#640: “I know he would never physically hurt me” and other fairy tales.

Here there be dragons. And bees.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I’m trying my best to sort this out myself, and I am starting therapy in a week or two, but I feel like I’m flailing around, grasping at whatever I can tell myself to make me feel like things aren’t awful.
I recently discovered your website and I thought I’d run some of this by you. I suppose the root of my problem is this: I acted like a whore, but I am trying to convince myself that I’m not one. But then I decided that convincing myself of that would be selfish, and it makes me feel like a greedy whore, too.

Here is what happened. I am in a polyamorous relationship. My partner (let’s call him Nathan) and I did not communicate our boundaries well. My boundary for him was that he should tell me if anything sexual happens with a potential/new partner so that we can continue to have be safe sexually. His boundary for me was unspoken, so I assumed it was the same. That was a Huge Mistake.

I was hanging out with another person (let’s call him Peter). I really, really, really like Peter. We had hung out in his room twice, and this was the third time. I was coming over for the purpose of watching a movie. Of course, as evidently happens during “movie watching” (which I was not aware of but not opposed to), we cuddled and made out. Peter knew I was polyamorous and innocently and totally acceptably wanted to take things further. So I gave him a blowjob. Which at the time I did not expect was going to be a problem (I’ve since decided that if I wasn’t thinking selfishly, I’d have known it would be a problem).

While I was gone, Nathan, who I share a single dorm room with at school, was texting me asking me to come back soon so we could go to bed. I pretty much blatantly ignored his texts, and when I got back he was very upset. So, even though I had meant to tell him what happened between me and Peter, I didn’t. When Nathan gets upset at me, I tend to recoil. He’s intimidating, though he would never physically hurt me. So I wrote a note, saying I was sorry I left him by himself and that I should have answered his texts and left him my laptop so he could at least have Skyped his friends, since he was feeling lonely. I also stated that Peter and I had established feelings for each other, but not what exactly had happened.

That was another Huge Mistake.

Nathan was totally fine with Peter and I becoming partners as well, but he said that he thought it would be best if we didn’t do anything sexual yet. That created a lump in my throat and a questioning in my mind. After much stewing, the next night I told him what happened, and he Flipped the Fuck Out. He punched the wall, told me I cheated on him, and that I had totally broken his trust. I am no longer allowed to communicate with Peter or spend any time with any other hetero/bisexual men or homo/bisexual women (presumably because I’d totally suck their dicks, too). I came up with the idea of giving up caffeine so that I could prove myself able to devote to something. Also, I check in with him on my cellphone and tell him where I am and who I’m with whenever I change locations or company.

My heart is totally shattered. I feel like scum of the earth. Whenever I’m in public or don’t want to cry and I feel tears coming on, I have taken to scratching myself really hard. It keeps the tears away, but I know it’s not healthy and I can’t stop doing it. And I’m resentful and self-loathing and I wish I could turn back time and just not have given Peter a blowjob. But I did. I still see Peter around 3 times a week because he works in the residence hall that I live in, and we’re both members of the same Executive Board for an organization. Peter and Nathan used to get along too, but Nathan has been avoiding him and obviously has a lot of loathing for him. All I feel is that I have burned my bridges. My friends who are friends with Nathan would hate me if they found out. My friends who are not friends with Nathan all live far away. My family does not know I’m polyamorous and would also probably hate me. I am not allowed to talk to Peter.

I guess I’m just wondering: How can I fix these bridges? Can I fix them? Also, this isn’t a question but I miss both Nathan and Peter a lot. There’s a hole in my heart and I don’t know how to fix that, either.
Sorry this is crazy long. You can cut out some extra bits, but this is also the first time I’ve written any of this down…

Thank You for your help,
Unethical Slut.

Dear Unethical (your name for yourself, not mine):

I see the words “I know he would never hit me/physically harm me” in a lot of letters I get. Far more than I could ever, ever, ever answer or publish.

Those words break my heart, every time, because the people who write them are offering them up as an example of how the relationship can be saved and how I shouldn’t judge their partner too harshly. They mean “he’s not ABUSIVE-abusive (even though he does all these abusive and controlling things to me). I’m not like those abused women, I would leave if someone actually hit me.” They break my heart because the letter writers have had to do the calculus, the calculus called Would He Hit Me? and they offer the answer up as proof that he wouldn’t but all I can see is proof that he almost did, that he’s thinking about it, that he’s a week or a year or a hair’s breadth away from it. It’s proof that she’s thinking about it, too, that she’s had to do the math. Nathan wouldn’t hit you, but he’d punch a wall in front of you, so you can see the force of how his fists slam into things., so you can see how hurt his hand is afterward, so you know that the damage is your fault. When I read those words about how the partner doesn’t harm or hit, I can hear the echo of the guy saying them, too, like “Well, it’s not like I physically hurt you! Come on! Be reasonable (and do what I say)!“(Mentioning how “at least you don’t hit” someone kinda sorta exactly like reminding them that you could hit them, that you might hit them, that hitting them is on the list of possible things that could happen, you are a fucking goddamn hero of a man for making the difficult heroic choice not to. Someone saying this to you should always make the little hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and prompt you to look around for the exits).

And then the letters, like your letter, contain the most heartbreaking question of all, which is how, how can I be better/fix it/make it right/not make him scary and angry anymore. How can I be perfect (give up caffeine), how can I show him (check in with him by cell phone every time I change locations or company) that I’m worthy? Because the abuser-logic has worked. “When you make mistakes it’s your fault, when I make mistakes (like scaring you) it’s also your fault.” Someone doesn’t have to physically hurt you to harm you.

People in non-abusive relationships don’t have to do this constant calculus. Non-abusive dudes don’t get described as “intimidating” by their girlfriends, because non-abusive dudes, even the big strong burly ones who might look pretty intimidating to a stranger don’t intimidate their girlfriends. They don’t punch walls, or throw things, or put 10,000 tiny conditions around everything, or monitor their movements or their phones. When those dudes feel lonely, they fucking call a friend, or they muddle through those lonely feelings. Non-abusive dudes don’t pat themselves on the back for not hurting women, because it doesn’t occur to them to hurt women. Once you are at “At least he doesn’t physically hurt me” as a standard for measuring someone’s behavior, the bees are already in the house.

I am not as sure as you are that Nathan “would never physically hurt” you. “Intimidating,””punching the wall,” not “allowing” you to talk to men or other women, the fact that you are using words like “whore” to describe yourself, the constant monitoring & checking in you’re doing add up to a picture of Something Is Not Right Here. You tell Nathan your boundaries for sex with others within your poly relationship. He never tells you his. You act within your own ethics about this, and suddenly he’s punching walls and flipping out at you and telling you who you are allowed to talk to? Nathan is ok with you and Peter becoming partners, but only if you do it exactly as he wants you to? A misunderstanding in how you do poly stuff does not make him the boss of you! This is one seriously controlling dude, and I don’t think he wants you to become partners with anyone else, honestly. A normal decent kind dude would be like “Hey, if you want to stop drinking coffee, cool, but the idea that it’s something you’re doing for me is honestly kinda weird.” A normal decent kind dude would say “Hey, I was hurt when you hooked up with Peter, but I realize now that you had no way of knowing what my rules for poly-stuff should be because we never actually discussed it. But this thing where you call me every time you go into a different room? That’s really weird, please stop doing that.” A decent, ethical, poly dude who loves you would most likely be able to express hurt that you got together with Peter without discussing it first and still try to find a way for you to have everything you want.

But for a controlling dude, these self-sacrifices of yours are right on schedule, putting him in the center of every aspect of your life, where he thinks he belongs.

My advice is: Run, gurl. Drink caffeine if you want to. Sleep with nice people who are nice to you. Get out of this relationship and this living situation with a dude who punishes and berates you because he doesn’t know how to fill his own loneliness.

Some concrete advice:

  • Everything I’m saying here should happen on the down low, without consulting or informing or alerting Nathan until you are ready to leave. He is not a safe person to talk through your options with, and I don’t think you can trust him to be on your team about anything. The first comment at this link is about how to hang in with an abusive situation if you can’t get free right away, and there is tons of concrete logistical advice in the rest of the comments.
  • You’re starting therapy, GOOD. Keep going to that. Please tell the counselor about your relationship.
  • There is a book called Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft. You should read it, but you should not do it where Nathan can see, or have a copy in your room.
  • Call a domestic violence hotline/helpline and talk through this with a sympathetic, trained person. They won’t think you are silly, they will listen to you, and if you’re far away from your friends this perspective can be invaluable.
  • Tell at least one of your faraway friends, tell someone in your life that you trust what’s going on. And call your friends and family and catch up with them. Even if you don’t talk about your relationship, you need to talk to some people who love you and care about you and make you laugh.
  • Secure your money, identity documents, computer, your phone. Don’t leave your phone or your computer lying around where he can snoop in them.
  • Talk to someone at the school about moving to your own room/out of the room you share with Nathan. You need your own space ASAP, in a different building. You might need to get that space, move your things into it, and then break up with Nathan at a neutral, public location that is not your old room, with an RA or a friend present. You don’t need to tell every person every single thing that happened – “We had a fight, and he punched the wall in a way that scared me, and I think I would feel safer if I had my own space for now” is enough. Not everyone needs the whys and wherefores. Mutual friends can hear “We broke up, don’t want to go into it right now.”

Get some trained professionals in your life. Reconnect with your friends and family. Stop calling yourself names. You are a woman who wanted something, and you went after it in a way you thought was within the bounds of your relationship. You found out later that your partner didn’t agree. You didn’t do anything to deserve the amount of humiliation and worry and fear you are feeling right now.

Someday (hopefully) Nathan will be a distant creepy memory.

272 thoughts on “#640: “I know he would never physically hurt me” and other fairy tales.

    1. Yes, this. LW, get yourself out of there as fast as you safely can.

      Even if you are completely right about the fact that he never would physically hurt you, his behavior is *textbook* abuse. You deserve better, EVEN IF what you did with Peter was wrong. To be clear, I don’t think what you did with Peter was wrong, but even if it was – even if you did cheat on Nathan – you STILL DO NOT DESERVE THIS ABUSE.

      1. Seconded. It’s easy when you feel you’ve made a mistake (and I’m not even sure you did, based you your understanding of your relationship rules) that you deserve someone else’s shitty treatment of you. This is a false Jerkbrain lie. Sure, actions have consequences and sometimes people get upset. But that’s not a carte blanche for them to be shitty. There is literally nothing you could have done to deserve the way he is treating you. You could have had sex with every friend he has, his sister, his brother, and his dog, and you still wouldn’t deserve the way he is treating you. Someone is in the wrong here, and it’s 100% him.

  1. LW, if you and Nathan previously agreed that you have an open relationship, and he failed to define what he wanted that relationship structure to be. You said “You can do what you’d like, just let me know” and he grunted. That’s assent to your terms by default. While there’s as many ways to be open as there are open relationships, I think it’s reasonable to say the most common sort clusters within a rulespace that could be described as “Be safe, be honest” which involves being safe (using protection and engaging in low-risk activities) with other partners, and disclosing to your primary before or after.

    So, the important point to think about here is that if he previously agreed, even just in the general sense, that you and he were in an open relationship, then what you did is NOT cheating and YOU ARE NOT A WHORE. He is entitled to his feelings, and would deserve to be able to say, “When you told me you did that, I felt cheated on” but not “You cheated on me”. He gets to define terms of a relationship going forward, but he doesn’t get to retroactively make what you did not OK.

