#347: A Consent Question


Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m a single woman that just got out of a 1 1/2 year relationship. I’m not very relationship savvy (who is?) and this was my first *real* relationship, but I have always made a point of having clear boundaries and been all about enthusiastic consent. If I wasn’t in the mood I wasn’t in the mood and I never had an issue telling someone no.

My ex was another story.

Whenever I would say no he would get upset with me, go very cold and ignore me. He would give me the silent treatment and when I *could* get a response out of him he would be very short and snappish and moody. This treatment would last well into the next day. This behavior upset me and started to make me feel like I couldn’t say no without incurring the cold shoulder. I talked about it with him and told him how it made me feel and he would respond by telling me that I was always allowed to say no and he would respect that but he was also allowed to feel disappointed. This made me feel like I was crazy for being upset with his behavior because of course he’s allowed to feel disappointed and I shouldn’t police his feelings. I would tell him that the problem was not that he was disappointed but how he treated me. Sometimes he would apologize for how he acted but the behavior never changed.

Nevertheless, every time the question of sex came up and I wasn’t in the mood, I always had to weigh my options: have sex to make him happy and maybe get into it or stand my ground and deal with the poor treatment. Treatment he had convinced me was reasonable because who was I to tell him how he should feel?

The relationship is only freshly over but I still feel crazy and unreasonable for feeling how I did.

I guess the question is where is the line? He said I was allowed to say no and he would respect that, but he was allowed to feel disappointed and I should respect that and I was policing his feelings when I brought up my issues. I know I should just get over it since the relationship is over but it’s made me nervous of dipping my toes into the dating pool again.

Thank you for your insight,

The Feelings Police

School’s back in session, so posting will be light as I find my feet with my new schedule, but I had to answer this question.

Dear Feelings Police,

Your ex boyfriend was a doucheloaf about this. It is not normal, and I am very glad you are not with him anymore. He is correct – he is entitled to feel any way he wants to about whether you will have sex with him. He is not entitled to sulk and freeze you out and punish you for his feelings as a form of pressure. The silent treatment is a sign of contempt and a fight for control. Everything about this behavior is threatening and coercive. It says “Do what I want to, or else I get to treat you like shit and tell you that it’s your fault.” It stems from a giant sense of entitlement on his part.

Fuck that fucking guy in his abusive asshole fucking fuckface.

The good news is that most people do not behave like this. You are correct and smart to be watchful for signs of it in future dating partners, though, because it is The Worst. If you have a counselor or some close friends on Team You, talking through this with them might help you process how very,VERY angry you’re going to get when the full extent of how he treated you sinks in.

Maybe invest in a stretchy pair of purple shorts just in case.

Edited to Add: Any time in a relationship any of you feel yourselves thinking “Well, I should probably have sex with now or else s/he’ll be mad and mean to me,” take it as a giant sign that something is Not Okay, and start thinking about how to get yourself to a safe place that is Away. Even if Away is the next room by yourself with a door closed where you can hear yourself think.


179 thoughts on “#347: A Consent Question

  1. LW, you are totally right and you did everything right and I’m glad you’re out of that relationship. And CA is totally right and happily has found new swear words for me to use to describe people. Which is good because I’m having a mansplainers-out-of-the-woodworks kind of day.

    Your ex was entitled to feel however he wanted. And he should have treated you as if he really believed you have the right to say no. He didn’t. He treated you as if you were shitty for saying no, which means he never believed that you actually did have the right to say no. But like the Captain says, not everyone is like this. I’d say even most men aren’t like this. Give yourself some time to stop asking yourself if you’re crazy or wrong somehow (and hon, boyfriends who leave you wondering if you’re crazy or wrong are parasites) and then jump back in the dating pool.

    I am so grateful that you have the boundaries that you do. Keep them; they are just right.

    1. Right. The correct answer to “Not right now, maybe tomorrow?” is “Okay! And yeah, tomorrow would be great. Or anytime you want to. I’ll look forward to it.”

      NOT a sulkathon.

      1. It can even be a little bit sulky and still be okay — sulky in a bummed out, “I’m-really-disappointed-but-not-mad-at-you” way. If I want to do Fun Thing X, and it would be more fun with Partner, but Partner does not want to do Fun Thing X, I can be a little down about it, but I can’t take that out on Partner. It’s the outright punishment for saying no that’s NOT OKAY.

  2. Okay, NO.

    I have a freaking mental illness which makes me prone to interpret any sign of abandonment or rejection as a sign that someone HATES ME and is going to LEAVE ME FOREVER. (Seriously, today I got freaked out a little because my partners went out for a few hours without me.) For obvious reasons, someone saying “no” to me initiating sex tends to set my jerkbrain off a little.

    But you know what? “If you reject me I feel like you hate me” is no excuse for the silent treatment and the cold shoulder. It means that I have to do work on *myself*, to make me more secure in my partners’ love for me; it does not mean that I have the right to coerce them into sex. And mild disappointment *certainly* isn’t an excuse to do so.

    You can be like “well, I’m horny and sexually frustrated now, so I’ll masturbate,” or “well, I’m bored now, I’ll read a book that I like,” or “well, I feel like my partner doesn’t like me very much, so I’ll kiss them and snuggle with them if they want me to.” The silent treatment? Not acceptable!

    You can’t control your feelings, but you can control your reactions to your feelings. I might be disappointed that a restaurant doesn’t have food I can eat, but I don’t yell at the waitress. I might be disappointed that the company I really wanted to work for won’t give me a job, but I don’t leave flaming poo at their doorstep. I might be disappointed that my girlfriend doesn’t want to have sex with me now, but I don’t give her the silent treatment.

    1. “You can’t control your feelings, but you can control your reactions to your feelings.”
      This is something every human being needs to understand. The world would be so much better off.

      1. That should be a cross-stitched throw pillow on every bed. Seriously. And I think it’s awesome enough to repeat again:
        “You can’t control your feelings, but you can control your reactions to your feelings.”

        LW, I’m glad you’re not with that jackass, and I’m glad that you’re questioning that feeling. Mostly, I’m glad you’re here, talking to us, instead of getting your brain fucked with.

        Also, related but not necessarily germane to your question: If your ex’s goal was to have sex with you, he wasn’t very bright. Treating your partner like shit and/or ignoring them rarely leads to enthusiastic fun sex later.

        1. The best part of having it as a cross-stitched throw pillow on every bed is that when people are not remembering that, you can just hit them with the pillow. Genius, I tell you!

          1. It would be awesome if someone started offering a range of cross-stitched throw pillows from this site that can specifically be used to hit people with when not remembering their very useful guidance. Not too big or heavy, but satisfyingly thwacky. Anyone here a cross-stitch champion?

          2. Yes! 🙂 And I’d love to do that, as well. It would be a public service. (Sadly I would have to charge for it, because I don’t have another income at the moment, but hey. I’d love to be paid for cross stitching.) Only thing is, I’m in the UK and it seems most of you are in the States… could be a problem.

    2. Thank you thank you thank you for saying this. I had a partner who, due to a whole host of self-esteem and sexual guilt issues, would try and initiate sex and if I was too tired or just not in the mood for whatever reason, it was more often than not met with pouting, crying, whining, and all manner of “you don’t think I’m attractive!” histrionics. I don’t doubt that her history prior to meeting me meant that she did legitimately have difficulty believing that by turning down her advances at that particular moment I wasn’t rejecting HER, but the behavior not changing effectively meant that I gave up my bodily autonomy for the sake of her inability to deal with her issues and that is no way to live.

      1. And the thing is there *are* compromises you can do for someone who has a tendency to believe that rejecting their advances = rejecting them (like giving them cuddles, or kisses, or flattery, or whatever they happen to find reassuring). But it has to come from a fundamentally non-coercive place. “Let’s see how we can work around your guilt issues” is Step Two. Step One is “stop fucking trying to coerce me into sex.”

        1. EXACTLY. There are all kinds of work arounds and negotiations that can happen, but they all have to start with the person doing the coercing realizing that their issues are THEIR issues and they need to work on their own shit and figure out what they actually need from their partner. Is it about physical closeness? Okay, we can cuddle while I doze. Is it about feeling attractive? I can tell you the ways I think you’re super hot. Is it about sex drives or schedules not lining up? We can have an honest talk and see how we can work around that with designated date nights or something. But “I’ll continue to try and make you have sex with me” is not ever the acceptable solution.

  3. The way I see it, you were allowed to say no, he was allowed to be disappointed, and in turn you were allowed to feel like he was behaving like a giant douche when he was “disappointed” and eventually dump his ass. Your feelings about his behavior (treating you badly) were every bit as valid as his feelings about your action (saying no), you just handled your feelings like an adult and talked to him about them instead of whatever it is he was doing.

    1. Yes! So much yes to this!

      I feel like people often forget (or maybe don’t realize?) this step of being allowed to have feelings. Yes, you are allowed to feel however you feel in response to someone’s behaviour, and they are allowed to feel however they feel back about your behaviour. He chose to ignore the fact that you had a right to your feelings because it gave him an advantage.

      Also, LW, I want to second this part of the Captain’s response:

      “If you have a counselor or some close friends on Team You, talking through this with them might help you process how very,VERY angry you’re going to get when the full extent of how he treated you sinks in.”

      When I got out of my first serious relationship, I had many mixed feelings about how my ex and I had both contributed to the problems in the relationship, and how we just had very different ideas of what relationships should look like. But eventually I came to see that, in his perfect relationship, he was allowed to be unreasonable/entitled/possessive/a huge jerk, and I felt really, really angry. I didn’t have a counselor, but I sometimes think I could have really used one. I did have a couple really good friends who helped me process some of it, and I also found that reading feminist blogs helped me deal with a bunch of it on my own. We all have our own things that help, though, so find yours and take care of yourself.

      1. And you can have feelings about feelings about feelings about feelings! THE FUNHOUSE MIRROR NEVER ENDS.

        It’s almost as if humans are inherently subjective, possessing vast internal worlds, and there is no way to logic other people into feeling the way you want them to. You have to make your peace with the fact that people are gonna feel what they’re gonna feel, and the only person you can truly make decisions for is yourself.. Fancy that.

        (This reads as bitter to me, but I can’t make it less bitter. I just wanna say, it’s not about anybody here; it’s just family members being all up in each other’s business that’s got me down.)

      2. A few months ago, I too got out of a long-term relationship with a jerky mcjerk brain who had different ideas on what a relationship should look like. When we got to a boundary I had and didn’t want to cross, I explained to him what my concern was. Instead of understanding or trying to understood, home boy dumped me. After the initial shock wore off, I felt angry towards him for months, but I cut off contact with him so I didn’t have a chance to vent at him (most likely a good thing). I also found feminist blogs like Captain Awkward to be immensely helpful in understanding what I went through and what to look out for in the future.

        So my advice is seconding the seek the counsel of a professional or friends (or both), allow yourself to be very, very angry for however long you need, and know that your world is going to be so much better now that your loser ex isn’t a part of it.

  4. Your ex–like many people with control issues–equated feelings with actions. As I like to point out, I was pissed off at the douchecanoe who almost ran me off the road on my way to work. That doesn’t mean that I sped up and rammed into the back of his car with my car.

    Your ex could be disappointed. But he doesn’t get to pull manipulative bullshit like the silent treatment and acting with contempt towards you. (If you two were incompatible in that area, then it was something he’d have to decide to live with or end things over, not bully you into fucking him.) Here’s the thing: it’s bigger than sex. What about other areas where you draw a boundary? What would he have done then–more pouting and sulking? More manipulation? I guarantee you, he was doing this so you’d be so uncomfortable after saying no that you’d just let him have his way. And it wouldn’t just stop at sex.

    Emotions are not actions.

    1. Here’s the thing: it’s bigger than sex. What about other areas where you draw a boundary?

      Yes yes yes yes. Sex is never, ever the only way in which these things play out. Eventually it would have been about when and with whom you associate, or what you wear, or how you eat, or how you spend your money, or or or…

      LW, I am SO SO glad you’re out of that relationship after a relatively short amount of time. You are not crazy or unreasonable at all in feeling like what he did was wrong, his behavior was not at all acceptable, and as the Cap’n notes, there will come a point when you will be TOWERINGLY angry that somebody dared treat you like this. Be ready with some kind of support system for when that happens. And rest assured that you have every right in the world both to be angry, and to set boundaries where you need them to be and have that respected by future partners.

      (I am knee-jerking a bit, as I’ve lived all this, except I put up with it for eight years, and for me it was as likely to result in hours of screaming abuse as the silent treatment, and the slipping of boundaries was non-stop; I still have problems coping with saying no and where I can set my boundaries, even though I’ve now been with the best partner in the whole world for at least as long as I was with the abusive asshat. I sometimes feel like I’m a ghost in a mirror in a horror film, warning the person currently wandering around the house of horrors to get out before it’s too late and they suffer my fate, and I tend to be inordinately thrilled when I encounter someone who has indeed gotten out. Nobody should have to live with this behavior, ever. Also, I want to stress that I do indeed have the best partner in the whole world now–these people do exist and it’s possible to find them and find happiness with them.)

  5. LW – let me suggest a simple standard to use in situations like this:

    Do not pay attention to what they say or what they claim to feel, keep score by what they do! I can feel angry all I want, but what matters is how I choose to express my anger. (violent acting out, yelling, going to the gym, scrubbing counter-tops, etc.)

    The ex- said he respected your rights, but what he did wasn’t respectful at all: it was openly hostile and resentful.

    As you enter the dating world again, I recommend using this standard, and when a date/suitor/friend/co-worker says one thing, but does another, call them out on it:

    “I know you said you really value our time together, but this is the third date you’ve postponed. It looks like there’s something else you value more; can you share with me what that is?”

