Good Etiquette, Bad Etiquette, and Consent- Setting Boundaries and Understanding What They Mean

Well then. This one’s a beast to tackle. A combination of the idea that just because we’re in a relationship together does not mean you have consent, and the etiquette and rules of BDSM.

 

So first. Being in a relationship does not automatically mean you have consent. It does not mean I owe you sex. I am not obligated to give you my body because we are in a relationship. I do not owe you anything. And yet, and yet. That’s how I was made to feel, last year.

I felt like I was obligated to do things, and if I didn’t- if I was uncomfortable, or if I wanted to stop- I was somehow in the wrong.

The new man in my life- Gray- never makes me feel like that. If I’m uncomfortable, then we stop. He can’t be comfortable having sex if I’m not. And I know that’s true because I have stopped him. In the middle of sex. And he was…it was okay. Everything was okay. I was okay. He wasn’t upset. He didn’t try to convince me to “just keep going”. He didn’t try and convince me to “do it for him”.

Everything about that was so different, so…good.

I feel like I owe something, like there’s thing’s I have to do that I’m not doing. Like I’m failing, somehow, and he’s going to get bored of me because of it.

I don’t feel like I’m okay. I never feel like I’m okay.

Because now…now. Now I no longer feel like sex is intimate. I no longer feel like it’s something I do to get close to someone, something I do when I care.

Now, the closer I get to Gray, the less I want to have sex. And isn’t that fucked, that it’s once I trust you that I can’t fuck you, instead of the other way around.

Just another gift left behind from last year.

 

And then…and then.

If we’re gonna talk about consent, and how it works in a relationship…if we’re going to talk about Him, about before.

We should talk about basic BDSM etiquette. About the things you Definitely Shouldn’t Do.

 

I’ve read of lot of BDSM-themed fanfics. I’ve taught friends the basic rules and etiquette. I know the signs. I know what you do and don’t do.

Safewords. That’s a big one. You have to have safewords. Someone who doesn’t believe in safewords- someone who doesn’t respect them- that’s someone who doesn’t respect your right to consent.

That’s…that’s rule number one. Safewords are so very important. They’re a tenement to what BDSM really is- the foundation that BDSM actions rest upon. And yet, and yet. I ignored that.

And then there’s scene-ing. If you’re going to scene, you need to establish the rules. You need to establish boundaries, and set up the scene before you start. You can’t just…

 

You can’t just start a scene without permission. Especially not a vaguely non-con scene. Then that’s just….

That’s just….

 

I can’t. I can’t deal with what happened. I can’t put a name to this thing, this violation of my rights.

But these…these were all things that I knew. Rules I understood. I knew the signs. I knew what it meant if you didn’t respect them.

 

And yet…and yet. I just…was afraid. And in denial. And not dealing, because that’s what I do. I don’t fight, or run. I just shut down, when things get too bad. And they were too bad from the start, then.

 

My hands still shake when I’m alone in public on campus.

 

I am full of rage. Of fear. And I don’t know how to deal with any of it, so I keep talking about it and obsessing over it, in the hopes that someone will give me an answer.

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Subtext- What I’m Missing, and Why I Treat Everything Like a Joke

One of the more valuable things I’ve learned in life is that it is likely that no one has thought through it as much as you have.

No, your friend probably has not noticed they cut you off four times in this conversation.

No, your brother didn’t realize his music was that loud while you were studying.

No, your bff or S.O. doesn’t remember that you’re on a tight deadline right now.

No, no one else is paying attention to the four power dynamics at play in your friend group right now.

A habit of abused people is the tendency to notice every little detail. We magnify small nuances into major things, largely because small nuances quickly became breaking points for people. Managing moods, reading the room, perceiving danger in the order of words, the shift of body weight….it’s all a natural outgrowth of trying to manage unstable people around you.

Here’s the thing: most people don’t do that. I’m not saying everyone else is oblivious, I’m saying the over analysis of minor nuances is a habit of abuse.

