Dommes and Monsters

Marriage, lifestyle kink, and lamentations of a runaway bride

Ava Ex Machina
Oct 5, 2016 · 20 min read
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I finish zipping while staring down at the tulle pooled in clouds around my feet, and then look up into the mirror. I don’t know what “a bride” looks like but I look the way I always hoped I would. I snap a pic with my iPhone and send it. It quickly buzzes again with a return text, “You look spectacular.”

A year and a half earlier I had come off of a disappointing end to another stint as a single domme, falling into a pattern of dating submissive men who wanted to defer to me in the bedroom but never elsewhere. I laid in my bed getting tanked on red wine while swiping through a dating app where I have flagged on my own profile that I am a femdom, weighing the relative virtues of continuing to try and date in this tiny, disappointing puddle of other people’s sexual hangups that I was supposed to call a dating pool.

A handsome, nerdy-looking man flashes across my screen. His profile is short but earnest, a geek but also athletic, a few shared hobbies; I get two photos in, decide it’s good enough and click the affirmative in the hopes that he won’t mind my kinky proclivities, then pass out.

In the morning when I peel the phone off my hungover face, a polite message greets me. That night on our first date, he opens up to me right away about what he’s looking for, that I seem so smart and honest and interesting and it’s been a long time since he met anyone as refreshingly up front about… “what you expect from a man.”

At the end of the night I kiss him to let him know I want to see him again, and over the next few dates I tumble forward into his adoration, his warmth and humor. He is so vanilla, but so intoxicated with me, so open and emotionally available that I can’t help myself. I love his jokes, the sound of his voice, the way I look in his eyes, the way he gives good text, the way he puts me first, just the way a girl like me prefers.

In his room in his apartment I subject him to sessions of light introductory femdom play, teaching him to call me by my title, light ties and teasing. The first time we properly “scene” I dialogue into his ear while I touch him, asking how beautiful I am, how much he wants to serve me, about his fantasies, what he has masturbated to, punctuated with light impact, and I can tell that all of it is somehow affecting him more than the simple “dirty talk” he was expecting.

Afterwards he lies flat face up, breathing heavy with his eyes closed, coming down from what was clearly an emotionally-challenging experience, one that he could not explicitly describe as pleasant. Maybe what I am on the inside is too frightening, I think, the were-domme in me too much a monster for most decent men. From then on I do not ask him anything else, do not let anything else of my intensity and especially not my sadism come out. I am already too afraid to lose him.

A few weeks later he comes with me to a femdom event I am hosting, volunteers and dutifully follows me around, helping as I ask him to with the others, the practiced “Yes Miss” on the tip of his tongue. Later in the dungeon I try a light bondage and impact scene with him; he smiles and breathes hard afterwards, his face in my stomach and strong hands gripping my thighs as he kneels in front of me. Thats better, I think, we’ll get there.

Within the year we fall in a sincere, enveloping love and move in together. We nest happily, and he allows me from time to time to not only do small scenes with him in the dungeon, but also helps me demo once or twice as I use his broad frame to demonstrate introductions to impact play for various partygoers at other events. This is a process, I think to myself. I have to let him slowly come up to temperature at his own pace.

Outside of the dungeon and our bedroom, our lives are easy. His family is as warm and inviting as he is; I feel consistent waves of relief that I finally have in-laws I adore, and they love their divorcee son’s new bright, witty, affectionate girlfriend in kind. We go on adventures together, road trips, tropical vacations, filling our phones and Instagram accounts with photos grinning ear-to-ear. We sit on the floor in our apartment with takeout watching Netflix, draw and paint in matching sketchbooks opposite each other on the couch, passing micron pens back and forth, go to the movies where we pull the rum out of my purse to spike our drinks, then babble about their meaning and directorial choices for the entire trip home.

It would be entirely dishonest to say I was unhappy at this point in this relationship, even with kink missing from our sexual and romantic connection. And maybe that is the greatest tragedy of all: you could be happy without it, at least happy long enough to fool you.

He accepts me. It will be long time before I realize that “acceptance,” that tolerance for what I am, will not be good enough to sustain us. For now it is this acceptance that I grow to think is unconditional love.

So when he kneels down at a cocktail bar in front of all of our friends and some surprise guests from his family and asks me to marry him, I am certain that my enthusiastic shout of YES to loud cheers is the right choice. It was a cloud-level happiness that closed abruptly with a parenthesis, making me suddenly aware that it had an opening bracket to begin with. Instead of venturing further into my kink identity and world, our engagement now appeared to have “sealed the deal,” confirming to my now fiancé that he would never need to meet me any further in the middle.