    “I know you said you really wanted to help me with this project, but each time I’ve asked for your help, you’ve made excuses. Do you not want to help me?”

    “You tell me that you respect my rights, including my right to say no, but whenever I actually use those rights, you act angry and upset like I’ve done something I shouldn’t have.”

    Your ex-, like a lot of guys, has learned that there are some phrases you must know, and be able to recite on a moment’s notice, whether they believe them or not: “I respect your right to say no” is up there with “It’s your body; whatever you decide to do, I’ll support”. Good guys genuinely believe these things, but any guy that wants to get laid has learned they have to parrot those remarks.

    Keep score by what they do, not what they say.

    1. Yes, I used to think I knew someone well when we’d had a lot of conversations and talked a lot about our values. Over the years, though, I’ve now come to believe that knowing someone well is far more about having had the time to observe and interact in a lot of different situations and SEE their values. Actual behaviour gives you a level of insight that conversations, no matter how heartfelt, just don’t match.

      1. This is something that, as more people meet over the internet, is really important to be aware of. You may get to know who they think they are, but who they are can be a very different animal.

          1. I think it works great the way you originally had it. “Who they think they are” and “who they are” can be completely different animals! It’s true! And concise, which is usually a good thing. 🙂

        1. That’s so true in friendships as well as romantic/sexual relationships. My three best friends and I met via the internet and we were all hugely worried that we just wouldn’t like each other at all once we met, or that it’d all fall apart. Since they live in scattered states of the US and I live in Australia, meeting was quite an investment in every sense!

          1. I agree! Five of my closest (non-romantic) friends I met online in the last few years. But there’s a difference there, none of us were trying to appear or project our “ideal” selves, just ourselves.

          2. I think you can see at least parts of who people really are from things they write or say, particularly when they’re interacting with you or with someone else.

          3. Oh yes, it’s not a complete falsehood, I don’t think that at all (assuming they are being sincere and not pathological liars). It’s just we can more easily control the message and the package when it’s online; IRL the situation is beyond our control, we are who we are.

  6. MY ex was like this too! And I’ve recently started dating a guy who will initiate and when I say, “sorry I don’t really feel like having sex” his reaction is invariably, “ok, that’s fine! Do you mind if I cuddle you/masturbate while looking at your butt?” IT IS SO AMAZING. TO BE ABLE TO SAY NO. AND NOT HAVE TO BRACE FOR THE TANTRUM!

    Like, really. It feels nice to say no without being sent on an effing guilt trip.

    But because of the ex I still feel a weird sort of nervousness before I decline sexual offerings and I really resent him for that!

    1. THIS. I was in a relationship with a doucheloaf like the LW’s boyfriend over a year ago and he would guilt me like CRAZY when I wasn’t in the mood. If I suggested he could masturbate as an alternative, he would act so incredibly hurt. But my new, great boyfriend who has a higher sex drive than me? He’ll cuddle me or I’ll cuddle him while he masturbates. And the thing is? His wonderful reaction and desire to only have completely enthusiastically consensual sex with me makes me want to do more to help him out when I don’t want to get my lady bits involved.

      Consent is sexy, and so is a kind, understanding reaction to temporary rejection!

    2. Same here. And LW, after I got out of the relationship with the jerk, I thought that I had been unreasonable during the whole time and that I’d have to somehow learn how to get my sex drive up so that it didn’t happen again (as I also had “friends” telling me to “fake it ’til you make it” and just try to force myself to make guy happy). I didn’t change, I just waited it out and decided that if I met another guy who was like that I wouldn’t put up with it again because I figured I can’t be the ONLY person on the planet to say no more than yes, and I realized I’d be happier alone than with someone who made me feel like previous boyfriend did. Then, I met a wonderful guy who doesn’t treat me like that and realized that hey, it wasn’t me, first boyfriend was just a douche.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that you’re not alone and in this little comment nest there are other people who have had this similar situation have been able to meet great guys who treat them with respect. So, although when you get back into dating it’s a good idea to watch for signals of your previous guy’s douchebaggery, not everyone is like that and there are also really great guys out there that can make you feel wonderful and will respect your boundaries because they truly respect and care for YOU.

    3. Yes yes yes THIS. I met a guy like that, who would listen to me when I said or acted like I wasn’t interested, but also listen to me and back the heck off when I said I wasn’t interested or acted disinterested. Even when I said I wasn’t interested halfway through the proceedings. Even if sometimes I just seem sort of not into it, he’ll ask me if I’m okay and give me a graceful out if I’ve changed my mind.

      Reader, I married him.

      And the respectful behavior on his part has continued to this day. As others have said, the respectful behavior on his part has made me all the more willing to cuddle him/kiss him/give him a hand (if you know what I’m saying and I think you do) the times he is turned on/horny and I am not.

  7. LW, others have said it, but I feel like a chorus of agreement might be a good thing right now. There is a BIG difference between feeling disappointed and giving an extended bout of silent treatment. One is a natural reaction to being rejected (even if it’s a not-right-now rejection), the other is passive-aggressive manipulation and GROOMING. Because that’s the thing. What your ex was doing, effectively, was training you to give in to his sexual advances whenever he wanted, while still allowing him to keep up the personal delusion that he wasn’t being coercive. AND he was gaslighting you, further pushing you into a place where you’d doubt your own feelings and their appropriateness.

    The end result for him is a silent, compliant sexual partner who acts according to his whims and who, since they never complain or say no, could be assumed to just happen to want sex when, where and how he does.

    I’m so glad you’re free of him, now.

    1. Ugh. So true. I think Bunny is totally right about this being a way for him to delude himself into believing that he wasn’t doing anything wrong. I actually think a lot of the more subtle kinds of coercion come from that sort of place, but I’m basing that totally on my own thoughts, so I might be completely wrong.

      LW, keep in mind that it isn’t your job to make your ex, or any future partner or anyone else, understand why this kind of behaviour is totally not cool. I wouldn’t be surprised if your ex really and truly believes that he was entirely in the right every time he froze you out, because of that whole self-delusion thing. But you don’t have to explain to him why he was actually entirely in the wrong, and if someone else does the same thing to you, you don’t have to explain it to them either. I mean, you can try, if you want to, but it isn’t your responsibility to make sure they know. You can just leave people for doing that kind of stuff. Maybe, if enough people dump assholes who try to passive-aggressively groom them, they’ll see that what they’re doing doesn’t work, and stop doing it.

    2. Right. Part of being a caring partner is reacting with respect and kindness when you hear no, LW, not just not being a complete dick about it. Your partner should have demonstrated a certain level of concern for your comfort, not just an ability to set aside his. And he should have gone out of his way to make sure you didn’t feel pressured or uncomfortable in general. He was an abusive jerk. I hope he doesn’t get any sex from anyone for a really long time.

    3. Bunny is right, this good answer of CA deserves a huge chorus of approval.
      Keep in mind that a guy who starts by ignoring your sexual feelings may well end up beating you up when you get pregnant. It’s just a matter of degree. So good for you for getting out of that one! Remember him as a bad example, and next time someone tries to do that to you, get up, put your clothes on and walk right out that door.
      There was a recent thread here about the silent treatment (a parental one if I remember correctly). Read it, I think it’ll clarify many things for you.

  8. The whole point of consent is that words are more important than feelings. It doesn’t matter if I WANT to have sex, if I feel like you really wanted it anyway, if I feel like I could get away with it– your words are more important than any of that. Your ex is meeting the bare minimum of plausible deniability for respecting consent, while undermining what consent is all about.

    Yes, he has a right to be disappointed, and he has a right to let you know he is disappointed, but he does NOT have a right to make his feelings more important, more decisive, more powerful than your words. It is ugliness and manipulation and erasure.

    You deserve better than walking on eggshells. You deserve better than sex being something to endure. You deserve better than feeling constantly trapped. Congratulations on your emancipation.

  9. But you know what? “If you reject me I feel like you hate me” is no excuse for the silent treatment and the cold shoulder. It means that I have to do work on *myself*, to make me more secure in my partners’ love for me; it does not mean that I have the right to coerce them into sex. And mild disappointment *certainly* isn’t an excuse to do so.

    ❤ ❤ ❤

    …and what everyone else said. He was entitled to feel however he felt, and you were entitled to kick his ass to the curb for acting like a sulky baby about his feelings.

    Conflict about where/when/how to have sex is really common in relationships, but the solution is NOT for one partner to guilt-trip the other into unwanted sex. This seems like a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately it isn't for a lot of people :-/ rape culture woohoo

  10. Feelings are not behaviors. I can be upset when someone accidentally kicks me in the shin if it hurts – I am not allowed to then punch them in the face. Telling me not to be upset is feelings policing. Telling me not to punch people in the face is perfectly fine.

    Your ex was gaslighting you. Doubting your own emotions and wondering if you’re crazy is textbook gaslighting. I’m so, so glad you got out of that relationship, and I really hope you find someone who respects your feelings in the future.

  11. Oh man, that guy was an abusive jerk. I am so glad you are out!

    I hope you take time before dating again, because it can take a while to get to where you are comfortable defending your boundaries and really expect your partner to totally respect you. Right now, in the back of your brain, you might expect any guy to be a huge jerk, and it might lead you to let the next asshole get away with shit too long.

    Something to consider: if he was manipulative and controlling about sex, was he the same way about other things in the relationship? Probably, although not necessarily. Worth thinking about.

    Finally, all this jerktastic crap is on him. You didn’t do anything wrong. You never policed his feelings, you just drew the line about what behavior you would tolerate.

    When I decline sex, I get cuddles and pancakes, which is pretty much the same as when I agree to sex. Declining sex should never have worrisome Repercussions.

    1. First off, I have to agree emphatically with everyone else here.

      Also, this is a really good point:

      Right now, in the back of your brain, you might expect any guy to be a huge jerk, and it might lead you to let the next asshole get away with shit too long.

      This resonates with me as someone who grew up abused and then dated abusive jerks for years before finally seeing the light. Hopefully the LW’s case was a one-off douchecanoe run-in, but regardless, taking some time to reaffirm boundaries can only help going forward. And finding the likes of Captain Awkward is an awesome silver lining to that crummy experience. I highly recommend that the LW read CA’s Darth Vader posts for great tips on how to spot these types of dudes early in the dating process.

      1. I didn’t grow up abused, but I do have a history of dating somewhat narcissistic boundary-pushers. When i started dating my current partner, it took a while to really start believing that he wasn’t going to do jerky things. A *while*. And he doesn’t–he really just isn’t a jerk, which still sometimes surprises me. I has experienced that sort of behavior with so many guys that it just seemed par for the course. It really, truly, doesn’t need to be that way.

  12. Oh wow, I can’t believe my ex-husband is still pulling this stunt.

    Sarcastic, and probably you did not date my ex-husband, but the story is incredibly familiar to me (and many others, apparently). Congrats on getting out, and congrats on questioning the patterns of behavior from this dead relationship.

    Possible update from the future? Your innate awesomeness combined with your new self-knowledge attracts a sane, loving, respectful partner. At first you guys will be all over each other. Eventually you’ll have to make time for sleep, food, and work. Sometimes your New Partner will be all “Hey Baby” and you’ll be all “Hey, I love you but I’m tired/have an exam in the morning/I ate too many tacos” and your New Partner will be all, “OK, I still love you, brb though!” And then New Partner will go take care of things and also bring you a popsicle.

    1. "eventually you'll have to make time for sleep, food, and work." Still trying to get my head round the fact that if partner and I want to spend two hours messing around in bed that we need to go to bed two hours before midnight so I can be on time for uni.

      Also, saying no to sex because 'Tired!' still makes me feel a little worried. I found myself in a place a while back where I'd had sex with Partner but wanted to go to sleep but did it anyway because I knew they'd enjoy it. I silently resented the hell out of them for a couple of weeks and then finally spoke up. Partner was extremely supportive and upset that I hadn't felt able to refuse, only because it wouldn't have bothered them at all that I didn't want to. I'm dealing with it by reminding myself of all the good responses, and by how much better sex is for both of us when I really, really want it. And by reminding myself that's it's okay to do what I want and refuse what i don't, even if the other person is a little disappointed.

  13. I dated this guy Cole for a while (he’s a doucheloaf too so I don’t care about using his real name), who I’d admired from afar for a while before we met; when we first got together, it was really exciting to have lots of sex with him! Because he was super hot! And he liked me too! Also, part of it was that he was very clear about only liking guys, and I was very early in my medical/social transition and not many people were validating my guy-ness, so it was an extra boost to what at the time was very shaky self-confidence.

    Early on, he said “just so you know you will always have to be the one to end sex, because I will want to continue indefinitely.” And I figured that would be ok; he was up-front and honest about the situation, and he made it seem like he’d be fine with it. But soon I learned that he was serious – he wanted sex a lot, and he didn’t want to stop sexual activity when it started. He wanted to have sex every time we got together. And it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, but I wanted to do non-sex things with him too, you know? We were still getting to know each other and I was excited to spend more time going out with him and doing fun things together. But when I suggested we go have a date that didn’t involve sex, he sulked. Big time.

    He pressured me into having sex in the back of my car in my work parking lot when I felt pretty shy about that. If I was at his house and didn’t want to have sex with him, or didn’t want to again when we’d already fucked and gotten dressed and watched a movie, or my bad wrist got sore or I was otherwise ready to stop… he would pout. And start talking about how much he felt like people didn’t love or need him, etc. etc. so often… I’d just fuck him anyway because I didn’t want to deal with the guilt (and as I mentioned above, wasn’t very confident and used to let folks w/assertive personalities stomp all over me).

