One True Way

One concept I see frequently come up in discussions of polyamory and BDSM is that of the “One True Way.” I do not see that phrase much in conversations on swinging, probably because the topic, “Should single men be allowed to even exist?” consumes so much bandwidth.

“One True Way” is a popular phrase among those who like to police others’ activities. “True” can be applied for more specific policing, too. “A True sub does this.” “Only True Doms do that.” “True poly is only about love and never about sex.”

The most obvious problem with “One True Way” is that it clearly says, “There is only one correct and real way to do X activity, and you are doing it wrong otherwise.” It says that the speaker’s personal preferences should be universal laws for everyone else. Those who use it do so to condemn or bully others.

Example: One polyamorist might believe that all dating should lead to long-term, committed relationships. Any dynamic that permits the occasional NSA hook-up is “not following the One True Way” (and worse, is “filthy swinging”).

Example: A submissive woman in a 24/7 Total Power Exchange might smugly tell a “just in the bedroom” submissive that a True sub would proudly wear her collar to work or the family reunion.

Within BDSM, the most pervasive instance I see of “True” is that of Sir Master Lord Top Domly Daddy Dom instructing others of the “One True Way.” He explains that men are Doms and women are subs; no woman can Truly be dominant. He scolds his submissive that he will play with whomever he wants and pay attention to her only at his convenience, and she should accept it all without complaint (and without her own additional partners), because a True sub would know her place. He brags about how he is a True Dom, unlike most of the fake male Doms out there, because reasons that fit his self-image. He lectures that safewords have no place in a True D/s dynamic, because more reasons convenient to his preferences.

This policing of other people’s approaches — and the bullying used to coerce certain behaviors of others — ranges from annoying to dangerous. New people might fall prey to these ideas, or get overwhelmed by all the conflicting “One True Ways.” Some might even be lured into abusive relationships — or be taught to be abusive — while trying to follow “One True Way” advice.

Another problem with it — one that I think gets little notice — is that holding dear a “One True Way” does not permit personal growth or allow for self-discovery. Going back to Sir Master Lord Top Domly Daddy Dom, his “One True Way” often implies that he always will know best. His sub can never give feedback, because a True sub never criticizes or complains. He does not bother to take classes, or do reading, or hear suggestions from others, since any of those would indicate weakness, a topic on which he is not the expert, and therefore that he is not the one completely in charge. Besides, anything other than his “One True Way” is inherently wrong.

So, the “One True Way” stagnates. Maybe the relationship stagnates. Maybe the lives of the people stagnate. Or maybe Sir Master Lord Top Domly Daddy Dom does finally, through sheer chance, learn something new that he likes even better. And then he finds a new “One True Way” to press upon others, rather than accept that there might be different ways that work for different people and different situations. Of course, his True sub gets no say in the sudden relationship shift, either.

One other trend I noticed about “One True Way” and Internet dialogue: The OneTrueWayist spouts his From On High “One True Way” lecture on Topic X, maybe as a blog post or forum comment. Others counter that there are many functional, good, alternative ways to do Topic X. The original — or some second — OneTrueWayist ineffectively tries to argue for the “One True Way.” After further debate, the arguing OneTrueWayist retorts, “This is a personal decision.”

Yes. Yes, it is. That is exactly the point, and exactly what “One True Way” does not allow for: It is a personal decision. Different strokes for different folks. Your kink is not my kink and that’s okay. There are as many types of relationships as there are types of people. And other cliches.

Follow your path, but stop insisting that everyone else should follow that exact same path.