    I’m going to say what Captain maybe felt too charitable to say: He planned this. He never wanted to be in an open relationship with you in the first place, but he made the self-serving decision that if he was honest about that with you, you might leave before he got his hooks in you. When you acted on what you thought were the terms of your “open” relationship, he used it to shovel layers of guilt onto you, smothering your desire for openness and agency in a feeling of “I fucked up, I need to make it up to him” and has cruelly, callously, used this, along with intimidation and emotional abuse tactics to badger you into ceding nearly all your agency and self-determination to him.

    You can’t communicate with your friend? Screw that!

    You can’t be in the presence of people who might be attracted to you? Hell no!

    You have to… give up coffee?! O_o

    He is a USER. He is an ABUSER who has MANIPULATED YOU into the state you are now. He is GOING TO HIT YOU as soon as he figures you’re so invested in him and under his thumb that you won’t leave him for doing so.

    He is Darth Vader. Don’t try to feel the good in him, it isn’t there.

      1. Andrew and Wurmbranes – good call!

        It’s a Cinderella situation…

        “Of course you can go to the ball!”
        -After you clean everything.
        -After you make us dresses.
        -If you can find something decent to wear.
        -If you can finish all your chores on time.
        -Oops too late you can’t.

        Abusive people will often say “Yes, I want you to have happy poly times” or “Of course I want you to finish your degree” or (in the case of one terrifying letter I got a while back that still haunts me) “Of course I don’t mind watching the baby while you work the night shift” because they know that’s what they are supposed to do, but then they will put all kinds of friction around their victim actually doing the thing, so in the end it just becomes “easier” if you didn’t do any of the things you wanted to do, and everyone can pretend that it was 100% your decision.

        1. Oh god that trick I know it well. First they talk the reasonable talk, and cheerfully agree to do reasonable helpful things. Then they fail to follow through or as you say create endless friction and generally make it a nightmare. And it blows me away when after many many times on this merry-go-round they still sound completely sincere in their cheerful agreement so much so that I fill with hope that this time will be different… :-O

          Sometimes they even volunteer to do nice helpful stuff completely unbidden. And still have a near zero chance of following through without nightmarish shenanigans.

          1. Right. It is important to realize that most abusive people do not realize they are abusive, nor do they intend to be. This does not mean you can fix them, you can’t. What it means is: An abuser can be genuinely, heart-feltedly nice to you one moment and abusive the next. They are still abusive. Do not expect consistent behavior.

          2. One thing I read somewhere that has always resonated with my lizard brain is this: Abusers HAVE to behave well at times. Otherwise, they’d be shunned by all good society. Their lizard brains intuit this, and they can perform the outwardly-kind dance to perfection. But that is not .who. they. are. It is not. Good society is eager to give benefit of doubt, because they’re Good, and this is the trump card abusers play.

          3. I think the thing not often mentioned about abusers though is that generally they are very selfish. So their phases of niceness are either things that cost them very little or they’re all talk. They will often say the right things and offer to do the right things, but then not actually follow through because that would require effort/sacrifice on their part.

            So yes, as so many of us have discovered few abusers are terrible non stop (though their phases of niceness tend to lessen over time as they start to take their victims for granted). And of course they always have redeeming qualities or no one would fall for them in the first place.

            But also if you look closely it often turns out that the ways in which they seem nice are often completely illusory. This is how we arrive at the endless letter writers who say their partner is a “good feminist man” and then go on to describe an abuser. Talking about feminism is an easy way for them to make themselves seem to have positive qualities.

            And none of this has to be conscious on the abusers part.

          4. I don’t understand how I never realised this was an abusive dynamic. Agreeing to or volunteering to do helpful things, or sometimes just their fair share of the things that have to be done anyway, but then just… not doing them, forcing the partner to do them, at the expense of doing the things they want/enjoy/need, while also having to do everything else, take care of the abusive partner, be constantly available, or else.

            We shouldn’t be hard on ourselves for not always seeing this tho, it really can be the “boiling frog” pattern, where it happens very gradually. What a light bulb moment.

          5. Letternext it seems you’ve dated my ex… :-/

            I think the weird thing for me was that he was always in total agreement that he should share household tasks, was always happy to agree when I asked for totally normal reasonable favours. Then it just didn’t happen. Then he would try to gaslight me into believing he had done whatever it was (or usually did and this was a one off) or that it was unreasonable to ask (which, really, should be mentioned at the time of the request not after agreeing to it and not leaving me the option to arrange something else). Or he would do it but it would become such a production that I would feel guilty for puttinf him through it.

            There was so much head fuckery that I actually resorted one month to writing down who had done what to prove to myself that I really wasn’t imagining his unhelpfulness and obstructionism. Pro tip: if you are writing down everything that happens in order to prove to yourself objectively that your needs are reasonable you are mired deep within gaslight central and you need to flee as fast and as far as you can.

          6. And the abuser gives their victim so much grief for asking that the abuser actually, consistently do what they promised that it doesn’t seem worth it to bring it up anymore. Or as my sad panda of an abuser convinced me, his life was just sooo hard that he couldn’t perform the basic activities of house care and maintenance. He need time to do his hobbies instead or his life just wasn’t worth living.

            Whining and moaning* can be abusive too. Anything that is used to gain power and control over another person is an abuse tactic.

            * Not that her only whined and moaned. He also yelled, used demeaning language, was physically intimidating… It’s just that I only realized after the fact that the sad panda routine was also manipulative.

        2. My mom wanted to go to teacher’s college after taking a 10 year break from work to raise us. She got in to a university in another nearby town. She prediscussed this with my dad because she thought the relationship was a partnership. After getting in, she started thinking about the logistics. How would she commute, how would the after school childcare gap be bridged (I was only 10 so I couldn’t babysit my siblings after school yet, Mom, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you!) My dad said, “I didn’t think you would actually get in.” My mom couldn’t accept because she had no way to get care for us without my dad’s help. He said what he was supposed to as long as he could and then threw up a roadblock later on.

      2. absolutely yes, he planned this.

        I’ve been in and lived around open/poly relationships for the better part of three decades, and a trick I have seen more than once is “what’s good for the goose is ABSOLUTELY NOT OKAY for the gander.” one partner (usually, but not always, male) decides that they want the freedom to pursue other relationships, but they also want to control the other partner’s relationships, usually to the point where the other partner *can’t* maintain any other relationships, romantic or otherwise. and that’s twenty kinds of completely unacceptable, fucked up bullshit. that isn’t polyamory; that’s somebody using the framework of polyamory to manipulate and abuse their partner.

        in the early stages of getting into polyamory, it’s not uncommon for somebody to “mess up,” especially when things aren’t well-defined or even discussed. sometimes people don’t know their own boundaries, and have to learn the hard way that they really aren’t okay with being in a poly relationship, even if they really really want to, and that’s perfectly okay. you made a mistake; it happens. it can be hard to work through, but it’s not the end of the world, and it’s *definitely* not an adequate reason for Nathan to insist on monitoring your movements and communications with all other humans.

        be safe, LW. beware the bees. none of this is your fault.

        1. “that isn’t polyamory; that’s somebody using the framework of polyamory to manipulate and abuse their partner.”

          this is kind of a general rule. abusers will co-opt extant systems as much as they can.

          abusers will use the framework of poly to abuse. abusers will use the framework of BDSM to abuse. abusers will use the framework of feminism to abuse. abusers will use the framework of PTSD recovery to abuser.

          abusers will use WHATEVER FRAMEWORK GETS THEM SEX/ATTENTION/A VICTIM to abuse, because abusers are assholes.

          So whenever I hear things like “he’s a great feminist but–” or “we have a poly relationship but–” my radar goes up, because if what comes after the “but” is some kind of magically-justified terrible behavior that no one would flinch from calling abusive on, like, Unreconstructed Non-Feminist Monogamy Caveperson…listen to the behavior, not the framework.

          1. “this is kind of a general rule. abusers will co-opt extant systems as much as they can.”


            It can be super confusing when someone talks the good talk but doesn’t walk the walk. You want to believe that this person spouting all the good feminist, self-aware, and compassionate lines really is a feminist, self-aware, compassionate person. I’ve been there, my friends have been there, seemingly half of Canada was there this last week – it’s super common. But, yeah, all too many abusers are good at co-opting all the right words then going ahead and doing whatever the heck they want, and do so relying on the fact that their act will let them get away with it at least for a while. One tiny spark of good that comes from widely publicized cases like Ghomeshi or He Who Shall Not Be Named is that, when you or someone you know is dealing with a smooth-talking abuser in their own life, you have well-known examples of these creeps to point to.

          2. This is true. Abusers use whatever framework is available to abuse. I think it’s still worth discussing the specifics though because there are unique ways to leverage different frameworks for abuse that we can be aware of and watch out for. (While also being careful not to paint whatever thing it is as inherently abusive, because as you say, abusers find ways to use every framework there is)

        2. Oy, have I ever seen that happen. Person A and Person B had their terms pretty defined (tell each other before anything happens, no messing around with mutual friends). Person A frequently messed around with mutual friends, without telling Person B. Whenever Person B would find someone to have some fun times with, Person A would throw a shit fit, get extremely jealous, and make extreme accusations. Eventually this expanded to Person A becoming jealous of mutual friends of the appropriate genders who Person B wasn’t even attracted to. Nightmarish.

        3. And even if one partner isn’t okay with one of those early-stage fuckups, to the point where he can no longer trust his partner, the way you handle that is by breaking up, being very sad, and learning a lesson about how you are in relationships. If the only way to stay with someone is to keep them in locked-down, constantly-apologizing purgatory, then do both of you a favor and realize this relationship has died.

          1. Also, LW did not fuck up, did not ‘mess up’, did absolutely nothing wrong. Nathan, on the other hand, failed to articulate his boundaries on purpose, so that he could claim she screwed up. But she didn’t.

            Not texting him at the exact moment he wanted? Not wrong, not a mistake.
            Not leaving him your laptop? It’s your laptop, LW, and you get to do what you want with it. Y’all are at a college, I don’t believe for half a second he couldn’t access a computer lab or hang out with other people if he were feeling lonely, instead of just trying to make your entire life all about his needs and whims.

          2. So true, placelot. Did not intend to imply she had fucked up, just echoing the language used above. But the thing is, and this is important, I feel, to establish that people fuck up in relationships ALL THE TIME. Even if the LW had fucked up (though I agree with you that this incident was not, in fact, a fuckup), this isn’t the way to act. No one should have to live in fear of these kinds of consequencs in their relationship no matter what. Even if you actually do cheat, even if you do violate trust, end of story. The right answer to fixing a relationship is never tormenting one of the people in that relationship.

    1. “He never wanted to be in an open relationship with you in the first place, but he made the self-serving decision that if he was honest about that with you, you might leave before he got his hooks in you.”

      I’m thinking this guy liked the idea of being able to sleep with whoever he wanted and didn’t like the idea of LW doing it, and I’d bet money that he’s got some pretty cave-man ideas about men who sleep around being studs and women who sleep around being whores. In every way what he basically seems to be saying is “I do what I want and you do what I tell you.”

    2. Yeah, his reaction isn’t some kind of natural consequence from feeling cheated on, which you didn’t even do, since you acted within the rules you knew about. A rules misunderstanding happened in my open relationship (my girlfriend had sex with someone in a way I didn’t really like but had forgotten to tell her about), but I told her it wasn’t her fault, because it wasn’t.

