasted and ostracized in communities for simple miscommunications. “Don’t play with her,” becomes the mantra, “she’s not safe.” “Don’t get involved with him – you’ll get hurt, no doubt about it.” All due, not to patterns of behavior, but due to single incidents that become inflated into personality characteristics, often in spite of months or years of evidence to the contrary.

It’s a trend I’d like to see stopped – both in my own life, and also in our kinky community. If someone makes an error, makes a mistake, loses their temper or says something painfully rude, maybe we can remember what my father said to my mother, back when I was learning to drive. I’d just gotten home from a “training run” with her, and she was livid because I’d backed into a gas pump and scratched the bumper.

“I’m never driving with him again,” she declared. “He’s too dangerous to be on the road!”

“Well, I guess I’ll take him out, then,” my Dad said, in one of the few times I saw him stand up to her.

“What?” she yelled. “I told you, he’s completely inept! He doesn’t know how to drive safely!”

“True,” said my Dad. “But if we don’t stick with him, he’ll never get any better.”

I am, by the way, an excellent driver.

You can trust me on that.

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