"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Will, Dominance, And The Sexual Quest of Libby Palmer

Libby Palmer had great expectations. “I am going to be a princess”, she said when she was five, fluttering around the living room like a fairy. “And then a queen. And then a king”, she shouted at the top of her lungs, “and I will rule the world!”.

Princess dress

Her parents knew that she must be something special since most little girls her age stopped at ‘princess’, and had no idea that most monarchs are kings.  Nor did they understand that queens have power both behind and on the throne, and that some emperors in history had indeed ruled the world.  Of course Libby had not thought all this through like her ambitious parents, who were taking her at her word and comparing her to Tiberius or Alexander.  She only knew that she would be something special.  She knew it.  She absolutely, positively knew it.

Libby Palmer was very unlike her parents in this regards.  Her father was a local merchant in New Brighton and her mother a teacher.  They both had come from simple backgrounds, had been the first in their families to go to college, and graduated with only modest ambitions.  They had moved to New Brighton from upstate New York where they had met and married, and lived in Connecticut for ten years before Libby was born.

New Brighton was a small town in the Connecticut River Valley, old rust-belt industrial not unlike Danbury or Meriden which produced hats and bow ties.  Harry Palmer had no difficulty finding a job in trade, and in a few years had worked his way up from salesman to floor manager.  Martha Palmer filled a second-grade spot in the Stanley School and also in a short time had earned the respect of her peers.  Both Palmers were happy with their lives and professions.

Image result for images housatonic river valley town
Neither one knew what to do with their young daughter who had “come out of the womb caterwauling”.  A bad case of colic the doctors had told her and warned her that colicky children don’t get over their digestive upset for many months.  Worst of all no one knew what caused colic and therefore what to do about it.  In other words, be prepared for the long haul.

“It must be something psychological”, Harry Palmer said, “since there’s nothing physically wrong with her.”

“Whatever it is, I wish it would stop”, said Martha.

Hindsight is always accurate, and given the way Libby turned out – one of the most willful, determined, and dominant women New Brighton had ever turned out – her parents thought that she was just impatient to get on with things.  She had wanted out of her diapers, had had enough of pablum and Nestles, was sick and tired of goo-goo and funny faces, and above all wanted to leave.

Her princess, rule-the-world phase was the first time she exhibited the force of will and determination which was to characterize her adult life.  Libby didn’t just play with her mates, she ruled them.  She invented elaborate games which included dungeons and irons, stake-pits, slaves, and courtiers.  Only her favorite friends could be her attendants who waited on her.  She made dumb Bobby Cather and his stupid sister, Marge bow down to her, serve her bologna sandwiches on her mother’s silver tray, and stand at attention at her side.  Even dumber Charlie Rind was her personal slave who washed her feet and worked in the garden.

Despite being subjected to the whims and fancies of Libby, her playmates always came back.  They enjoyed being told what to do and how to do it.  Charlie Rind’s mother wasn’t sure what to make of it when he told her, “I am Libby’s slave”; but saw no harm in the elaborate games the creative Palmer girl thought up.

The world is made up of leaders and followers, Supermen and the herd, wolves and sheep, masters and slaves; and only the most gifted understand this complementarity at a very young age.  Although Libby could never put her feelings into words, she knew that more than just playing Kings and Queens; more than setting up court; and even more than being treated like royalty, she enjoyed controlling others. 

Hedda Gabler was a fictional character of indomitable will for whom the only purpose in life was controlling and determining the destiny of others; but her dominance was one way. She could only be partly fulfilled.

Image result for images diana rigg as hedda gabler
Miss Julie, the main character of the same name in Strindberg’s play thought she had the ideal relationship. At the beginning of the play she makes the valet, Jean, jump through hoops. Julie, who has been brought up as half-man, half-woman senses that a dominatrix role would fulfill her sexual destiny. She is wrong because she cannot deny the submissive femininity that her mother was never able to rub out.  Julie wants to submit to Jean but he, a slave at heart, cannot leave his master.  Julie, like Hedda, could not find sexual complementarity of will.

Image result for images strindberg miss julie
Laura, the principal character in Strindberg’s The Father, completely dominates her husband, The Captain, humiliates him, and eventually has him committed as a madman to a mental institution – all to become the sole proprietor of the estate and guardian of their daughter.  Laura’s will to command was purely self-serving.  She was not looking for a way out of sexual compromise, nor valued complementarity.  She simply wanted The Captain out of the way.

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Libby, on the other hand needed slaves, supplicants, and attendants. She admired the Roman emperors Nero, Caligula, and Gallus because they had absolute and arbitrary power.  They could do whatever they pleased with those who displeased them.  Yet, for all her admiration, she felt that this arrogation of power and the accident of kingship was still half way.  Even for Nietzsche’s Supermen who rode the backs of the herd it was a one-way street.

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As she grew older Libby was tempted by S&M. Now, here was a complementarity of will and submission.  It accommodated both sexual and psychological needs.  Men needed to be ridden by dominatrices because of their sexual power.  They were psychological overlords and sexual masters.

Image result for image dominatrix in leather
Yet, despite her willfulness and determination, Libby had always been a modest, moderate girl.  There was something simply too outrageous about leather, whips, and chains. Real domination had nothing to do with such exaggerated symbolism.

Ever since she was a child Libby Palmer understood sexual complementarity; or to use the more appropriate term psycho-sexual mutuality. The best relationship is the one where both master and slave are satisfied.  A relationship in which the dominated willingly cedes authority to the stronger and relies on him/her for emotional, psychological, and sexual satisfaction; and where the master enjoys perfect obedience.

People often misunderstand the concept of  marital ‘complementarity’ and think of it only as a sharing of interests – hiking, tennis, cooking – or mutual respect and affection.  Others frame ‘complementarity’ within Taoist ying-yang spiritual balance, but find that a Buddhist-oriented spiritual resonance leaves psycho-sexual chaos – essential for fundamental sexual expression – out of the picture. Tantrism comes closest to the powerful sexual male-female dynamics that Libby was looking for, but it too denied the potency of the master-slave union.

Image result for images yin yang
A lot chew on, for sure; but Libby had a preternatural nose for the pliant and submissive. It had nothing to do with looks, demeanor, or activities. Some men – even those as straight as an arrow – wanted to be dominated by women.  Not tied to the bedpost or thrashed; but told what to do. Small things like what to wear, what not to say, what not to forget, and what to do. A comfortable quilt of demands.

Libby always found men who were looking for a woman just like her. It was not hard. Whatever particular configurations of American society and culture, parentage and upbringing, led to this psycho-social dependency, there was plenty of it to go around.

Only once did she find a man who was both emotionally and sexually dependent on her.  The sex, derived from psychological need, was more passionate than any. Men always marry their mothers and women their fathers; so when all the psychic stars are aligned, nothing can be better.

The problem with being so demanding and basing so much on the expression of will is that the bloom is soon off the blush of the rose. The relationship – like all marriages – becomes stale.  Both parties become indifferent, and the powerful motives behind their attraction fade and disassemble.  Which meant that Libby was doomed to be a serial partner.

“There is no such thing as a free lunch”, she said many years later; and looked back on the many men she had left on the curb with disappointment.  “I had great expectations”, she said, “and so much for them.”

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