When someone who was an instrumental but woefully blind part of building a culture around you that was hostile to consent, tore you down, engaged in months of willful microaggression, bullying, misdirection, and gaslighting publicly admits, “I was the one who did that, so stop holding my knowing, willing partner and accomplice accountable for the other things they’ve done!” It’s like someone lit a fire in my heart, y’all. If nothing else has come out of this sh*tstorm, it’s that I am now more convinced than ever that my final egress from that household was timely as F*CK.
I always suspected that it was a group effort. It always felt like a group effort. I never felt safe communicating my needs to any of my former polycule. They were always met by uninvited sharing, or attempts to salvage relationships instead of, you know, the people in them. Me, notably. But others, as well.
What people don’t understand about #abuseinpoly is that it’s not an event, a lot of the time. It’s a campaign. It’s a campaign to gradually shift meaning and vocabulary for a person subtly over time, so that they will learn to accept they can’t make their own meaning, don’t trust their own instincts, won’t protect their own interests. They’ll put “family first”. They’ll assimilate to the One True Path to loving more.
I’ve been asked to put some thoughts together about what, in my own experience, in retrospect, could serve as an early warning sign that one has entered a manipulative relationship dynamic, and how to test that hypothesis early enough that one can escape and avoid unnecessary harm. I think a lot of it is related my recent talk on Carnalcopia regarding #boundaries but has some new content as well. For example:
Here are some red flags, though this list is not exhaustive — I’m more spitballing:
If someone requires (not just requests, though requesting is just impolite) reasons you don’t desire them sexually;
If it is presented that there is only one correct path to the kind of relationship you’re in;
If shaming the uninitiated or differently minded is a habitual occurrence;
If disagreement is not tolerated;
If there is a power differential that is being wielded irresponsibly (this can be income/financial, experience in kink/alternative relationship structure, social connection, or other resources), and worse yet, if it is not being acknowledged;
If you suspect covert needs are operative;
If you keep being asked to re-define your terms be they boundaries or actual relationship vocabulary;
If your values are regularly interrogated;
If you are routinely shamed for your feelings;
If contact takes place at a frequency (high or low) that you’ve expressed is stressful for you, and your boundary is rejected as an affront to closeness or intimacy;
If the signal (actions, behavior) to noise (verbal/written message) ratio does not approach or approximate 1;
If someone habitually sets verbal goals for their relationship with you but does not develop or show interest in an actual plan for action;
If expressing harm, hurt, or damage is met with argument instead of problem-solving;
If you find yourself afraid, frequently, even when your partner or partners are not around, of judgment or recrimination;
If the exchange of emotional energy and unpaid emotional labor seems to consistently rest on your shoulders;
If there is regular misdirection of control (this can take many forms, and is its own post — disordered thinking with regard to food, finances, employment, resources, motivation, emotional state, or intellectual positions — these are all indicators that your para/metamours may not have the freedom to act autonomously and they may feel monitored, judged, or contingent on their abilities to meet expectations);
If you normally hold a neutral to high estimation of your worth, yet with New Partner/s, you feel you are not able to internalize their verbal expressions of love or admiration;
If doing things, discussing things, or having conflict are not taking place on shared and mutually agreed upon terms;
I could go on for days. I missed so many signs along the way. One of the things that’s so scary is that it doesn’t make sense when it’s happening. You’re trained, along the way to simply adapt to fluctuating expectations and dogma. You become accustomed to the idea that disappointing someone else is far, far worse than voicing your needs. You realize, gradually, that your needs are irrelevant. You find that voicing them is met with argumentation, rhetoric, dismissal, misdirection. You begin to believe that you’re crazy and undeserving of real love or affection, because the Noise (verbal/written expression) so completely drowns out the Signal (action/behavior).
“This person values consent and reciprocity so vocally — what have I done not to deserve these things?”
“This person requires total and extemporaneous honesty of me, and won’t give me time to consider my feelings; but regularly hides things from me.”
“This person’s partner shares my communications with my partner, even when it does not serve our relationship to do so.”
“This person waits until I have consumed alcohol to bring up difficult topics or voice complaints.”
“I drink more than I usually do when I am with this person, and I don’t like how it makes me feel.”
My wake-up call was, “I dread seeing this person I love,” and “I want to flush my phone down the toilet.”
These road signs get lost in the lovebombing. The regular verbal message about HOW IMPORTANT AND IRREPLACEABLE YOU ARE. The naming of relationships to give them special, but imaginary status: Queer platonic primary partner, Emotional primary, Best Friend, Sister, Family. Especially for people who have been denied love, or made to feel contingent in the past… it’s a siren song. It works. You go all in, chasing the signal through the noise, ignoring evidence, drowning out counter-narrative.
I want to show people how to see it. How to stop.