There was a spot on television that caught my attention. She was getting ready to go out as her partner waited. As she was about to leave, he blocked her way, physically putting himself between her and the door, and reminded her to behave while she was away. His voice was low, with a hint of menace. With a quick kiss, he moved aside and she left.
I thought it was rather tender and enticing.
It was an advertisement for a non-violent domestic abuse helpline.
I was disturbed by my own reaction.
How does one know? Where does the line fall between dominance and abuse? I have always answered this with the concept of consent, but this 30 second ad gave me pause.
I’ll admit my attention was divided when watching; I may have missed some cues, but I had reached a radically different conclusion from the intended message. Who could say I wouldn’t be capable of the same blunder when it was me and my partner- when emotions were more tangled and the stakes were much higher?
Given a glimpse into a different type of relationship, would an outsider know what is loving or what is abuse? Would those in the relationship know? They would need to communicate, of course, but we all know communication is imperfect under the best of circumstances. And that’s before one brings in the concept of mental illness. Is this healthy and chosen freely, or the product of a malfunction neural pathway? What is a malfunctioning neural pathway anyway; where is the line between normal and dysfunctional? Who decides?
I fall back to objective observation- or as close as one may come when encumbered by one’s own views and prejudices. I know people who I consider to he happy, healthy adults who have freely chosen and appear to benefit from this kind of relationship. I also know those who have been abused. I know there is a difference to be found, and with contemplation- perhaps with help and advice- it can be identified.
I know this to be as deep and true a fact as the Earth is round. I have no direct experience with that either, but rather a body of observations and thoughts- both my own and those taken from sources that I trust- from people I find to be wise and whose statements have consistency- both internally and with other things I hold to be true. Therefore, I believe- I know- that the Earth is round and dominance is different from abuse.
My more philosophical friends might counter this with the question of whether the Earth exists at all. They may have a point, but that is where I choose to let the matter lie. I have found a perspective that works for me, a lifestyle that I wish to embrace. It may not be consistent with everyone else’s views, but it functions for me and won’t interfere with them. We can all be happy- or at least tolerant- of that much.