I’ve never been good with subtext. This includes guilt tripping, silent treatments, passive aggressive behavior, etc. I wasn’t good with it then, and I’m only slightly better with it now. I read too much and not enough into things. I’m never sure what’s real and what’s not real. I’m bad at reading the room, bad at telling when something is a joke versus when it’s serious.

And so I view everything in the worst possible light. I assumed it’s whatever could harm me the most, instead of the least.

The best thing I could do for myself and my relationships would be to insist upon frank communication and a categorical denial of subtext. That, realistically, would be the safest option.

But half the time I don’t even know what the subtext is. And so I treat everything like a joke, because then no one can get mad when I miss things. I roll with it all, so I can avoid having to figure out what’s subtext and what’s my imagination.

I have paranoia. I have a categorical need to be accepted.

So I need to joke, and laugh, so that I do not panic.

Rebuilding My Life from the Ground Up- How to Be Overwhelmed from Kindness, While Taking Apart How I View Relationships

I didn’t really want to meet someone. I had sort of just been planning on not dating for a while, since my ability to trust people was entirely shot to shit.

It was…a weird series of coincidences.

I hadn’t really been planning on going to Harry Potter World, but that’s what the other roommate who came to visit me wanted, so we did. And we hadn’t meant to ride the Hippogriff ride so many times, but the line for Minions was too long, so we just rode it 6 times instead.

And I had bought the Slytherin locket, so he felt the need to comment on that.

And from there it just sort of…spiraled.

I liked him. He was funny and sweet and seemed to care what I had to say, which was weird given we’d been talking for about 10 minutes. And he waited to leave the ride so he could say bye to me.

I figured that would be the end of it. A nice moment in a very chaotic summer.

Only I ran into him after we left, and he gave me passes for free rides when she thought he was gonna give me his number, and…and.

 

And I had sort of wanted him to.

 

And I’m a creepy motherfucker, so over the course of two days I figured out how to find him on Facebook via scrolling through everyone who works at Harry Potter World.

But I couldn’t just message him. That’d be creepy. Wouldn’t it?

 

I took another couple of days before I finally worked up the courage to contact him.

But the thing was. The thing was, it wasn’t me being brave. I had nothing to lose.

After Him- the ex from before- after last year, I stopped evaluating people as partners or friends or whatever, and started evaluating them by how much they could hurt me.

And this new man really couldn’t. I was never gonna see him again, so what was the harm?

No harm. I could only win, right?

The worst he could do was reject me. Not respond. Think I’m creepy. And that’s some shit I already knew. So nothing too bad, altogether.

So eventually I messaged him. (Like…three days later.)

What I didn’t know was he was working at the time, so he didn’t- couldn’t- respond for three hours.

When he finally responded, I was too afraid to even look at the message. I didn’t look at it for hours. When I finally did look, I was pleasantly surprised. It was a positive message, happy to hear from me, though confused as to how I had found him.

 

It just got better from there. I was still anxious, and concerned, but what could one date hurt? I wouldn’t be anything serious, I was leaving in August and it was near the end of July.

We went on a date.

And another.

And another.

Against all odds, I liked him. I actually liked him. He was sweet, and funny, and seemed to legitimately care about what I was saying. He wanted to make sure I was having a good time.

 

He wanted to make sure I didn’t feel pressured to do anything.

 

It was just…so very different from what I was used to. It was just so strange, so not like before, that I sort of fell in love. Not that I was ever going to acknowledge or deal with that.

Three dates later and he bought me a $100 Slytherin cloak just to see the way my face would light up when he gave it to me.

I just…it was just different. So very nice.

 

Everything about him was just…considerate. So very considerate. And he cared about me so much, in so many ways.

It’s a combination of things. Big things and little things. All the things put together.

 

He sends me presents. It’s always for a reason, I’m having a bad day, I mentioned there was something I really wanted.

He listens, and cares, and messages me good morning every morning. He checks up on me to make sure I’m okay. We text basically 24/7. He’s sweet and kind and so very considerate.

 

And then…there’s the sex thing.

