A friend’s teenage daughter is currently trying to get safely out of an abusive, non-romantic relationship, and this has gotten me thinking.
We tell our kids what not to put up with from romantic partners; from parents; from older relatives.
We don’t so much tell them that these are also not okay things for friends to do.
When things turned scary with our now-ex housemate, we blew it off because he was our friend and we had to stick by him. What he put us through and what we put up with from him were things that any sane person would have called out as abusive and intolerable in context of a romantic or familial relationship.
When the same housemate later stalked me, people discounted what was happening because we had never been romantically involved, and because his interest wasn’t explicitly romantic or sexual. I was point-blank asked—by multiple people—whether we had ever been sexually involved, as if that would somehow explain or excuse or contextualize behavior that was otherwise unfathomable.
When my friend’s daughter was being actively abused, she didn’t think to break away, because while obviously the things being done to her wouldn’t be okay in a romantic relationship, maybe it was different if you were just friends—and this is a smart, savvy, socially aware kid. Now her mom is worried that authority figures won’t take the abuse—and her daughter’s need for safety—seriously because it didn’t happen in context of a romantic relationship.
So, here are some things I wish someone had told me, and that I’d known to tell a lot of other people over the years:
Manipulation and verbal, emotional, and physical violence that are not acceptable in a romantic relationship are also unacceptable in a non-romantic friendship.
That violation of physical boundaries isn’t sexual or explosively violent doesn’t make it acceptable.
That abuse is not taking place in context of a romantic or sexual relationship does not mean it’s not abuse.
That an abuser is not their victim’s romantic partner does not make their abuse more acceptable or less dangerous.
People have the right to feel safe outside of the specific contexts and scopes of their romantic relationships.
I’ve been wanting to put together a list of less obvious signs of bad relationships, based on my own experience and observations and the experiences of others. These do not necessarily comprise abuse, but they do suggest a dynamic that is fundamentally negative and unlikely to improve. I’ve written about some of these before, but am compiling them here. This will probably be a multi-part post, and I welcome suggestions.
1. The thought of your partner interacting with your friends and family causes you to become anxious and fearful of the outcome.
There are sometimes legitimate reasons for this - your grandma is racist and your boyfriend’s not white, you’re in your first same-sex relationship and you don’t know how your friends will respond - but those should be fairly describable and not indict your partner themselves. If your reasons are more along the lines of knowing your friends will take an instant dislike to your partner’s boorish behavior or the way he talks to you, or fearing that they will get into a fight because your partner is volatile and incapable of civil disagreement, it’s time to pause and assess the situation. In a healthy relationship, you should look forward to introducing your partner to your loved ones. You should be excited about uniting your social circles and feel confident that your closest friends will understand immediately why you’re with that person. If your reaction to such scrutiny is to hide, there is a problem.
2. You have become unusually high-strung, anxious, and unable to handle mundane stress.
This is not easy to link to a relationship, especially if you have other major stress factors in your life. However, it must be discussed since it often becomes painfully clear in retrospect. Are you getting sick more often? Do you have meltdowns when you accidentally break a plate? Are you feeling exhausted and even experience physical soreness or pain despite a lack of physical exertion? Are you suddenly terrified of making minor mistakes, like taking the wrong exit or forgetting something at the store? If something bad happens to you, is your first thought about how this will upset your partner? Do you find yourself constantly preparing for a fight? Do you lash out at “safe” targets (people or animals, or even inanimate objects)? Do friends indicate that you are being inappropriately paranoid or aggressive? Are you drinking/smoking/taking drugs more than usual? Are you reluctant or even afraid of socializing for fear that it will end in aggression or humiliation? Can you link these fears and behaviors to what you experience in interactions with your partner?
3. You edit accounts of negative interactions with your partner and go out of your way to assure others of how wonderful they are.
Negative interactions occur in healthy relationships, but they are never so negative that relating them honestly will cause others to wonder why the hell you’re with that person. You will also have no fear of what your partner will do if they should happen to learn that you are seeking relationship advice from others, nor will you anticipate being told that your partner/relationship is bad for you. If you DO anticipate the worst reactions to describing your relationship truthfully, there’s probably a good reason for that.
