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She Speak

The Undermining Conversational Experience of Himterruption
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Understanding and Combating Abusive Relationships

How to Spot an Abusive Relationship and How To Get Out
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Uninterrupted

On misogyny, street harassment, and politely saying good morning exclusively to pretty women
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Period Sex Aversion: Yes. It's Personal.

On Intimate Justice and Period-Sex Averse Partners
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Feminism Is For Everyone

On Misogyny Dividing Women, Intersectional Feminism, And A Complete Annihilation of Slut Shaming
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No Needs No Explanation (Time's Up)

Male Entitlement: On Demanding An Explanation For Refusing Unwanted Advances

September 05, 2018

Softdisc Review - Alternative to Tampons

5 Pros and Cons of Switching to Softdiscs

Say what you will about third wave feminism, and whether the generation of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements will finally be able to effect lasting social change with respect to gender equality, but one of my favorite things about this particular feminist movement is the products! For decades women have had to choose between a limited variety of feminine products when on our periods, some of which are extremely uncomfortable and don't allow us to continue with our lives as usual, and others which are pretty effective except for the small little matter of bodily toxicity and long term health. This new wave of feminism happens to coincide with an exciting time in technology, and women are finally beginning to see scientific advances impact our daily lives. 

The product I'm referring to is the Softdisc. Technically defined as a menstrual disc as opposed to a menstrual cup, this product can be used on your period instead of pads or tampons. I've been using this product for about a year now, and here is the list of pros and cons I've compiled based on my experience. 

What Is It?

The best way that I can describe the Softdisc is that it's kind of like the Nuva Ring, or like a diaphragm, but for periods. It is a thickish ring with a latex film in the middle that expands into a cup-like shape when full. Unlike the Nuva Ring, which is an empty ring, and unlike the diaphragm which is meant to keep things out, the Softdisc fits against the cervix and catches (rather than absorbing) the menstrual blood in the latex film to later be emptied when removed.

*For more details, see the handy dandy Youtube video from the Softdisc website below. 



Pros

Not toxic

Ever heard of TSS? Affectionately known as Toxic Shock Syndrome, this is caused by bacterial infection in a localized place in the body. Highly absorbent tampons, for example, have been associated with TSS. 

The Softdisc is non-toxic and hypo-allergenic. It is not associated with TSS. 

In other words, this is a healthy alternative to tampons if you need a solution during your period that is effective for physical activity and sleep (read: a solution besides a maxi pad). Personally, I enjoy having a flow-control solution to my period that isn't simultaneously a health risk.

Comfortable 

So comfortable, you can't even feel it, has probably been trotted out many a time by feminine product advertisers. Well, I'll vouch for this one. It's true. As long as Softdisc is in position you can't feel a thing. 

The disc can be pinched in order to insert (similar to the Nuva Ring, for those of you ladies who have ever tried that) and once it's in place it's as though nothing ever happened. 

I personally love this about the Softdisc. Not that tampons were ever terribly uncomfortable. They weren't, but as comfortable as they were there was always the added issue of the string hanging. In some cases this just isn't ideal. Say you're going swimming, or to hot yoga in little dry fit shorts, or lounging around in your underwear with a lover. Because there is no external evidence of a menstrual management device (sidebar: did I just coin a super high tech sounding period term?) your period does become sort of...well...negligible. 

Longer wear

The Softdisc is said to offer 12 hrs of period protection. The accuracy of this claim varies depending on flow. On heavier days I've definitely had to change it sooner than 12 hrs. More like every 7 or 8 to be honest. If my period is 5 days long, with days 1 and 2 being the heaviest, by day 3 I'm able to go 12 hours without a change or any leakage issues. 

Easy solution in emergencies (leaks)

Every woman has probably had that moment of horror of starting her period, or needing to change a feminine product, and suddenly realizing she isn't prepared. It happens. Maybe you gave a tampon to a coworker and forgot to replenish your on-the-go stock. Maybe your roommate needed your last tampon in the house. In any case, I've definitely been there, and my solutions before the Softdisc were basically making a temporary, make-shift pad out of toilet paper and then either finding someone to borrow a tampon from or making a run to the nearest pharmacy. 

In emergencies - and only in emergencies - such as being caught in public with a leak and no other options, or being on my last disc and needing to go out the store to get more, I have re-used my menstrual disc. If this has happened in public I have taken it out, emptied it, and washed it with soap and warm water before reinserting. The one time it happened at home I went the extra mile and submerged it in boiling water for eight minutes after washing, as is recommended for reusable cups/discs. 

While this is easier than creating a make-shift maxi pad until you can find a feminine product ally or run to the store, I don't recommend this for habitual use. The manufacturer does not recommend reusing this product, but instead that a new cup be used every 12 hrs. 

That being said, if you're in a pinch, it's better than stuffing toilet paper up your...well...you know. 

Sex friendly 

Softdisc is the first and only menstrual cup/disc I have used thus far. The big grab for me in the feminine product aisle when comparing products was that you can have mess free sex in the Softdisc

I've tried it. It works. 

I wouldn't say that it's completely negligible during sex. I personally do feel the rim of it, just a bit, during the initial penetration, but this is probably because I don't take care to push it all the way back before hand (as a result it ends up sitting much further back after sex, but I'll get to that later). If I'm with a more sizable male partner - and that's about as delicate as I can be about this matter - where I'd typically feel contact with my cervix being made while having sex, I will occasionally feel a different kind of pressure when the latex wrapping is pushed on by the...ahem...male partner's endowment. Finally, while I've yet to have any accidents in the bedroom while using Softdisc ::knocks vigorously on wood:: I'm still not 100% comfortable with the idea of a partner performing penetrative foreplay while using the disc. That being said, I would recommend a little bit of lube for those who feel like I do, or to compensate for the fact that the cup will invariably keep some of the more sex-friendly juices from flowing. 

Cons

One size 

Unlike tampons or other menstrual cups on the market, the Softdisc is one size fits all, as it's made to sit past the vaginal canal and directly against the cervix. The problem with that can be that this doesn't necessarily take heavy flow into account.

Again, while 12 hour wear is certainly possible on lighter days, I have found it absolutely necessary to change the disc no later than 7-8 hours on the heavier days of my period.

Can be tricky to take out, especially after sex 

Okay, so putting the disc in is easy. Living life in it - even having sex in it! - is easy. Taking it out...ummm...

At this point I've got it down to a science, but even then it can be a little tricky at times. The first time I changed one it was right before going out on New Year's Eve, and for a moment (or more like forty minutes, so for forty long moments) I was sure I was going to be one of those terrifying, I-had-to-get-my-menstural-cup-removed-in-the-emergency-room stories.

Here's why it's tricky. To be clear, I have never lost the disc. It's not as though I've reached in and found that it had vanished. What is tricky, however, is that the rim of the Softdisc is rather thick - thicker than that of the Nuva Ring if you've ever used it. Once the disc is all the way in position against the cervix, and especially if removing it after sex, I find that while I can feel the rim, it can be difficult to actually hook my finger around the rim and pull in order to take it out. The cup is usually in position once the rim is back behind the pubic bone, and you do need to be able to use quite a bit of pressure in order to pull it out from behind the bone again. In other words, you need a good grip, and that can be hard to find.

In instances where it's been more difficult to take out, I've literally pushed a bit (ladies, you know what I'm talking about) while sort of putting pressure on the rim (in a direction I hope is forward) to encourage the whole device to come down a bit. If it seems like it's really going to be a struggle, I'll also do this in the shower to avoid a mess (oh yeah, I said it. Mess. More on that later...). Still, while these instances can be a bit annoying when they occur, I've been using the disc for a year and have literally had three instances where removal has been challenging. So it isn't the end of the world. Just something to keep in mind.

Leaks

So on the one hand, if a leak occurs, this can be an easy fix even if you don't have a fresh Softdisc available to use. On the other hand, if a leak occurs it isn't quite as subtle as the type that might occur when wearing a tampon.

Because the menstrual disc collects blood rather than absorbing it, it responds differently when full. Where an absorbent tampon will start to drip when it is full, creating the phenomenon known as leaking, a menstrual disc will start to spill once it is full. That being said, by the time a leak has occurred the menstrual disc isn't quite as forgiving and there isn't as much time to react. I'm personally very against wearing even a panty liner on my period (that defeats he whole purpose, right?) and have been thinking about pairing this product with period-safe underwear so as to completely ease my mind. Otherwise, being proactive is much preferred to being reactive to prevent any leaking incidents with this product. I'll just leave it at that.

Messy removal 

This is a HUGE consideration with this product, and all other menstrual cups, actually. Frankly, I don't think it should be as big a concern as it is, but because of the lack of consideration for female specific hygiene needs when constructing public bathrooms, it needs to be taken into serious consideration. The consideration I'm referring to is a multi-stall bathroom configuration as opposed to single stall.

In a single stall configuration, all I need to say is that removal of the disc is messy. It's not incredibly messy. It's not horrifying. However, it's certainly messier than removal of the now seemingly archaic tampon. These discs cannot be flushed, you see. Further, while removal instructions encourage one to keep the product upright and horizontal while removing it to prevent spillage, to say that this is easier said than anatomically done is the understatement of the year. What does that mean? I'm just going to say it. Blood, ladies. It means blood. Welcome to the truth of your bodies. I'm not going to lie, I actually find this to be sort of liberating. I don't entirely mind that I have to interact with my menstrual cycle more than I previously did. It feels a little more natural. Maybe that's to do with my being two parts feminist, one part woke, but in any case, it's fine by me. The issue is the logistics with respect to public bathrooms. Again, in a single stall configuration, an easy solution (even if the sink and toilet are positioned unusually far apart) is to run the hot water, eject the device, control the mess with some toilet paper and then quickly clean it and the lucky removal hand thoroughly before reapplying.

But in a multi-stall configuration? Tricky! I've been stuck in this position (on my birthday!) without a backup disc and it needed to be navigated carefully to say the least. On the one hand, this product is disposable and the idea is that you will have a backup. That is to say that in a multi-stall setting, one could conceivably remove the product, control the mess as best as one can with toilet paper, insert a fresh disc, dry one's hands as best one can with available toilet paper (or moist towelette wipes if one is crafty enough to have them at the ready), reclothe delicately as though after a fresh manicure, and then wash ones hands diligently as though before open heart surgery.