      Even if you had totally, obviously and blatantly cheated, and he was super pissed off about being cheated on, this could (and should) have gone down differently.
      Angry, hurt, betrayed non-abuser: “You cheated on me and I don’t want to be with a cheater… so I’m breaking up with you right now.”
      Nathan: “You cheated on me and I don’t want to be with a cheater… so I’m going to control and supervise your every move so you never have even the slightest opportunity to do it again. Also, I’ll make you truly goddamn sorry you ever crossed me.”

    3. 100% fucking co-signed.

      LW, Nathan is NOT POLY. There are a million hijillion guys like him who use the label “polyamory” when what they mean is “I want an excuse to fuck around, but God help you if you ever try to exercise the same right.” Poly people joke about guys like this with the term One Penis Policy. But it’s often not funny at all.

      It wasn’t an accident that he failed to negotiate with you or set boundaries. See, if he never tells you what the limits are, you can never know when you cross them. Isn’t that useful, for an abuser? “That thing you just did? Retroactively bad.”

      I have been on both side of people who have made mistakes or been a little careless with boundaries. People who are genuinely poly, and are not Darth Vaders, deal with this things by saying “I am upset” or “we need to talk this through” or “okay, this isn’t working for us”. They do not punch walls. They do not call their SOs a “whore”, or use that term as it it were an OK thing to throw at another human being. They do not suddenly become overcontrolling.

      1. I also find it really disturbing that the response is to set massively narrow boundaries that are not at all practical and are massively isolating. A general healthy response to a boundary miscommunication is for the person who is hurt to explain they are hurt and why, and then a mutual renegotiation for a boundary that works for both parties, possibly the boundary the hurt partner wanted, but failed to state. This process can also involve hugs. So, if Nathan were, in good faith, hurt by the letter writer having gone further than he thought she would go without informing him, then the obvious solution, if she were willing, would be a new boundary where she does not have sex with anyone else immediately, but informs him first. They also would need to negotiate whether or not they have veto power over each other’s sexual activities. IShe should get to either agree or not agree to letting him have veto power. If she doesn’t agree, he could choose to break up with her, but she still has the choice either way. If she does agree to veto power, she should also get veto power over his sexual activities with other people. She would still get to see whomever she wanted to non-sexually, but would refrain from sexual activities until they both felt comfortable and ready for it. Sometimes people do need a ramping up to poly and prefer to go slowly.

        However, he didn’t expect a reinforcement of the boundary he stated he wanted. He instead created a new boundary that appears to exist solely as a punishment for the letter writer. Whenever somebody is being vengeful within a relationship that’s a huge red flag for the relationship. If you no longer are working together to do what is best for both of you, and instead somebody is doing something purely to hurt the other… what kind of a relationship is that? And the boundaries as stated are really scary. Isolation is textbook abuse. And how is the letter writer going to make new local friends when not allowed to hang out with people? (And how do you go about avoiding heteroseuxal/bisexual men and lesbian/bisexual women? Do you ask every new acquaintance their orientation?)

        Finally, I wanted to say, letter writer, if you read this, I really hope you’ll also set out to make more friends where you are. The Captain has lots of articles on how to make new friends. But I think you’ll be much better off if you have local friends who aren’t Nathan’s friends. I bet there are lots of people out there that might be really good potential friends for you. I hope you take some time to go out and find some of them. Because nearly everybody should have friends (maybe some people really like being hermits, but for most people friends are a great thing). Remember, Nathan isn’t actually allowed to set your boundaries. He is allowed to tell you what boundaries he wants, then you can either say yes or no. Although I do worry for your personal safety if you say no to him. So, stay safe, but remember, in a healthy relationship, you get to decide whether or not you are willing to set these boundaries. And personally, I don’t think any partner is worth giving up the right to spend time with friends for, because any partner worth being with wouldn’t ever ask for that.

      2. Yeah exactly. I’ve been trying to imagine how that initial conversation about the rules of their relationship went down. Like, LW says what she’s cool with, and Nathan just doesn’t respond…? That’s actually really weird. The natural thing to do in that conversation would be to express his own opinion about how things would work. That he didn’t makes me think he *wasn’t* comfortable with those rules (for the LW at least) and didn’t say anything because he didn’t know what to say that would still let him have what *he* wanted. And that’s the most charitable interpretation – it’s also possible that he quite deliberately didn’t articulate an opinion in order to leave options open for reacting however he wanted to whatever he wanted, and apply blame retroactively (as you suggest).

        I have been with dudes who won’t articulate their needs but punish you if you don’t intuit them and it’s a really bad place to be.

        1. I am still trying to formulate my thoughts for a full comment post, but I wanted to say that I can totally see how that boundaries conversation might have gone down:
          LW: This is what I would like you to do/not do.
          BF: Nitpick, “get clarification,” speculate regarding hookup opportunities while framing it as getting her okay for potential scenarios. Shift subject slightly (possibly through flattery and positive attention for how open she is), then make some sort of proposal to go out, start an activity, etc.

          I have ADHD and could see myself accidentally doing all this (but revisiting the topic the moment I realized I had done so), but I can also imagine someone doing this opportunistically.

    4. Even if it wasn’t consciously planned, it is still Full of Bees. I once had a Darth ex who cheerfully agreed to be non-monogamous while I was out of the country for 6 months. I hooked up with someone else, and when I told him he FLIPPED HIS SHIT. He later told me he only agreed to be open because he trusted that if I really loved him I wouldn’t go through it with. ?%&*#?! What the fuck. This is the opposite of how words work.

      He never hit me, but he did abuse me in many other way. And then he raped me when I tried to leave him the first time. “He won’t/doesn’t hit me” does not equal “there is no abuse here” much less “this is a healthy situation”.


  2. Oh my god oh my god oh my GOD GET AWAY FROM THAT MAN. FAST.

    You did not do *anything* wrong. The mistake in not outlining the boundaries of the relationship was HIS, and it was probably intentional. This man wants to control you. He has fucked with your head to make you think it’s all your fault, that you deserve to be controlled.

    Please, please don’t call yourself that ugly name anymore. Please take this seriously. Please believe that you are in danger and that you don’t deserve this. Everything Captain said is true.

    And anyone should always beware of a man who CLAIMS to be poly but doesn’t actually want his girlfriend doing sexy stuff with anyone else. This generally means that rather than actually being poly, he just wants the option to cheat without consequences or being thought of as a cheater, while his girlfriend is required to remain “faithful” at all times. And if he doesn’t even want her HANGING OUT with people who could possibly even be attracted to her? That goes beyond him just wanting to be a cheating asshole. That means he is a dangerous, controlling abuser.

    God, this letter is so chilling. I feel a little queasy.

  3. Spot-on advice here. This is a terrible, terrible situation that is in no way your (the letter writer’s) fault. Not one little bitty bit. Get angry and get out of there. Or get out, and then get angry. Your choice. Run!

  4. I second getting away from this dude. I was in a relationship where “It’s not like he hit me” for a long time. When I finally got out, and after about six months of just sleeping a lot and doing some initial healing, I started to realise that there was plenty of physical abuse going on in that relationship. He touched me in ways I didn’t like, refused to stop when I asked because he “didn’t understand” why I wanted him to stop, and when I tried to explain he got hurt feelings and would turn the moment into how he needed to be comforted and how he needed proof that I loved him and how it was SO WRONG for me to keep REJECTING him. Layers of abuse, and manipulation, and training me into accepting and feeling responsible for/deserving of abuse. I don’t even know if he was aware that he was abusing me – I’m sure in his mind he was just trying to make the relationship fit what he needed. It’s just that what he needed was abusive and really fucked me up.

    So, yeah. Get out as soon as you can. Contact your friends and check in with your family (you don’t have to tell people the whole story – the poly conversation does not have to come before or during the “I’m scared of my partner” conversation). Let someone within your school know what’s happened re: wall-punching in case you need to make a speedy exit or need to change classes to get some more distance from Nathan down the line etc.

    1. Agreed re: tell your friends/family thing – you are under NO obligation to reveal the poly aspect or anything that has happened beyond “he’s trying to control who I see and where I go and he punched a wall and I’m scared”. You’re not being dishonest by not revealing the poly aspect. It’s your business, and your decision when and whether to reveal that to others.

    2. Yes. So much yes. All of the yes to this. You have cleared up some 13-year-old bullshit for me at last. My ex, whom I was with for seven months – not long, thank goodness, though I think it wasn’t so much that I was great at not being abused as that he was terrible at being an abuser – did all the touching in ways I didn’t like and wouldn’t stop because “Wait, why was it okay last week and not now,” and “Nope, I’m totally not doing that to you even though it’s stupid that you don’t want it because I am awesome YOU’RE WELCOME.” And “It’s almost like you don’t love me because of this rule.” I knew it was abuse but couldn’t ever put my finger on why it was abuse, though he did plenty of other things as well. So thank you for that comment.

    3. “…there was plenty of physical abuse going on in that relationship. He touched me in ways I didn’t like, refused to stop when I asked because he “didn’t understand” why I wanted him to stop, and when I tried to explain he got hurt feelings and would turn the moment into how he needed to be comforted and how he needed proof that I loved him and how it was SO WRONG for me to keep REJECTING him.”
      This – so much this. And this kind of grabby hands and pressures to be physical in ways one isn’t comfortable with is all over in the media representations of sex and love. It’s excused under the umbrellas of “I just find you so attractive I can’t help myself” and “You should be flattered by this kind of attention” and “love means you’ll do this for me” and all sorts of poisonous garbage that conflate controlling behavior and behaviors that negate autonomy with love.

  5. Oh so many dragons. Oh sweet girl.

    You did not do anything wrong. You did not act selfishly or like a whore.

    Nathan has no right to expect you to be a magical psychic princess who knows his every desire and does only that. You have no right to expect that from yourself, you can only decide to honor his desires as he’s told them to you. (I suggest not honoring anything from him and running the fuck away, he’s toxic.) Nathan has no right to expect you to take care of his loneliness, or his horniness, or basically any of his emotions. If he’s grown up enough to be in a relationship, he’s grown up enough to take care of his own emotions. You have no right to expect yourself to do emotional work to care for someone who won’t even tell you about his feelings and wants you to guess them. (Run the fuck away, Nathan is toxic and bad for you.)

    Going through elaborate shame rituals that Nathan holds the leash on would only remotely be okay if you were in a deep kink relationship with established boundaries, and even then I’d be super worried for you. With nothing communicated or agreed on before hand, this is abusive behavior. Get out now. He doesn’t have to hit you in order to be a person who is no longer fun to date.

    I counter sign the “Get your own space right now and move without warning Nathan” plan. It is no one’s business why you’re breaking up with Nathan beyond “I do not want to be in a relationship with Nathan anymore”. No one includes Nathan, by the way. (For the housing people, saying he scared you by punching a wall in front of you and you want to live in a safer space is probably also adequate)

    Be safe, US, take care of yourself like you are precious and beautiful and good, because I promise you that you are and you deserve so much better.

    1. “I counter sign the “Get your own space right now and move without warning Nathan” plan. It is no one’s business why you’re breaking up with Nathan beyond “I do not want to be in a relationship with Nathan anymore”. No one includes Nathan, by the way. (For the housing people, saying he scared you by punching a wall in front of you and you want to live in a safer space is probably also adequate)”

      While I agree it is no one’s business, it might make the LW safer from Nathan if she has told other people about the wall-punching and attempts to control who she sees, because it will make those people less likely to help Nathan continue to have access to her if he escalates to stalking behavior. Knowing your friend’s ex is an ex because they acted like a scary asshole rather than “just” because she didn’t want to date him anymore can help you make judgements about what’s going on.