I…I have a hard time, viewing sex as an intimate thing. After everything, it’s become much less intimate to me.

Sex is…sex is casual. It’s fun. Intimacy is…it’s something else.

I had sex with him right away. Why not? He was attractive, and not pressuring me into doing anything. And it was fun, definitely enjoyable.

Then he came out to visit. And I don’t know…it was fun, but now I loved him and I wanted to be intimate. And I was suddenly uncomfortable and I wanted to stop and he just…he just did, he stopped, halfway through sex I wanted to stop and he was just okay with that. And wasn’t that strange, a whole new experience for me.

I’m still…I’m still not sure how to reconcile sex and relationships and intimacy, how to go back to them all beings connecting in the ways that they aren’t now.

 

But this…somehow, this is a start.

How Can I Breathe When You’re Still Strangling Me- An Insight on Rage

I’m fine.

That’s what I told everything. That’s what I tell everyone.

I…wasn’t okay. I’ve never been that not okay before. I was full of…rage. I hadn’t seen him, not since he came to visit me. I had been afraid, sure. When I walked around campus, I kept expecting to see him round the corner.

But I hadn’t actually seen him.

Until I did.

And I was just…full of rage. How dare he. What right did he have, to live his life and be happy and make friends and have people like him, when I’m struggling and everything sucks and I have a hard time trusting people again.

He had no right. For the first time in my life I actually understood what it meant to want to ruin someone’s life. For the first time in my life I actually understood what it meant to be so angry, so hurt and full of rage and just emotional that I was physically nauseous.

I wanted…I wanted him to hurt like I hurt. I wanted people to hate him the way that I did.

I wanted to make him understand what he did to me- how he made me felt. I wanted him to be overwhelmed with the guilt.

I want to be allowed to not forgive him.

And it’s not just…what he did. It’s what he left behind. It’s seeing things- seeing people- and seeing him in them. It’s friends that I liked well enough having his traits in all the worst ways.

Because in other people, traits he had wouldn’t necessarily have been bad by themselves. They aren’t great, not at all, but they wouldn’t actually bother me, except that they remind me of him. Except that the people that have them become mini versions of him.

 

It’s items in my life I previously had no problem using suddenly reminding me of him.

It’s feeling like there’s something I have to live up to, something I have to live down, and feeling like no matter what I do there’s something I’m missing. It’s feeling like I missed something, feeling like there’s some cosmic joke that I just don’t get.

 

It’s feeling physical nauseous when I have to look at him, and not being able to tell everyone- to scream it from the fucking rooftops- because that’s oversharing and too much and other people don’t need to know that.

Okay. Yeah. Sure. But maybe I want people to know. I need them to. I need people to validate my pain, because I spent 10 months being told I was making it up. I spent 10 months being gaslighted, being told everything I felt wasn’t real and my being unhappy was my own fault.

I need…I need to know that other people agree with me. That it wasn’t. That it was all him.

I need to feel safe in my own skin again. I need to feel like I can identify behaviors, keep myself safe from other people.

 

I’m not…I’m not sure I can. He warped my image of things- myself, relationships, sex. And I can’t tell what’s right and what’s him and what’s just anxiety anymore.

I can’t tell what’s normal and what’s not anymore. 10 months doesn’t seem like a long time, but every day for 10 months is long enough to change your perspective. Long enough to change how you view people, and how you view yourself.

 

I want to hurt him the way he hurt me. I want him to feel pain and guilt and I want to ruin his life.

I want to not see him in people I have to hang out with.

I want.

I want.

I want to be okay again.

It’s Not Right- It’s Okay

I’m over him. Really, I am. He’s awful. I never want to see him again.

But I’m not over what happened to me.

 

(Maybe that’s because I’m still trying to figure out what happened to me.)

 

Most people don’t really know what emotional abuse entails. They think it’s just insults and things that on the surface, would appear very obvious.

 

It’s not.