Without this option though - or if one is using a non-disopsable cup/disc - one has to navigate the social aspects of using a shared bathroom on one's period. When this happened to me I chose the stall that was closest to one of the many sinks available and enlisted a friend to guard my area and explain the situation if and when a new women entered the bathroom. Honestly, it wasn't the worst thing in the world. Was it more work than simply changing a tampon? Yes. To be sure. But my hope is that as the world continues to adapt for feminine needs, awkward situations like that will be few and far between. Maybe we'll start to see moist towelettes inside women's bathroom stalls for such occasions, or select stalls with small, built in sinks similar for what we have for handicap bathrooms with changing tables, etc. Or, maybe as the culture around periods changes it won't be considered embarrassing or awkward to quickly wash out one's menstrual cup in a public place before reapplying.

Anyway, I'll leave the implications of public bathrooms and third wave feminism to the politicians. For now. My point is, consider the mess, especially if you work in an multi-stall bathroom environment.

Disposable 

Finally, while the cons of this aren't immediately obvious, Softdisc is a disposable product. This ends up being a con for a few reasons.

1. Expensive

The Softdisc is expensive. One box of Softdisc, which includes 14 disposable discs, runs about $12 (plus tax). This might not sound like a lot, but the average period (including spotting) lasts 5-7 days, the recommendation is to change the disc every 12 hrs, and the disc might (read: will) need to be changed more frequently on heavier days. Do the math and there's a good change that you'll end up buying a box of Softdiscs once a month, which comes to $144 a year. This is expensive compared to other menstrual cups that are reusable and intended to last for years. They are typically about $50 max, but do not have the benefit of being able to be worn during sex (with one exception).

2. Not Sold Everywhere

Because Softdisc is part of a new wave of alternative feminine products, it isn't sold everywhere that feminine products are sold. Big name stores like Target, CVS, and Walgreens will certainly carry them, but a local bodega, grocery store, or gas station might not. That being said, you really need to be prepared with some discs on hand when you're expecting and/or on your period just in case. Otherwise you run the risk of having to go far out of your way in a pinch, or having to downshift to using a more traditional but less safe/convenient product like a tampon or a pad.

Overall, despite the cons, my experience with Softdisc has been overwhelmingly positive. It has changed the way that I experience my period, especially when I am out and about.

The next thing that I really do want to try is the Ziggy Cup. The Ziggy Cup is apparently exactly like the Softdisc, except that it doesn't contain latex, and it's reusable! My only hesitation is that I've gotten used to removing the Softdisc and I'm worried that the Ziggy Cup may be more challenging to remove being that the entire thing is made of the same material. But the verdict on that remains to be seen.

For now, I'm happy with Softdisc, my favorite alternative period product to date. 

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August 29, 2018

Understanding and Combating Abusive Relationships

How to Spot an Abusive Relationship and How To Get Out

Abusive relationships are tricky. We’re conditioned to expect that if a relationship is abusive, it will be obvious, and that abusive partners are easy to spot. The truth, however, is the opposite. Abusive relationships develop slowly, with conditions gradually worsening over time, and abusive partners are skilled manipulators who often appear too good to be true. At least at first. What’s more is that the people who are most attractive to abusers - people pleasers, people with poor boundaries, people with attachment issues - often experienced some form of abuse in their past, particularly in early development. As a result, some of the behaviors that would be considered red flags to people with healthy boundaries and a history of functional relationships will go unnoticed by a person with a history of abuse, as this kind of behavior appears normal. Further, people who have not had healthy, positive experiences around setting and maintaining boundaries may be so unsure of themselves that they can be too easily manipulated even if they do spot a red flag.

One of the most common questions among people who have never been in an abusive relationship before is, "Why don't you just leave?" That's such a heavy question. First, there's the just, which implies that it's so simple, so easy, and so obvious. Then there's the implication that being with a person who hurts you, whether emotionally, physically, or otherwise was a conscious choice. The reality is that no one who has ended up in an abusive relationship made the choice to be with an abusive person. The person they chose was wonderful, perhaps overwhelmingly so, and they would never have imagined that they were entering a dangerous situation. What people on the outside of abusive relationships don’t understand is that abusers use a series of manipulative tactics which distort the victim’s reality. The victim is flooded with positive experiences, then driven to anxiety and even desperation when the abuser begins to intermittently and unpredictably withhold the positive experiences, replacing them with negative ones. By the time the victim realizes something is wrong they’ve been hooked on their abuser like an addict to a street drug. Telling a person in the throes of an abusive relationship to “just” leave is like telling a heroine addict to “just” put the needle down.

Translation: It’s not that simple.

One of the benefits of survivors of abusive relationships sharing our experiences is that we can help people who may be going through a similar situation right now. We can help them spot the signs that they're in something toxic and help them find ways to get out, and promote awareness so that others can spot the signs and never get involved in abusive relationships in the first place.

* It should be noted that the following information is a combination of research and personal experience. Some of this will be anecdotal, some should be taken with a grain of salt, and none of this should be used as a substitute for speaking to a professional if you think or know that you are in an abusive relationship.

End of disclaimer.

Honeymoon Phase

Abusive relationships always start with a honeymoon phase. Now you might be thinking, but don't all relationships have a honeymoon phase? Sure. The honeymoon phase is typically referring to the beginning of a relationship, when two people are first exploring their mutual attraction. The time when everything is exciting, new and easy. When you talk less and have sex more. Pretty typical.

In polyamorous relationships, this stage is typically described as NRE - New Relationship Energy - where infatuation and newness with a new partner creates a sort of passion that makes that relationship more exciting - if temporarily - than the existing relationship(s) in the person's life.

The honeymoon phase in a relationship that is going to turn abusive looks different. It isn't simply a matter of ease or of newness. There are very distinct characteristics and they are present in all abusive relationships in their early stages.

Idolization 

This person isn't just excited to meet you or to be going on dates with you. This person is in love with you almost immediately. They are enamored by everything about you. They will tell you how amazing you are. How exceptional. How special. There is a difference between affection and idolization; between attraction and worship. If the person is treating you like this - especially before sufficient time has gone by for them to truly have gotten to know you - watch out. This is one of the most common red flags for impending abuse and it is evident nearly immediately.

Love Bombing

Not only will this person be extremely and almost unrealistically affectionate toward you, that affection with be constant. Of course, since it is positive, you probably won't mind. That's the trick. But this person will be in near constant communication with you. You'll find yourself texting them every moment throughout the day, talking to them every night, seeing them whenever you can. You'll wake up to their text messages, and get used to an affectionate message waiting for you virtually every time you check your phone. Again, this isn't just excited to meet you. What they are doing is trying to get you hooked on a drug. This barrage of affection is meant to overwhelm you and disorient you, laying the groundwork for dependence.

Excessive Favors

It isn't abnormal for people who are dating to do little favors for each other or to give small gifts. That's pretty normal, and for some people it's their primary way of showing that they care. But this can be dangerous if it is excessive. For example, is the person that you're dating doing favors such that they are taking over some of your basic self care? Are they putting gas in your car without being asked? Are they coming over for a date with household appliances in hand that you didn't ask them to pick up? Are they buying you significant things - like an entire kitchen set when you move into your new apartment - without being asked? Are they quick to offer to loan you exuberant amounts of money when all you did was mention wanting to pick up a shift at work to pay for a luxury?

That isn't normal. They may seem like they're just so generous, or that they just care about you so much, but again, they are laying the groundwork for making you dependent on them. They are trying to make you comfortable with their level of assistance so that you'll change something - maybe lease a new car that you couldn't afford on your own, or move into an apartment with rent that's just a little outside your budget, or take on a demanding commitment that wouldn't have been possible had they not volunteered to help you out with [insert chore here]. So that when the ground inevitably does shift underneath you, by some means or another, you'll be trapped.

This can also be used as a method of control. By having done these things for you, even though they weren't asked, the abuser can now feel as though you owe them for their generosity, and may invoke this imagined debt at a future date to try and force your hand in other ways.

Talking about the future very quickly | Making big plans | Pushing for commitment

This phase is extremely telling. Most people do not rush into relationships after, oh say, two dates. Most people do not commit themselves to someone that they've only known for a fortnight. They may be excited, and they may indeed be thinking about a potential future, but still most balanced people reasonably expect for the future to come later.

In abusive relationships, the future is now. If you both discussed a desire to travel abroad "someday" on the first date, this person will be trying to plan that trip to Spain with you on the third date. There will be no gentle musings about maybe living together "someday". This person will try and convince you to move in with them in the first six months, if not less. They will be very keen on getting you to commit - it won't always be in the form of a title. The title is less important than the assurance that you aren't seeing anyone else. They want you to be as heavily invested in this relationship with them as possible, as soon as possible.

If you object to this, or seem hesitant, this is a great way to spot someone who has the potential to later become abusive. They will try and get you to do things their way, on their terms, via some form of manipulation. They may say something like, "I understand where you're coming from, but life is so short. I want to enjoy it as soon as possible, don't you?" Or, "I like to live my life adventurously. To take chances. Come on, take a chance with me." It may even take the form of, "I love you so much. I don't see that changing anytime soon, do you?" They may make it look pretty and wrap it up in a Tiffany bow, but do not be confused. This is not acceptable behavior. This is an attempt to cross your boundary, and people who respect you will respect your boundaries - not try to talk you out of them.

Goal: All of this behavior is with the goal to hook you to them. Make you dependent on them. Get you to commit to a future and invest in it so that it will be difficult for you to leave.

Controlling Behavior 

Controlling behavior is often thought of in its most extreme and obvious form. Someone overtly saying, "do this", or "don't do that". "Wear this" or "don't wear that". Indeed, some people may in fact say those things, with no greater goal in mind than the thing itself. A person who says "don't put that sweaty beer on my oak coffee table without a coaster," isn't necessarily graceful in their approach, but they aren't necessarily going to turn around and hit you. The person who says, "don't wear that low cut dress when I'm not with you," may indeed have some jealousy and control issues to answer for, but they won’t necessarily become abusive (although the clothing control does tend to be a bit of an indicator, in my experience).