    It took me a long time to realize how shitty the situation was. I had a LOT of sex that I didn’t actually want, and I feel like when you don’t *really* feel like you can say “no” to someone, you can’t really honestly say “yes” either. I’m not really sure that I honestly felt that excited YES for long after the first few times we saw each other. Even though this relationship only lasted a few months and ended about seven years ago, I still often feel skittish about saying no.

    One of my worst memories is the time, not too long after that relationship ended, when I had a full-blown panic attack during sex with my primary partner (who I was dating at the time of this short-lived relationship and have now been with for about a decade), who has never pressured me around sex at all! But they initiated sex at a time when I wasn’t really feeling up for it and something in my brain said “just go along with it, that’s what you need to do” and I knew that was terrible and felt supremely fucked up and just lost it. And of course they just saw me start bawling and panicking during sex, which I’m sure was a terrible moment for them too. Urgh.

    LW, sorry to vomit my life story at you, but I want to stand in solidarity with you and say that your reaction was fine, his was terrible, and I’m really sorry you had to deal with that. But very glad you’re no longer in that relationship! Hooray!

    1. Ugh, your experience with your ex sounds AWFUL. I am so sorry he turned out to be such an evil.

      Mine didn’t pressure me nearly so hard into sex, but for most of our relationship we weren’t wearing condoms (young and silly and each other’s first) and I told him six or nine months in that I wanted to start using them again. He agreed, but then during sex he would whine and cajole about how it doesn’t feel the same, and I would sigh and agree “just this once” and then stop bringing it up.

      I’m commenting because the story about the mid-sex panic attack really hit home for me. That happens for me during sex more often than not. Not so much triggered by that ex, but other stuff. Even if we can convince ourselves something is fine in the moment, all the not-fineness builds up. The damage is real, the hurt is real. Congratulations on what sounds like a lovely relationship.

      1. You know, usually it’s nice to know I’m not the only one who’s dealt with a hard thing, but in this instance I am super sad to hear that you’ve had a problem with panic attacks during sex too. I avoided sex for a long time because I was so afraid it would happen again, or would be so worried about it that I would start to panic a little bit, and then felt terrible and guilty, etc. etc.
        It took quite a while for sex not to be this big scary thing, even with someone I love deeply and trust completely.

        Big Jedi hugs to you, witching hour! And thanks for sharing.

        1. De-lurking to say, I had panic attacks during sex for about TWO YEARS, and my ex was sometimes basically decent about it, and sometimes cried/cut himself/punched walls/silent-treatmented me. And still, somehow, I thought I HAD to stay with him because no one else would put up with me any better! I am wiser and more single now, and sorry you guys have also dealt with the panic-monster during what should be a good time between enthusiastically-consenting adults. It is a sucky thing. (((Jedi hugs all around)))

      2. Urgh, the ‘it doesn’t feel the same’ whine … as a cis het woman, my feelings on that are, ‘It feels a LOT better than unwanted pregnancy, buster – goodbye!’

    2. “when you don’t *really* feel like you can say “no” to someone, you can’t really honestly say “yes” either”
      A thousand times Yes to this.

  14. I think this post shall become a cornerstone of the award-winning series Emotional Abuse Is Real Abuse.

    It took me a long time to realize that I was in an abusive relationship because Darth Former never hit me. Manipulating, controlling, gaslighting? That’s abuse.

    1. Ugh, yes. That was part of the reason why I stayed in my last abusive relationship for so long. Even once I figured out what was going on and ended the relationship, it was nearly impossible to talk to friends about it, because to them emotional abuse wasn’t “real” abuse. To them, it was just another breakup, so what was the big deal and why was I so upset?

      Anyway, I’m happy for you that you also figured it out and got out.

    2. My ex “only” hit me once… right after I said no to sex because I wasn’t feeling well, which was apparently the height of selfishness. That entire afternoon is pretty much the defining moment of how fucked up that relationship was. It ended up in the emergency room when I passed out from dehydration after he interrupted my nap an hour later.

      But you know, sex when dehydrated is *totally* a good idea.

    3. There was a letter writer not all that long ago who said, ‘I’m so glad he hit me, now I have an excuse to leave.’

      Because, yeah, making someone feel like they’ve been scraped off the bottom of your shoe isn’t actually doing anything BAD, you know. And making someone feel like they need a real excuse to leave, not just ‘I feel like shoe crud when you’re around’, that’s perfectly reasonable, too, right?

  15. Dear Feelings Police,

    When I was 17, I dated a guy like this. I am 100% sure he did not and does not think he raped me. I am 100% sure we had sex I did not want to be having, but I chose not to say “no” because the alternative to five minutes of him grunting was five hours of him pouting. Sure, he paid lip service to the idea of consent, but then he got so hung up on the question of why I was saying no that eventually I just stopped saying it.

    That is coercion, and it’s not okay.

    Now I’m in a relationship with someone whose sex drive is a lot stronger than mine. We’re working on ways to deal with that. Sometimes he’s sad that we don’t have sex more often; we’ve talked about ways he can express that so as not to trigger the old I’ll-just-give-in habits in my head. He spent a while hiding his disappointment completely, but that was no good for him, and as his partner I want to know how he’s feeling and to help him deal with things that make him sad. So we talk about it, and we talk about how to talk about it, and we talk with our therapists about it. We look for situations that feel safe to me, and interactions that feel emotionally and physically satisfying for him. It’s hard work but well worth doing. And whenever I say “no” he says “okay” and he means it, because he doesn’t just want to get his rocks off; he wants us to be having hot, consensual sex that we both enjoy. If I’m not into it, he’s disappointed, but he’s not disappointed in me. He’s just bummed that a fun thing is off the agenda.

    I mention this not to gloat or anything, but to make it really clear that men can feel disappointed about not getting laid and yet not be assholes about it. Your ex expressed his disappointment in toxic ways. It is really not your fault for “not accepting his feelings of disappointment” or whatever line of bullshit he tried out on you. It’s his fault for caring more about his physical urges than your emotional needs.

    You’re well out of there. Enjoy singlehood, and may any future partners of yours truly value your happiness whether you’re in the mood for sex or not.

    1. When I was 17, I dated a guy like this. I am 100% sure he did not and does not think he raped me. I am 100% sure we had sex I did not want to be having, but I chose not to say “no” because the alternative to five minutes of him grunting was five hours of him pouting. Sure, he paid lip service to the idea of consent, but then he got so hung up on the question of why I was saying no that eventually I just stopped saying it.

      I think this sort of situation is exacerbated by the prevalent Rape Culture concept that sex is something that men want (and cannot really control, read Cliff Pervocracy’s Myth of the Boner Werewolf) and something that women do not really ever want unless they are sluts but “give up” to men in exchange for a relationship.

      When this scary and dangerous concept is internalized then surely the result can be “consensual rape” since if men ALWAYS want sex and women are only ever giving in i.e. choosing not to say no… I’m not putting this very well but there seems to be a link here.

      1. When this scary and dangerous concept is internalized then surely the result can be “consensual rape” since if men ALWAYS want sex and women are only ever giving in i.e. choosing not to say no

        (TW for apologism) Actually the end result of that mentality is there is no such thing as rape aside from stranger-in-the-bushes rape. It’s very convenient to argue that “good women” don’t really like sex and only have it for the sake of keeping the man happy (therefore there’s no such thing as enthusiastic consent, so if the woman had sex with the man for any reason it can’t be rape because consent doesn’t exist) OR only sluts enjoy sex so if she had sex with him she must be a slut and secretly enjoyed it and is just claiming she said no or didn’t consent to try to hide her slutty nature.

        It’s a very neat trap that conveniently makes rape very rare, and unfortunately this mentality is not only alive but fucking THRIVING in our culture, especially in the court systems.

        1. Another problem is that if women feel like there’s something deeply wrong with them if they want sex, they’re likely to be a lot less open about it when they want it, and some will actually genuinely feel like they need to wait until they’re pushed a bit and then make a show of ‘giving in’.

          Which obviously can and will be used to excuse everything from pushiness to rape – though I think genuine misunderstandings are far more rare than that – most human beings are good enough at body language to easily tell the difference. But it’s an excuse that many will use and believe.

    2. because he doesn’t just want to get his rocks off; he wants us to be having hot, consensual sex that we both enjoy

      This. I wonder, reading so many letters and responses, whether some of the people who manipulate and coerce and sulk give a damn about anything more than their own precious orgasm (if it’s not outright, deliberate mind-games as part of a larger pattern of abuse). Does it even cross their minds that another person is involved, that it’s not just a matter of using this human-shaped thing for masturbation?

  16. You were both right he can feel however he wants and you can say no. No one gets to treat people poorly ever. Ps relationships are over rated.

    1. Ps relationships are over rated.

      This strikes me as kinda unhelpful. For some people, they’re unwanted or unnecessary, but for other people, they’re really important. The LW seems to be in that latter category. Telling her that it’s not important sounds to me like another form of feelings policing.

      1. I can see both side to this. Especially as women, we are socially conditioned to feel “unwhole” if we are not in a relationship. Whether we are individually “built” to be in relationships or not, learning to enjoy our own company and feel the strength in our autonomy is powerful, healthy and (IMO) necessary for growth. But clearly LW’s feelings of devastation (or anyone else going through a breakup) are legitimate and to be mourned.

    2. The ‘you must be in a relationship’ idea is overrated, yes. Relationships shouldn’t get a free pass as if being in one is automatically better than not. But loving, joyous relationships do exist and they certainly aren’t overrated.

  17. My take on silent treatment:

    I’ve been guilty of doing the silent treatment to others when I was young and new to romantic relationships and unable to handle the adult feelings involved with them. At this point (a couple decades later), I believe that I understand them to the very core: It’s a quiet temper tantrum that allows you the frantic attention you crave while you justify your shitty behaviour in your own head and figure out a way to expain to the other person why it is their fault so you don’t feel shameful about being a complete jackass. After that, you choose when you get to engage that person again, fully prepared and on the offensive.

    It’s a maniuplation tactic wraped in a defense mechanism designed to hide the core structure of entitled id frenzy that began the whole thing to begin with.

    Adults that do this are fucking sad pathetic individuals. Teenagers that do this (as I was) are fucking sad pathetic individuals that will hopefully grow up.

    1. Wow, this is a great look into what’s going on in someone’s mind when they engage in this behavior. And I’m glad that you found other ways to get your emotional needs met!

    2. I was going to say something upthread about the LW’s ex throwing a tantrum, but then I thought, no, he was being an asshole but not really throwing a tantrum. I’ll have to rephrase that.

      But no, you are totally right. The silent is a temper tantrum, but the behaviour is less blatantly socially unacceptable, so the people who throw them don’t get in as much trouble for them. And total agreement on this: It “allows you the frantic attention you crave while you justify your shitty behaviour in your own head and figure out a way to expain to the other person why it is their fault so you don’t feel shameful about being a complete jackass.”

      Well put, SketchedLilly.

      1. I have some personal experience with this, but being around someone who is very emphatically containing their rage can be much scarier and more sickmaking than an actual fight. Especially if it goes on for hours, and especially if you’re supposed to offer them abasement and/or sex to get it to stop. I think it qualifies as a tantrum tantrum, not just a hissy fit tantrum.

        1. It’s also gaslighting that threatens more gaslighting in the future, since it’s generally easier to pretend the silent treatment didn’t happen/was misinterpreted than more overt behavior would be. All of which serves to keep the victim permanently off-balance and walking on eggshells.

        2. ” being around someone who is very emphatically containing their rage can be much scarier and more sickmaking than an actual fight.”

          Holy FSM, this right here. When I was married, I thought my ex was the only man in the world with this ability. He could put clothes on … angrily. He could read a book … angrily. He could sip coffee … angrily. My entire life eventually shrank down to trying to prevent that silent rage.

          1. Your ex is definitely not the only man with that skill. My stepfather was (and presumably still is) also a master of silent anger, but it was always a buildup to the shouting. The silent part of the cycle was usually scarier, in part because I didn’t know how long it would last, and often had no idea what had set it off. But there is an enormous difference between someone who is just being quiet, versus the pointed, glaring silence of someone who is being angry at you without words.

        3. This so very much. I have a friend who does this occasionally- once at a con we were attending where zie was my ride home, and the ST started several hours before we were leaving. I ended up fleeing the room and going to hang with other people because just being in that room was making me twitch. Fortunately, Friend got over whatever it was and things were OK, but that’s not an experience I want to repeat.

    3. Can you please have a talk with my partner? He’s in his 40s and hasn’t had your epiphany yet. Thanks in advance….

    4. I was a silent treatment-er from my teens through the end of college and think it stemmed from being afraid of bringing up angry or otherwise negative feelings–something was wrong, and I didn’t know how to talk about it, and was terrified of people being angry with me if I did. Although my parents are good people and I love them, I don’t think I saw them model much how to handle mad/sad/bad emotions or simply just talking out difficult stuff, and so I didn’t know where to start. But also, definitely, there was an element of not acknowledging my contribution to negative situations and not being honest with myself.

      Looking back, I didn’t engage in that behavior with the intent of being horrible and awful, but the effects are horrible and awful nonetheless.

      I also don’t remember why I changed; I don’t know if therapy helped or if I just grew up and realized that it was totally unproductive behavior and that if I needed to work through something I needed to use my words.

      I’m in my mid-thirties now and sometimes I still feel the impulse to sulk. It can be hard to use your words. But I fight it because it does nothing but hurt and poison a relationship.

      Anyway. To bring it back to the LW: there’s probably nothing more poisonous to a relationship and another person’s happiness than to get gaslighty and guilt-trippy and silent-treatment-y about sex. In my life at least, the autonomy, trust, and pleasure we need experience in sex are deeply personal and violating them can radiate out to problems with a relationship and/or one’s own sense of self very easily. The LW’s ex brought obligation, expectations,and manipulation to the table. Not only is that not sexy, it’s emotionally abusive. I’m very glad you got out, LW.