      Scary Asshole Ex: Hey, do you know where Friend is going to be after class? I have a book of hers to give back.
      You: No. And she doesn’t want to see you. Leave her alone.

      Ex You Mistakenly Believe is Totally Normal: Hey, do you know where Friend is going to be after class? I have a book of hers to give back.
      You: Um, I think the student lounge?

      1. It’s nobody’s business why she’s breaking up with Nathan, but it would probably be better to tell certain people that she feels unsafe around him when she moves (like the RA in her new dorm and any roommates/suitemates she ends up with.) Otherwise, she might walk into her new room and find him standing there, having charmed his way in.

        Also, the school probably has some resources she can access if the right people (a counselor at the school or possibly someone from the health center, or an RA) know at least a little bit of what is going on.

  6. An additional thought: No one has to know you’re poly who you don’t want to. If you feel the need to, you can say, “Peter and I got a little too close and Nathan thought I was cheating on him, and suddenly got super controlling and abusive.” If someone has the nerve to ask what you did with Peter or whether you actually did cheat on Nathan (which you DID NOT) you can fix them with a withering stare and say, “Really? I tell you my boyfriend was abusing me and you ask me that? That’s the point you want to focus on?”

    1. I actually had a therapist once whose first response to “he choked me” was “is he bigger than you?” The therapeutic alliance, we did not have it.

  7. Oh boy …

    I’m sure Nathan is charming and adorable and wonderful to be around some of the time. If he weren’t, you would have either fled the scene by now or you would have written a letter asking how to flee the scene safely. In light of Nathan’s intermittent charming, adorable wonderfulness, the comments about how badly he’s behaving may make you feel defensive on his behalf. “Even if he’s not perfect, he’s not an ABUSER,” you say. So …

    1. Abusers aren’t abusive 100 percent of the time. Nobody would go near them them if they were. It’s entirely possible — indeed, probable — for abusers to be awesome some or even most of the time.

    2. If you’re not convinced your boyfriend is abusive, that’s fine. Take abuse out of the equation. Does that make his behavior okay? Would YOU fail to spell out your boundaries and then become intimidatingly angry at people who violated them? Prohibit them from communicating with anyone they might be attracted to? Make them check in with you whenever you move from one location to the next? Would you think it was okay for a friend’s partner to behave that way toward your friend?

    You did nothing wrong, LW. Nothing. I hope you’re okay. Please let us know how you’re doing.

    1. This is very true – everyone has both good and bad qualities! Someone doesn’t have to be 100% grinning evil to be acting out of line.

  8. I don’t know of a college dorm that allows opposite sex couples to live together. Sounds like he’s crashing in your room. Get him tossed, change your locks or move to a different room yourself.

    1. Or what if she’s living in his room and this means disrupting her own housing situation? Maybe don’t assume stuff like this, and don’t assume that it’s simple or easy.

      1. I didn’t assume, I said sounds like. Also, turns out I am wrong about allowing opposite sex couples in dorms, a few colleges allow it but discourage non-platonic arrangements. Brevity here is result of tricky keyboard not assumption that anything here is easy. Similar situation I was in once leads me to speculate that the guy is a freeloading douchebag….could be wrong and he’s just a regular douchebag.

        1. The demand that her laptop should be available at all times for his needs makes me wonder if maybe he is a freeloading douchebag? Actually, with the ‘he’s allowed whatever he wants, she is called awful names and labeled a cheater if she behaves similarly’ dynamic, let’s go ahead and call him a freeloading douchebag regardless of their living situation. “What’s yours is mine, what’s mine is also mine’ is a terrible standard for a relationship of any stripe.

          But in any case, if he has keys or she is in his space or whatever, it still probably won’t feel easy.

      1. It was allowed by my university 20 years ago. Admittedly few people got to do it as most rooms were singles, but most people sharing a room were couples.

        1. I stand corrected on that point. After I posted it, I checked around online and found a few places that do it but as far as I could find online, it’s mostly in platonic situations. Something struck me as “off” about the living situation, though, and it might be just “living together in a single,” which by definition would then be living in a double (if I recall dorm terminology) so it could be an unofficial arrangement. I support the Captain’s (boldly stated) advise to involve the college housing resources, as needed, to extract from the situation.

          My experience: many years ago ended up virtually sharing a room with my boyfriend my sophomore year, just because I had a single and we could. That was years before that relationship turned abusive, but even on friendly terms, a tiny single is just not enough space to live with another human being, sharing a single bed, one desk, and so on. I think even most prison cells for two are bigger than 8×8. In that case, a good friend was in the same situation, spending too much time in too close quarters with her boyfriend. After about a month, we both requested a double together and it was better for everyone.

          My sympathies to the OP as the situation sounds all too familiar (and not just to me, from the other comments.) I know it’s not easy to get out of and I hope that she gets the support she needs.

          1. “but as far as I could find online, it’s mostly in platonic situations.”

            That was not my experience in undergrad (it seemed like mostly though not exclusively couples). You’re right though about LW mentioning that it was a single, not a double. It’s possible one of them has an “official” room elsewhere (probably better for LW) that they don’t use, or one of them could be unofficially crashing to avoid paying rent/room & board (probably worse for LW, especially if she is the one without a room in her name).

  9. This is the most heartbreaking thing I have ever read.
    LW, please. Please do not live with this guy anymore. Please do not let this guy control your access to friends and activities. Please be safe.
    You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm. I think Nathan is enjoying the fire, but it’s consuming you in a way you don’t like and that is reason enough to stop, drop, and roll the hell out the door.

      1. I find it so incredibly useful! I got it from the Rector of my university, who got it from the internet somewhere I think? It got like a million retweets but I can’t find the source.

    1. I’m always lurking. But I had to ditto happiness on the quote: “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm”. So many applications to that, thank you.

  10. Get the fuck out. Get the fuck out NOW. Holy crap the evil bees are everywhere and they don’t seem to be producing any honey that might try to explain staying in their midst.

    Would you let Nathan (or anyone else) do this to your best friend? To a sibling? A future child? No? Don’t let him do it to you either. You are not a whore. You are not an unethical slut. Are you listening to us? You are a woman who wanted a thing, laid out expectations for how the thing would be got, and followed both your heart and your lovely logical brain to get the thing. And then you shut down both your heart and your lovely logical brain because Intimidating Boyfriend (seriously? seriously? Boyfriend should not be Intimidating to you!) got his knickers in a twist over it. This is not healthy or right or okay.

    Find those things again. The desires and the logic and the healthy communication and the freedom. If you aren’t free to be your own person who drinks coffee and has friends and goes places and does the sexytimes in a way that makes her happy, cross off that partner’s name on the List Of People You Date and move right along because that’s not a relationship you want to pursue.

    To use another long-time probing question around here: How would you feel about doing this for another month? Six months? A year? Five years? Giving up caffeine (or reading, or meat, or video games, or…), checking in constantly, following precisely his rules for who you will interact with and in what ways you will interact with them — how long are these things going to continue before you’ve had enough?

    You are better than this guy. You have nothing to prove to him. Follow the Captain’s advice, stay safe, but for the love of all things sane, DTMFA (in a public place with a person who knows you).

    1. To chime in on the topic of a partner demanding you cede to him/her your right to choose what you do or don’t eat and drink (or associate with, and so on)… it’s been my experience that these demands seldom travel solo: concede to one, and it’s quite likely another will arrive soon after, to nibble away at a different part of your agency and independence.

    2. Maybe don’t yell at people in a controlling relatioship to “get the fuck out”? I know it’s probably because you care for LW, but I don’t think they need more pressure.

      1. Letter Writer, its your life, you get to choose what to do. You don’t need to do what Nathan says, or what the Captain says, or what anyone here says. Your life is yours. No matter what you do, no matter what Nathan does to you, you are a person! You deserve respect, you matter. Thank you for sharing your story, that was really brave of you.

    3. Second part of the “how long are you willing to keep doing this?” question:

      If you’re assuming that this isn’t going to keep going forever (the caffeine, the constant checking-in), how do you anticipate it ending? In six months, will you say “I feel like I’ve proven myself now, and I can start talking to people who might conceivably be attracted to me again”? If you say that, is he going to claim that’s evidence that you don’t love him? Accuse you of trying to cheat on him? Insist that you have to continue to prove yourself for an indefinite period of time, and refuse to tell you how long before you can return to “normal”?

      What are the chances that these temporary concessions are going to become the new normal?

      Because in my experience, people who want the kind of control that Nathan is getting over you right now do not give that control up willingly.

      And a man who at any point forbids you from even talking to other people because they are sexually attracted to people of your gender is not a man who is ever going to be okay with polyamory. But it sounds like your conversations have followed the narrative of “LW messed up”, without any recognition of “It turns out Nathan is not okay with having an open relationship”. Are the two of you monogamous now? Are you not allowed to have the kind of relationship you want (and clearly said that you wanted) because you didn’t do it in exactly the way he wanted?

      Or have you not talked about any of that because everything has been about how much you have to sacrifice and prove in order to deserve the relationship again?

      Many other people in the comments have said this already, but it’s worth repeating: You have not done anything wrong. You are a good and worthwhile person. You do not deserve to be treated this way.

  11. I’ve had two relationships in my life in which a partner said things very closely resembling the line in which the good Captain rightly saw a whole battalion of red flags. My ex-husband told me often, “It isn’t as if I hit you or anything.” My ex-girlfriend told me, “I would absolutely never hit someone. I draw the line there.”

    Both of them hit me, eventually. Both abused me in myriad other ways for years before they got to that stage. Some of those ways included punching walls and doors, threatening me, demanding that I obey their orders in order to “prove my repentance” for something they felt I had done wrong, cursing at me and calling me names (including ‘cunt’ and ‘whore’ — LW, ask yourself honestly: did you first think of that word for yourself, or was it something Nathan called you when he was angry with you, either for this occasion or some previous one?), manipulating me into self-loathing, and isolating me from all local friends who were not first and foremost their friends. I see elements of many of these types of abuse in your letter.

    Abuse is a big umbrella, and it covers a whole lot more behaviors than just hitting someone or physically damaging them. If you deliberately damage someone’s spirit, that’s abuse. If you deliberately damage someone’s self-respect, that’s abuse. If you deliberately manipulate someone’s behavior through intimidation, threats, or demands; or otherwise take control of aspects of their conduct which are not rightfully yours to control, that’s abuse. Nathan has, by your own account, done all of these things to you. You’re not a whore, LW. Nathan’s an abuser. And you deserve better than to have to abase yourself before him to try and defuse his anger.

    Please, LW, heed the Captain’s advice. Keep yourself safe, as your first priority. Get yourself out of this relationship, as soon as you can do so consistently with keeping yourself safe. You deserve better than a man who intimidates you, makes you perform rituals of abasement and repentance such as giving up innocent pleasures to “prove” something to him, and demands you give up friendships at his orders and report to him about everywhere you go and everyone you spend time with.

    1. Many of us have a similar story.

      Before my “Nathan” punched a wall, his adorable, loving, kind dog let out the loudest, saddest, whimper that I have ever heard from a dog. She placed herself in between him and me. That sweet dog knew what was coming.