The control I'm talking about is subtle. You don't even realize you are being controlled while it is happening because it's rather covert. It usually happens through unilateral decision making.

Think about the first few dates. Rather than saying, "Hey, what kind of food do you like? What do you think about Italian? What time works for you?" the first date is more likely to look like, "Meet me at Boucherie at 8." Seems innocuous enough, yes? You arrive at the restaurant, and your date has either already chosen a table, and is already sitting in their seat, or they usher you to the table and pull out your chair for you. Innocent enough. Then you pick up the menu. "You should try the duck, it's fantastic," they might say. "I'll get a bottle of wine for the table," they may tell you, and proceed to order from the wine list you haven't glanced at yet.

What do all these seemingly innocuous things have in common? - You aren't making any choices! In each instance decisions are being made for you. It doesn't matter what is being decided. It doesn't matter whether you don't care what restaurant you go to, or if you're not well versed in wine and wouldn't know what to order anyway. What matters is the pattern that is forming, which is that they make a choice for you and you comply. This is akin to the Pavlov experiment. Your thought processes are being altered here. Over time you subconsciously come to accept this person as your decision maker and may even find yourself unable to make decisions without consulting them first, telling yourself you just want to get their "opinion". You are being trained to be obedient.

It isn't about the damn wine, and isn't a small thing. It's huge. So pay attention to how your date talks to you early on, and pay special attention to what happens if you say anything besides, "okay".

Isolation

Okay, so here you are in the honeymoon phase, where everything is awesome (except how you're being slowly manipulated). Another key ingredient that every abusive relationship has is isolation in some form or another. Some are more obvious than others.

The Relationship Must Remain Secret

For some reason or another, they'll suggest that you keep your relationship under cover. If you met at work, or you still work together, this is the easiest excuse in the book because it's so logical on its face. But don't be fooled. This isn't about who is going up for promotion, or what people will think, or any of the other clichĂ© excuses you might be fed. The relationship is a secret so that when something inevitably goes wrong, you will not be able to talk about it. The secrecy also shields the abuser from visibility and responsibility when and if the abuse becomes visible. If you begin to come to work looking distraught or disheveled. If you’re anxious or crying a lot. If evidence of physical injury is present. Even if it is clear that you are in a problematic situation, they won’t be implicated, and by this time the fear of consequence if the agreement of secrecy is broken will serve to keep the dangerous status quo intact.

Turning You Against Friends and Family

Does the person tell you that there's something off about your friends? They don't like the way a certain friend speaks to you, or they think your relationship with your mom is unhealthy, or hey, are you aware that your so-called friend is saying [insert unfavorable gossip here] behind your back? Have your friends suddenly been acting strange around you? Almost as though someone told them that you said something about them or did something, but you can't imagine what it could be? Are there rumors spreading about you through your school, or place of work, or circle of friends, that paint you in a negative light and make it difficult for you to make and keep friends? Think about it. If you suddenly find yourself alone, without the ability to turn to friends or family, and your SO turns around and hits you one day, who you gonna call? Ghostbusters? Further, if your character has been successfully maligned by your SO (though you may not know that they are in fact the source of these unfavorable rumors) and you do decide to come forward, are you likely to be believed?

Ask You To Move Away With Them

Does part of your fairy tale romance involve eventually or actually moving away to some obscure location. Not obscure because it's Guam necessarily, but because it is somewhere that would find you apart from all of your friends and family? This isn't a coincidence. It is very strategic. This way, when something inevitably goes wrong, it will be very difficult for you to leave the house, let alone the relationship, because you won't have anywhere else to go.

Goal: To solidify your dependence on them. To create a situation in which you don't have a support system, either because you can't talk about the relationship, or because you simply have no one to talk to. This situation is easier to prevent than to deal with once it has actually happened. Please be aware that with just a quick internet search (in a private window if your personal devices are not safe, or on a public device like at a cafĂ© or a library) you can find support in your area. Not just someone to talk to, but somewhere safe to go if you cannot go home.

"The Problem" is Introduced

Also known as the "manipulative shift", this is the moment that the relationship changes. It may not be the first moment of outright abuse. It may be a more subtle form of negativity breaking an otherwise positive streak, or the sudden and inexplicable withdrawal of the love bombing to which you’ve grown accustomed. Overtime it gets harder to see because, as a victim, you become conditioned to expect a certain amount of pain and learn to detach from it to an extent, finding ways to normalize it for your own survival. But the first incident, because you won't be expecting it, will be particularly sharp.

While this does happen in every abusive relationship, it can also be a bit elusive because it doesn't always take the same form. Personally, I have always found this very easy to spot in retrospect, but almost never spotted it in the moment. Basically, the relationship you think you're in transforms, and this transformation is justified by the introduction of a problem, be it yours, theirs, or both.

They might tell you that there is something about you that needs to change in order for the relationship to continue. Often this comes as somewhat of a shock because, before this, you were in the idolization phase. They loved everything about you. Worshipped you, practically. But now something is seriously wrong. They may, for example, tell you that your tendency to go out at night is a problem (even though they met you while you were out at night). They may tell you that your religion is a problem (even though they knew your religion from the start). That your messiness is a problem, or your neatness is a problem. You're too structured, or you aren't structured enough. Granted, as a relationship develops people may communicate new boundaries and/or needs. That is normal. But this usually goes hand in hand with respectful negotiation and compromise, as opposed to one partner (the abuser) giving the other an ultimatum such that there will be an extreme, relationship altering consequence (e.g.: the relationship ends) if certain conditions are not met. Although the condition(s) will be specific, this isn’t really about the conditions themselves. This is about establishing control. Often you will find that the condition is extremely difficult if not impossible to meet and, if you do succeed, new conditions will pop up in the place of the one that has been met.

If the abuser does not present you with your problem, they may instead present you with their own. They might tell you about a deep, personal struggle they've gone through in the past or even one they're currently dealing with. (e.g.: Parent was/is abusive; parent was/is an addict; ex cheated.) Often the story ends with some variation of and that's why I'm like this, and is introduced to justify the shift in the relationship. The existence of the abusive parent, for example, will be revealed the first time they fly into a rage. Their history with the addict parent and how it impacted on them will be used to justify their first unexplained, prolonged absence (and to get you to accept the inevitability of future ones). The sad story about the ex who cheated with their best friend will conveniently conincide with the first time they make a controlling request or display an inappropriate amount of jealousy. (Note: This isn’t to minimize real personal struggles that people have. Some of us do have trust issues from past betrayals, attachment issues from difficult childhoods, or lifelong struggles with health issues, etc. and not all people like this are abusive. It’s when these things are hidden at the outset and only seem to manifest as an excuse to justify unacceptable behavior that it becomes a red flag.)

If one or both of these things happen, you are being setup for abuse. If you fail to fix the problem your SO has found with you, your "punishment" (be it physical, emotional, sexual, etc.) will be justified by you not meeting your prescribed condition(s). If your SO crosses a boundary of yours, or subjects you to some form of abuse (verbal, physical, etc.) it will be justified by their struggle with whatever it is they said they were struggling with. This is a way to try and get you to tolerate and even excuse unacceptable behavior.

Goal: Establishing control. By holding the relationship over your head they now can dangle reward or punishment in order to control your behavior. By confessing some deep, dark secret you're now more likely to be excessively compassionate with them, so that when they do something unacceptable (and they will) you will blame their "problem", instead of their behavior, and let it go. This creates tension and an enormous amount of emotional stress for you.

Shifting Goals

In an abusive relationship, usually the problem that is setup, whether yours or theirs (or both), is difficult to impossible to overcome. This ensures longevity, because while you're busy being distracted by trying to address your problem or help them through theirs, they're enjoying a relationship that will increasingly begin to benefit them at your expense. The other thing about the goals in an abusive relationship is that they tend to shift, morph and change, just in case you do somehow manage to achieve them.

Change your religion? Of course that won't happen overnight.

They need to work on their self-esteem before they can stop being controlling? People work their whole lives on self-esteem.

Their career isn't "where they want it to be"? What does that even mean.

They want to make sure they can "really" trust you. How?

Notice that these goals are extremely vague. They are vague and slightly confusing by design. When there isn't a specific behavior, calendar date, or otherwise markable and quantifiable thing to be tracked, it is easy for the abuser to continue to rationalize their shifting goal posts as they keep you on the hook.

In a secret relationship, for example, let's say the goal was to tell everyone about your relationship once your SO got promoted.

Promotions aren't certain. That's a problem right there. But let's say they did get promoted sooner than either of you imagined. Now you say, "We said we'd tell everyone at work about us once you got that promotion, and now you got it! Congrats. You ready?" They are likely to say something like, "Well it wasn't about the promotion itself so much as just feeling really secure in my role at the job. This role is so new, I don't want anyone questioning my professionalism while I"m still getting adjusted. Maybe we should just wait until..."

And the new goal is set...

The goals will always shift. They will always move, and morphs, and change. They aren't real goals, you see. You aren't meant to achieve them. You are meant to focus on them so that you're distracted from the person you are with and the situation you are in as it gradually unfolds.

Meanwhile...

Manipulation

In every abusive relationship there is manipulation in some form or another, but usually several are happening at once. There are certainly more than the ones I'm about to go through, but these are the ones I am most familiar with both through research and personal experience.

Gaslighting

Gaslighting can take many forms, but the gist of it is that someone will try to make you question your reality. This usually doesn't happen in one fell swoop. As in, your partner isn't going to walk in one day after years of behaving absolutely normally and suddenly try to convince you that the Sun revolves around the Earth, but that that's not important because this planet here is called Mars.