        1. Especially self-awareness in the context of/relationship to other people! I feel like I spent a lot of my early adulthood criticizing myself way too much about some things on the one hand (personal qualities, the unchangeable dorky things that make me me), and avoiding taking a good hard look at myself with regard to others (behavioral qualities; and therefore ironically the only ones I can actually do anything about). It’s still a work in progress, of course, and it’s also hard for me to tell how much was helped by time passing and getting older; vs. increasing autonomy; vs. doing stuff that got me out of my head and into the world. But in general I feel like there is a lot to be earned by being honest and self-examining about one’s own failings as well as positive qualities. Kind of like other types of hard work–can be so tough in the middle but incredibly rewarding if you keep on trying and putting effort in.

          There are so many abusive behaviors mentioned in this thread… I really hope at least some of the abusive exes mentioned run up against something that forces them to really process their own behavior. Unfortunately some people never do and spread their suffering around like manure on a farm.

          Speaking of hard work, I guess I should go back to working right now instead of posting on these here intarwebz…

          1. Bless you for figuring it out and turning it around! The thing is, like most of us here, you and the people we’ve suffered from have all had issues we’ve either dealt with and grown from or not. I know I have caused others pain, been a pain, done some shitty things. We learn from it and become better people and earned the forgiveness we hope those in our past granted us. Or that we’ve granted ourselves. And you’ve had the courage to bring yourself to a forum that could turn its pain your way. Which I’m sure no-one will. *Protective thread shield: engage!*

  18. @LW:

    I’d like to recommend a resource for you. Emily Nagoski, Sex Nerd, is a sex educator at Smith and she has fabulous things to say about consent, desire, and how to build healthy sexual relationships. Her motto is “confidence and joy,” which I think is a fabulous way to approach sexual activity, and two things that I think are necessary for a positive sexual experience.


  19. What strikes me here is that the word he was using is ‘disappointed’, but his behaviour wasn’t saying disappointed, it was saying angry and resentful. And while it’s true that anyone has the ‘right’ to feel angry and resentful, and that feelings don’t need permission, they just are, it’s very disturbing if that’s how he felt. When do you feel angry about not getting your way? When on some gut level you truly do believe that it’s your right to get it and when how you feel is the most important thing to you, more important than the other person involved also being happy or comfortable or getting what they want or need or than the two of you having a mutually enjoyable shared experience. None of those thought patterns are a recipe for a happy healthy relationship.

    So yeah, he wasn’t a rapist and he had that ethical line which is certainly good, but there’s a lot more to a healthy relationship than ‘not a rapist’. Someone who theoretically cares about you shouldn’t expect some kind of congratulations for not raping you, that bit should be just taken for granted without question!

    1. Oh gods, this! Silent treatment is an act of anger, not disappointment, and you’re right. It says really quiet scary things that his reaction to being denied sex was to get angry about it. Even if he expressed that anger in a non-violent manner, the underlying attitude is NOT GOOD.

  20. Whenever I would say no he would get upset with me, go very cold and ignore me.

    Once my ex tried to fuck me without a condom and I made him stop before he got inside me. He curled up into a ball and wouldn’t talk to me. Because I was still in Keep This Relationship Running Smoothly Mode, I tried to cuddle and pet and talk to him, but he wouldn’t do it. He acted more sad and hurt, like I’d denied him a puppy, than cold and angry, but it was the same damn thing. He apologized for it later but he kept acting like he was entitled to whatever he wanted from me, even after we broke up. He stepped over the line one time too many, I called him on it, and he blew up and cut me out of his life completely. My only regret is not doing it myself sooner.

    1. UGH. And I want to give you wild applause for standing up for your own safety in that moment.

      1. Thank you! But I mean, he couldn’t help feeling so…so rejected. He’d been burnt a lot, and had a lot of “relationship issues” that I couldn’t understand, and why did I want to talk so much about sex, he just liked spontaneous free play without all the words, there’s just a certain fun in it that we’re missing, and I mean, you know, he had a lot of feelings. He was very, very sensitive. Also poetic. Also, he loved women but thought vaginas looked scary and weird.

        I would like to build a time machine and go back and have a very loving talk with my (not even that much) earlier self about this guy.

        1. I wonder about guys who don’t like lady parts, but who claim to want to get off with people who have lady parts. I wonder very much.

          1. I don’t think he’s gay if that’s what you’re implying, just childish about certain things.

            Unrelated, but I posted this comment, which didn’t show up, and then I paraphrased it and posted the comment below, which is the same thing essentially, and then they BOTH showed up, and I look like a repetitive lunatic.

            I just, you know, felt the need to own that.

          2. Just jumping in to say that there seems to be this sadly growing trend of men/boys who are ostensibly attracted to women, but only if they bear a striking resemblance to mannequins (no body hair, labiaplasties, smooth, firm, uniform skin, gravity defying bodies, etc.). I blame mainstream porn. Humans are naturally funky, unique, hairy, jiggly, smelly, etc., that is what makes our bodies so fun!

      2. Thank you!

        —>Well, but you have to understand,he’d been burnt in so many failed relationships (three marriages and one engagement) that he just felt so rejected by me right then. I mean, he just shut down and couldn’t process anything. He was withdrawing so as not to hurt me, because he was feeling such strong feelings at the moment. He was very senstitive and in touch with his feelings. He has a poetry blog that’s just FULL of feelings.<—

        That was almost verbatim what he said later (except about the blog) and I typed that laughing my head off. I would like to build a time machine and go back to my (actually embarrassingly recent) past self and have a loving talk with her about spotting doucheweasels early on.

        1. “Well, but you have to understand,he’d been burnt in so many failed relationships (three marriages and one engagement) that he just felt so rejected by me right then.”

          That right there has become a code word to me for “Flee like the denizens of Tokyo escaping Godzilla.” I hate this when it shows up in romance novels, and I hate it even more in real life. The fact that others have treated you badly in the past does not give you a license to share the wealth. And when you do, the appropriate response is to apologize, not go on about how special you are and how your partner should let you be a jerk.

          I’m glad you ditched him. Nobody should be treated like a placeholder for what other people did.

          1. You know, if that had been a girlfriend describing her beloved’s dialogue to me, I would almost certainly have realized right off the bat how it sounded, but when you’re with someone and in love and they talk like that (especially if, like me, you haven’t had a bunch of relationships due to extensive natural lonerism), you just think “I’ll be patient and kind and make this work, because it’s me and I love him and I care.”

            Then you come to realize people who say “I have relationship issues” are covertly telling you “I AM a relationship issue.” It’s a profound moment, if too late to be of use in that particular situation.

          2. Oh, man, I hear you. I came so close to going down that road when I was in college. Luckily my mother had better instincts than I did, and was able to reframe things so I wasn’t thinking, “Poor tragic Heathcliff!” Instead, I was thinking, “Y’know, Heathcliff was a massive jerk. If that’s his role model, this might not be such a good idea. You aren’t Cathy, and Isabella got a really lousy deal out of things. Also, you hated Wuthering Heights.”

            Thanks, Mom!

          3. Yeah, I remember writing a book report on Wuthering Heights in high school that greatly exceeded the page restrictions. I Just. Didn’t. Get. It. And didn’t particularly enjoy it, so I ended up describing the plot in too much detail because I couldn’t extrapolate the key themes/messages/concepts. I figured I was too young or something (late bloomer!), and I have occasionally contemplated going back and reading it again to see if I could appreciate it more with a few decades of life experience.

          4. When I was a teenager my dad told me he tried to read Wuthering Heights as an adult (i.e., with ‘life experience’) and didn’t finish it because he found it so unpleasant and disturbing.

          5. Relevant to the conversation — Kate Beaton’s Dude Watching with the Brontes: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=202

            Anne is seriously underrated in the canon. Can’t a girl write about guys who aren’t miserable, broody arsewipes? It’s a good thing to remember when even contemporary “literature” (heavily ironic quotation marks for /Twilight/ here) glorifies emotionally abusive behavior as desirable or mysterious.

          6. Then you come to realize people who say “I have relationship issues” are covertly telling you “I AM a relationship issue.” It’s a profound moment, if too late to be of use in that particular situation.

            I much prefer “I have relationship issues, and here’s what they are, and I am working on them,” borne out by their actions showing that they really are working on them. Huge difference.

  21. BTW, I wouldn’t agree that feelings are sacrosanct and you can never judge them in any way…

    You can’t tell someone how to feel, and their feelings aren’t ‘wrong’, only their actions may or may not be, but you can certainly look at what you know of someone’s feelings and say ‘a person who feels like this is not someone who can be a good boyfriend to me’ or ‘this person is not someone it’s healthy for me to be around.’

    He’s free to feel whatever he feels in peace, far away from you :).


    I was going to copy/paste quotes to THIS to, but I would have ended up copy/pasting the entire thread, and – well, you all can read.

    My last therapist introduced me to a radical concept: consensual rape. Yes, it’s a thing. And that’s exactly what all these douchenozzle exes are doing – or at least, on their way to.

    The pouting and whining and cold-shouldering turns into vague threats, which turn into concrete threats, which turn into… well, gaslighting and emotional abuse and all sorts of shitty things. Consensual rape means you do not say yes because you want to, but because you feel like you have to…. because you’re afraid to say no.

    Sound familiar? Yeah. That’s exactly what this is. And it doesn’t matter the underlying reasons for it – my particular brand of manipulative fuckwagon had self-esteem issues and a rough home life and a mother from hell… but that still doesn’t make it okay for him to get sex from me via suicide threats. It still doesn’t make it ok for him to drive off in a huff and call me to come get him because he was so upset that he wrecked his car. It still doesn’t make it ok for him to get angry, or weepy, or go on and on about what a bad person he is until *I end up comforting him* and caving to sex in the process. That, my friends, is a rape situation – and one that comes with the extra bonus of being fucking difficult to talk about, because (regardless of where you stand politically) a good portion of the world still considers forcible rape the only legitimate form of rape. I’ve been struggling with the question of “Is it really rape if you don’t say no?” and no one seems to have a good answer.

    I lost my virginity to that motherfucker a decade ago. My poor husband is still dealing with the fallout (patiently, kindly, with a little bit of well-timed humor and a shitload of well-placed Kleenex). I spent so many years thinking it was my fault, that I was to blame, that if only I’d been stronger and more self-confident and stood up for myself and said no and meant it… that maybe if I’d focused more on what I wanted in a career and less on filling the boyfriend-shaped hole in my heart… that if only, if only… and to this day, I still can’t tear free of the haze surrounding the year of my life I surrendered to that sociopathic turdbucket. I’m honestly missing memories from that time and have a hard time piecing together what happened – and that was my junior year in high school.

    Long story short: Be angry. Be very, very angry. LW, I cannot stress this enough: YOU ARE NOT BEING UNREASONABLE. You have done a very good thing by setting your boundaries and leaving that relationship, and will continue to do a good thing for yourself by sticking to those boundaries in the future. (Sidenote: By basically telling you “It’s not fair for you to be upset that I’m being mopey,” isn’t he effectively policing YOUR feelings? That road runs both ways.)

    Something I found helpful and cathartic with Mr.Blake was to share with him, a little at a time, the story of my past relationships. Hearing him go “Wow, that’s fucked up” helped validate my experience and reassure me that the relationship I’d had was not a normal one, and that in fact it was really unfair of my ex to put me in that situation and force me to make that choice.

    Once you find a relationship that looks to be headed down Sexytimes Lane again, it might be helpful to talk about it with that Someone. It will help them to understand some of the hangups and issues you might be facing (“Mr.Blake, I need you to be really cheerful and ok with it when I say no thanks to sex for a while, because I’m really really scared of having emotional fallout from saying no and even the hint a pout would be really damaging to me right now” — actual conversation) and also help you gain that validation and get you feeling like you’re back on solid ground, boundary-setting-wise.

    And if he doesn’t respect your need to say no without fear of consequences… well, then you find someone else who isn’t a giant bag of dicks. No sense in making the same mistake twice.

    So much love and Jedi hugs to you, LW. You’re doing the right thing and I’m proud of you for sticking to your guns as much as you have.

    1. “I’ve been struggling with the question of “Is it really rape if you don’t say no?” and no one seems to have a good answer.”

      I have a good answer: yes.

      1. I wonder if one way to deal with the question isn’t to reframe it. Is it really atrocious immoral evil behaviour that no one has absolutely any right to do EVER, etc?

        Call it another kind of rape or call it some other word, but whatever word you use won’t make it any less evil.

        1. Some people who struggle with the question go, “Okay, but then is it okay to lock the rapist up for life?” And yes, determining how to punish/rehabilitate rapists is an important step here, but I think those people are throwing up a straw man. Deciding something is not okay and should never be done is not the same thing as automatically proclaiming that the person who did it should get a harsher sentence than almost any rapist I’ve ever heard of.

          (I AM NOT INTERESTED IN TALKING ABOUT CRIMINAL SENTENCING FOR RAPE. I’m just saying, that’s a whoooole different discussion, and not one that’s likely to go well.)

          1. Someone who steals a hundred dollars, falsely claims to be a doctor or drives while drunk probably shouldn’t be locked up for life either but it’s still not okay.

        2. This is a really good point about labeling the action in a way that is accessible to the victim. (I’m a few days late to the party, but really wanted to chime in.)