Even a few weeks after our engagement, sex was now almost entirely vanilla, save for a “Miss” here and there. He was still courteous, affectionate and dutiful when I asked chores and tasks of him in and out of the home, to fetch me things or to rub my feet. I thought maybe that basic kind of unspoken “husband service” could sustain me for long enough to get through this rough patch.

This is just a phase, we’ll handle it and move on, I thought as I fought back against the tide of filth that began to pile up in the house, the things his stress and exhaustion would no longer would allow him to clean or put away. Even his small forms of domestic service, and then sex tapered off altogether as he grew shorter in his disposition and sharper with me in his words with each passing day. “In sickness and in health,” my married best friend said to me, “you commit to things like this, you commit to get through it.”

I find myself alone for longer and longer stretches of time as he cancels our outings to spend time at home watching tv, and so I dig up the journal entries I kept daily for years, and writing I had done during my last stint as a single kinky woman. In a few evenings of dedicated writing I reconstruct them in to an arc of my first experiences in femdom, and I am so proud of them that I bring them to my fiancé to ask if he would like to read them.

“I guess I just don’t want to know,” he says as he declines, “I don’t mind that you have a past, I just don’t need to know about it.”

But I need to know about it, I think. This isn’t even close to the first time where he’s taken the “don’t ask, don’t tell” stance on what he treated as my “ominous past,” saying things often that stood at just this side of slut-shaming for being out and open with my identity and sexuality, for dating “so many” submissives in my community before he came along.

Is he saying this is something people just let go of after they grow up and get married? What if I can’t let go of it? What if he doesn’t ever really accept me? Maybe then we shouldn’t get married.

Holy shit, did I just allow myself to think that?

Allowing my internal monologue to even express my cold feet in real terms pushed me over a razor’s edge on which I was scarcely aware I was teetering. I would spend the next few days in a panic trying to locate this line I had crossed in my mind so I could try and dash behind it again. Girls like me are freakish and hard to love, I can’t let this chance to be normal, this chance at a future go so carelessly. Maybe I could still be sure I wanted to get married to him if he gave me a reason. Please give me a reason, please. I’m so scared.

At the suggestion of an enthusiastic friend, I begin posting my essays on Medium, and the pieces seem quickly to reach the audience I intended. Their understanding of my identity and its importance to me is like a balloon whose string I clutch desperately for comfort. The readership and response, its validation of who I am keeps me aloft over a sprawling pit of blackness whose depth and diameter I hadn’t yet determined.

Along with the regular posts on kink experiences, I also start to write pieces trying to tie my professional experiences in Silicon Valley to everything I had experienced trying to date within it. And so after publishing my post on kink and Radical Candor, I was surprised to find between the thirsty DMs I usually got from men reading my blog, a perfectly kind and supportive first message from another startup veteran:

“As someone who was an early employee at a post-A startup, your Medium post was amazing. Keep writing, please, I beg you. Emotions, power dynamics, management all so intertwined. Really appreciate your perspective. Thank you.”

We chat more about his experience in our industry as as compared to mine, and I’m impressed right away by his concern for empathy for those that work for him and with him. He tells me about his worries about how managers reinforce priorities and move quickly as a company grows while still valuing consent. It’s a consideration and an experience I know all too well, and say so.

“You’re very self aware! I know growing a company has so many externalities, and it can be hard to see outside of them.”

“Submission leads to self awareness. N’est-ce pas?”

And there it is.

I always tell people that when you date while kinky, you have to just throw up a flag and hope a friend will see it. Here he has done just that, and is clearly hoping I’d take his admission of his submissive identity and respond with interest.

I brush off his careful extension of this olive branch and attempt to continue the conversation on the topic of startup failure, the emotional impact of which I had been struggling with as my last company finally closed up shop. After a few hours of vulnerable DMs, I give him enough information about my background and experiences to find my real name, and strangely enough by that point I really didn’t mind. After all, he seemed like someone who understood our world and me so well, maybe we could be friends?

He asks me to continue our conversation in person, as he would only be in San Francisco for another night. I decline, then agree, then panic and cancel again. But after a drink or two with friends I scolded myself for being so panicky. He’s just a new friend from the internet, you have lots of those. What are you afraid of? I take a deep breath and walk back my cancellation, telling him if he could meet earlier I would make myself available.