It's typically a lot more subtle than that. For example, let's say that you've been dating your partner for six months. Let us also say that you're a very punctual person, and typically meet your partner at least five minutes before the agreed upon time. Then one day something out of the ordinary happens, causing you to be half an hour late for your plans. When your partner confronts you, they say, "Could you please try to be on time when you and I have plans? Normally when you're late I don't say anything about it, but today you were really late so I thought I should mention it." Your immediate thought will probably be something to the effect of, I've never been late before, or, When else was I late? Maybe you actually say that to them aloud, and they are vague in their response, or they do provide a specific example but you are sure you were not late in the example they provided. Now, let's say that going forward, not every time, but intermittently, they remind you not to be late when you have plans, and not necessarily in a formal or confrontational way. It could be by emphasizing the time that an event starts. It could even be by flirtatiously quipping "don't be late" at the end of a text conversation, complete with a wink emoji and an "lol".

Overtime this has the effect of making you question yourself. In the first instance of your partner's complaint, when you actually were late, you may have specifically remembered every date and known for sure that you'd never been late. Until then, of course (which is why they chose that moment to bring it up). But overtime you'll start to question whether there really were several instances that you were late, besides the time that it actually happened. Additionally, you may begin to think of yourself as the type of person who is prone to being late - even though you previously identified as a punctual person, and even if you only think of yourself that way when it comes to your partner - and start to develop anxiety around it. Then suppose your partner lashes out at you one day, and during a listing of grievances says that you're always late. At this point you've internalized lateness as a problem that you have with your partner, when in reality you were only late once in your entire relationship.

The tricky thing about gaslighting is that the benefit isn't always immediately apparent. Why would your partner try to make you out to be habitually late if you are not? What would be the benefit of that? Is punctuality really that important to your partner, and if it is, and you have in fact been punctual, then why has this become such a big deal? In reality, what your partner wants is not your punctuality. What they want is your anxiety. For you to be preoccupied with them out of a sense of worry and fear, so that eventually they will have the true reward. Your compliance.

Gaslighting, like all other manipulative tactics, has a solitary goal. Control. Gaslighting confuses you, the real victim. It keeps you off balance and creates anxiety and tension. Meanwhile, your partner (who is only playing the victim) is using your guilt, shame and anxiety as leverage to try and control your future behavior.

Using reward and punishment to control

This is very clear in physically abusive relationships. Often the subtext of those relationships becomes, do everything right and I won't get violent. Misstep somehow and I will become violent. It is less clear in relationships where the abuse is more subtle, such as emotional abuse.

Let's go back to the punctuality example. If a healthy person realizes that their partner has an issue with time management and punctuality, they will find direct ways to address the issue. They may have a conversation with them, expressing how it negatively affects them to always be made to wait. Alternatively, they may discuss changing the way that they make plans, perhaps agreeing on looser time frames to make it easier for the person who struggles with time to make their dates, or having the partner meet them at home before proceeding with plans so that they aren't unduly inconvenienced.

An abuser, however, will not confront an issue (be it real, or imagined) head on. Instead, if their partner arrives on time, the abuser will be on their best, most loving behavior. If their partner arrives late, the abuser will be cold and withholding, making their partner feel unloved. Rather than directly asking for what they need and/or negotiating these needs on shared terms, the abuser will reward their partner when they behave the way they like, and punish their partner when they do not, with the hope that overtime the partner will seek to avoid punishment by stopping the undesired behavior.

Establishes their likes and dislikes of you through suggestion, backhanded comments or critiques

Innocent things like "I like that lipstick" or "I like that sweater" can happen in relationships without an ulterior motive. But when this is excessive it typically translates to control. If someone is constantly showering you with unsolicited approval and disapproval of what you say, do, wear, etc. they are literally trying to teach you how to behave. This isn't normal.

Triangulation

Triangulation is the introduction of a third party into the relationship. It isn't what it sounds like (a threesome request is not necessarily triangulation). With triangulation, the third party can be a person, a job, a video game, a cell phone, an ex. It can really be anything. The goal is to create a triangle in order to facilitate competition and use it to control your behavior.

For example, if you're on a first date, and your date goes on and on about how annoying he finds it when women just assume that a man is going to pay. Then he brings up his ex girlfriend. She always expected him to pay, he tells you. And she always expected him to buy things for her. And she never said thank you. And she never appeared grateful. At the end of the date, how likely are you to sit there comfortably while he picks up the check?

Via this third party, the manipulator makes it very clear what behaviors they like and dislike. In this example, the manipulator paints the ex girlfriend in a negative light + a behavior they don't want (you letting them pay for things) to control your behavior. Other times it might look like them telling you how lucky so and so is because his girlfriend gives him blowjobs twice a day. Now so and so's girlfriend is painted in a very positive light + a behavior that they do want (frequent blow jobs) to try and control your behavior.

When it is a job it can look like: My job is so demanding, my boss is always on my case, I have so much anxiety, my phone is always blowing up, I'm so stressed, bla bla bla bla bla bla. Their phone is such a nuisance, they tell you, and they hate receiving calls/texts right before work. And during work. And after work. As a result, you become very careful not to bother them. It never feels safe to call or text. Even if they break a date with you. Even if they suddenly disappear for days at a time without warning or explanation. In reality the manipulator is responsible for managing their day to day stresses on their own. You are not responsible for this. They can choose to put their phone on silent so that it doesn't disrupt their work. They can choose to tell you in advance if they have a stressful situation coming up and may be very busy or unreachable for some reason. Instead, the manipulator is using work as an excuse to be unpredictably unavailable to you, which has the equal and opposite effect of making you excessively available to them, as the only time you'll reasonably communicate with them is if they decide to reach out to you.

With a video game or a cell phone, there is an object in between the two of you, and this creates competition. The subtext is: If you want my attention, you need to be more interesting than this video game I'm playing or whatever I'm doing on my phone. The goal is to get you to work for something as simple as eye contact. And the likelihood is that, at some point or another, they have peppered your interactions in with hints as to what will win their attention. Alternatively, the video game or cell phone can be used as a form of punishment. By being distracted with something else the manipulator withholds their affection.

Resets the situation (but it stays the same)

A common theme in abusive relationships is that they tend to have a lot of "reset" moments. You may hear phrases like, "let's just start over," or "let's go back to when [bla bla bla]". Or it might look like, "This has gotten really out of hand. From now on, let's try things this way."

Sometimes the situation does in fact change or improve, but in abusive relationships this is short lived. Eventually the situation reverts back to the same problematic model, or becomes worse than it was before.

Blames you if you call out their bad behavior

This one is pretty textbook. "I only did this because you [insert behavior here]."

I only ignored you for three days because you always nag me and it stresses me out.
I only stormed out of the party and left you there without a ride home because I saw you talking to that guy.
I only followed you around the room all night because you decided to wear that tight dress.
I only went through your phone because you insist on talking to your male friends.
I only threw your phone at the wall because you raised your voice when you told me to give it back.
I only slapped you because you said that thing and it was disrespectful.
I only changed the locks because you got home at 3 AM and you said you'd be home at 11.
I only cheat on you because you refuse to do the things in bed that I want.
I only hit you because you push me to do it.

Obvious right? Each of these attempts to shift the blame. They aren't responsible for their bad behavior, you are responsible for their bad behavior. They didn't do it, you made them do it.

No.

You aren't responsible. You can't make anyone do anything. People are responsible for their choices and their actions.

*It should also be noted that victims aren't "perfect". That is to say that sometimes you really did do something that has upset someone else legitimately. Maybe you did say you'd call them when you got home, and you forgot. Or maybe you said you'd meet them somewhere and got caught up with friends, causing them to wait somewhere alone for a long time. Nevertheless, even when someone has legitimate cause to be upset with you, it does not give them permission to abuse you. No one is entitled to unleash the full force of their rage unto you even if you have done something wrong. They are still 100% responsible for how they handle their emotions, their feelings, and their rage. Never accept that you have somehow invited abuse. Ever!

Silent treatment

This is a common abuse tactic. From relationship abuse to child abuse. It is exactly what it sounds like. In a relationship it can be someone dropping off the face of the planet suddenly. Maybe you always talk every day but suddenly you haven't spoken in three days, and they don't pick up their phone, don't text back, don't respond to any attempt at communication even though they're on their FB, or IG or whatever. If you live together maybe they just avoid eye contact, respond to anything you say in three words or less and close themselves off in the bedroom, etc.

Granted, couples fight. However, when there is a problem in your relationship, you should know. Even in an instance where one or both people in the relationship need some time to cool off before discussing the problem, in a healthy relationship this is explicitly stated and/or discussed prior to a period of silence. Someone might say, "I don't want to talk about this right now, let's talk later." Or you may schedule a time to discuss things when things are less heated or when you both have time to have the conversation out properly.

The silent treatment, on the other hand, comes without warning. It comes without the, "I need some space," disclaimer or the scheduled conversation at a later time. The silent treatment forces the other party to figure out that something is wrong.

This isn't normal. Letting someone know (or forcing someone to worry) that something is wrong by suddenly withholding attention and affection is not a respectful or considerate way of confronting a problem. This is one of the reasons that people who have been in abusive relationships (whether from child abuse, friendships or intimate relationships) report extremely high levels of stress. This kind of stress can literally make a person sick. Physically sick. It activates stress hormones in your body, puts you into fight or flight, and can create life long cardiovascular issues.

In a relationship where abuse has already occurred, this is usually the first step to alerting the person who is being abused that something - though they don't know what - is about to happen. They find themselves walking on eggshells, putting on their best behavior, trying to avoid whatever consequence is coming.

Unfortunately they are only prolonging the inevitable.

Trauma Bonding / Sharing a Secret Crime

This kind of manipulation can also be a part of isolation, but I think it's important to give it space in its own right because this can become so huge that it can take over a person's life and identity long after the relationship is over.

A trauma bond is extremely powerful. When people go through a legitimate trauma together, or meet survivors of a similar trauma, a deep bond born of understanding and compassion can form. This bond isn't artificial, and is perfectly natural. Survivors of abuse may find this bond legitimately when they meet others with similar stories. There's a sense of validation (I'm not crazy), community, and a sense of understanding that no one who hasn't experienced what you have experienced can relate to in quite the same way.

Abusers instinctively understand this somehow - and I say "somehow" because it is a common tactic used by abusers at even lower levels of intelligence and social understanding - and fabricate situations with their victims that create a synthetic form of trauma bonding.