          I was in a situation really similar to Sadie Blake and the LW a few years ago, and I still have a difficult time attaching the “rape” label to what I experienced. When I think about it with a confident, clear head, or if I try to imagine how I’d feel if a friend experienced the same (which sounds horrible and I don’t like imagining bad things happening to my friends, but it’s how I realized just how wrong the situation was), it’s easy to see that a partner sulking, badgering, manipulating, and gaslighting until you give in because you no longer feel like you have the right to try saying no again is rape. It’s not consent, and sex without consent is rape. This should be easy, right?

          But being inundated with rape culture, and constantly hearing about stranger rape vs. forcible rape vs. rapes involving drugs or alcohol (even though most of my news sources are arguing that these distinctions are harmful), it’s easy to forget the common theme: consent wasn’t there. I get caught up on the physical force or substances that I didn’t have to deal with (thankfully). My ex’s “only” weapon was gaslighting, so it’s easy to conflate “I didn’t experience any additional physical violence” with “He wasn’t threatening to hit me, he never physically hurt me, why didn’t I resist? Was it really rape?”

          So yeah, bringing it back to your point: acknowledging the lack of consent and the “evil behavior that no one has absolutely any right to do EVER”, even if it’s too intimidating for the victim to call it rape-rape* yet, can be really helpful in recognizing one’s right to boundaries and can alleviate some of that self-blame.

          *I use that term because intellectually I know that any rape is “rape-rape” and should be taken seriously, but I had and still occasionally have a hard time not trying to say “oh, mine wasn’t that bad, shouldn’t I have gotten over this by now?”, nevermind that I don’t actually buy into whatever distinction that phrase was supposed to refer to.

          1. Yes, exactly. Thank you. It’s not a matter of “Can I prosecute this as rape?” – to which the answer is “Probably not, and why would I want to relive that experience just so some stranger in a robe can decide if me she-said outweighs his he-said?” It’s a matter of “Can I recognize this as ‘legitimate’ rape even when there was no drug in my drink or gun to my head?” I am so sorry you went through this too. I am going to leave some Jedi hugs on the table; you are welcome to them if you would like them.

            Hand-in-hand with this qualification of rape bullshit is “Well, other people have suffered far worse.” Because, of course, my trauma has to somehow be “good enough” for me to be justified in feeling this bad about it.

            Thank you, RC et. al. I am furious about the terms “rape-rape” and “legitimate rape” and “forcible rape” for this very reason. Like if I wasn’t raped in the “traditional” way, then obviously I have nothing to complain about. What a huge step backward for a group that has already been treated far more inhumanely than life should allow.

            On a bizarre side note: I had to add the word “rape” to my mobile device’s dictionary. Not sure how I feel about that. It wanted to autocorrect to “drape,” which really isn’t the message I was going for…

    2. It’s so good to read this.

      In my last relationship something similar happened where I would get the cold shoulder, or an angry reaction when I wouldn’t have sex when he’d like to have it. In retrospect that was The Worst part of the relationship, even though that’s not even when we broke up. (He was ALWAYS in a crappy mood).

      Whenever i think about him and how it was between us, the nights that we lay in bed arguing whether we’d have sex or not, and the way he made me feel when i stood my ground if i wasn’t into it, are the thing my mind goes back to the most. It made me feel crappy, and wanting to make it right for him that we was in such a bad mood. It also made me angry and in some cases it mad me scared.

      Now, I can’t believe that i didn’t break up with him instantly when this first happened. Instead I endured it for almost a year. Whenever I told him no, I do not want to have sex right now. He made it very clear to me that he felt so very rejected. And that he was feeling awful and that it was completely my fault. He also remembered me to the fact that I’d told him when we first met that I’d always was lusting for him. (You know, during that period in a relationship when you’re so much in love and all you want to do is have sex ALL the time) So how was it possible that I was rejecting him now? I had been lying to him then, or I was lying right now to make a point or something.

      When we broke up it was for different reasons, we’d tried living together which didn’t really work out because of his general bad mood because of things I supposedly did wrong. Also i started to find him and his stories sooooo boring. I wouldn’t have it anymore and broke up. I really still believe he’s not a bad guy, he just has a hard time to read people’s signals and takes people REALLY literally on their words and doesn’t really believe you can change your opinion over time. Those are some socially awkward skills that don’t help him in relationships. I believe in his heart he is a good guy. Whenever I pointed out to him how he made me feel he felt so awful. But this was only after the fact that he’d been making me feel awful. During the moments when he was in a bad mood he could never stand back and take a look at his own behavior.

      We still had contact now and again, but since 2 months I broke contact off completely. I went abroad for 2 months and it was so good to not have any contact with him, that I wanted to continue not having contact. I can’t stand to see him or hear his voice or know anything about him. Whenever his name turns up on my phonescreen my stomach turns around. I told him I didn’t want to have contact anymore, but he still calls me every other week. I don’t respond to his phonecalls or messages, and we’re not friends in Facebook anymore.

      I know he really really still like to have contact with me, but I just can’t do it anymore. Sometimes I feel bad about not wanting to have contact with him, because I pity him, and see myself as a bitch for breaking contact off so abrubtly. Reading this letter and it’s reactions is really helpful. I am allowed to feel VERY ANGRY. and i’m not being unreasonable. Thanks.

      LW, cut off contact with this guy. Don’t try to stay and be friends. It will only make him stay in your mind longer than he needs to be.

      1. By still contacting you after you said no, he’s doing what he did before – utterly disrespecting your clear boundary. There may be a good guy in there, but he sure as hell isn’t acting like it.

        You have such a darth vader ex, seriously.

        Good on you for holding the line!

      2. Not only are you allowed to feel VERY ANGRY, you are allowed to think of him as a bad person! For me, reading that story– those are Bad Person things, and those excuses– they don’t hold water. Now OBVIOUSLY I don’t know him/the situation as well as you do, but I hope that as your healing process continues, you give yourself permission not to think of him as “a great guy, except.”

      3. Arguing about whether you’d have sex or not? Geez, that would really encourage the mood…

        You are definitely allowed to feel angry about someone who treated you like this, and you’re definitely allowed to put limits on how much you’re willing to expose yourself to someone who thinks it’s okay to treat people like this.

  23. I’ll admit that I’ve occasionally caught myself sulking a bit at suddenly being turned away from what I thought was going to happen, particularly when that is related to physical contact. Know what I did, though, once I realized what was going on? I called myself on it. My partner said it was fine, but I told him that I wasn’t okay with it. I told him that I was going to try to be better about it, and asked him to call me on it when I’m not being 100% respectful of him expressing his boundaries. It’s not good behavior, and we’re both better than that.

    You’re not at all in the wrong, LW. In fact, it is very awesome of you to recognize that it is okay for a person to feel a certain way about a certain outcome, but it’s not okay for them to act in a jerky way about it. I hope you keep maintaining your boundaries, and that your future holds people with no desire to press them in such a way.

  24. Oh LW, I’m so sorry and so angry at the same time! HULK SMASH is a very appropriate response in my opinion.
    I cannot speak for romantic/sexual relationships but I had a friend who acted very much like your ex – not concerning sex, of course, but actually pretty much everything in our lives.
    Many conversations we had would go like this:
    Her: ”Do you want to come to the gym/friend\’s birthday/the new italian restaurant/whatever with me tomorrow?”
    Me (friendly but firmly): ”Umm, actually, I\’d rather stay at home [and do activity XY, maybe].”
    Her: ”Oh, okay.”
    Written like that it must seem fine but when you were there and actually heard how exactly she said that ”Oh, okay.” you knew that really nothing was ”okay” for her about my unwillingness to join her. She’d have this very specific tone in her voice and probably turn around so that she didn’t have to face me anymore.
    When I realised that I sometimes asked: ”Are you angry?” and she’d go all ”Nonono, it’s really okay.”
    And in this ”okay” lay a myriad of ”Of course it’s not okay how dare you I want you to change your mind immediately come with me you stupid person raaaargh!” that went unsaid but was very clear to both of us.
    Interestingly, although I never complied to her (I was and am very firm when I don’t want something even though she always managed to make me feel bad, I just didn’t act on it) she also never learned. She’d do it again and again and again and eventually led to me doing stuff on my own or with someone else because I just felt so horribly uncomfortable and like I couldn’t be myself around her because I always had to be careful not to make her pouty and, as your ex put it, ”disappointed”.
    What I found astounding is that she did that to everyone about everything and many friends distanced themselves from her, myself included, and found people who weren’t like that.
    So, LW, it’s definitely not your fault and I’m sure you don\’t have to be afraid of dating again and will find someone who isn’t such a jerk!

    1. I feel sorry for you for having that experience. I also feel sorry for your friend–she was probably denying being upset because she felt she was “sparing people” her unpleasant feelings, but they ended up coming across loud and clear, and her strategy backfired on her.

      I used to be totally passive aggressive about stuff like that. Then I had a few friends’s dams burst and got FEELINGSMAIL about how they’d been saying it was okay for years but it wasn’t okay and I was EVIL and AWFUL. Then I went, “Wow. That’s a crappy thing to do to a person” and learned to express negative emotions out loud.

  25. I just want to say kudos to the LW for talking to the ex about it in the first place (even though he ended up flipping the script on her).

    This letter could have been written by me, except substitute 1.5 years with 10 years and in that whole time I never had the guts to tell him how it (and so many other things he did) made me feel, for fear of hurting his feelings and getting more of the silent treatment. As the Captain says, I got very VERY angry as it sunk in how much emotional abuse he was putting me through. It took me 2 years to get up the guts to break up with him and his immediate reaction was to get into counseling and work on his issues… but so much anger had built up in me that I couldn’t bring myself to stick around anymore. And now (a couple years later) the anger’s subsided and I feel SO VERY guilty for not sticking up for myself, expressing myself, and giving him to the chance to make it right. I was walking on eggshells and enabled all sorts of bad behavior by him. I can’t put the blame just on him. I should have talked to him YEARS earlier, before all the anger, and I won’t make that mistake again with other relationships.

    Which is all to say, LW, you had the self-respect to stick up for yourself and talk to him about it and his reaction to THAT tells you all you need to know. I’d say even moreso than his behavior in the first place, because like you say, who is perfect at relationships? We all make mistakes but you gave him the chance to make it right, and he refused to.

    Yes, future partners may exhibit this same behavior (although many, many, men do not!), but they also may be willing to work on their actions if you call them on it!

    1. One of the hardest things to do when you’ve been abused like that is to stop blaming yourself for the abuse. Believe me, I know (see earlier This Is SadieBlake’s Life post).

      The anger will subside and leave guilt. The guilt will build up into depression. The depression will drag you through a mire of self-loathing and spit you out the other side into anger again. It is so easy to look back and say “I should have done xyz before things got bad.”

      But the thing is: did you know you should have done it at the time? Did you have the ability to do those things, and just didn’t because you didn’t care? Of course not. There was a reason that mistake was made – inexperience, or fear, or whatever – and that means you get to forgive yourself for it. You get to make excuses for yourself.

      Look, you wouldn’t hop on a horse for the first time and expect to win the Kentucky Derby, right? You need to learn how to interact with the horse, how to train for the race, how to make sure the horse is a good fit for you, and all that. If the horse is a mean, rotten sonofabitch who keeps throwing you off, you wouldn’t go, “Oh, he’s just mean because he’s been hurt before. If I was a better rider he wouldn’t have kicked me.”

      No, you go, “Hmm, that horse needs some serious work. I’d better leave that up to a professional and find a horse that fits my needs.”

      What I’m saying is: yes, you didn’t stick up for yourself. (Neither did I.) But you weren’t taught how. You weren’t given the chance to. And, at least in my case, someone came along who took advantage of that gap in knowledge, whether he did it on purpose to or not. Whether he regrets it or not. That’s not your fault. He put you in an unfair situation. You cannot blame yourself for that.

      1. I was trying to find a tactful way to say the same thing. These tactics are used by lots of abusers and proto-abusers because they work. It’s great that you’ve now leveled up and can now head off abuse when it starts. It’s not your fault that someone took advantage of you before you learned how to do that, any more than it would be a toddler’s fault for falling when they’re pushed. And you did well realizing that the relationship was over even though he was getting counseling. I’ve seen a number of people fall into that trap – “oh, but he’s trying to change, I can’t leave him now!”

        Feelings will be feelings. I hope you’re able to let the guilt dissolve in time.

        (Abusers also often make victims responsible for controlling the abuser’s behavior, explicitly or implied. “You know I have problems – why didn’t you stop me?” It’s a fantastic mindfuck. Extricating that particular idea takes time.)

        1. Oh yes indeed. “Why didn’t you just tell me???”

          Why the fuck didn’t you already know? It’s not my responsibility to make sure you know right from wrong. It’s only my responsibility to GTFO when it becomes clear you haven’t learned yet.

  26. Long time lurker first time commenter.
    Dear LW,
    I soo feel for you. Have we been dating the same person??
    My abusive ex had also issues with me interrupting sex (sex was over when he came) and all other sorts of things. He would always get upset if I said no or stop, which resulted in me alway thinking twice before engaging in sex. I was in that relationship for two years and unfortunately it messed with my libido. For a long time after I got out I always had a hard time slowing a guy down, saying stop or no (I did anyway) because I was conditioned to expect punishment even if they were super nice about it. It took a very long time for me (also because of the other abusive things) to recover from this and to trust myself to be capable of reinforcing boundaries. but it gets better.
    All the yedi hugs you want.

    1. “All the yedi hugs you want.”

      I know it’s just a typo, but I can’t help picturing an adorably furry yeti who gives hugs.

      I have nothing to add to the advice except YES THIS to everything, and to especially second the advice to watch what people DO, not what they SAY. I try to live that. Talk Is Cheap!

      1. “I know it’s just a typo, but I can’t help picturing an adorably furry yeti who gives hugs.”

        Me too. I think the Awkward Army needs a yeti for backup and hugs.