      The second time I heard her make that noise was instants before he hit me. My memory of the next few minutes is in pieces, but what echoes is the sound of her crying and scratching at the door, trying to get into the room where he was raping me. She knew. She tried to warn me, tried to protect me. I loved that dog.

      I loved him too, or at least I thought I did. But he did not care about me. She did, and I will be forever grateful for her attempts to protect and console me.

      The space between “He is violent around me” and “He is violent towards me” is very small.

      LW, please check out the resources posted here. Please.

      1. This story makes me want to cry, and to give that dog a medal, and to take her far away from him and give her to a nice person who would never scare her.

      2. Holy shit, I am crying for you and that brave, loving dog. I wish I had magic powers and could go back in time and turn the pup into a 200 lb Rottie who could break down the door to get to you. And then she’d be strong enough to carry you off to a clean, quiet room full of blankets and warm drinks and dog treats where “Nathan” would never darken your door again.

      3. oh, dogs. that dog.

        the dog-of-my-heart jumped over me the last time my father beat me and barked at him until he stopped. he threatened to have her put to sleep for it, but my mom talked him out of it.

        dogs know, and they love, and they try so hard. i’m glad that dog loved you and tried for you.

  12. This letter made me cry of how much I recognized myself.

    RUN, QUICK! Yes, “he would never physically hurt me” until he did. It all was the same way.

    You just have to realize the ones who are physically hurt are not “others”, are also you,


    Sorry for the incoherence and poor grammar but I am sooooooo touched by this letter!


  13. And don’t worry about leaving him without a laptop. If it’s yours, take it with you. He can get his own – it’s 2014, not 1999. Computers are everywhere in a school situation and he has the ability to find one to do his work on and Skype with his friends. Don’t even for a second let him guilt you into thinking that you have to continue to share your possessions with him because “reasons”.

    You have nothing to lose by leaving this relationship. Being alone is better than being on edge all the time. We’re all here for you!

    1. and also? If you share a computer (and even if you don’t) cover your tracks. Delete browsing histories that will show, for instance, this letter, or any other websites on the topic you go to, delete this letter from your email, and be very careful about your phone.

    2. Yes, especially because if you leave him your laptop you allow him to snoop through it and find more “reasons” to make you feel bad.

      1. Keystrokes can be monitored/recorded/sent to someone else, too. LW, please be safe.

        1. YES. If your university has an IT help desk, LW, you can take the laptop there and say you think your boyfriend might have tampered with it and you’re worried he’s installed a keylogger, and can they please check it over to make sure it’s OK.

          At my old workplace (university IT), this would get you bumped from a student employee to a nice staff person with extra training in computer security to help you out.

  14. No matter what you’ve done, it is NOT okay for your partner to tell you who you can and cannot be around. That is unbelievably controlling and wrong. Stop and take a moment, and think about what things might be like if the shoe were on the other foot and Nathan had violated your expressed boundaries around polyamory. (For the sake of this thought exercise, we’re going to ignore that you didn’t actually cheat on Nathan.) So let’s say Nathan fucked some girl and didn’t tell you about it before having condomless sex with you. That would suck and I’m sure you’d be extremely upset. But. If that happened, I’m guessing it would never have crossed your mind to call him a degrading name, demand that he immediately shun everyone with conceivably compatible parts and proclivities, and make him call you every time he switched locations. Right? Because those are fucked up reactions and desires that normal people do not have, no matter the circumstances. On some level you know this, which is why Nathan is working so hard to keep you focused on your own guilt. Every second you spend berating yourself for being a “whore” is a second you’re not questioning the mindfuck he’s perpetrating on you.

    Question it. Because you didn’t do anything wrong, and even if you had, nothing could justify this level of control and disrespect.

  15. OP: Everyone is telling Nathan up there is super bad news, and he totally is. He so is, oh my God. But let us pretend for a moment that he is somehow magically not A Bad Dude (note: he is). Even if he really was a good guy, and didn’t punch walls or make you try to make things up to him or tell you who you can talk to (these are all terrible things, for real, he is horrible), even if he didn’t do those things, you should still leave him. Why? Because you feel awful all the time. Spending all your time wanting to cry, hating yourself, giving up things you like: these are not signs of a happy person. Whatever the reason, he makes you miserable and you are right to want to get away from that. You don’t deserve to feel that way no matter what.

    Before everything else, remember relationships need to make both parties happier. You don’t sound happy with him, and if you aren’t happy it doesn’t matter if he’s actually secretly a saint who rescues kittens (he is not tho). For real, leave him because there is someone (or multiple someones) out there who you could actually enjoy being around and won’t make you scared and miserable.

    1. Yes, this! When you are in a good, healthy relationship, you will like yourself. Yes, you will want to be a better person than you are today, but not because you are full of self-loathing. No, it will be because your partner makes you feel so good about yourself that you want them to admire you this much forever.

      That does actually exist. It’s worth holding out for.

    2. And of course, even if you didn’t hate yourself in the relationship, even if you were just not as happy as you thought you could be because of the different way you two approach polyamory (and he’d done a better job of communicating those differences to you), it’d still be okay to leave if you didn’t feel like you could do what he was asking. Which you can’t. You can’t avoid interacting with over 50% of the population (especially when you may not even know if some of the women you interact with aren’t straight until after the fact) and still have a healthy social (or work/school) life. You can’t tell him what’s going on every second of your day, or not build up a whole mess of shame and resentment if he can exercise veto power over every one of those movements. And above all, you can’t prove a negative. You sure can’t do it through some unrelated and unnecessary penance.

      …Right, I was trying to stay focused on how this works in relationships where “he wouldn’t hit me” isn’t a factor, wasn’t I? The point is, OP, if you’re having to bend yourself over backward in ways that feel uncomfortable to make things work out, and you don’t feel you can have a discussion with your partner about why that’s not going to be possible and come up with a solution that makes both of you feel okay, then you two probably can’t make it work. And that’s fine. Good, even, if it helps you in figuring out what you really need from the next partner(s). (But I really, really do hope you see that there is no way to make this particular situation work, and *you* are not to blame for that.)

    3. This is so important! LW, what does he do for you? Does he meet your needs? Does he do for you what you do for him? Can you talk to him, really talk to him, do you communicate well, does he make you feel safe?

      Because it sounds like he doesn’t, and that alone is good enough reason to leave, regardless of who he is. For you.

      I would completely understand if you can’t agree with all the people telling you your boyfriend is bad news, if you can’t think of him as an abuser, if you honestly believe he does not set out to control you and his intentions are good. You know him, intimately. You may believe in him. You may love him and you may trust him.

      You may do all that, and still choose not to be together, because things are not right. For you.

      I have been with someone who had serious emotionally abusive tendencies. Trying to figure out whether he was or he wasn’t, focussing on what he did and didn’t, the fighting and the drama and the grief… it kept me busy and in the relationship for much longer than I now care to admit. All the while I was not happy! And I did not actually evolve much. It took somehow figuring out something what I wanted (real connection), what I needed (safety), to be able to say: no matter who you are, I can’t be with you anymore because you do not give me those things I need. And in the end, when we broke up, just being able to stop worrying, fretting and thinking saved me so so so much time and energy. Helpful also, for me, was this book: Too Good to Leave Too Bad to Stay. (http://www.amazon.com/Good-Leave-Stay-Step-Step/dp/0452275350)

      What you need, what you deserve, is a partner you can talk to. A partner you trust. A partner who does not retroactively flip out on you for (arguably) making an honest mistake, but a partner who assumes good faith about you. And makes you feel loved and cherished and understood. Does he do that for you?

    4. Yes, yes, yes! Even if this were a relationship as harmless as a glass of milk and the only thing making you miserable was that he wasn’t as poly as he thought he wanted to be–that is not a good place to be in; that is not a place to stand on. If you and he have such a fundamental difference, it’s time to move on.


      To paraphrase Lois McMaster Bujold: If the best epitaph you can imagine is “He never hit me,” that is a sad screwed-up relationship that needs to end.

    5. I read an advice forum where there are a lot of questions that boil down to “Is my partner abusive? Because if they are abusive than I have the moral authority to get out.”

      And a lot of the time their partner is not abusive. But their partner is really immature, or a jerk, or has huge mental health problems they refuse to deal with, or something. And the person posting is miserable ALL THE TIME.

      Someone doesn’t have to be abusive for you to leave. Being unhappy is plenty of reason to leave. Disliking how your partner treats you is an excellent reason to GTFO a relationship. And frankly, you have the right to unilaterally end your romantic relationships at any time for any reason. You can dump someone because you’re just not feeling it. You can dump someone because it’s Tuesday. And if you have to sit down and write long letters to advice columns about how your relationship is making you miserable and you need to fix it by yourself because your partner is sure not going to do anything about it, it is probably time to pull that emergency-eject lever.

      1. Oh, have I been there. I’ve searched high and low for the moral authority to leave. Because I had assumed the role of Caretaker, Solely Resonsible for His Wellbeing (a role he was more than happy to foist on me, a role I see LW has taken upon herself as well), leaving him just because had become impossible because I could not make him unhappy. In the end I found myself hoping for him to start something, to do something, to say something that I could point to as unequivocal proof (for whom?!) that he was abusive. I may even have provoked him, solely to bolster a possible decision.

        Honestly. The weird knots we tie ourselves in over these people.

      2. I find trying to determine if something is abuse or not is a bit like saying, “Is this horseshit or bullshit?” It doesn’t much matter; it’s still shit and you don’t have to take it if you don’t want it.
        For myself, abuse is a big scary word and sometimes it feels wrong, so it’s a much easier hurdle to clear when we go back to pre-school and use the term “not okay”.
        Called me a slut when we were non-monogamous because he didn’t like my partner, then tried to insist it was just a joke and of course he didn’t really mean it? Maybe not abuse, definitely not okay.
        Repeatedly discussed lesbian sexuality in a drooling sort of way that made me too uncomfortable to ever tell him (in a five-year relationship!) that I was bi? Doesn’t quite fit into any lists of abusive behavior I’ve seen, but still not okay.
        Grabbed my wrist when I tried to leave the room during an argument? Just because there were no bruises does not mean that was okay!
        And so on. And really, once you start going, “Parts of this relationship are not okay and don’t look to be changing any time soon…”, it’s much easier to say, “And I gotta get out.”

        1. I really like that framing. It’s hard to define any kind of behavior as anything when you are in the middle of it. But “I don’t like it.”, “This made me upset.”, “I don’t feel safe anymore.” and so on are things you may be able to come up with.

  16. Oh, LW. What breaks my heart most here is that *you* came up with the caffeine thing. He didn’t even ask that of you. It just breaks my heart to think you’re already so deep in this guy’s thrall, you’re offering up these kinds of sacrifices of your own volition. It makes me think there might be more to your story than just this guy, like maybe you went through something else that made you think of yourself as lesser. Please understand that you shine as brightly as everyone else on this planet. You are not smaller than they are and you are not worth any less; you don’t have to entreat people to love you, because loving you is not a chore. The caffeine thing honestly reminds me of nothing so much as Lent, which (as far as I’m aware, never having been Catholic) is about a person’s relationship with god. You are not so wretched that your relationship with another human being should EVER be like worshipping a god. You don’t have to make sacrifices on their altar. You’re worth every bit as much as he is, and you would be even if you *had* cheated. Mistakes don’t make us worthless; they’re just mistakes. We learn from them, and grow, both in ourselves and in our relationships. Punishing yourself, or allowing him to punish you, will accomplish nothing. A dozen people have already told you that you weren’t cheating, but I know from personal experience with emotional manipulation that the ghost of the thought of What You Did Wrong is hard to shake, so here’s something to burn against it: even if you had cheated, that wouldn’t justify how you’re being treated now. It wouldn’t justify him punching a wall in front of you, or cutting you off from your friends (and that’s what this is really about; don’t let him tell you any different). Even a “greedy whore” (which you are NOT) deserves better than that, and next time ANYONE tries to tell you that you deserve any of this (including yourself) you tell ’em that. Nobody deserves what you’re experiencing. No one.