Commit a Crime With Me

One way of creating this synthetic bond is by convincing their victim to commit a crime with them. If you're in high school it may be getting you to cut a class and sneak off to a secret place. If you work together it may be getting you to fudge your hours somehow (leave work early but send an automated email making it look like you stayed until 5). It may even just be the admission of a crime that they committed alone with the understanding that you will keep their secret (maybe they confess the drug deal business they have going on the side).

This not only facilitates isolation, but enforces a false sense of trust between you and the eventual abuser. Also, if they have successfully convinced you to commit the crime with them, they now have something to hold over your head that can be further used to manipulate you.

But that's not as bad as it can get. An abuser can also create a synthetic bond with you by creating a false "problem" and sort of positioning themselves as an expert or mentor to help you through it.

The Mentor Trauma Bond

In this scenario, the abuser will convince you that you have a serious problem. For example, they may convince you that you are an alcoholic. When they do this, they will confide that they are also an alcoholic, or they used to be an alcoholic, and can help you as you struggle through this problem (that you don't actually have). Not only does this facilitate isolation, but it sets this person up as an authority to whom you will now be checking in with, giving progress reports to, whose advice and prescriptive behavior you will be deferring to, all in an attempt to control your "problem".

The abuser won't come right out the moment they meet you and label you an alcoholic. They'll set the stage for this slowly, often participating with you in the very behaviors they will eventually condemn. They may invite you out for drinks, or offer to pour you a scotch every time you come over, establishing a pattern. Until the day you come over and ask for a scotch on your own - then they'll ask you why need a drink so badly. If you say you don't need a drink, you just want one, they'll challenge that, insisting that on some level that you aren't aware of, you need the drink and would not be able to refuse it were it on offer.

You might think that there's no way you would ever be susceptible to this form of manipulation. But because it will be happening in tandem with the behaviors of the honeymoon phase, because it will be coming from someone you have come not only to love but to rely upon, it will be difficult for you not to accept. In reality you have developed an addiction - to your abuser! - and the subtext when confronted with your "problem" - fix this or the relationship ends - will be impossible to ignore. Additionally, because this trauma bond is meant to facilitate isolation and deference to your abuser, they will aim to drag the issue out as long as possible. Do not be surprised if the same so-called mentor who notices your alleged alcoholism congratulates you after you've been sober for a month and then attempts to reward you with a drink!

This is mind-fuckery at it's finest. In all likelihood you don't actually have a problem at all, but by convincing you that you do, the abuser has found a way to control your behavior. What's more is that if they can successfully get you to identify, say, as an addict, they've managed to literally replace who you were before you met them with a brand new identity that - surprise! - they are at the center of.

Suggestion (Think Inception)

Abusers also use the power of suggestion to manipulate their victims. I think of it as being similar to the movie Inception. The abuser tries to plant an idea in your head and make you believe that it is yours.

The abuser may use language that tells you want you want and how you feel rather than asking you.

Examples:

You wore that lipstick because you want to seduce me.
You're being especially amorous today, you must really want to go down on me.
Look at you putting your hand on my knee. You must really want me to make you my girlfriend.

It may even come in the form of a question. For example:

How did you know that I liked red lipstick?
How badly do you want to go down on me?

Or a challenge, like:

If you want me to make you my girlfriend, just ask.  

By this method the abuser has projected what they want and think onto you, and even if you refute the suggestions, the topic of conversation has been opened and they can always claim that it was your idea, even though it wasn't.

*Intermittent Reinforcement*

Intermittent reinforcement is the most dangerous manipulative tactic that can be used against a victim, because it is the most effective. Intermittent reinforcement is present in ALL abusive relationships. 

Think of a slot machine. If every time you played the slot machine you won the jackpot...well...you'd be rich (chuckle). But the point is that you would know what to expect and could plan accordingly. You would know that slot machine = jackpot. If every time you played the slot machine you always lost, you would know what to expect and could plan accordingly. Slot machine = waste of time. And you would walk away.

But slot machines don't work that way. You play. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win something small, and sometimes you hit the jackpot. The rewards are random, so you never know what to expect. This is why people become addicted to gambling, because of the chance (however slim) that they just might win.

Healthy relationships are akin to a slot machine that always pays out with the jackpot. You call your partner, they answer the phone. You send a text, you get a text back. You make dinner plans, the dinner plans are kept. Yes, sometimes things may happen that disrupt the otherwise consistent nature of the relationship. Maybe work gets crazy and someone can't pick up right away, or text back right away, or gets stuck later than they thought and has to meet for dinner later or cancel altogether. But in a healthy relationship, these instances will be few and far between. They will be the exception, not the rule.

Abusive relationships are as unpredictable as a traditional slot machine. You call your partner - sometimes they pick up, sometimes they don't. You send your partner a text - sometimes they respond, sometimes they don't. You make a date - sometimes they show up, other times they don't. On Sunday your partner showers you with attention and affection, and asks if you can meet them tomorrow night. But when Monday night rolls around they are nowhere to be found. On Tuesday night they reappear, pedaling some excuse, and promise you'll get together Thursday instead. On Thursday they cancel ten minutes before your date, because whoops! They forgot they have to...some ridiculous excuse. Clean their pet turtle's tank, and it's urgent because [insert extended excuse here]. And just when you're about to give up and walk away from the game...ahem, excuse me...your abuser, they surprise you. They call you up unexpectedly and treat you to an amazing date. Maybe you go out to an extravagant dinner, or on some sort of vacation. Everything is amazing and back to normal, you think. And then a few days later they disappear unexpectedly.

Because you aren't being met with consistent behavior, you never know what to expect. If your partner were consistently positive, you would be happy. If your partner were consistently negative, you would leave. But because you sometimes experience positive results, you stay at the slot machine. Pulling. Hoping. Waiting.

Overtime, you hit the jackpot less and less. Your experience with your partner is more negative than it is positive. But by this time you have literally developed a chemical addiction to your partner. You've been conditioned to expect a certain amount of disappointment, so you don't react nearly as negatively to it as you would have in the beginning. Similarly, because your partner is randomly withholding the positive experiences (affection, attention, quality time, etc.) you are so starved for it that you respond disproportionally to smaller and smaller instances of positivity. Where it once would have taken an extravagant vacation to get you to forgive, say, verbal abuse, now it only takes a candle lit dinner. Where it once took a diamond necklace to get you to forgive a slap in the face, now it only takes a tender kiss and an apology.

As a victim, you develop a sort of Stockholm syndrome towards your abuser. They are the source of your pain, but they are also the source of your relief from that pain. By randomly peppering in positive experiences in an increasingly negative situation, the abuser maintains the illusion that the relationship can and will eventually return to the positive experience it was during the honeymoon. These fleeting glimpses of the past keep the victim holding on, hoping that if they just try hard enough, they'll eventually hit the jackpot and get their fantasy relationship back.

In reality, the honeymoon never returns. The honeymoon phase, you see, was never the relationship that was on offer. It was only the hook. The abuse - that is the real relationship. And once an abuser knows they have you on the hook, they have less and less incentive to provide you with positive experiences.

Types of Abuse

Part of what can make abusive relationships so difficult to spot as they unfold, is that people are conditioned to think of abusive relationships in their most extreme and obvious forms. We picture a victim who has been badly beaten by their partner, or an abuser who is screaming obscenities at a docile victim at the top of their lungs. Abuse is not always that obvious, at least not at first. However, abusers will continue to test, push, and cross boundaries overtime, so even relationships that don't seem dire at first will eventually become worse. They can even become deadly.

Emotional

Your partner love bombs you during the hot phase, then breaks up with you without warning, labeling some character trait of yours a fatal flaw. Your partner tells you they love you consistently for months, then suddenly backpedals and confesses that, in fact, they never loved you in the first place. Your partner initially tells you that you're beautiful, but eventually begins to criticize your appearance, your weight, the way you dress, etc. Your partner begins the relationship proclaiming to admire your intelligence, then slowly erodes your self-esteem by belittling your intelligence, perhaps even orchestrating situations with the sole purpose of embarrassing you.

Verbal

Things like profanity, raised voices, and name calling are pretty obvious. Verbal abuse can also be more subtle. Words are incredibly powerful, and many carry with them inescapable negative connotations.

Let's say, for example, that on the way out to an event you've misplaced your keys. Your partner observes you scurrying around trying to locate them. Maybe they ask where you had them last and try to help you retrace your steps. Maybe they observe your search and tell you not to stress out, that you don't have to rush, and that actually your turning over the apartment is kind of cute. They may even tell you that you look confused. These are all acceptable ways to talk to one's partner in this situation. An abuser, however, might watch you looking for your keys and casually say, "Awwwww, you can't find your keys? How pathetic."

Pathetic carries connotations that undermine necessary components of a healthy relationship, namely trust and respect.

Even when done so subtly, language that is inherently disrespectful is a form of verbal abuse.

Sexual

Sex can be used in a relationship as a mode of reward and punishment, or as intermittent reinforcement. An abuser may strategically withhold sex to facilitate the desired behavior on the part of their partner, or to cause anxiety and desperation in their partner.

Conversely, sex that is unusually rough (say, after an argument), or outright rape, is sexual abuse within a relationship.

Physical

This is probably the most obvious. Even if it isn't an outright beating, a slap, a push, a shake. This is all physical abuse, and as this can turn deadly if it worsens, if you experience this please, please, seek professional help right away.

It should also be noted that manipulation, in and of itself, is already a form of abuse. If you stay in a relationship where any of these things have already occurred, it is highly unlikely that the situation will improve. Instead, the abuse tends to get more overt.

Once you've shown your willingness to stay in an abusive relationship, the abuser is less and less likely to hold back.

The Cycle

Honeymoon, problem, abuse. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The initial honeymoon phase lasts the longest. It may take weeks, months or even years for the first problem to arise, and then many months for enough tension to build before the first moment of outright abuse. Maybe they say horrible things. Maybe they break up with you as a punishment for failing to meet their prescribed goal. Maybe it's sexual abuse, or maybe it's physical. Regardless, if they return with grand apologies and promises seeking to bring you back into the honeymoon phase, and you accept, the cycle starts all over again.