      2. oops haha, that’s because I spelled out how it would be pronounced in German in my head 😀 Thanks for the hugging yeti mental image

  27. So, I wrote to the Captain about something very similar to this a little while ago, basically your situation moved about six months down the line. I’ve come to consider my ex’s behaviour to be tantamount to rape, as my consent was never genuine or meaningful, and he made it clear that he knew that during our break-up (“You never want to have sex with me” – Yes, indeed, douchebag, that had become true, so it’s really interesting that we still had sex several times a week with you explicitly knowing that I didn’t actually want to. Side-note on what a dick this guy was, in that discussion I also got criticised for not swallowing, so y’know, not performing well enough during a sex act *I didn’t even really consent to*.)

    It’s been really hard to deal with and I’m left with a lot of anger, and a lot of relief that I got out when I did because things were starting to go south with a picked up pace – trying to get me to move away from the town with all my friends in (isolating), telling me he self-harmed because of me, telling me every time I had a criticism of his behaviour that I was “just trying to make him feel guilty”, violently damaging property…the list continues and basically what I’m trying to get at is that the subtle manipulation of pouting and pressuring and whining was the first part of a spiral of abusive behaviour. I’m really happy, LW, that you’ve got out. In my honest opinion, people who make you feel bad for not wanting to have sex with them are abusers and the abuse will not stop with just that. So congratulations on leaving.

    My problem for the Captain was basically what you’re concerned about with dating again, but made reality; I am seeing someone now, for long enough that the “sex all the time” phase is over, and I’m finding it hard to enforce my boundaries because I expect him to be an asshole about it. He’s not, we’ve talked about it extensively and he’s made it clear that he only actually wants to have sex with me *if I enjoy it as well*. Which felt like a revelation, sadly.

    The Captain recommended to me Jaclyn Friedman’s Getting What you Really Really Want, and it’s really helped. I recommend it to you; there are writing exercises in it that you should engage with as well as just reading the text. It hasn’t fixed everything but some things resonated with me, and are helping me to remember that my own boundaries are important and real and deserve respect. So yeah, give that a read, hang around some feminist blogs, and be prepared for the moments in the future when you think “I don’t know if I want to have sex now” and suddenly feel all guilty and weird – I promise the best way to deal with them is to honour your uncertainty and not have sex, rather than push through it. The rule with me and my partner right now, for both our sakes, is that sex happens when *I* initiate and no other time. For the time being it’s really helpful because it shows he’s serious about only wanting to have sex with me when I want to have sex with him, and because it’s empowering me to actually state my needs and desires. At some point this will of course have to change because I also need practice at feeling comfy saying “No”, but I think this is a good starting point for making me feel in control of my sexual interactions.

    Good luck, LW, and though some things coming up may be hard, if you’re seeing someone who respects you, when issues do present themselves they will be helpful and supportive. It’ll be hard to believe they mean it at first, but you’ll get there. And if the next person you’re seeing isn’t helpful and supportive, drop them immediately because they are not worth your, or anyone’s, time and they certainly don’t deserve to have any intimacy with you. Don’t settle for “not as bad as my ex”. Demand that your sexual partners reach the criteria of being genuinely safe, respectful and trustworthy.

    1. Thanks for the update, I’m glad you’re finding the book helpful. And yes, LW, What You Really, Really Want will probably be a very good read for you as you jump back into dating. I should just put some kind of permanent rec in the sidebar and make Jaclyn pay me in booze.

      1. After three years of every argument ending in “you’re just trying to make me feel guilty”, I snapped and sent him a message explaining in child-like detail that when good people do a bad thing, they feel bad about it, and I, yes, I would fucking love it if you felt guilty about trying to humiliate me in front of my friends, but I’d like some sort of indication that you give a fuck about hurting me.

        He faux-pologised but we broke up about a month later anyway (thank god).

  28. LW, I could have written this letter.

    Four years ago, I ended a relationship with someone just like that. I didn’t get the silent treatment for saying no to sex (though I did get it for saying “please be nice to people at my boss’s Christmas party”), but instead whenever I said no because I was too drunk or because I wasn’t comfortable with a particular activity, he would decide that he was a horrible disgusting pervert who didn’t deserve to be with me. I would then spend the next several hours comforting him, trying to convince him that it was okay for him to be into stuff that I wasn’t and that he wasn’t a pervert. This would almost always end when I “changed my mind” about wanting to do it. Eventually, I decided that the cost of saying “no” in the first place was too high – I started to say yes to things I didn’t want because fifteen minutes of an unpleasant sex act was better than hours of trying to comfort him and convince him it was okay to be into the things he was into.

    The other commenters are probably right, LW, you are going to get really angry at some point.

  29. Yep, I’m another one with an abusive ex. He didn’t give me the silent treatment but would whine and hassle me nonstop, that he just wore me down over and over. I would go along with it just so he’d STFU–it was easier than hours of torment. But to make it tolerable, I’d insist that he give himself a hand job and just use me to finish off, so then it was only 5 minutes of misery and no pretense of lovemaking. He was fine about that, which told me he never cared what I felt in the process, even before we got to that point. That’s all sex was for the second half of our relationship of 7 years. And he would harass me for sex whenever he wanted it, regardless of how I felt. Once I was miserably sick, feverish and on the toilet with the runs, and he started pleading for sex and couldn’t understand why I refused. And I worried that I was the abusive one! But it’s over, and he taught me so much about my boundaries, and I’m better, and my current partner is wonderful.

    1. I mentioned further up about the time my ex hit me and called me selfish for not wanting to have sex an hour and a half before ending up in the emergency department for dehydration, but jeez, you’d think diarrhea would be enough to put *them* off – I guess unless they expect you to just lie there on a towel or something. My ex also used to go on about how “sex cures headaches!!” and “endorphins!!” like it would be doing me a favour and you know that might be true for some kinds but presumably there’s a caveat there for *some* kinds and for actually enjoyable sex that you want to have, not sex you were coerced into when you feel fucking terrible because of the heat and injuries playing up. (There were days when I lived there where I could barely get out of my bed from back pain.)

  30. Oh, wow, my ex used to do the EXACT same thing! Getting sulky, but then saying “oh, of course you’re allowed to not want it! I’d never make you; if you’re not in the mood, just say so.” But then the pressure. And sometimes even physical pressure. Not letting me leave the room until we’d had sex, following me around the house trying to feel me up even after I’d told him no, humping me while I was asleep and getting pouty when I woke up and got annoyed.
    I get the weighing options thing. It’s just easier to put up with the sex and get on with the day, rather than face the battle, then his moodiness for the rest of the day/week.
    I didn’t really realize how manipulative it was until after the relationship ended. Then, I thought about for it a while, and it hit me soooo hard, I cried every time I thought about it. Honestly, I felt really violated, in a way that went beyond disrespect. I felt like I’d been sexually abused as well as emotionally abused.
    It made me really nervous to say no to my new partner at first. It was always a conscious effort to evaluate what was going on. Always thinking, “am I having sex because I want to and I’m into it, or because he wants to and I don’t want to hurt his feelings?” He’s a nice, normal human being and never pressures me, and respects my boundaries. And that’s really helped me re-learn assertiveness and standing up for myself, because I know that there won’t be any emotionally devastating consequences if I don’t do what he wants.
    Honestly, I hope you get really angry about this soon. I hope you feel disrespected and violated, and I hope it fucking pisses you off. Because then you’ll feel so much better knowing that you’re out of that shitty relationship. And for me at least, I learned a lot about how to stand up for myself, that I’m allowed to assert what I want/don’t want, and that I deserve to be respected. I hope you get as much out of it as I did!

    1. “I felt like I’d been sexually abused as well as emotionally abused.”

      …oh, :-(.

      He coached you into “consenting” when you didn’t want to? He pressured you, he didn’t let you out of the room, he sexually assaulted you in your sleep?

      You *were* sexually abused as well as emotionally abused. I’m so sorry he did that to you.

    2. If validation from a stranger helps, I would call that sexual abuse too. Particularly trapping you in a room, following you around and groping you, and molesting you when you’re asleep, that is seriously bad shit.

  31. I dealt with a version of this in my last relationship. It wasn’t after any given rejection, but we had “mismatched sex drives,” and he would get grumpy if we hadn’t had sex for a few days, and I always knew that the only way to get back to normal would be for me to initiate sex. We talked about it constantly, and he always felt really bad that I felt pressured to have sex with him, but he “couldn’t help” feeling rejected and unhappy that we weren’t having as much sex as he needed. The solution was always for us to figure out how to fix my lack of sex drive, not for him to figure out how to deal with his feelings at the source. And I was so invested in the relationship that I became convinced that I just had a really low sex drive, not that the pressure completely killed any attraction I had for him. A year and a half later, I’ve gotten to the point of: “that was really uncool,” but I still have a really hard time reconciling things because in every other aspect he is a really nice guy.

    1. Aah! I think I dated this person, too! Why is it always incumbent on the person with the lower sex drive to change?
      Is it common for this pressure to *completely kill* the attraction to the person with a higher sex drive? Because the same thing happened to me, and it ended up being a big reason why the relationship ended (not the only reason, but it was a significant stressor). If it is, can we make this common knowledge? Because I think that if more people realized that they were likely to make the problem *worse* by pressuring their partner for sex, some might catch a clue and *not do it*. I’ve *said* that I think this happens a lot, but have been told that it’s just me that reacts that way, not everyone, or even most people.

      1. Yes it is. I wonder about the higher/lower sex-drive thing though. I mean, obviously it exists (and I can go a loonng time between sex partners); but in my experience, at the beginning of a relationship neither of us can get enough. But for me the stresses of life and the conflicts within the relationship slowly start eroding my libido, and while sex is a great stress-reliever for both sexes, I think often for men (whether biologically or socially) there aren’t such needs for feeling safe to feel horny, if that makes sense. Feel stress, causes horniness, have sex, no problem. But for me (and I think this may be common with a lot of women) stress=danger=protect yourself=sex is vulnerability=sex under stress=danger. Lather, rinse, repeat. I remember having an argument with my ex-husband, when he was upset he wasn’t getting enough. I said, “I don’t feel like having sex with you when you’re so angry all the time!” To which he replied “I wouldn’t be so angry all the time if you’d have sex more often!” He just couldn’t get what I was saying. At. All.

        1. I think this plays into the misogynist idea that good girls don’t like sex and that sex is something women “give” to men and so we “trade” it for a relationship. In that mindset, it almost doesn’t matter if women are turned on–they have to trade sex for a pleasant companion, and since relationships are supposed to be the most important thing to us EVAR, and it’s our “job” to provide for everyone else’s needs but our own, we “provide” sex. Even if people say they abhor this thinking, it really does inform a lot of our attitudes and behaviors, I think.

          I have a pretty active sex drive–until the guy starts trying to pressure me, nag me, or puts me down. That kills the sexy. And if I’m stressed out beyond normal I’m not that into it.

          WRT differing sex drives–it’s the “job” of both people in the relationship to figure out what a workable solution for them is–and that workable solution has to be truly good for BOTH people. It can’t be, “Well, I’m disappointed so I’ll give her the cold shoulder/silent treatment” and “I’ll give in so he won’t throw a tantrum.” If the issue is truly a differing sex drive (and I find they ebb and flow with men AND women depending upon time of life, health, emotional state, stressors, etc.) and this difference is a constant, then decide if it’s something you can live with or not. And if it’s not something you can live with, end things kindly and respectfully. It’s better for both people to find others they are more compatible with and it will avoid a lot of toxicity down the road.

          But really–I find the sex thing to almost be a red herring. Someone who’ll bully and manipulate you into acquiescing will do so in other areas–where to live, where to go on vacation, what to buy, who you are friends with, financial decisions, etc.

        2. I’m not sure it’s really as gendered as all that. I’ve definitely seen relationships where the guy has the lower sex drive, and it occurs in same-sex relationships, too. Though it can certainly be horrifically combined with the ‘good girls don’t really want sex anyway’ meme, I have known a guy confronted with ‘what’s wrong with you, guys should want it all the time’ (ergo you aren’t a ‘real guy’). Bleah.

      2. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s so simple as just “not doing it” – my ex certainly didn’t want to do it and knew it was killing my attraction to him, but he didn’t know *how* not to do it.

      3. Why is it always incumbent on the person with the lower sex drive to change?

        It’s not. It’s not incumbent upon either person to change. It’s also not incumbent upon either person for the relationship to continue.

        There are two issues here that often get conflated. The subject of this letter is a partner explicitly pressuring the other (often lower-libido) partner to have sex with them at any given time. Everyone here agrees that that’s wrong — it’s border-line rape.

        The other issue is generally making sex a dealbreaker. This isn’t about any one given event; this is about the long-term frequency of sex. And this second case *isn’t* even remotely unethical, any more than it would be unethical to break up with someone because you want to talk to them every day while they just want to see you once or twice a week. Maybe you’re really compatible otherwise, but it’s a completely fair dealbreaker.

        The first may be a subcategory of the second, but that doesn’t mean that the second case — in general — is immoral.

  32. Oh ye gods and little fishes, it’s terrifying to see how very, very common this is. I’m adding one more voice to the ‘I dated this douche, as well’ choir. I know all too well the weighing of ‘do I have sex I don’t want vs do I endure sulking the rest of the day/night.’ He had a higher sex drive than I do, and used to tell me if I’d just have sex with him more often, it would make me want it more often. Somehow, that made sense to my addled brain at the time, or maybe I just gave up arguing, and did it to get some peace. Like LW’s guy, he was never even really angry as such, just sad and disappointed which manifested as sulky, with lots of sadface, and often then masturbating (which was fine), and then trying to get me to ‘help out’ (which was less fine, given I’d just said I didn’t feel like having sex. ‘Helping’ someone masturbate is an awful lot like sex, especially when what they mean is ‘give me oral or a handjob now’.
    The thing is, when I’m feeling pressured to have sex that I’m really not up for, it *also* eventually completely kills my desire for that person at any other time. I discovered that I can’t meaningfully say “yes’, in a relationship where I can’t say no without bracing for Teh Sulk and Sadnedss, and it got harder and harder to make myself do it, to the point where eventually I had absolutely zero desire for him. Which sucked, because at one point it had been fairly awesome, before my son was born and we actually had similar sex drives.