    I know this hurts to think about. It’s hard to consider the possibility that someone you care about is, in fact, a vicious jerk who doesn’t care about you the way you deserve. You’ve put a lot of emotional investment into this guy, and losing him is going to be a real loss for you. But it’s better to lose him than to lose yourself, which is what’s going to happen if you keep him in your life. People like that, they just want to be in control, and they will stomp out every spark of light in your soul to pull that off. Anything that could ever possibly challenge their control is a threat, and since you are a human being with a will of your own, that means everything that makes you who you are is a threat. I know it’s hard to see or think of him this way, but you have to remember that the side of him you saw when he punched that wall is who he really is. The wonderful man you fell in love with doesn’t exist; he’s just a front for this. Even if he did, no one is wonderful enough to be worth all this.

    I hope I don’t overstep by saying any of this. Maybe I’m wrong about that first part. I’m not wrong about the rest, though. You’re not a cheater or a whore, but even cheaters and whores* deserve better than to be abused.

    *Whether or not “whore” should even be an insult is a whole different conversation.

    1. So much this.

      LW, the way the caffeine thing came across to me–and especially your scratching yourself–is that you are punishing yourself. Maybe you feel you need to be punished for what you did, or that punishing yourself will make Nathan stop being angry about it.

      You don’t deserve to be punished, by yourself or anybody else, for breaking a “rule” your partner never told you about. And no amount of hurting yourself will change Nathan’s anger. Only he can do that.

      I know you might not feel this way right now, LW, but you are a good person and you deserve better. Get yourself the hell outta there.

    2. even if you had cheated, that wouldn’t justify how you’re being treated now.

      SO MUCH THIS. Even if you had consciously set out to cheat and deceive him, that wouldn’t justify him making you feel afraid and shitty and in need of constant policing. Sometimes people cheat on their partners, and when that happens then the partner either has to say ‘I am hurt but willing to forgive and try to rebuild trust’ or ‘Nope, we can’t come back from this, I’m bailing’. Making the remainder of the relationship a constant referendum on whether you are good enough, apologetic enough, accountable enough – that is unacceptable.

      The fact that you had every reason to believe he would be okay with your behaviour makes it EVEN SHITTIER that he’s now making you feel guilty for it. But there is no version of this story where you ‘deserve’ this kind of treatment.

      1. Yes, it’s that third response that is so untenable: “I am hurt and therefore just will never trust you again (because I also think you aren’t ~worth it~, since you ~caused this~), but we are still in this relationship, and in fact we’re doubling-down, so start proving your worth, which by the way, you will definitely fail at, but never stop trying.” When you are inside this situation, it can be hard to see how messed up this is, because you are buying into so much someone else thinking you’re worthless or unethical or whatever your own fear is, that you cannot focus on anything else but how much you suck. BUT! You do not suck! It is definitely, DEFINITELY, the situation that sucks!

        I so feel the LWs desire to want to fix this, but the fix needs to come from Nathan, and you cannot “fix” someone else, and I am so sorry that there is not a specific set of things you can do to make this all okay and happy and respectful and loving between you and Nathan. There is no amount of debasement or self-punishing that will set things right, as much as you wish it might. It is not you being terrible things or doing terrible things that caused this, it is just not. You are a person deserving of love and respect and support.

        1. The relationship is already broken and cannot be fixed. He will never trust you again and he probably never did to begin with. He will hold this over your head as leverage for the remainder of your relationship, because he is controlling and abusive. It’s time to walk away and start healing yourself.

    3. “you don’t have to entreat people to love you, because loving you is not a chore”

      That’s beautiful. And true, LW.

    4. Please, LW, I hope you will take this to heart.

      Do not feel that you were ‘stupid’ or ‘weak’ or that somehow it is your fault that Nathan sunk his claws into you. You have done nothing wrong. It is not stupid or weak to trust other people or to want to be loved.

      Abusers like Nathan are very, very good at sniffing out people who are wounded. People who are kind, decent and loving are not very good at predicting and defending themselves against abusers precisely because they are kind, decent and loving.

      Getting away from Nathan does not equal failure, or evidence that you screwed up or have shitty judgment. It means that a predator was very good about doing what he does, and you are saving yourself. That is all.

      We are all cheering for you, LW.

      1. That is an important point. Good, strong, smart, kind, wonderful people like you fall for not so healthy not so good dangerous people all the time. Don’t be upset with yourself.

  17. If Nathan’s unhappy with something you did, a proportional response would be letting you see things like unhappiness or insecurity in his face or voice, and asking you not to do that thing anymore. Like, “Please don’t do anything sexual outside the relationship without running it by me first.” But that’s not what he did. Instead, he’s banned you from seeing more than half of the population! He doesn’t trust you to be able to make good decisions about what sex you do or don’t have. He doesn’t trust you to tell him the truth about it. He doesn’t trust you to be around someone you’re sexually attracted to, or who has the potential to be sexually attracted to you. He is saying, “If I give you the tiniest chance, you will make wildly unethical choices, unconcerned with logic or your existing relationship.”

    Girl, no wonder you feel like an awful person, HE’S TREATING YOU AS THOUGH YOU’RE THE SHITTIEST CHEATING LIAR ON THE BLOCK.

    (And yet, he’s not breaking up with you despite this low opinion! One wonders what he values more: A happy, honest relationship built on mutual respect and trust, or a relationship where he gets to be always right and always in charge, with more freedom to have sexual relationships, move around unmonitored, associate with whomever he likes, and make up rules than his partner does…)

    LW, your feelings about yourself are in large part because of the person you see reflected back in Nathan’s eyes. He’s not choosing to see your honesty, maturity, or good faith; instead, he’s seeing someone he has to intimidate, micromanage, and threaten to make her behave with the tiniest bit of consideration. And that image of you is not based at all on reality.

    Back in reality, you think a lot about your sexual ethics, you like to think and talk about your decisions before acting on them, and it’s very important to you that your relationships be based on trust and reciprocity. You told Nathan about what happened with Peter really soon after, because even though you knew it would make him unhappy, it was really important for you to be honest and communicative. And when you found out that you hurt Nathan, you felt awful and vowed never to do it again. You’re actually really concerned with morality and treating people you’re in relationships with well!

    Consider this: Does Nathan want you to be happy and self-confident? It sounds to me right now like he wants you to hate yourself. He wants you to be unhappy because it makes him feel better. Is that really what you want in someone you’re in a relationship with? Is that something that you would ever do to him, that it’s fair for him to do to you?

    1. LW, this ^ is a really valuable comment. You’ve gotten a lot of great advice on this thread, but if you listen to just one piece, I hope it’s this, because not only will it keep you safe now, it will help you keep yourself safe in the future.

  18. Run. RUN. Get out. Be safe about it, but get out. This is deeply disturbing stuff.

    You need to tell your therapist all of this. Print this out and have them read it if you have to. I’m hoping they can help you see all the distorted thoughts camping out in your head. You NEED help, and you NEED to get out.

    I’m so upset I can’t even articulate all the ways in which this is messed up and sad and SO not your fault, and I can’t articulate all the ways I see the thought patterns abused people fall into reflected in your words. All I can say is that this is familiar in many ways to me, and that terrifies me on your behalf, because my life until very recently was pretty much a horror show of “maybe if I’m good/thin/quiet enough he’ll stop yelling and throwing things” and “maybe if I stop being selfish (read: wanting normal things) he’ll be nice to me again”.

    I don’t know you, but I can tell you that you are not a bad person. You are probably trusting, loving, devoted, and you have high principles . . . because those are all features *I* have that kept me close to my abuser for far too long. Abusive people will treat you horribly and then, whenever you try to defend yourself, they will say that you are none of those things. Those are lies designed to keep you powerless and to keep you from fighting back. Boundaries, insistence on good communication, insistence on being treated with trust and respect, those do not make you a less loving person. You do not have to prove what a good person you are by taking whatever awfulness they throw at you.

    Please. Please go. Please get out. Your life will be so much better. So much healthier. You are young . . . you have so much ahead of you. Don’t let yourself get dragged into a horrible cycle like this. Don’t lose that time to abuse. Don’t lose those parts of yourself. Please go.

    Please be safe.

    1. You are probably trusting, loving, devoted, and you have high principles . . . because those are all features *I* have that kept me close to my abuser for far too long. Abusive people will treat you horribly and then, whenever you try to defend yourself, they will say that you are none of those things.

      Because if they didn’t matter so much to you, it wouldn’t work as an insult. Myself, I’m not a competitive person; I’ve known it all my life, and made peace with it. If someone says, “You don’t even care if you win!” I’m just gonna shrug like Well, it sucks that it matters to you, but I could’ve told you that ages ago. It’s not who I am. But if someone accuses me of not being a caring person, when that’s fundamental to my identity? I’m like OH SHIT HOLY FUCK WHERE DID I SLIP UP HOW DO I FIX IT. It does my head in.

      It’s a really sick irony, that the people who are hurt most by accusations of being awful are usually the most dedicated to doing good.

      1. Oh god, yes. Emotional manipulators are absolute *masters* at taking everything that makes you special and turning it into a weapon against you. They specifically target the conscientious types because we look like easy marks to them, but I’m pretty sure they can do it with anyone.

      2. All so true. And yet, at the same time, it’s not personal.

        It took the same book the Captain recommends, Why Does He Do That? by Lundy Bancroft, for me to realize that it wasn’t about ME; special, talented, adorable, loving, considerate ME. The answer to the question the book asks is the sad and disgusting “because it works.”

        Abusers want to put the person entirely under their control, because then they can live their live the way they want to, only with the ease and comfort of an actual, and emotional, servant. He wants you to obey his every whim… and that’s all he wants.

        So do not hesitate for one instant about “oh he loves me” or “he’s only acting this way because he loves me so much” or “what we had felt so special”. Because he doesn’t, that’s not why, and it wasn’t special at all. Once you get away his only regret is that he’ll have to find and train another victim.

        So don’t give him a second thought. He really hasn’t given you — sweet wonderful YOU — a first one.

      3. YES. My emotional abuser accused me of not being supportive of his writing aspirations. What, besides telling him that he should write and helping him research (while we were on vacation!) I was supposed to be doing, I’m not entirely sure. And I wouldn’t have cared nearly so much if I hadn’t thought of myself as a supportive partner.

    2. Boundaries, insistence on good communication, insistence on being treated with trust and respect, those do not make you a less loving person.

      Shivers. Thank you.

  19. Assuming for the sake of argument that Nathan would really never physically hurt someone and that he’s only “intimidating” in the sense of being really opinionated and persuasive and exhausting to argue with … LW, you STILL deserve far better. A partner you find intimidating is not a good match for you (whether it’s intentional on his part or not, feeling intimidated or afraid is a HUGE RED FLAG). A partner who is a decent human being will not put all the blame for a misunderstanding squarely on your shoulders and lose ALL trust in you due to one innocent mistake, regardless of how much you “should have known.” Also, this:

    “I am no longer allowed to … spend any time with any other hetero/bisexual men or homo/bisexual women”

    is not just kind of an unreasonable expectation to suddenly thrust on you without discussion when you hadn’t even agreed to monogamy, much less this kind of extreme limitation, but also looks suspiciously like a way to isolate you from friends the way abusers so often do.