The cycle of abuse will get shorter and shorter every time. The honeymoon gets shorter. The tension builds quicker. The abuse becomes both more severe and more frequent. This is usually when the person being abused figures out that things aren't going to go back to "normal". That it's not going to change back or be fixed. This is it. This is the relationship unless you get out.

Devalue/Discard

Every abusive relationship, whether a relationship with a borderline personality, a narcissist, or an abuser of another kind, ends with one final phase. Devalue and discard. This is when the person abusing you has taken everything you have to give. You have been depleted. You have been reduced. It isn't fun or challenging for them anymore and they move onto someone else.

The devalue phase can happen gradually overtime, or it can happen suddenly in the moment you are being discarded. The devalue phase is the opposite of the idolization phase. You are no longer the amazing person you once were, in your abuser's eyes. Now they see every flaw you have, both real and imagined, and the abuser will use these flaws to attempt to devalue you as a person and justify their choice to discard you.

Note that this is not as simple as a person breaking up with you. Even when a SO breaks up with you and provides a reason for doing so, this doesn't necessitate a full on character attack. Regular break up reasons may look like, I don't think this is working, or, I just don't think we're compatible. Devalue and discard break ups tend to have more you statements than statements. An abuser will try and convince you that you are inherently flawed in some way, and that that's the reason they've treated you as they have and eventually decided to move on.

Even though an abuser has no designs on a happily ever after, it is very important to these people that they are in control of when the relationship ends. If you try to get away from an abuser they will make it very hard for you to do that. Usually by starting back at honeymoon. They will make big romantic gestures. They will make promises of change. They will chirp all the right words that you always wanted them to say. But if you resist these more common tactics, they will try whatever tactic they think might work to get you to stay. They may initially pretend to accept separation but then tell you how depressed they are without you and that they may hurt themselves (guilt). They may tell you that no one else will love you after what you've allowed them to do to you (shame). Or, at the very worse levels of abuse, they may threaten you physically. They may even threaten your life.

*In most cases where women are killed by a current or former intimate partner, it is during the moment she tries to leave the relationship, or after, in retaliation for having left.

This doesn't mean there is no way out. But it is important to understand all of the stages in an abusive relationship because it is easier to get out earlier on.

Signs It's Happening

1. Hot Phase
The hot phase is easy to spot. It literally just feels too good to be true. It will feel like a lot and it will try to move very, very quickly. This isn't normal.

2. Panic
When the problem is introduced you will feel panic. Please pay attention to it. Please don't sweep it under the rug. Please don't immediately make yourself adjust to it. That very first moment when the relationship is threatened, either by your problem or theirs, there will be a moment of panic when you realize you need to adapt somehow to stay in this. Rather than adapting, this is a good moment to get yourself out. This is NOT normal. Problems do arise in relationships, but not in the form of ultimatums, and especially not in the form of the entire relationship itself. Additionally, healthy partners address issues they may have in a relationship head on, rather than withdrawing or otherwise creating tension before eventually revealing the reason for their change in behavior. That is control and manipulation and it's unacceptable.

3. Stress
If you stay past the point of the manipulative shift, stress will become very familiar from then on. You will be walking on eggshells. Extended periods of quiet will make you nervous. Anxiety will be frequent. Often you are kept waiting on purpose, left hanging on purpose. This is when they start testing your boundaries and exerting their control over you, and the constant mind games will have you in a constant state of stress.

4. Fear
Are you constantly afraid that something is wrong? That you did something to upset the other person without realizing it? That they're angry with you? These are signs that you're being manipulated.

5. Confusion
Did you just have a long conversation that doesn't really make sense? Did you agree to a situation that has become something else and you're not sure how you got there? If outsiders ask you questions, are you able to answer them easily and honestly, or do you tell them that it's complicated because you can't quite get it straight yourself? If you're constantly feeling confused it is because you are being manipulated.

6. Lying / Shame
Are you lying to cover up what's happening? Are you afraid of what people will think, or what your partner will do if you tell the truth? People who are manipulating you in abusive relationships rely on your shame to keep you quiet.

7. Emotional Numbness
How do you feel? Seriously. Stop, take a moment, and evaluate how you feel right now about the person you're with and the relationship that you're in. Regardless of whether you still feel invested (because intermittent reinforcement facilitates that investment), do you actually feel the way you felt about your partner in the beginning? How about the way you've felt in healthy relationships?
When you're in an abusive relationship, even if that abuse is emotional, you're being exposed to trauma over and over again. A person can only handle so much of this, and overtime your brain goes into survival mode to protect you. Feeling emotionally distant, or emotionally detached, is part of that survival, because if you actually felt the abuse with the full depth of your emotions, you wouldn't be able to survive it.
When a person is treating you so badly that your brain starts to shut parts of you down just to get through it? - it's time to get out!

Get Out

If you realize that you are in any form of an abusive relationship, understand that the person you're in a relationship with is not a healthy partner. It is very tempting to want to work on the relationship. The honeymoon phase was likely perfect, too good to be true, and you may believe that if you could just solve things you can somehow get back to that. The manipulative shift is designed to make the victim believe that the change that occurred in the relationship was their fault, because logically if they caused the relationship to change for the worse, then they can also cause the relationship to change for the better, or in other words, to change back. In reality, the beautiful relationship you've been fantasizing about eventually getting back to (once you overcome the many problems that suddenly and inexplicably arose) never existed in the first place. Instead, the real relationship is the abusive situation that you are in now, and it will not improve the longer you stay in it. It will only get worse. 

Detox

Because of the psychological and chemical effect that intermittent reinforcement has on the brain - releasing a large rush of the dopamine neurotransmitter whenever the victim is thrown even a scrap of a positive experience - abusive relationships require an actual, chemical detox. Indeed, if you are in an abusive relationship you aren't involved in a relationship at all. You aren't dating your abuser. You're addicted to your abuser. That means that when you leave the relationship you are going to experience withdrawal. 

At this point, even the scraps of positive experience will seem very, very attractive, and you will be tempted to engage with your abuser for the chance of acquiring these scraps, even in the face of inevitably negative consequences. What is actually happening is that your brain is being deprived of the intermittent dopamine hits that have facilitated your addiction to your abuser thus far. That's why to successfully detox from an abusive relationship, you need to go no contact. 

No Contact 

No contact, means no contact, means no contact. In some cases you won't need to go no contact indefinitely. If the relationship was rather short, 30 days of no contact should be enough to successfully detox. If the relationship was longer, or if you've already tried to leave and have returned, I recommend a full 90 day detox. Do not call in case of emergency. Do not drunk text. Do not go to the event that the mutual friend is holding where you just might "accidentally" run into your ex. Don't think of yourself as getting over a breakup. Think of yourself as a recovering drug addict. Any form of contact - a voicemail, a text message, an Instagram like - is akin to a hit of the drug you are addicted to. Choose the length of time that you will allow yourself to detox from the toxic relationship and stick to it.

Beyond Romance

Romantic relationships are not the only ones capable of becoming abusive. Abusive relationship are caused by abusive people, and their abusive traits are not necessarily isolated to romance. Particularly in situations where avoidance of the person is difficult to impossible (home/work) or in situations where the person is in an inherent position of power (parent/landlord/boss), people who prefer to get what they want via abuse rather than respectful means are likely to rear their ugly heads. 

The fact that an abusive relationship is not romantic does not make it any less dangerous. Anticipating the next explosion alone is enough to release excess stress hormones and take a toll on physical health, not to mention mental health. Many of the signs that predict abuse in romantic relationships also pertain to relationships with family, friends, roommates, work associates, etc., and the cycle of abuse maintains the same pattern once it starts. 

Support

Abusive relationships are extremely damaging to victims. They result in eroded confidence, self-esteem, and even identity. While you are recovering from having been involved with an abusive partner (or person), enlist support! Talk to friends, family, and if necessary seek professional help. The involvement of third parties will not only serve as support while you recover, but will also prevent future instances of gaslighting and other manipulative tactics that rely on the isolation of the victim. In other words, you'll have witnesses.

If you are in the process of extricating yourself from an abusive relationship, in addition to enlisting support, write things down. Keep a personal record of occurrences. Mark the calendar. This is for your own sanity. Abusive people have a tendency to rewrite history in whatever way serves their current interests (gaslighting). If you have a physical record of things this becomes more difficult to do. Granted, they may still do it. But you will, at the very least, know the truth and be slightly more removed from their manipulative behaviors.

Lastly, let me just say that if you are currently in an abusive relationship, I know how difficult it is to read something like this. If you found this article because you were looking for advice as to how to fix your relationship and get it to return to it's magical origin story, I'm sorry. I really am. The fact is that once this cycle begins, it does not deescalate. It will only continue, progress, and worsen. I've been there multiple times and I know how impossible it feels to walk away from someone who you believe you love. Chemical dependency, however, is not the same thing as love. I promise, what you'll find is that the first 30 days are the hardest, and as you approach the 90 day mark and stop associating the feeling of the dopamine rush with the face of your abuser, you will begin to see them clearly and the false feeling of love with fade. This too can be extremely difficult, because in addition to mourning the loss of the relationship, you will realize that the relationship itself was never real. Having bought into a beautiful lie may cause you to question your own judgement, but this is why it is so important to have a strong support system in place as you go through this process. It will be difficult. Inexplicably difficult. No two ways around that. But in the end you will be better for it. 

Know that you are strong enough to overcome abuse, and are absolutely worthy of relationships that are consistently respectful, loving, and reciprocal. True, no relationship is absolutely perfect, but that is where compromise, compassion and growth come into play.

Not abuse.

Because love is not supposed to hurt. 
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June 10, 2018

Polyamory: Figuring It Out | Coming Out | Being Out

A Long Ass Polyamorous Journey

I've been polyamorous my entire life. At this point I am sure of it. And while there is a certain relief in knowing and saying it aloud, and I am lucky to have haphazardly fallen literally ass backwards into the most appropriate relationship(s) of my life, there is still a certain resentment coupled with that certain relief. Resentment because in just a month or so, I will be turning 30, and spent most of my adult life believing there was something wrong with me.