It’s more like…constantly being twisted around, trying to measure your words even as you say them to make sure they can’t be used against you, thrown back at you to prove how you’re wrong stupid immature incorrect unbelievable.

Gaslighting.

I had to google that one.

 

Saying things so that you’ll change what you wear. I stopped wearing makeup. Stopped putting out effort.

 

Made me feel like I was too emotional. Like my getting upset over things he said was my fault, not his.

Made me feel like I couldn’t complain about my own problems, because I’d never really had it that bad.

 

I feel like for me, the biggest one was that I was never enough.

I didn’t do enough to combat my mental illness, because apparently anyone can overcome their mental illness if they really want to, and anxiety disorder isn’t any different than regular anxiety anyway.

I was afraid of not doing what he wanted, because he’d just leave. He got so mad, at everything, and everything was always me screwing up.

 

He sacrificed so much for me, and in return I did nothing.

I hate him, but sometimes I think maybe he was right. I worry that I did deserve him, that the things he said were true.

 

I was never enough. Not pretty enough, not fit enough, not good enough to meet his family, not interesting enough to bother texting.

“If you love me you’ll do this.”

“Do you really love me?”

(Sexual abuse is not asking for consent. Sexual abuse is someone asking you to stop, saying they’re not in the mood, and you saying “if you really loved me you’d do this anyway, because I want it”.)

 

I don’t feel like I have a right to my feelings. I read other people’s stories and think “my experience must not be that bad”. No one in real life expects me to be affected, so clearly I’m not supposed to be.

 

I’m used to people trying to one-up my bad experiences. Even people in my life now- people I like- do it. See, there’s a difference between connecting, and one-upping. Connecting is saying “hey I understand, and here’s why”. I have people in my life who do that. One-upping is saying “you think that’s bad, but I had this”.

He always did that.

There’s still at least one person in my life who does. And yeah, I don’t blame him for doing it, cause his life was rough and really, where the fuck do I get off having problems.

 

Where the fuck do I get off having problems.

I don’t have a right to my pain. I didn’t suffer enough to be afraid- I didn’t suffer enough to call it abuse.

 

But my hands still shake when I think about it. When I think about him.

I don’t want to talk about my Bad Days and why I’m unhappy because I don’t feel entitled to them. And I like you, I do, but somehow you always know what to say to make it worse, and I’m never gonna call you out on it because I like you and I want you to like me and more importantly it’s not my fucking place.

 

I’m tired. I’m so very tired. I just want to have a right to my own hurt and my own feelings and I want to be allowed to be upset without being called melodramatic, because I know I’m melodramatic he told me that all the time but I rather be dramatic than vulnerable, so fuck you.

 

Only not really. Because I want you to like me.

 

I want everyone to like me.

 

(What makes it rape? I never said no. I just….didn’t want it. And there was no consent. But “no means no”, and I never said it.)

 

I feel like my foundation is cracking, a little bit, and I don’t know how to convince other people to see it.

 

I’m just me. Melodramatic and never fine but never really broken or affected by things either. I know what people think of me. I know why people do what they do.

I did deserve it. I get mad, when you say that, because you have no right, but I believe you, too, because you’re right and we all know it.

 

I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m angry, but I can’t even tell who I’m angry at, because we talk shit and sometimes I still feel that twinge inside, that I need to defend him, which what the fuck, I have no obligation to defend my ex- my abuser- that asshole.

I need to talk shit about him to be validated by them. I need to know all the things he said and did and thought were wrong.

 

I need it not to be my fault.

 

Then maybe I’ll start to believe it.

Cut Out the Cancer and the Scars Remain

No one is paying attention. No one is ever paying attention.

I suppose it’s my fault. Everything’s a joke to me, everything’s a real laugh, so no one takes me seriously. No one realizes that I mean what I say. No one realizes that I’m telling the truth, and that I really do think all these things.

I really do think that this was probably my fault. That people don’t really like me. That I did probably deserve him.

 

I did probably deserve him.

 

I hide behind jokes and oversharing. And now I’m no longer sure whether I’m okay or not. I’m no longer sure what even is happening in my life.