    There are potential partners out there who won’t intimidate you. There are people with whom you won’t live in constant fear of accidentally doing something wrong, after which you have to grovel in abject contrition until they deign to forgive you. Cause I’ve been there, and long after getting out I continued to think that relationships were just hard for someone as flaky / thoughtless / afraid of commitment as me … until I started dating my current boyfriend — who has literally never said an unkind word to me — and instead of getting mad every time I didn’t respond promptly to his messages, he would say things like “Is this a bad time to talk? Sorry.” Somehow it had never occurred to me that it was possible to have a partner who was as afraid of hurting my feelings as I was of hurting his. And wow, is it amazing! LW, I think you deserve a relationship like this, but even if you end up single for a very long time, at least you don’t have to be with a guy who makes you feel like “scum of the earth” and constantly on the verge of crying.

    1. Yes. You don’t *have* to hit someone to hurt them. My dad never hit my mother, me, or my sibling, and he may very well never would have (he would have thought it “beneath” him), but the truth was that he never *needed* to to hurt us. He did fine with his words and his lies and his money. The idea that being physically assaulted is the *first* line to be crossed instead of the *last* one is just… it breaks my heart.

      If the best thing you can say about how safe you feel around your partner/parent/whomever is that well at least they won’t hit you (or at least they won’t hit you hard, or too many times, or when they’re sober, or not every day–it’s a slippery slope, you see?), then there’s already a problem. And it’s not you. It’s not you.

  20. I could have written this letter ten years ago. I’ve never met Nathan, but boy do I know the type.

    LW, he is *punishing* you. There is no doubt in my mind about that. Whether he’s doing it as part of a calculated plan or if this is just how he naturally responds when he feels slighted DOES NOT MATTER. He is making the choice, and it is a *choice*, to hurt your feelings and make you feel terrible about yourself. Nothing in his background, intent or soul can negate the fact that as a human being, he has the capacity to filter his words and actions. Maybe he can’t help his gut reactions, none of us really can without putting in some real hard work, but he can absolutely control how he chooses to act on those feelings. He is choosing to react the way he does. He *chose* to be nasty to you, he *chose* to punch a wall, he *chose* to treat someone he ostensibly loves so terribly. Please believe me when I say that he absolutely had the option to not do any of those things. He had the option to communicate his boundaries to you. He had the option to be nice to you and suggest ways to make it through a rough patch as a unit. He CHOSE to frighten and abuse you instead of doing all these easy, kind things.

    And the reason I say it doesn’t matter whether he is doing these things consciously as a power play or subconsciously because that’s just how he is, well, would the second option really be better? Would it be better if you were sharing a space with someone who cannot reasonably be expected to control their actions and gets violent when he has bad feelings? Because what you describe is violence. It may not have been directed at your person, but it is a physically violent thing to do, to make someone watch you hurt themselves.

    I spent a lot of time trying to find out what was in my abuser’s heart and soul before I finally decided, fuck, who cares? I don’t need to know what’s in his fucking soul when I can see plain as day what’s in his actions. If you find yourself digging into his life and mind and personality looking for the *reason* and *the one thing*, stop. There is no reason, there is no one thing that you can unearth that will make this stop. And it needs to stop. He’s already proven to you that he isn’t reasonable or kind, and he did that through his actions. The actions you witnessed and felt the effects of. He could be the kindest soul you’ll ever meet (he isn’t though) and it still wouldn’t excuse a single thing he’s doing to you.

    You did nothing wrong. Not a damn thing. You acted in good conscience, you treated him the way you reasonably assumed he wanted to be treated. And even if you did do something wrong (you didn’t), you are not beholden to this guy. He has no authority over you. Not one lick. He cannot decide who you hang with, who you sleep with or where you go and when. It is not in his power. He simply cannot do that unless you allow it. All that has happened is that he has tricked, cajoled and frightened you into allowing it. He is Bad News and he will never allow you to be happy.

    What he is *choosing* to do is not decent or kind or constructive. It is absolutely not what a loving partner would do. You are being abused. Please get out of this situation as safely as you can, because this person does not want anything good for you.

    1. and even if you do find “the one thing” or the “reason,” it still won’t matter. someone who is choosing to enact abusive behaviors and enjoying the results *doesn’t want to change it*. they’d much rather swap you out for a fresh victim than put in the difficult, self-challenging work of breaking out of their own abusive patterns. abusers use the “I can change, I can be fixed if you love me enough and DON’T LEAVE ME EVER” line, but it’s just as much of a calculated tactic as anything else. they have no intention of changing. you cannot jump through enough flaming hoops to convince them to change, because *they don’t want to*. abusers are the only people I feel it’s completely ethical to declare “broken and unfixable.”

      1. You don’t even have to declare them unfixable, they do it themselves. I can’t tell how many times I’ve heard the “that’s just who I am and if you REALLY loved me you would accept me for who I am” speech. That is pretty much literally saying that you’re broken and you don’t care, it’s everyone else’s problem. It’s why I told my sister that when her guy told her that he’s soooo broken and bad and unfixable and that’s just who he is, girl, BELIEVE HIM. Ironically, the truth of their brokenness is the one truth abusers will tell their victim.

        1. This reminds me of once I actually named what my mom and her husband do to me as emotioanl abuse to her, she all of sudden wants to talk about “ohh my mom abused me she used silent treatment on me she had embezzling problem and she tried to commit suicide and that’s why I’m doing that to you and no I’m not going to stop didn’t I just tell you that’s why I do it? Oh and I’m not abusing you.”

          They want you to accept they are that way and shut up about it while they continue to abuse you. Meanwhile, YOU will never be good enough, you will always be awful and responsible for their abuse towards you and if you would just change and be what they want/do what they say…..

      2. Abuser logic is, in fact, exactly backwards. Some abusers do change, but that tends to happen after they lose things they value. Staying in the relationship tends to prevent them from improving. I do actually know two people who were abusers and got help. Both did so while single, after recognizing the issues, in part, because of how their relationships fell apart. Both involved significant therapy. Most abusers don’t get better, some do. But while staying may sometimes be necessary for safety reasons, I would advise never staying to help your partner, because it doesn’t work. The abuse has to stop working to trigger change, and as long as the relationship continues, the abuse is working. So, even if you acknowledge someone is abusive and you love them and think they can be fixed, I’d advise finding a safe way to leave them. It’s the kindest thing you can do for them. They need help from good, trained professionals. A romantic partner cannot be a therapist – the roles are mutually exclusive, since a therapist needs to be an uninvolved party. And they are best off getting that help while not engaging in abuse, which means while being single. I consider breaking up with an abuser to be a loving action – both of yourself and your partner. It may not help, but it is still the thing most likely to.

    2. back up singers, violins and horns hit the refrain:

      “I spent a lot of time trying to find out what was in my abuser’s heart and soul before I finally decided, fuck, who cares? I don’t need to know what’s in his fucking soul when I can see plain as day what’s in his actions. If you find yourself digging into his life and mind and personality looking for the *reason* and *the one thing*, stop. “

  21. Dear LW:

    I’ve known three men who didn’t-hit me. One punched walls. One picked fistfights in bars. One talked a lot about killing people while he was in the military. “There are two kinds of people in the world,” the last one told me, “family and targets. Don’t worry. You’re family.” I worried anyway, because what if at some point I didn’t want to be family–or I pissed him off enough that he didn’t see me as family anymore?

    Anyone who has a two-tier system in their heads, where on one tier people don’t get hit and on another tier they do, is not safe to be around. That is implicit blackmail, every day: “Do _____ or you might get put in the people-who-get-hit category.” They never have to state it out loud. It’s enough to know that the category exists.

    You do not deserve to be in pain. You do not deserve to be so miserable that you’re self-harming. You do not deserve to have your life curtailed and controlled. As we used to say on a mailing list I was on a long time ago, you deserve to be fucking cherished. Nathan does not cherish you. You deserve better. And I don’t mean running headlong from him to Peter–sounds like singlehood would be better than the crap you’re getting from Nathan, and some time to pull yourself together before starting a new thing might be a good idea. If Peter’s a decent guy, he won’t rush you.

    I think it’s very unlikely that your friends will hate you. If a friend came to you and said “My boyfriend was an ass to me, so I left him”, you wouldn’t hate them. Being poly is not so weird or scandalous these days, especially on college campuses. You might be surprised how many people are totally equipped to understand “we were in an open relationship, and he hadn’t told me I couldn’t do this thing, so when I did it, I wasn’t cheating”. And that’s not greedy or selfish–it’s just honest.

    (Though it is perfectly fine to be greedy or selfish, if by that you mean “doing things that are fun and within stated boundaries without being punished for it”. And I’m guessing that’s what you mean.)

    It sounds to me like you might be projecting your self-loathing onto other people and assume they’ll loathe you too. But your self-loathing comes (at least partly) from Nathan treating you as though you are loathsome. You are not a terrible person and you have done nothing to earn hatred or unkindness from others. The sooner you can get away from him, the sooner you can (re)learn how to be kinder to yourself and trust in the kindness of your true friends.

    I hope you stay safe while you make a plan to get away from this dude. I hope you were maybe already starting to think about that plan, and seeing this post and the comments tells you that you’re doing the right thing. I know you asked how you could fix things, but Nathan’s condescending, controlling attitude toward you is not a thing that can be fixed, and it’s the major cause of your problems. The best thing you can do right now is focus on doing what’s best for your own physical and emotional well-being.

    Please DO go to therapy and talk with your therapist about this, and DO talk to your guidance counselor if the situation is affecting your studies. They have seen this sort of thing before. Ideally they’ll be awesome and supportive. (And if your therapist is not awesome and supportive, you are 100% within your rights to fire them and hire another one.)

    Best of luck. We’re all pulling for you.

    1. Oh god, the “family and targets” thing just gave me a full body shiver. What the heck? I can’t even grasp what kind of person one must be to say something like this. I’m so sorry you experienced something like this.

      1. Me, too. All I can think of is the hidden implication is that when you fall out of the “family” grace, you’re putting that target on your back… so you better toe the line.

    2. Exactly, Rose. One of my Didn’t Hit Me-men wouldn’t hit me but after a fight he would take me for a drive out in the woods at night and talk about how this was a good place to bury a body.

  22. Hoo boy. LW, I am seconding absolutely everything the Captain said. And also? This thing, where you were feeling kind of confused and like you needed some perspective, so you asked someone else what they thought about the situation? This thing you’ve done is *so smart*! Even if you don’t feel ready to one hundred percent agree with everything the Captain says above, I would strongly urge you to continue doing this thing. Continue asking other people — your therapist, trusted friends — what they think of your situation. Even if you think that we are all blowing this totally out of proportion, even if you don’t identify what’s going on as abuse, please keep talking to people about it. Those folks at the hotlines don’t know Nathan or any of your friends, and you never have to talk to them again if you don’t choose; you’re completely anonymous. This sounds like a really really scary and confusing position to be in, and I feel like if I were in your shoes I’d need all the extra perspective I could get.