I have never loved one person at a time. Ever. Indeed, most people have not. Most people love their parents, their siblings, their friends. This is not altogether radical. It's only when it comes to romantic love and sex that people suddenly lose their minds at the suggestion that one is not enough. And while I could point to all sorts of causes like organized religion and the puritanical (hypocritical) roots of the United States, why society is like this is besides the point as far as I'm concerned. My concern is creating a safe space for people who do not fit into the confines of binary thinking to grow up feeling accepted, first and foremost by ourselves.

Dilemma 

I grew up not knowing that polyamory existed, let alone what it was. It was not in the media. It was not in school. It was not represented in popular culture and it certainly wasn't explained to me by my family. For all I knew it didn't exist. Cheating was morally wrong, and polygamy was illegal, so monogamy was the only way. Not that it was explained to me this way. It wasn't, the same way that no one ever explained to me that I was straight. (And I'm not, by the way. Holla at me, LGBTQ community!) It was just assumed that I would be. It was the presumed default setting. I can't tell you how many times a doe eyed adult crooned the words, one day, when you get married, or, one day, when you have kids before I'd even dropped a damn egg!

But my eye tended to do the thing it wasn't supposed to do - wander. And not just my eye, but my heart. I won't even get into the fact that sometimes my confused little eye wandered over to the girl in my biology class, which was odd, because I was supposedly straight. That's an article for another day. Point being, I never had just one crush. One love interest. There were always many at once. Many people with whom I could imagine a path forward. But society was pretty clear on the rules of the game, meaning going forward necessitated that I make a choice.

I can say with absolute consistency that it was making that choice that damned nearly every failed relationship I had from age 18-29.

Loss

Monogamy isn't evil in and of itself. It's a social construct, as is marriage, and it works for people. I've seen it. (::waves at big brother from another mother::) The problem with monogamy is that it has become not only the default relationship style, but the only recognized and accepted relationship style by society at large. For people to whom monogamy comes naturally, the name of the game is finding "the one", and there are definitely challenges to that. Indeed, some people never do. Some people do much later in life than they'd hoped. But what if the problem isn't the you can't find the one? What if you keep finding the one, over and over and over again?

According to society there are a myriad of issues with this. Society claims that you can only really love one person at a time. So if you've found yourself claiming to be in love with two, or three, or four - no. That isn't love. That isn't real. Further, you may indeed believe that you love multiple people, but what if each of those people only has eyes for you? Now you have to choose, society tells you. Now you have to let someone, or multiple someones, go.

I learned this particular agony for the first time when I was 19 and fell in love with someone over summer break while already in a serious relationship. I kept it chaste for as long as I could but eventually the dam broke and I don't think I need to go into detail regarding the social fallout - we all know what world we live in. I can't describe the exquisite pain of mourning the loss of not one love, but two. Or of sitting around with a legal pad and pen, making lists, trying to decide between two people. Society would have us believe it is a choice between who is better for you. But if you're not wired that way, the question you're really asking when you draw that ven-diagram or whatever brand of nerdiness you default to, is how much pain from loss can I withstand? Who will it hurt less to live without? And sometimes that question, too, is impossible.

Madonna/Whore Paradox

Oh, hi. Did I mention that I'm a woman? ::waves::

If I were a man, things might have gone a bit differently for me. In high school. In college. In the workplace. When I eventually found my niche (LGBTQ friendly/artsy/East Village) I may have still faced some struggles before discovering polyamory. But I think the story might have read a bit differently. It's no accident that in my most frustrated moments I have been found belting out If I Were a Boy in various karaoke establishments.

Rather than having been slut shamed, for example, for having been involved with two of the three straight men in my performing arts high school (not simultaneously and over the course of six years!) I may have been a ladies man. I may have been that shy guy who was into theatre and skinny jeans before they were trendy, singing protest songs in the hallway and having loving relationships without hard commitment sort of like the sixties. Instead? I was a pariah. I was labeled slutty and dirty and accused of promiscuously participating in sex acts I couldn't even define at the time. All because I'd made the mistake of getting romantically involved with more than one person in the same microcosm.

When I cheated on my boyfriend in college - with the one person I'd fallen in love with - rather than vicious rumors spreading that distorted the truth and painted me as the 7/11 of women, I probably would have experienced...well...nothing. Nothing befell the teammates of my then basketball player boyfriend. They cheated on their girlfriends. Deliberately. Habitually. Everyone knew. No one said or did a damn thing. It was "normal". But when a woman cheats, regardless of circumstances, of honesty, of remorse. The response is ludicrously disproportionate.

When I finally came to the conclusion that the only sure way to avoid hurting anyone was to embrace my single status and live out my days Clooney style, still the problems found me. Again I found love twice in the same place, and the men involved balked at the idea of not being my only one. Again I was faced with the unwelcome dilemma of choosing one or losing both, except neither was too keen on choosing me back because my involvement with them both at once meant my reputation had been mired. Had I been a man in the same scenario each of them would have felt lucky to have been the "chosen one". I would have been a catch, not a cautionary tale.

I'm not defending the cheating. That was unethical and regrettable. But besides that, the only mistake I ever made was having been born without a penis in a patriarchy.

Women live in a world that traps us in a double bind. We are plagued by the madonna/whore paradox. We are told that we will only be able to "find a husband" if we are or appear to be virginal, and pure, and good. Men are taught only to value us as more than sex objects if they are the only ones to have "had" us. Women are also taught through misogynistic social conditioning that it doesn't take much to destroy our reputations and become whores, even though men experience no repercussions for the same behaviors. We are programmed to ignore our own wants - our real wants - and instead to want to be wanted. To embrace our own objectification until the right man (who it is assumed has at this point sowed his wild oats) chooses us to settle down with. We are encouraged to work very, very hard at being worthy of being chosen (by this man who is not being measured against the same asinine standard).

My point is that being a woman in a patriarchy is hard as it is, but being a polyamorous woman in a patriarchy that doesn't acknowledge polyamory is a special kind of hell. Every choice that would lead to your happiness is condemned. Every choice you are encouraged to make would ultimately condemn you to misery. Virginity and scarcity are the pillars that you are expected to build your life upon, in a body that has an overwhelming capacity to receive love, with a heart that has an overwhelming capacity to give love. So your happiness comes at the price of social isolation and punishment, and social acceptance comes at the price of your happiness. And what's more, if you are hetero, your potential partners have been conditioned to value your love only if it is coupled with exclusivity, and to devalue not only your love, but your body and even your personhood when it is not. There is a moral value judgement that is attached to a woman's romantic life that sets her up to fail if she does not fulfill the limited role she has been prescribed, and all the while men have been given carte blanche to shamelessly capitalize on the double standard that seeks, one way or another, to entrap her.

Loneliness

Being alone seemed like the only option available to me if I didn't want to climb the exclusive relationship ladder in the traditional sense, and if what I did want was never going to happen. At first blush it may seem like being single would have obvious benefits. I could have my cake and eat it too, right? Wrong. Because again, this is a patriarchy, and I am not a man.

Leave aside ugly rumors and reputations for a moment, because while it isn't ideal, those things can be avoided with secrecy Les Liaisons Dangereuses style. It is deeper and more personal than public opinion. I don't like being objectified. I don't like being wanted only for what I look like, or only for what "fun" I can be in bed. I don't like the idea of casual sex, and I absolutely detest the reality of it. I don't like being pursued like some kind of trophy because I am not a goal. I am a person. And so given the choice of casual sex vs. no sex at all...

The physical loneliness is shit, but it's bearable. It's the emotional loneliness that starts to eat at you. And then you meet someone, and even though you know better, you try again. My relationships were deep dives. I'd go underwater for a while, but eventually I couldn't breathe and I'd come violently thrashing to the surface before I drowned. As my relationships got shorter and shorter and I decidedly became the breaker rather than the breakee, it seemed apparent that I was just more whole on my own. It seemed like I wanted to be single.

But if that was true then why was I still so sad? And if I did in fact want love, why couldn't I seem to sit still in it for more than three months at a time?

Social Pressure to Get "Wifed Up"

When I see a diamond ring I think of child labor and genocide. When I see a bride dressed like a cream puff pastry gliding down an aisle, I picture her father also carrying a bag of gold and a goat. I've dreaded the eventual appropriation of the last name of every man I've ever dated before finally coming to the conclusion that I'm never changing my name because I am me. My idea of marriage involves a beach, a sunset, bare feet, my lover, our lovers, a spiritual bond, and yeah...okay...I suppose some tax breaks. But when I do it, if I do it, it will be a far cry from the patriarchal bullshit I've been force fed since my inception.

I started to identify as non-monogamous when I was 27, and learning about polyamory around the same time. And yet I still continued to date monogamous people despite the absolute turmoil it caused for nearly three years after the fact. Not because of the social pressure I felt when I wasn't in a relationship, but because of the temporary relief from the cruelty I'd grown accustomed to when I was.

When you are the woman who goes to bars alone, and could give a fuck whether anyone is paying attention to you because you're in your own world, and who more closely identifies with Prince than Adele, people look at you a certain way. Sometimes with respect and admiration, though the assumption that you're promiscuous never goes away and those people never stop flirting and low key trying to fuck you. But there is also pity, especially from older women, warning you that your youth is fleeting, your looks will fade, and who will want you then? Be smart, they warn you. Strike while the iron is hot. Marry the self obsessed guy even though you cringe when he touches you and listening to him speak is like watching paint dry. And whatever you do get over this "girl" phase because bisexuality is only cute in bars at 2 AM in your twenties. And don't forget - you're aging!

However, when you walk in just about anywhere on the arm of a gentleman (even if he's a pompous ass dressed in a gentleman costume) and he introduces you as his girlfriend. Oh, how stark the contrast is. I imagine the only word more powerful and transformative is wife. Your status elevates so quickly you can feel yourself on the elevator! People assume all sorts of things about you, except that they're - gasp! - good things! They assume, for example, that you're a good person. ::snorts:: Like...an actual fucking person. They assume that you're not a slut! They assume that you have a brain, and then they ask you really flattering questions, like whether they can pick said brain! They forgive otherwise damning wardrobe because, alas, you are already claimed, and to comment on said wardrobe or the assets (no pun intended) it enhances would be an affront to the man that has claimed you, and the same men who are quick to throw their dicks in the ring of a single woman are very cautious not to offend a boyfriend or husband. Regardless of the satisfaction of the relationship itself, in the eyes of society, the title of "girlfriend" or "wife", the existence of a blood soaked ring on a certain finger, is the highest esteem a woman can achieve, and it is only through this achievement that she graduates from public sex object to human being, albeit a human being who is possessed by the man she is with.