4. You cannot imagine a long-term relationship with this person without a lot of changes and wishful thinking.
If in 6, 8, 12 months, your relationship with this person was exactly the same as it is now, would you be content, or does the idea fill you with dread? When imagining a future with this person, do you spend a lot of time thinking about what needs to change? When I was in an abusive relationship, I could not imagine a long-term scenario that did not involve him being physically compromised and unable to act out in his usual way. It should be obvious that’s a highly fucked-up thought process. If you do not feel happy and safe with your partner as they are now, all quirks and flaws considered, there is a problem. This matters even if you do not intend to be involved with them long-term, because it points to issues in the relationship you have now.
5. You are perpetually unsure of your partner’s boundaries.
There is always an awkward period at the beginning of a relationship where you learn what your partner is okay with. However, this is about persistent uncertainty. One day, he may encourage you go through his bookshelf, and the next day, demand to know what you’re doing in there. Usually, it’s much more subtle. Minor behaviors on your part result in coldness and nonverbal displays of anger (slamming doors, glaring, refusing to speak to you). Your partner makes no attempt to speak to you about it and resists discussing it, so the issue cannot be resolved. As a result, you may be several months into a relationship and still feel very reluctant to move around their home, ask them personal questions, or spontaneously joke around. If you meet people they want to feel important around, like their coworkers, you feel an excessive need to stay quiet and not draw attention to yourself. If your partner comes home visibly angry or upset, you are afraid to ask them what’s wrong, and fear you may be responsible for no reason you can explain to others. Your partner may only seem approachable under conditions they and they alone set, and they will complain you’re being selfish and needy if you try to assert yourself. They may also state that you simply don’t understand, and emphasize your relative inexperience with relationships if they are older than you. As a result, you spend an inordinate amount of time wondering if you’re a burden upon them and coming up with ways to appease them.
It should be noted that these signs are not obvious while you’re in a relationship. If you do recognize some of the thoughts and experiences discussed here, I suggest writing down those feelings as you experience them and noting their context (e.g., did you get in a fight with your partner today, or the day before?) Take time to note periods when you are feeling content and happy as well, especially if they’re short-lived and entirely dependent on external events. Please exercise caution if you are concerned your partner may find such a record, but writing them down is often one of the best ways to track changes in your moods and find patterns in them. Most of all, listen to your gut; do not ignore feelings of unease simply because you can find some way to justify them.
Part 2 should be up later this week.
A round of applause for the people who read this kind of shit, and then lay it all out, so that the rest of us don’t have to.
This is the second post in my series on BDSM and feminism. My challenge to myself was to make a list of 50 reasons why the widespread appreciation of 50 Shades of Grey is not so ideal, despite the fact that I generally think women enjoying sexually explicit material is a good thing. I thought it would be difficult to think of all those things while pointing out new problems every time, not just giving examples. I was wrong. It was really easy.
TRIGGER WARNINGS for discussions of BDSM, assault, child abuse, sexual abuse, rape, and stalking. Also, spoilers through 50 Shades of Grey and the sequels.
Part One: Problematic Treatment of Consent in the books
1. Ignoring consent
2. Reacting to the sentiment “no, I don’t want to have sex with you right now” by threatening to tie the speaker up, taking their clothes off, and… having sex with them.
3. Not treating safewords as important
4. Not treating contracts as important
5. Joking about the importance of safewords and contracts in a D/s relationship
6. Having a partner sign a D/s contract without telling them it isn’t legally binding
7. Not exploring and explaining limits
8. Forcibly preventing a partner from learning about their limits
9. Forcibly preventing a partner from learning about a sexual practice you are encouraging them to engage in
10. Making a romantic relationship dependent on indulging non-mutual kinks
Researchers have found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. And this is probably a low estimate, since it doesn’t include noncontact experiences, which can also have lasting negative effects.
If you’ve had such an experience, or think you might have, you are not alone.
If you wonder whether such an experience may be connected to some difficulties or challenges in your life now, you are not alone.
Whoever you are, maybe you’re thinking something like, “1 in 6?! Come on, how can that be?” or even “That can’t be true!” Again, if so, you’re not alone. Those are common responses to this statistic, which many people find hard to believe – including men who’ve had such experiences themselves.
more info at this website, also a good resource for male victims of rape.
*not just men, but any MAAB individual