 

I feel…hollow. Like I should be dealing with what happened, or something. But instead I’m just stuck here, halfway between dealing with things and not, and I’m just upset and not sure what to do.

 

I don’t know how to make people get that I feel like I need to heal, but I still am not processing what happened.

I feel like everyone thinks I’m over it. Over what happened, because I can rationalize that is was a Bad Thing That People Don’t Deserve. But I’m not over it. I think I probably did deserve it. I feel like…like it affected me, somehow, and I need to talk about it because I need recognition that it was bad and I don’t know. Maybe something inside me is broken, and I’m trying really I am but I can’t rationalize my way out of this. I need…I need something. I don’t know what. I need people to help me, I need to believe them when they tell me he was an asshole.

 

I need someone to say I didn’t deserve it, because I can say it all I want but I don’t believe it, and I don’t know how to make myself believe it.

I lived so long trying to be what he wanted and letting him dictate part of my life. I spent so long trying to live up to his expectations of me.

 

People don’t get it.

 

They don’t get that I let all of this occur. That I never stepped back and said maybe this should stop. I did deserve it, because I never once put a stop to it. I just hid within my depressive episodes and hoped for the best- hoped that eventually it would stop and he would be nice and everything would be okay.

 

Maybe I did deserve it.

 

I don’t know. Rationally I know I didn’t. But it made me a better person. So maybe I did deserve it. It made me afraid, and maybe sometimes being afraid is a good thing. It made me more courteous, more conscientious. It made me desperately seek others approval, while also lashing out against others. I want to hurt someone. I want someone to notice I’m hurting.

 

Fuck.

 

Maybe I did deserve it.

 

Everything is hollow. I feel like I should be over it, because I can rationalize my way around it. I’m not over it. I don’t know how to be over it. I want to talk about the fact that I’m hurting but I don’t want to have to meet their eyes when they realize I’m broken.

 

Maybe I did…

No one deserves that.

 

 

Maybe I did deserve it.

 

 

 

 

Now I’m finally ready to ask for help, only it’s too late and I don’t know how.

Yes Means Yes (A Lesson on Consent)

….this one's even harder.

How do you talk about something you can barely bring yourself to deal with, to acknowledge and accept?

What is consent? How does someone know if they have your consent?

What consent isn't: him taking liberties and doing whatever the hell he wanted after just three days.

What consent is: making out with this new boy- this man you know so well and not at all- in the back of his car, with him making sure nothing is going to fast for you.

I have to rewrite my narrative. I have to redefine how I look at everything, understanding what I do, and it's made me realize something.

He never asked. He just took, and assumed he was allowed. He took, even when I said no. Even when I said stop.

And I never fought him, because I didn't feel like I was allowed to. I felt like if I did, he wouldn't like me anymore.

Why did I want him to like me so bad?

(I always want people to like me.)

At school, they used to teach us that "no means no". But that's a flawed rhetoric.

Not everyone knows how to say no.

Now they teach that "yes means yes".

Yes means yes.

I hadn't said yes. He talked me into it, guilted me into doing exactly what he wanted. Said "I love you" so that I would give him what he wanted. He sold his affection to me in exchange for sex.

How fucked is that.

I have a pretty fucked up concept of sex. I let people do things I don't want because they ignore what I say and they ignore the fact that I clearly desperately want them to stop.

Sometimes I wanted it. Sometimes I didn't. It didn't really matter all that much to him.

It matters a lot to this new boy. He's so hesitant, wants to be sure I don't feel pressured or rushed.

It's so…different. He's sweet, and caring. He gives a shit whether or not I'm into something- whether or not I actually want to do what we're doing.

It's just so different. I know it's how the world is supposed to be. But it's still different.

He never cared about what I wanted. He never asked. He didn't stop even when I did ask him to.

It was always about what he wanted.

I did so many things I didn't want to do, and now I have to relearn how to define myself, how to set boundaries and rules and keep myself safe.

But I'm getting better.

Yes means yes.