    And now I’m not sure if I’m just hyper-vigilant on this point, or if I have a real issue now, because in my current relationship, my sweetie has said she thinks sex is really important in a romantic relationship, and has had conflicts with her other partner over mismatched sex drives and him not wanting as much sex as she does, that resulted at one point in him promising to have sex at least 2 or 3 times a week. This worries me, because I’m afraid that she and I cold come to that point, and she might want a similar promise from me, which would really be a death knell for my romantic/sexual relationship with her (it didn’t work out for them, btw. they’re still together, but for an extended time were having no sex at all). She still blames and resents him for not meeting her needs, and is super sad that he has very little desire for her anymore (they would probably have divorced, but she’s disabled and dependent on him, and neither of them wants her to be on her own. He does care about her quite a bit)….but she’s been consistently ok when I’ve said no; no sulking or tantrums, sometimes masturbating, but *without* pressure for me to ‘help’. So I’m conflicted and concerned. On the one hand, she’s been respectful with me so far, on the other, some things she said and did in her relationship with him would be a big problem if she does them with me.

    1. The good news is, you know in advance that this might become a hot-button issue, so you have an opportunity to do lots of talking and strategy-developing and sorting things out before it gets to the Officially Untenable stage.

      Bear in mind that your sweetie’s partner is not you, and there may be very different factors at play in their relationship than there are in yours. It might be good to talk about “Hey, I’m worried about saying no because I don’t want to hurt you, but I need to say no sometimes because I don’t want you to hurt me.”

      Ideally this conversation happens fully clothed and at a non-sexual time; it’s much easier to have these talks when you’re not In The Moment. In fact, I would use your phrasing exactly as you have it written: “Sweetie, some things you’ve said and done in your relationship with him would be a big problem if you did them with me.” That isn’t a judgment, you’re not saying she’s a bad person – it’s just the truth. It would be hurtful to you if she did those things, and that’s something she should know about in advance.

      Side note: I, too, have noticed how much “help me masturbate” is essentially “let’s have sex but not call it sex because you just said you didn’t want sex.” I finally realized hey – I’m pretty sure this person can handle it without my help.

      And yes, pun intended. 😉

  33. This is scarily common. I really feel like some of it comes from this cultural idea that men *always* want sex and women *never* want sex. Therefore, it’s totally normal and fine for a sexual encounter to basically involve a guy pleading or pressuring, and the woman saying ‘no’ at first, then going ‘oh, OK, fine’.

    It sometimes seems to be equated to the stereotype of a woman pressuring her partner to, say, go shopping with her. It’s the hilarious gender humour! Woman pleads with her man to buy her some shoes, and then man pleads with woman to give her a blowjob! Haha! Everyone’s doing things they don’t really want to do to make their partner happy!

    The idea that maybe sexual activity in a relationship shouldn’t be put in the category of ‘something I only do to make my partner happy’ doesn’t seem to occur to people. And, I don’t mean it’s not OK to ever have sex to make one’s partner happy (The Pervocracy had a good article on this awhile back) but the idea that that’s the norm? Ew.

  34. Captain Awkward, I wish you’d been around when I was learning these things to help, but I’m guessing you’re probably around my age, and we were _both_ learning these things (often the hard way), so I look at you as a fellow traveler and ally. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  35. So how would the Awkward Army actually discuss it with a partner if said partner IS not having sex “enough” for the other? I admit, I’ve been on both sides of the question — and am currently on the “we have sex every week or three or four, and he seems fine with that, and I am most definitely not.” But I seriously cannot think of any way to bring this up without feeling like a harassing asshole — and remembering how things went with my ex (who was not an asshole, but I still didn’t want to have more sex no matter what he said about it or how carefully), and further, reading the comments on this thread, I really don’t think there is.

    In fact, I feel like a harassing asshole just for thinking “I wish we had sex more and I am often sad about it.” And as though my only two options are suck it up and deal, and enjoy having a pleasant mostly roommate relationship with a person who is pretty awesome, or leave.

    1. Perhaps start by saying, “I wish we had sex more and I am often sad about it.” Use Your Words, as the Captain says, to explain just why you feel sad about it.

      In the case of me and my partner, my source of sadness came from feeling like he just wasn’t interested in me anymore because it felt like we just weren’t making time for one another. So, after sitting and thinking (perhaps too long) about what to say, I finally just said it. And it was hard and my voice shook and I was afraid I’d upset someone I care so much about, but after it all came out, it wasn’t so bad. Because as it turns out, he had fears and worries of his own (for example, as he’s approaching middle age, he’s worried that he won’t be able to “stay in the game” and satisfy me the way he used to, so he’s often afraid to initiate it).

      So once all our deep-down feelings and the reasons were out in the open– and again, not near so bad on the outside as they seemed on the inside– we talked about ideas for solutions. We talked about me masturbating, for example, and he said that he knows I prefer privacy so we talked about ideas for opportunities for me to be alone (I work outside of the house, and he doesn’t, so he has more opportunities than I do). We talked about me maybe trying masturbating with him there, to see how it works out, and see if that’s something we can maybe include.

      If you make it clear that the problem isn’t presented in a way of “You’re not doing something right” but rather, “I wish we could do something differently” and really talk about why you feel that way and how you could work on solutions together, I don’t think you seem like a harassing asshole at all.

      1. I’ve tried mentioning it, and he’s sometimes said things about not wanting sex when he’s stressed (there was a whole long contract he had last year, and I said in June, “we haven’t spent any time together other than eating supper, which I cook, since May,” (not even sex, just time together) and he said that he would probably not have time for me until October (after the contract ended) and we had the biggest fight of our relationship in September, after only being intimate once in June. Which is fair, I suppose, if not for me, and I’m deeply ashamed of starting the fight. And other times, he’s said, oh yes, we should have more sex, but he doesn’t really make space for it.

        We work opposite schedules: I have a day job, he’s a freelancer who does his best work at night. So he sleeps in till noon or so, sees clients in the afternoons, and does the actual work after supper. Then he winds down for a couple of hours with video games, and comes to bed at three or four in the morning. I’m not about to slink into his home office while he’s doing a layout, or spring on him as he emerges for a bathroom break, and say, “hey, how about some sexytimes?” I think he sometimes tries to initiate sex with me when he comes to bed, and I’ll vaguely remember it in the morning, and wish that I had woken all the way up so that we could have done something. But I just… can’t seem to do that any more, unlike in the early stages of our relationship, when I’d wake up instantly ready to go, and keep myself conscious at the office the next day with coffee and diet pills. My alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m., and I go to bed at eleven or twelve, after doing all the many, many things that always seem to need doing after work, and maybe working on some of my side projects… maybe I should skip that and go to bed earlier, but that never seems to happen.

        So we end up being intimate every few weekends, when there’s that magical confluence of us both being interested, him not working, and neither of us having any outside obligations.

        I just don’t know. I suppose it’s my fault, since nothing on his side has changed — his schedule is still the same, I’m the one who’s not up for the pre-dawn sex any more. We’re physically affectionate, but I feel myself… shutting down, now, because I know it’s not going anywhere. It’s not about sex qua sex; when I’m on my own I rarely even think about it let alone masturbate. I feel horny and want more WHEN I’m actually having lots of it, and it’s the connection with him that I want. But when we get kissy and touchy in odd moments, if I try to take it further or initiate actual sex, and he’s not into it — he’ll do things like make funny body sound effects. Which are hilarious, because he is, but also a pretty clear “not into you right now that way” message. And when he IS into it, I’m spending more time in my own head talking myself down, and telling myself to relax and enjoy it.

        1. Not your fault,even if what changed is on your end. You found th previous situation untenable for the long run. That is okay.

          Sex is often the canary in the coal mine of the relationship. It can be the first thing to go wrong. It sounds like time together is the deeper problem here.

          Fixing that has to involve both of you making changes, not just you.

        2. We have the different-schedules problem too, but we both make changes to prioritise intimacy. Not easy – involves both parties occasionally depriving themselves of sleep or missing deadlines. We prioritise spending time with each other over other things. I will often work into the early hours while he’s asleep, having spent the evening with him until he goes to bed. And he will often stay up later than he should to be with me, meaning he’s knackered the next day at work. It doesn’t sound like your guy is making any of the changes that you need.

    2. My husband and I have a somewhat unbalanced sex drive with him being on the higher end and I think one of the best ways he handles it is to bring up his desire for more sex in a totally non sexual context – like at the breakfast table or while we’re driving somewhere – so it’s clear that it’s just a conversation not an attempt at weird guilt trippy foreplay.

      He then, basically, asks for what he needs (like sex is really important to me and is part of a healthy relationship and I would really like to be having more of it because I’m afraid of us turning into roommates) and we sort out a way we can deal with it.

      Usually it’s simply that we’ve both been busy and tired and not making time for sex so we make a point of setting up some us time – like the whole date night thing. This is useful because it specifically changes “no” to “not now, how about on day x”

      Sometimes its that I’m feeling crappy about my body or just myself in general (cuz, y’know that’s the kind of world we live in) and therefore not feeling very sexy so we sort out how to make me feel sexy again.

      Basically we try to sort out together how to get what we both need.

      But then, we’re all about talking everything out in our relationship and these solutions depend on the fact that at the bottom of it all, I do still want to have sex with him and we just work to create the environment for it.

      1. Following up on that, though, what happens if it’s an ongoing issue, over years? And there’s multiple discussions that usually end in tears, and promises to ‘do better’, but nothing changes? I love her, and I love being married to her, but I want more sex than she does.

        And I feel like a jerk about it. She’s said things like, “I would understand if you left me over this'” which isn’t even on the table. Someone above questioned why it’s incumbent upon the lower-libido partner to change, when I feel the opposite. I think there would be a huge shaming toward someone who left an otherwise loving, long-term relationship because they weren’t getting their sexual needs met.

        I don’t know where I’m going with this, except presenting some of what the other side of the equation looks like.

        1. Years ago, I personally was in a relationship with a very low-libido partner who I adored. And then low-libido became NO libido.

          I didn’t ASSHOLE-pressure him for sex (silent treatment, sulking, control, etc.), or at least I hope I didn’t, but I did bring it up and ask for it and ask what was going on, and I always felt guilty and sucky and like I was being a selfish jerk and was probably pressuring him.

          It’s possible that he was asexual by orientation. I don’t know. It kind of doesn’t matter what was going on, what mattered for me was I was always anxious and unhappy and unsatisfied and it didn’t seem to ever get any better.

          I stayed involved for years, plural, with no sex or weird, grudging “trying super-hard to make it work” awkward sex. Eventually we broke up. It was a hard but ultimately great decision for both of us, we are both much happier now apart.

          I know that AVEN (and many readers here) say it’s possible for “asexuals” and “sexuals” to have happy romantic/sexual relationships, and accommodate each other in that way but I know that for me personally it is completely impossible. I was grateful when potential dating partners identified openly as asexual. I’m sure the rejection stung them, but it saved me a lot of heartache to know right away that I should not get further involved.

          If that makes me selfish and unfair, I can live with it. I have a lot of questions in my box about mismatched libidos or sexual/asexual long-term relationships, and I’ve been leaving them unanswered because I can tell the Letter Writers don’t want to hear “accept the status quo and find the good things about it and let the rest go” or “maybe you should break up and find someone who desires you, at the risk of losing something great.”

          1. Wow, thanks for the quick reply! This is more problematic by the fact that we’re polyamorous. My outside sweeties live in other cities (one six-hour drive, the other a two-hour flight), but her sweetie lives in town. They see each other every week or so. They probably don’t have sex every time they get together, but I know they do at least some of the time.

            She has fibromyalgia, which sometimes means a lot of joint and muscle pain. She also has painful and irregular cycles. She’s getting a doctor’s care for all of this, and trying different treatments and such, but sometimes she just doesn’t feel good. My own struggles with depression don’t help, of course.

            In a weird way, me having sweeties makes it harder–I feel desired when I’m with them, in ways I don’t with my partner. But we make each other laugh, and help each other with tough stuff, and do the life thing pretty well together.

          2. The fibro complicates it, sure, and it sounds like the poly thing helps you both get your needs met and takes some of the pressure off.

            At the end it comes down to “What can you live with?” and, since you can’t change anyone’s behavior but your own and it’s bad to marry or get involved with someone with the expectation that they’ll change to suit you, “If I knew that it would always be like it is right now, would I stay?”

            Some people will choose the connection (and make accommodations) and some will choose to bail. I sometimes hear very compelling arguments that sex drives diminish with age and familiarity (not to mention disability, health, process of age-ing), so what really matters is the emotional connection and partnership. But then when I think about it more, it seems like if the sexual connection is going to diminish and fade with age then I want it even more now.

            What’s right for me isn’t right for everyone, but when women are told so often that we shouldn’t value or want sex and that our desires are selfish while at the same time our desires and consent and agency are ignored (as in the case of the original letter), I want to make sure to say that if sex is important to you, then it’s bloody important, so arrange your life so that you have the kind that you want while you can.

