I thought dating someone who called himself a feminist — who considered himself a "social justice warrior," who was accepted in these communities, who was introduced to me at a feminist event by a trusted friend, and was sensitive — would be the safest choice I could make for a boyfriend. Instead, he was emotionally and psychologically abusive and manipulative.
He was a "feminist." He was careful to describe how healthy he was towards polyamory and kink. He told me he didn't want to move too fast. My toothbrush had a place in his home in two weeks. He told me he didn't want to move too fast. He gave me his key. He told me he thought we were moving too fast and told me he loved me. He told me he didn't want to move too fast and cleared off shelves and invited me to go away and meet his college friends for New Year's Eve. These mixed messages are just one of the ways that reality became confusing for me.
He told me he didn't want me to feel "pressured" to date other people because of his poly status. He told me this out of nowhere, and he said it a lot. When I would say I was out with anyone, he'd ask if it was a hot date. He bemoaned how predatory men can be. He was "concerned for me" — not jealous.
He'd point out that I was upset when I was not or told me I wanted something when I didn't. I figured it must be my fault, my inability to express myself, and tried to fix it. He told me how I felt about situations and stood firm when I said that the feelings he described were opposite to my reality. He told me enough times that I believed his version.
He cried when I described my past rape. He hurt for me. He told me about how he hurts for all the women he knows who have been assaulted. I slowly found out that the women he has recently pursued are all assault survivors.
He would make me cry so that he could fix me. He would cry whenever I told him he'd hurt me. Leading up to, during, and after the Ghomeshi verdict, he "took care of me." He messaged me after the verdict was released about how he was "putting out fires left and right on social media" and got so distracted he forgot to eat and self-care. I pointed out it might be harder on me as a person who has actually gone through assault, who was part of a woman's organization dealing with this on social media, who in a few hours was going to a rally in support of victims. His response was, "Well, yeah, of course," and then proceeded to continue online. He was afraid of all the kink-bashing that comes out of trials like these. I agreed.
He told me that he hoped my friends — unfamiliar with kink — didn't think he was an abusive weirdo. He would tell me it's hard to explain the dynamic to people who aren't in it. I stopped talking about the dynamic with others because I started to share his fear that people would misunderstand.
This is when he started pushing limits. When I was more vulnerable — when I got laid off, was having a burnout, financial difficulty or we were fighting — he would push the limits of what I wanted to do. He made sure to get a "yes" out of me for whatever he wanted. I said yes because he told me that this was what I wanted.
He had a way of convincing me that his wants were my wants. He knew about consent and knew he needed a yes, but would say things like, "I know this is what you want, I need you to say yes, you don't want to disappoint me." He would do this almost every time we were together, explaining that everything was consensual and that it was entirely my responsibility to tell him if something was wrong.
He explained how polyamory worked, but didn't behave according to his rules. I signed up for one type of relationship but lived another. He convinced me that I wasn't as "enlightened" as him when I expressed my boundaries. Meanwhile, he had told me that the worst thing to do as a poly person was to pursue new people when your primary relationship had problems, but the more problems we had the more people he pursued.
Slowly, everything became my fault. I wasn't attentive enough to him at parties or I was too attentive. I was not honest about my feelings. I could not hold a "quality" conversation. He never called me beautiful. Not once. He did not do anything I asked for our relationship. He just told me that I was the one who had to try harder, and I believed it. He told me I came back to him because I wanted to be hurt. He told me that I had never felt this way. He told me that all of my pleasure belonged to him.
When we finally broke up, he begged me to be friends with him. He cried because he had hurt me.
"I know I'm a good person. I'm so sorry for hurting you. I didn't mean to, we're just too different."
Us being "different" meant he wasn't responsible.
Every day we dated, we spoke. Not one day was there silence. I never had space. Since I've cut off contact with him, I've been able to think more clearly.
Someone who has known him for a long time reached out, we spoke, and they could guess a lot of what had happened. She pointed out that my ex has trouble with reality, convinces himself he's wronged by others, and has for years. We discovered lies of his that did not even make sense to lie about. She knew he had a history of being with assault survivors.
When I overhear his first name in public, I flinch. When men brush up against me on transit, my chest tightens. I know that he's going to convince himself that everything that has happened between us was OK and that he is a good guy. He's going to pursue other women with his enlightened talk about feminism, polyamory, kink, and consent.
But I don't blame any of this on kink or polyamory. Abusers have used monogamy to isolate, and they can withhold fulfilling whatever sexual needs you have as a means of control. The difference to me is in alternative relationships, there are less familiar emotional road maps to rely on; abusers can write their own and convince you that's the healthiest way, knowing you're more isolated. Abusers hide behind whatever tools work best for them.
I'm not going to be able to enjoy a relationship for a long time. How am I supposed to start over when I thought I was entering a safe situation, with someone who loves to talk about feminism and considers themselves a force for good?
Yesterday, a male friend playfully slapped me on the arm in greeting. I went home and threw up. Meanwhile, the person I left is sad that our "relationship failed" and will use my story to gain the sympathy and trust of women he can do this to again.
I spent so long not talking about this. But not talking about this is what he wants. It allows him to keep doing this. Talking about this helps me heal. And I'll talk about it to anyone who will listen.
In the aftermath of leaving, I doubted myself about the reality of this abuse. But as I started to describe out loud to my friends how he ignored my signals to stop while smothering me, how he strangled me and told me to say "yes" so as not to disappoint, how he told me this was all to make it more intense for me, how he said he knew what I wanted was for it not to stop, it became clear to me how dangerous the situation really was. Reaching out to friends has not only been therapeutic, it has put up real systems to prevent him from reentering my life.
Ultimately, my strongest ally is my own intuition. The next time something feels wrong, I'll trust my intuition over a gaslighting male "ally" any day.