Sitting on a barstool waiting for Twitter guy, sweating from my long walk in my branded company hoodie that desperately needs a wash, I looked every bit a messy woman in the middle of an existential engagement crisis. Still wearing his own branded logo shirt from his conference, he is easy to spot as he jogs in the door from his Uber. He’s cute… Ugh, why are you thinking about that? You have a fiancé. I shake off my jitters, and we pick up our conversation quickly where we left off.

After finishing my gin and tonic I take him to the back bar for the fancier cocktails that make this dim hipster hole in the wall famous. As we sit over our drinks with a candle between us on the table and indie music wafting over the speakers, I become all at once aware that the mood is uncomfortably romantic. I lift my hand with my engagement ring up several times to brush my hair back over my neck, the sizable gem glittering in the candlelight. He can’t miss it, I think to myself, I’m not doing anything wrong.

He never takes his puppy dog eyes off me, talking warmly about the week he’s had, the conference he attended, our mutual interests. He asks me questions about myself, my background, tells me over and over how much he’s enjoyed meeting me. He takes off his glasses and places them on the table. His eyes are green, I like them.

No I don’t like them, I don’t care about his eyes. Ava, stop that.

I finish my next drink too quickly out of nerves, then another, and stand up abruptly and thank him for a wonderful conversation but really I have to go home now. He walks me to the front of the bar. I half-hug him in the most platonic way I can muster, and then dash away into my Lyft before he can say anything else to me, before I have to look at his green eyes again, before he can make me second-guess myself and stay a minute longer.

He’s leaving town today, it’s no big deal, I thought as I unlocked the door to my apartment, we’ll just go back to some normal semi-professional acquaintance status and then maybe I’ll see him around. No big deal.

His DMs continued very soon afterwards, in which he now made his physical and emotional attraction to me loud and clear. I read his messages in bed while my husband-to-be snored loudly next to me, the panic rising in my throat. I’m not this kind of girl. As if able to sense my distress, he began to ask even more probing questions:

“You know, I never asked what you wanted outside of your career.” he said.

God this question, did he know I was trying to find my way out of this situation? “In life?”

“In life, love, experience?”

“Well for someone like me there’s always the issue of will I meet someone who is ok with this huge part of my life long term. Lots of people in the community here model how it can work with marriage, kids etc. Not sure what the rest of life holds, I like it here in SF so far.”

“What about your romantic goals?”

“You should know I am with someone. I didn’t want to just rub it in your face and push you away though, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I think you’re an excellent person and I’m enjoying getting to know you.”

“It’s fine. Traveling so much basically destroys my ability to have a sustained relationship that’s meaningful, and it’s the hardest part for me. That doesn’t mean I can’t be smitten and love getting to know you too.”

Smitten? He’s relentless.

Our conversations stretched on for days, weeks, our daily ins and outs of our jobs, outings with friends, kink interests and experiences, past loves. I open up to this strange man in my phone, and together we find so many, too many shared experiences and coincidences both in our personal and professional lives, and in our struggles to reconcile our identities with love.

“I’m starting to be convinced that I’ve known you for a very long time,” he tells me, “Every secret you tell me, story you relate, feels like something I already knew. Even the way you look at me, and talk about your own fears and weaknesses, they feel like my fears. The things you grapple with, in your life, seem like the things I grapple and have grappled with. Why did you start writing? What were you reconnecting with?”

“Because I feel misunderstood, not in the grumpy teenager way, but in the way that people don’t get to see what’s beautiful about the kink part of my life. It just exists without anyone knowing about it, like caverns that stay sealed until some rocks shake loose and people get to go in and see thousands of years worth of beautiful formations.”

“You wanted someone to see the real you, again.”

“Yes, what’s inside my head, why it matters to me, that I’m not stupid for feeling pained by my separation from it.”

“You don’t know how good it felt when I met you to peel back the curtain that way, to learn about you as a human, not as a domme.” He continues, “Maybe I will make you realize that you can have it all, and each day you’ll sell yourself a little less short.”

“I do sell myself short, don’t I? The most vulnerable thing I will say about my situation is part of the reason I am getting married is because I have never met anyone before who wanted to.”

“Some things aren’t meant to be a compromise.”

I am taken aback, both in that I have never had anyone speak this way to me about my identity with such empathy and personal understanding, and that I am wondering how someone I just met has managed already to get to me to be so vulnerable to them. Crushes happen, you’re only human Ava, I think to myself. Better to crush on a man who is far away than one who could do anything to hurt me.

At least not hurt me more than the sureness I still had that eventually he would tire of me, would find a girlfriend of his own to gift with his empathy and understanding, and leave me alone with only my looming inevitability.