    3. Bringing it up at a neutral moment is definitely the first thing, I’d think. That makes it more “I’d like to do more of this in general” and less “I want to do this RIGHT NOW even though you don’t”. And probably using a lot of I statements, like “I love being that intimate with you” to make it clear it’s not a problem with him. Maybe it would be useful to see if there’s any times where you should NOT ask for sex, like if he’s just come home from work he consistently doesn’t want to, and that way he’s saying no less often and there’s less pressure? (I don’t know if you try to initiate very often so this may not be applicable.)

      I really don’t think simply bringing it up makes someone a harassing asshole. I mean, you probably do have to be careful about when and how you do it, but it seems like it would be better to talk about it in a low-pressure situation than to bottle it up and not communicate. The problem is that sex is so bound up in all this cultural shit that so many people don’t know how to talk about it openly and healthily and it becomes fraught with all these landmines.

  36. LW, I’m happy to hear that you are done with that manipulative douchenozzle! You are right to feel that his behavior was completely out of line, and I think that CA’s response is spot on as usual.

    Reading the comments, I’m sad to hear how common this is, but relieved to hear from all of the people who are in healthy relationships now. It gives me hope, as someone whose only relationship/sexual experience was an almost 9 year long clusterfuck with a dude who had more issues than Reader’s Digest. But, dissimilar from the LW’s experience, my ex didn’t get mad when I rejected him, he got sad instead. Really passive-aggressively, manipulatively sad.

    Every time I tried to enforce my boundaries on any subject, sexual or otherwise, would kick off a self-flagellating pity party. He would collapse into a wet blanket of regret, smothering me with apologies for being such a terrible, unlovable human being. It was this weird form of apology that wasn’t really an apology, because it was never, “I’m sorry I did/didn’t do X thing”, it was always “I’m sorry I’m so worthless and horrible and don’t deserve you, and now you won’t love me any moooore”. And then I would feel terrible for ever bringing it up, and rush to console him that he was perfectly lovable, but it was just this one little behavior that I was having problems with. Whether that behavior was never taking out the trash when he had agreed to, or not smoking in the house, or continuing to grope my breasts and ass after I said that I wasn’t in the mood, any complaint was met with the same litany of despair, so I had to weigh the importance of my complaint against the emotional turmoil it was going to stir up. And then after I had comforted him through his wailing and gnashing of teeth, he would tell me how his life would be meaningless without me, and how he would just stop fighting his substance abuse problems and spend the rest of his (probably short) life in a drug induced haze of wretchedness without the light of my love (and magical healing vagina) to keep the darkness at bay.

    And eventually I tried to never complain about anything, and let the resentment rot in my gut, because it didn’t seem worth the anguish, especially since, after frantically trying to comfort him for an hour or three, I usually just gave in and let him do whatever the hell he wanted to do in the first place. Sex was like a distillation of all of the relationship’s problems into their purest form. From the time I lost my virginity to the end of the relationship years later, almost every sexual encounter was one that I didn’t want to have, or didn’t want to happen in the form that it did, and was almost always physically uncomfortable and often outright painful due to me being tense and anxious instead of happy and aroused. But I was so afraid of his self-loathing that I went along with whatever he wanted, and tried to pretend that I enjoyed it. Toward the end, every time we had sex all I could feel was this hideous rage that made me want to club him to death with the bedside table lamp. That scared the fuck out of me, since I am not an angry or violent person, generally speaking.

    To emphasize the fucked-up’dness of this: Several times throughout the years he tearfully apologized for raping me. I then spent hours reassuring him that his emotionally blackmailing me into fucking him was perfectly OK, and totally my fault somehow, and also not really rape.

    If someone else told me this happened to them, I would say that it was rape, or some similarly awful abusive thing. In my case, even five years after the fact, I still don’t feel like the relationship was abusive. I look at the facts, and they tell me that there was some seriously fucked up shit going on, but I still don’t FEEL like he abused me. Maybe because he was so obviously sad and hopeless, and had his own history of abuse. Maybe because I know that my enabling behavior damaged him as well as me. Maybe because my emotional abuse benchmark had already been set in childhood by a family member who was incredibly controlling, privacy-invading, and physically intimidating, while my ex never set off the same shoulders-hunched-up-around-my-ears fear response. I dunno. But I seem to have accidentally wrote a novel about it here.

    LW, I would say that there’s no rush to get back into dating, if you don’t feel comfortable with it. I’ve been single for five years, and still don’t feel any urgent need to jump back into the dating pool, myself. When you do start again, trust your gut. If someone does something to make you uncomfortable in a relationship, it is always your right to leave them, whether they had the right to make you uncomfortable or not.

    1. I’ve found that being single for quite a while after my abusive relationship has taught me that I don’t *need* a partner. And that means that if someone is wrong for me, it’s easier to walk away. I don’t need to line up a replacement, I don’t need to stay with them because it seems hopeless trying to find someone better. There’s already someone better – me. After spending my teen years desperately trying to be “normal” and dating anyone who showed interest, it is so fucking liberating to understand that I *don’t need them*. I might want someone desperately, but I can live without them if they show they don’t respect my boundaries.

      1. Isn’t it a wonderful realization? The day that I realized that there are far worse fates than being single forever was a real turning point in my life. I still need to feel loved to be happy, but I have friends/family/cats who love me, so while I may want a romantic relationship eventually, I do not actually need one to live or be happy. And I feel far less lonely living alone than I did when I was living with my ex.

        1. I got rabbits. I’d love a kitty and a puppy too but it’s not feasible right now sadly so I just have my ridiculous little fluffballs, but they’re good because they’re incredibly happy animals. They’re soft and nice to stroke and friendly and don’t pressure you into anything except giving them treats and playing with them and if you take care of them well they do binkies. (Look up rabbit binky videos on YouTube. Best ever. It always cheers me up.)

          I’ve actually been single for eight and a half years (the half-year anniversary was the other day actually) and I would definitely not say that that long is required because it can be a pretty scary number if you’re the sort of person who loves being in a relationship and having a partner who hopefully is not a douchecanoe but I do think that setting an amount of time, like six months or one year, to remain single after leaving a relationship like that is a good idea. Similar to the idea of “if you can’t say no you can’t say yes either”, I think people ought to be comfortable with themselves before they can really make the most of being in a relationship, and abuse just messes with your head so, so much. And at the end of that time you can re-evaluate how things have been going and maybe take some more time or maybe not. The point I’m at is basically that I’m not actively looking, but if someone comes along then I can explore my options, and I think that for me that’s a good place to be.

          1. What’s really getting to me right now is, how did I not see this coming, twice?? I’m not passive, I’m comfortable setting boundaries, I have good instincts about people, I’m fine being alone and doing things on my own, there is no family history of abuse, how the hell did I not see (or head) the warning signs from the start and steer clear? I have no answers for that, and while I’m fine *not* being in another relationship any time soon, I feel I can’t even trust myself to make a decent relationship decision in the future. This is psychologically undermining!

          2. I think probably because they’re sneaky, and even people who know cognitively the warning signs etc don’t actually expect to have to be on guard with their partner. Abuse doesn’t always start exactly the same way and when it’s a romantic/sexual relationship it can be hard to look at things on a purely objective level (which I personally think is a good thing, I don’t understand why anyone would want to be purely objective when emotion is a huge part of human interaction – plenty of times something might seem, objectively, to be utterly irrational but the emotional involvement suddenly makes it make complete sense. In relationships specifically, you don’t always fall in love with the person who is the most logical choice, after all). It’s also really, really hard to know what other people are really thinking even if you know them very well. It will always be easier to hide motivations than to uncover them, especially since a lot of abusers probably aren’t consciously aware of how truly terrible they are. They may earnestly believe they’re in the right and that earnestness is relatively easy to pick up on and take as a positive.

            Try not to look at it as failing twice. Look at it as succeeding twice. You left both those relationships, maybe not as soon as you wish, but you did. You figured out they were bad for you and found the courage to admit that and get out – and especially the second time it can be easy to go into denial because you don’t want to believe you could have been tricked again. But they didn’t win because now you get to learn and grow and be stronger than ever and one day you will feel able to trust yourself again, but in the meantime you get to focus on just you and what you need.

          3. Thank you, Chris. Unfortunately I’m not quite “out” of this yet, because of his behavior I’ve had to make an appointment with a neutral third party to even tell him I’m done with the relationship; and at the moment we will have to share living space for some time (unless it gets volatile, in which case I have a safe back-up plan). But support like yours and comments on this and other threads here have given me all the resolve to know I am done, ready to move on, and looking forward to having *me* back.

    2. “But I was so afraid of his self-loathing that I went along with whatever he wanted, and tried to pretend that I enjoyed it.”

      That is just the most mentally screwed-up form of rape I have ever heard : ( Being bludgeoned with someone else’s self-imposed humiliated misery until you abase yourself out of sheer desperation is just foul.

  37. Hi, I’m another voice in the “I’ve been there!” chorus.

    If it makes you feel any better, LW, I went through this about 7 or 8 times before I realised what was going on. My situation was complicated by the fact that I was an in-denial lesbian, so I didn’t want heterosexual sex *at all*, let alone at the convenience of the douchenozzles I dated.

    I’ve also been amazed at the chorus of ‘you will get angry!’ because I didn’t realise that that, too, was a shared experience. Once I cottoned on to what had been going on… omg. TOWERING anger. Wrath-of-a-thousand-fiery-suns anger. And even though I’ve processed almost all of the train wreck that was my 20s, I still occasionally find myself aiming a little mental smackdown at some of those men. Gits.

    This is a slight side-track, but it’s bubbling away in my head… in my 20s I was a mess. I had pretty poor relationship models on which to base my own relationships, and my family dynamic had stuck me in the ‘coper’ role so I had (er, have) issues around expressing feelings and allowing myself to have needs. And there was the whole ‘don’t want anyone to find out that I have pantsfeelings for girls so MUST FIND HUSBAND AND HAVE KIDS’ thing. Not surprisingly, the sane guys I happened to crush on were universally disinterested, while the manipulative, gaslighting b*stards fell over themselves to exploit my weaknesses. How do they KNOW?

    1. I was very similar!! Except after thinking for a while that I was a lesbian I realised that I’m actually more-or-less a trans guy (but still into the ladies). So from about 14-19 when I left my ex, I was just dating someone, like, *all the time*. My first boyfriend would apparently brag that he got his hand in my pants when in reality it was like… on my hip, fingers slightly below the hemline, and eventually dumped me because sex wasn’t on the cards. I think I might have been 15 at that point and we’d barely made out. And then the next guy was from the same social circle except he was painfully sweet but I used to feel nauseated kissing him. I think I went through six or seven just utterly terrible doomed relationships of varying lengths before I really even grew up which of course culminated in the emotionally and proto-physically and sexually abusive one. Reminds me of something I read once about a study suggesting that lesbians may be more likely to get pregnant in their teens than straight girls.

  38. Ok (deep breath). I have to say, CA, I found your blog by chance some weeks ago, and post after post has been resonating with what I’m dealing with right now. But this one in particular really set the bells ringing. For the past 2 years (4 total, counting online acquaintance) I’ve been involved with my partner, who, thanks in part to the insight and experiences of other posters here, I am finally ready to call quits on.

    Abuse is a weird thing. As couple of other posters mentioned, if there’s no hitting, it can’t be abuse, right? I learned the truth of that the hard way in my marriage, and after my divorce I figured “never again!” But here I am slowly piecing together all the clues from my current relationship, and I can see that from the very beginning emotional abuse was cropping up in different ways all over the place. Controlling, manipulative, making me responsible for his emotional welfare, making me responsible for his moods (he’s highly irritable, and often just in a surly, negative mood). Not respecting my boundaries (and trust me, I have no problem setting them). Then on to pressuring me to do things I felt were unethical. Then keeping me isolated from friends and family. Gaslighting. Threatening to cut off my internet if he didn’t get his way. All the fun things.

    The thing is, he has Asperger’s. So the way all of these things manifested themselves one by one were attributed and written off as “symptoms”. Which I was also responsible to be aware of, and avoid triggering, and protect him from the world because of. His boundaries and needs: sacrosanct. Mine: selfishness. So the latest issue to come up was my finally deciding, no, I don’t want to have sex if I didn’t want to have sex. And so he’s been doing all the [non-violent] things everyone above has mentioned: the Silent Treatment, the guilting, vague self-pitying posts on FB, claiming “there’s a reason cutting off intimacy has been grounds for divorce.” All the ways of pressuring me to turn over the use of my body for *his* needs that don’t involve actual physical force.

    And with ALL of these things I mentioned above, the pressure to do what was unethical, the social restrictions, the responsibility for his moods? He claims over and over that he would never force me to do anything I wasn’t ok with or wasn’t in my best interest. He’s Not That Kind of Guy. But yes, he will make you pay for it, because the person he believes himself to be, and the person he is through is actions, are not the same person. LW, this isn’t about the sex. It’s about your needs vs his needs, and if they are not the same, you can bet his are sacrosanct and yours are selfish. Every time. And as many posters above have pointed out, it will not stop at sex. Maybe it will never escalate to his making threats or lifting his hand against you, but it will fuck you up just as bad if you keep thinking it’s your fault, or that if you give in a bit everything will get better. Cuz it won’t, believe me.

  39. Another one in the “dated that douchecanoe” choir. I can’t help thinking that at least one commenter here MUST be talking about my ex. Because he was a whining pressurer par extraordinaire.

  40. OMG, Captain Awkward is SO RIGHT ON about this! Listen to her. I had the exact same thing in a relationship for almost 6 years. I wasn’t bright enough to catch on and it ended with him raping me, because, as Captain Awkward said, it’s a huge ploy for control. And he said just the same stuff about how I had to let him feel how he was going to feel and not understanding that he still needed to control how he showed his feelings. Please watch out for yourself and get support from Team You!

Comments are closed.