And thus conformity seduces even women who balk at traditional values, because just as harshly as society punishes resistance, it rewards compliance handsomely. People will smile, and nod with approval, and flock to you telling you how cute you look with your self obsessed fool. How lucky you are to be with the man who can't find your clitoris despite the fact that it's pierced. How adorable your children would look as the father-to-be chugs another beer on his way to black out drunkenness. Calm down, any exes reading this - the hyperbole isn't about you. It's about the fact that society rewards people for being in relationships, even if the relationships themselves aren't good! Even if they lack substance. Even if the people inside are miserable. Because society assumes that everyone will eventually pair off. Society has set that goal for you. So when you're single, you're failing. And if you're in a relationship - congratulations! You did it! You win.

Except...

Sexism: Cheating

So remember how I was talking about the double standard? The double standard rewards men at women's expense. Via the double standard women are damned if they do and damned if they don't, meanwhile men can have their cake and eat it too in nearly all stages of commitment. The double standard tells men that it is natural for them to cheat, or to want to cheat, while it is unnatural for a woman to behave or want to behave in the same way.

This particular mindset made finding agreeable partners very difficult for me. Some men I tried to date would initially agree when asked about an open relationship, until they fully processed the fact that the relationship would be open for both of us. Then we were back to monogamy. Then there were guys who were fine with an open relationship with one huge caveat - don't fall in love. Which limited all options outside the relationship to casual sex. Which didn't interest me. And then, whoops, back to monogamy again. Or, the real princes would tell me all about their deep sense of morality, or how their bodies were temples and they were afraid of contracting STI's, in order to lure me into reluctant monogamy, only to later learn that they themselves were cheating!

I blame patriarchy for this. I think there are far more men who are truly polyamorous, but because of societal conditioning these men are much more comfortable experiencing the love of multiple, unwitting women who (to their knowledge) are only intimate with them. Society conditions men to see women as possessions and discourages them from "sharing" us. Via cheating, some polyamorous men can hide behind a mask of monogamy and have their romantic needs met, but will do so unethically and ironically behind the backs of women who indeed share the same desire and needs that they do. The only difference is that because women are conditioned to deny and ignore our sexuality while men are conditioned to embrace and explore it, we end up getting the short end of the stick.

Again, no pun intended.

DADT & DFIL

There was one brief time in my early twenties where it seemed like I might actually get to be happy. I met a guy, we hit it off, we started dating exclusively. About a year and a half in I told him that I thought I might be bisexual. He encouraged me to explore that, helped me through it. When I came to the conclusion that I was indeed bisexual he even encouraged me to be with women; said he wouldn't consider it cheating.

Then, about two years in I confessed, through shaky breaths, tears, and shame, that I loved him and still wanted to be with him, but I desired other people frequently and I wasn't sure how long I could keep it up. To my surprise, he expressed a similar dilemma, and together we made the choice to open our relationship. However, the agreement we came to was DADT (don't ask, don't tell) and DFIL (don't fall in love). We navigated this pretty cleanly for a while. We even eventually formed a sort of quad relationship with a couple we were close with. For a while things seemed perfect. For a while...

Then it came out that the guy on the other side of the quad was cheating. A lot. The agreement in his relationship, you see, had been "cool, as long as I'm involved". Except he was involved with several other women behind the back of his primary. When they broke, the quad broke, and it wasn't quite the same.

Shortly after that, I met someone. And my partner didn't ask. And I didn't tell. And everything seemed fine until I realized that I was, in fact, falling in love. I couldn't help it. I was wired that way. When my partner found out he made it abundantly clear that he was not okay with me essentially having two relationships at once. He was not okay with me being in love with this other person. I had to choose, and so I chose, opting to preserve what I had with my primary.

It wasn't that bad at first, even though our non-monogamy "agreements" ended up limiting me to monogamy now that the comfort of the quad was gone and I knew I couldn't enjoy casual sex. But there came a moment, and I'm shaky on the timeline here but it's not that relevant, when I'd been out with members of his family at a club and, drunk, started openly flirting with a woman. One particular family member was furious and not only accused me of trying to cheat on him but outed my bisexuality on Facebook before I'd come out to my family.

It was hard to be in the relationship past that point. As happy as my partner made me, his family was conventional, and we could only participate in our "alternative" lifestyle behind closed doors. I didn't want to feel like I had to hide or I wouldn't be accepted. I didn't want to live a lie. And if I was honest, I missed my other partner. I didn't want to choose. I wanted both.

DADT and DFIL work for some non-monogamous people. But I'm not just non-monogamous. I'm polyamorous. I don't want to pick up a random person in a bar and have a threesome. I don't want to be some couple's unicorn every now and then.

I, quite literally, love without limits. Polyamory allows me what I once considered impossible.

Coming Out | Stigma | Hookup Culture

So at this point, especially with the release of this article, I suppose I'm out. Fully, talked to my parents, posted a pic with my lover and metamour on IG - out. And I have to say...

It's fucking awesome.

There are still challenges. Stigma is a challenge. There are people who behave as though my relationship with my SO is purely sexual, because that's the only way they can understand it. There are people who assume that because we aren't exclusive, the relationship isn't serious. There are people who love me who have held my face in their hands and, with nothing but compassion, told me that we're not in love. Because our love doesn't look like what love is supposed to look like, so our love doesn't count. Happily in 2018 the East Village is one of the most LGBTQ friendly bubbles on Earth and doesn't scoff at same-sex relationships, but I often imagine that this must be what it was like to be openly gay back several decades ago. To an extent, every moment that I am in public and wearing my poly status proudly, I don't just get to have my relationships - I have to prove them. Prove that it's love. Prove that it's real. Answer invasive questions from well meaning people; questions that monogamous people in even the shittiest of relationships never get asked. Questions like: So do you all fuck each other? (Answer: It depends.)

And then there are the ramifications of hookup culture. The assumption from men who have no intentions beyond "having fun" with me that because I am in an open relationship, I am now an option for them to have sex with. They could never imagine anything serious with me, they tell me, knowing I was in a relationship with someone else. They'd have "no problem" having sex with me though. As though that's somehow supposed to appeal to me?

"Yes, please, use me!" Is that my line?

The presumption that polyamorous people are just public sexual property to be experienced at our expense to the benefit of whatever random person is interested is absolutely relentless. Polyamory translates to many loves; not many fucks. We aren't sluts. We just love more.

Sexism Again - The Playboy/Womanizer

Because I am a woman most of this has been focused on my experience, but I would be remiss if I didn't point out the challenges to being a polyamorous man as well. Particularly if you are a good looking person of either gender, the potential to be hyper-sexualized and objectified due to your orientation is greater. When I first met my current partner, for example, and subtly (or at least I hope it was subtle) inquired about his availability, I was told with unbridled enthusiasm that he was absolutely not a one woman man. He was a ladies man, I was told. The word womanizer was never said explicitly but was certainly implied. Consequently I ignored my attraction and glimmers of shared chemistry for years, but as always, the dam broke. Even after off and on became decidedly on - at this very moment, I suspect - there are still those, I'm sure, that believe that I am being taken advantage of in some way. That he, the ever active playboy, is going to chew me up and spit me out. That he's only in it for lewd sex acts, a presumption which ultimately objectifies both of us and is incredibly reductive of his character; completely dismissive of his capacity for genuine, human emotion. The depth of any of his relationships is casually trivialized in conversation while his ability to commit is simultaneously denied. I've heard his relationships described as fucking, going at it with, getting on with, and various other phrases that imply a purely sexual relationship but rarely ever as dating.

::dispels remainder of steam from ears::

Just saying. The knife cuts both ways, and the blood isn't pretty.

Visibility/Facebook

On the one hand, I get it, Facebook is not OKCupid (yet). On the other hand, monogamous people can easily select each other on Facebook and declare their relationships real. According to The Social Network, the relationship status option was the turning point that led to Facebook taking over life (literally) in the first place. Millennials don't consider relationships legitimate unless they're Facebook official. And yet currently Facebook only acknowledges monogamous relationships, or monogamish relationships, because even if you declare yourself in an "open relationship" with someone, you can only link one partner on the network, thereby perpetuating the idea that you can only have a real relationship with one person at a time - everything else is just...well...

This sort of brings us full circle. This long, angsty post, the personal anecdotes, have all been to make the point that it shouldn't have to be this damn hard. No one should have to go through life feeling like there is something inherently wrong with them, and that because of that thing that they have no control over, they will never be happy. People shouldn't be going to therapy for commitment and attachment issues and rehab for sex addiction when the only thing "wrong" with them is that they aren't like you (monogamous folk), and they don't know that any other way of life is possible. Monogamous people have models of healthy relationships to aspire to. Where are ours? Monogamous people have a road map to follow. Representation in the media. Relationship status on Facebook!

I think of all the pain that I've endured and inflicted trying desperately to squeeze myself into a box that I was never going to fit into, and I just wish I'd had more information earlier on. I think things would have gone differently if I and potential partners had been educated about other ways of love and life. Maybe then I would have been brave enough to embrace polyamory when I clearly wanted to practice it. Maybe if I'd had a name for it. Maybe if I wasn't convinced that it was bad, or wrong, or would detract from the value of my womanhood.

I can be a bit of an old fart sometimes and often fantasize about what it would have been like to live, say, in 1920 in Pigalle, before social media and smart phones and...um...penicillin? But if there is any advantage to being alive in 2018, it's the internet. The ease with which ideas can spread, forums can be joined, Youtube videos can be shared, and allies can be found.

That being said I fully intend to push this article with hashtags up the ass like #polyamory #polyamorypride #polyamorouswoman so that maybe, if there's someone sad or confused who has taken to Google, they won't have to stay sad or confused for long.

There is another way to live if monogamy doesn't work for you. You can find love that fits. Many loves, I hope.

#polylove
#lovemore

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