As the weeks stretched on closer to wedding D-day, I try desperately to get my fiancé involved in the planning, further driven by the guilt of my flirtatious correspondence with this man from the internet I barely knew. I think more than anything I want some indication from my fiancé, some sign from his effort in the wedding that I should change my mind. Please make me stay, remind me that I want to be here and that I’m in love. And yet everything I ask him to do, ask him to look at, ask him to pick, the malaise is palpable.

“I can’t do this all myself,” I cry to him, exasperated, “you have five minutes to call the limo company or figure out what suit you want to wear or anything at all! I have had to do everything for this wedding and I don’t even like this kind of stuff. I’m all alone and it feels like homework.”

“I don’t even understand why we have to do this now, when I planned my last wedding…”

“That was barely planned and you know it! You’ve spent our entire relationship complaining to me how your first wedding was cheap and last minute and you did everything.”

“Fine, I’ll call the limo company tomorrow. Will you lay off then?”

“Yes, thank you.”

And then he wouldn’t. Ever. This was a conversation that would repeat itself several times over weeks, less each time about the logistics of me being stuck planning an entire wedding, and more about the fact that my fiancé seemed entirely uninterested in anything about getting married beyond the end result of having a wife, the right kind of wife.

One night I sit in the living room on my laptop working, and my fiancé is in the kitchen making a snack. Suddenly he snatches a knife out of the dish rack and holds it out at me.

“Do you see this?” I look at the knife in my face, there are some particles of food still stuck to it. I had washed dishes last.

“Oh, sorry. I’ll try to be more careful next time.”

“There’s crap all over the knife, it’s like you didn’t even try.”

“Yes, I will be more mindful of it. Can you please just ask me to do something the way you want instead of doing that thing where you try to shame me in to doing it by insulting me?”

“I’m not insulting you, it’s just unacceptable. Are you gonna wash dishes like this when you’re a mother? Are you going to give your kids dishes like this with dirty shit all over them?”

His words are like a sharp slap, making my eyes water. He knows he has gone too far, and he doesn’t care. It escalates to a full blown fight over my maturity, the kind of wife I’ll be, how much lenience he gives me for my shortcomings, how I have to get my shit together before we get married, and I spend the rest of the night in our room snuffling into to my comforter like a child. I can’t do this, I have to get out.

My Twitter friend came back to town and asked me if I wanted to eat dinner and catch up. When he clarified he was going to be making me dinner, it sends of a rocket of anxiety through my body as I realized that we would be alone together instead of somewhere in public where I could ensure that the situation would remain measured.

And yet now here I am, sitting in an apartment in Nopa while he serves me ricotta he bothered to make for me from scratch. He made raw milk into cheese for you Ava, this is hazardous. He next makes me spaghetti carbonara and lets me yammer at him anxiously through nearly two bottles of wine. The conversation moves to the couch, where we sit across from each other, the topics drifting to our mutual kink-related vulnerabilities, the shared experience of being within and emergent from relationships so detached from who we are on the inside. In a flash of empathy and adrenaline, I reach over and stroke his face to comfort him.

His words suddenly pause as he turns his head to kiss my outstretched hand, his lips caressing my palm. The sudden intimate contact sends an electric shock through my body. The way his eyes look back up at me while his head is turned is a look I haven’t seen in a long time: one that is filled with desire, adoration, expecting nothing in return, a gaze of submission.

I barely remember telling him to kneel, and now he’s on the floor in front of me as I sit on the couch. His face is finally close to mine, so close it takes everything in me to keep any space between us. His eyes turned grey in this light, I think as I struggle to keep my concentration on restraining myself, they’re beautiful. I feel the electricity in his lips again as the static dances and cracks in the distance between his and mine.

The magnetism pulls our mouths together and I feel the circuit close, lighting up every synapse in my brain. It’s suddenly all I want, all I’ve ever wanted, to feel his arms wrapped around me, his hands through my hair, to hear him beg to kiss me again while I pull his chest hair. All I’ve ever desired, to grip him by the back of the head and push him down to kiss my feet and legs, the electricity pulsing in my palms. My heartbeat thumps hard and loud in my ears, like the sound of breaker switches snapping on row after row of bright halogen lamps in my insides, filling me with light.

I don’t remember what finally snapped me back into reality, what made me break the circuit again so I could pull away from his kiss and call a Lyft home. I don’t remember what I said to him to try and explain away what I had done. I don’t remember opening my front door and undressing to sleep.

I do remember sitting up in bed, my hands unconsciously gripping my face, rubbing the sides out of tension and anguish. I like him so much it burns inside me. It’s going to hurt so much now that we’ve gone to this place, going to hurt so much when it ends because I can’t, we can’t. I feel the tears leak down my face. Is this how it was supposed to feel, to be what I am?

Touching my skin and rubbing it over and over in my grief, I can feel something shifting underneath it, can feel myself turning in to something twisted and monstrous. What is kink to me that I had now so allowed my identity to destroy what could be my only chance at a stable adult life? Who am I? What am I? What is happening to me?

A few weeks later, I am standing in the shop where my wedding dress will be altered with my mother and one of my bridesmaids. Outside the curtain they are chattering away excitedly about wedding details, the venue, whether my bridesmaid has selected her dress yet, what my hair will look like, all the trappings and trimmings of what seems will now be the most complicated day of my life.

I finish zipping while staring down at the tulle pooled in clouds around my feet, and then look up into the mirror. I don’t know what “a bride” looks like but I look the way I always hoped I would. I snap a pic with my iPhone and send it. It quickly buzzes again with a return text. “You look spectacular,” says the man from Twitter with whom I am now quickly backsliding away from the life I can no longer control, in to one I can.

Something about seeing myself in this dress wakes me from my walking death. This will be the last day I keep this lie alive before I melt down in front of my mother, and receive her permission to end it if that’s what is right for me. I decide I am too beautiful in it to wear it to marry a man for whom I am not meant. I know what I have to do.

The fight that will end our engagement is protracted, extensive, like a long slow root canal in which I must scrape away the death and rot to expose the fresh nerve underneath. My now ex-fiancé does not understand, cannot believe I would do this to him, never thought I would leave him. Never feared it enough to worry about how he treated me, I think as I lay my case out again and again, how he speaks to me, issues with his financial stability and choices, the utter disintegration of our sexual relationship before we even would be married, his fundamental lack of respect for me and my identity.

In a moment I will regret for the rest of my life, I call out the lack of kink connection as a factor, “Every other long term relationship I’ve been in had a D/s dynamic as part of it and I always feel like you tried to ignore that or thought you could change me. It will always be an issue for you because you’re not a lifestyle submissive.” He flies into a rage, repeats that I’m leaving him because he’s “not a lifestyle submissive” for nearly ten full minutes and through every subsequent discussion of the many it takes to finally convince him that I am not having a breakdown, I am not on drugs, I am serious and I want our relationship to end.

The guilt is at once consuming and utterly debilitating as every night thereafter I hear him sob and wail through the walls of our apartment, hear the objects he sweeps off of surfaces in his anguish hit the floor like a tortured poltergeist. The shuddering waves of guilt break over my head every hour, reminding me again and again no matter where I am or what I am doing, that I am horrible and ugly on the inside, that I have only taken and destroyed, that I deserve no happiness.

I am left hunched on the corner of my mattress with the blankets pulled up to my face. I fear if I were to turn my head and look in the mirror in our bedroom, I will see I have completed my transformation into something dark and inhuman, a demon wearing a bride’s skin.

I pay every penny it takes for an extraction from this place I contaminate with my horror. It costs me thousands of dollars in lost wedding vendor deposits, new apartment deposits, every shared belonging I had to leave behind, in certainty and safety. It costs me the shame I must bear in front of my family, my friends, my boss and coworkers. It costs me their trust, their willingness to ever believe in me and my ability to love again. It costs me the movers that pack out half of the home I had hoped to fill with a growing family. It costs me the ring I leave on his nightstand.

In a moment that is too poetic for me to have made up, the last thing to leave my old apartment is my enormous cloud-like wedding dress in a garment bag over my shoulder.

In my new empty apartment, the first place I have ever rented alone in San Francisco, I put my unused wedding dress back on so that I can see myself in it one last time, at least for now, before it retires to the back of my closet. The woman I see looking back at me in the mirror in these cascading, elegant sweeps of tulle and rhinestones is not a bride, but maybe she isn’t the monster I feared she had transformed into either. She looks the way I always hoped she would. She looks happy.

Valley of the Dommes

Tales and lessons from a life as a dominatrix brought to…

Ava Ex Machina

Written by

Silicon Valley’s femdom sweetheart, security witch, memoirist, postmistress general.

Valley of the Dommes

Tales and lessons from a life as a dominatrix brought to the modern Silicon Valley workplace.

Ava Ex Machina

Written by

Silicon Valley’s femdom sweetheart, security witch, memoirist, postmistress general.

Valley of the Dommes

Tales and lessons from a life as a dominatrix brought to the modern Silicon Valley workplace.

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