    Also, for whatever it’s worth, I’m poly, and if I had to take a wild guess, it sounds to me too like Nathan probably doesn’t want you to ever sleep with anyone else. Also, I can’t imagine myself getting angry with a partner for sleeping with someone else without discussing it with me, if I hadn’t made it clear to them that that would bother me. I also really can’t imagine myself dating someone for more than, like, a day without raising the issue of my own needs in this area, and especially not if my partner brought up the topic and it became clear that their needs were different from my own. This was a talk that should have happened, and didn’t, and it’s weird enough that he never made his wishes clear to you earlier on, but it’s extremely weird that now he’s blaming you for crossing a line which he never told you was there.

    All of which is completely by the by, because wow, dudes who scare you and control you and punch walls when they’re angry with you are dudes you don’t ever ever ever stick with. But just so we’re crystal clear on this: the fact that he’s telling you that you did wrong would raise the eyebrows of every poly person I know. Even if he were a totally nonviolent sane dude who never tried to control or intimidate you, I would still be seeing a big red flag here, in the shape of “Nathan is someone who does not know how to communicate and should probably not be trying to do poly stuff.”

    Please stay safe.

  23. LW, Jedi hugs. This is NOT normal. There are so many things I want to tell you, but let me tell you a story?

    When I was on a gap year, I actually cheated on my highschool boyfriend. We were mongamous and I hooked up with another guy. We were long distance and I called him the next day to tell him what happened and ask him to forgive me. He was definitely upset- his voice got choked up and there were questions about how it happened. He was sad and hurt and angry. I knew this though because he TOLD me, not because he was acting on that anger. I had made a mistake, but there was no blame. He understood that there were reasons why I had made mistake, and didn’t cast me as the villian. I actually said “I’m going to be more careful when of maybe being too flirtatious in general,” and he was pretty much like “Its nice that you’re thinking about that, but please only do it if you want to.

    There are people out there who will treat you better, LW. Its hard realizing that someone is treating you Not Okay, but in my experience its worth (safely) getting them out of your life.

  24. Oh my god LW. Have all the jedi hugs and please be well and safe.

    I pretty much am going to say exactly the same thing as Jennifer and all the other commenters because it probably can’t hurt to hear this message a hundred times slightly reworded. Sorry if this is long. TL:DR Nathan is an abusing abuser who has twisted your head around and you should make leaving him and keeping yourself safe both physically and emotionally a priority.

    Nathan is abusive. He is right now emotionally abusive in a really bad and serious way. He’s probably more physically abusive than you realise right now, because there’s a whole bunch of physically abusive stuff that isn’t punching that most people don’t really recognise as abuse but really really is. Stuff like touching you in ways you’ve asked him not to, or grabbing you, pushing you, yanking you around etc. etc. There’s a real and serious chance he actually will become physically abusive – the wall punching is the big clue. Many people consider violent displays to be actual physical abuse because it’s an implied physical threat.

    I have had a dude punch a wall next to me while we were naked in bed together discussing a thing he didn’t like. It is indeed scary. I was thankfully not with that dude long enough for him to actually hit me, but he did destroy a bunch of my stuff one time, and afterwards I found out from others that he had physically abused other women.

    There are a couple things that really stood out in your letter – “I’m flailing around, grasping at whatever I can tell myself to make me feel like things aren’t awful.” I’m sorry LW but things actually *are* awful. That’s why it’s so hard to convince yourself that they’re not. They are awful because Nathan is making them awful, and will continue to make them awful until you get him out of your life.

    Secondly, there’s the part where you’ve decided to give up coffee as a display of your ability to dedicate yourself to something. That is just…terrible. Not that you’re terrible, but that it’s terrible that you feel you have to do that. I mean, sure, give up coffee if you want to, but not as a display of dedication. It makes me think this dude has harangued you with so many insults and humiliations (or even weird passive-aggressive displays of disdain and disapproval) that you feel like he doesn’t respect or believe you, and thus you’re trying really hard to prove to him that actually you deserve respect and trust. And, oh my god…no. You already deserve respect and trust. You haven’t even cheated on this scum bag because as far as I can tell from your letter you acted entirely within the bounds of your polyamorous relationship as you understood it. You have done nothing wrong. You have nothing to prove to him. You are right – he doesn’t respect you. This is a problem with him, not with you. Even if you successfully give up coffee it will not make him respect you. He won’t give a damn that you’ve done that, seriously.

    And one final thing – the fact that you’re calling yourself a slut and a whore in a polyamorous relationship makes me think this guy is an utter nightmare. I mean, leaving aside the point that perhaps we shouldn’t use words for sex workers as the most terrible insult we can think of for a woman, you are in a relationship where having multiple partners is explicitly allowed. Your relationship is one that implicitly allows you to give blowjobs to dudes you’re into who aren’t Nathan. Do you want to know why Nathan never expressed his boundaries about polyamory while you were expressing yours? Because actually, he doesn’t want you to sleep with anyone else ever. But he wants to do it himself, and can’t think of a good way to pitch that double standard to you. So he calls it polyamory and it’s all fine while he’s having extra partners but the moment you do he explodes. And by not telling you what he thinks the rules are he’s leaving himself an opening to go nuts at anything you do that he doesn’t like, because he’s never told you you *can* do those things even if it was implied and that way he can pretend you should have known not to and it was obvious. Creating a fog of ambiguity around everything is a great abuser trick, because it keeps you on your toes always second guessing everything and always focused on working out what will please/displease them.

    I’ve spent a lot of time in various polyamorous relationships with variously dodgy dudes, and seriously it is very very easy to create a twisty turny nightmare funhouse ride of doom out of open relationships if you’re an abusive dude and your partner is inexperienced with it and not good at communicating boundaries. Hell, just being abusive is enough there. Because once you throw away the rule book for “normal” relationships you open up this whole world of possibilities around gaslighting and shame, where the sole touchstone for whether you’re doing it right or not is your partner. I’m not saying polyamory can’t be done right – because clearly it can, and clearly it works for many people. It’s just that when you un-moor yourself from societal standards it’s harder to work out what the appropriate rules are, especially in the face of someone actively twisting everything to his advantage and your harm. If nothing else, perhaps seek out some poly forums online and get more of a feel for how other people do it and make it work (especially people who’ve been successfully doing it for ages), just so you have other reference points than Nathan for how this should work. If nothing else, shaming you for being sexual is the complete opposite of the point of polyamory.

    LW please read the book the Captain recommends. It is very very enlightening about abuse in relationships. Even if you don’t think the word abuse applies to your situation it will help you see what’s going on.

    I wish you all the very best in getting out of this situation ASAP. It is not you. It’s him. You are fine and have done nothing wrong. I know you are worried about friends and such, but seriously, this guy is scary bad no good, and you might be pleasantly surprised when you leave at the reactions of your mutual friends – they may consider it none of their business why you broke up. And if they don’t? You are at college from the sound of it which is a fantastic place to make numerous new friends who won’t take the side of your abuser. I don’t want to minimalise the difficulty of that – I know it’s hard. It’s just, very worth it.

    1. “Because once you throw away the rule book for “normal” relationships you open up this whole world of possibilities around gaslighting and shame, where the sole touchstone for whether you’re doing it right or not is your partner.”

      This is a really important point. It’s not an argument against poly – the same applies to all variety of queer, kinky and unconventional relationships, any time where there’s a degree of isolation and outside disapproval, which leads to a pressure to get it right, have a perfect relationship and never talk to other people about anything that’s going wrong.

      But the reason this letter has provoked such a strong reaction are the elements of the relationship that everyone can recognise are wrong. The problem isn’t poly-done-badly – that’s just one manifestation (and it wasn’t the LW doing it badly).

      1. Yes it’s potentially very isolating, especially if you’re not surrounded by a healthy and supportive community of like minded individuals – the LW seems to be afraid that all their mutual friends will agree that she cheated, because in wider non-poly society that’s how it would be seen. I’ve also had dudes casually override the various rules and boundaries we set around our poly relationship and act as if that was no big thing, because we’re poly and not possessive right, not like those terrible jealous normal people – and I’ve let them because I was busy being the coolest most logical girlfriend in the world. And here’s another kicker – I’ve complained of that behaviour to other people and had them say “yes but I heard you were in an open relationship, so that wasn’t a problem?” So at that point a guy was treating me very badly indeed, and behaving very selfishly, and many of the people around me didn’t understand what my problem was because I was poly right so it’s all OK!

        So it can cut two ways. If they’re upset about something you did, suddenly they can draw on the non poly world to disapprove of your actions. And if you’re upset at something they did, they can throw the “but I thought you were cool, we’re not like those normal people” stick at you.

        And yes, this isn’t “poly is bad” TM (though it isn’t for me these days), it’s that there are some specific things to watch out for in the intersection of polyamory and abuse. Abusers love the idea of not being limited in their own choices around sex, and poly can give them a framework to have that, and abusers also like to isolate their victims and any non standard lifestyle choice is a good start on that front too, because it cuts off the understanding of a large number of people who don’t get whatever alternative lifestyles you’re into. I don’t know if there are more abusers lurking in kink communities and such because of this but it’s certainly something they leverage to their own advantage.

      2. I can say from experience that this can happen even if you don’t throw away “normal” rules. My hetero, monogamous, not-really-kinky ex was my only touchstone for what made a good relationship because it was my first serious relationship, and most of my close friends had also had no or very little relationship experience. When something felt off to me, I figured it was just a thing about being in a relationship, and it just felt weird because it was new to me.

        Gaslighting and shame are powerful tools. Once someone makes you question your idea of what’s normal, or even what’s okay or safe, it can be really hard to get those ideas back, even if everyone else around you confirms that your original ideas were totally right.

        1. Yes definitely! I guess the particular issue associated with non standard relationships is that the abuser also gets to pull the “but we’re different and more evolved and better than those other normal people who suck!” card. Because sometimes you get an us against the world feeling when the way you live isn’t always socially approved.

          But yes it can happen in any context. And it’s not helpful that TV and movies often present such awful relationship models so that even in some totally heteronormative context we’re still left thinking stalking is romantic… 😦

          1. YES THIS. And also “well, who made THOSE social rules and WHYYYYYY should I listen to them, it’s just the man keeping us down, babe!” Like that guy from some letters back who wouldn’t clean up the broken glass but didn’t want his girlfriend to do it either.

          2. Ah yes! The MAN keeping us down with his rules of not being an abusive disfunctional shithead! Happy Birthday to the Grou d!

            If only it wasn’t a real thing. 😦

  25. LW, here is a list of things that all people flat-out deserve in their relationships, no-ifs-no-buts.

    1) the general assumption from all parties that if one of you did a thing or made an assumption, you probably did it in good faith

    2) the general assumption from all parties that you can all be trusted to talk to your friends

    3) when something goes wrong, *all* parties will tackle it with the attitude of ‘what can we do to save the relationship?’ because the relationship is the priority of all parties and all of you care about it deeply. One of you does not grovel and beg and jump through hoop after hoop while another party sits still and waits for you to be good enough – you work together!

    4) If one party is distraught and struggling enough to be seeking professional help, the other parties notice and support. This takes precedence over misunderstandings and mistakes, because as per 1) those are assumed to be in good faith and when your partner is hurting and you care about them you drop fucking everything to look after them. That may mean soup and hot drinks and hugs and listening, or quietly sitting together, or dealing with the admin side of the hospital system, or a stream of kitten gifs at the time of day when the hurting person tends to be at their lowest, but the intention is always care.

    5) all partners should feel safe and supported. All parties should be working to make each other feel safe and supported. If one party does not feel safe or supported, that should be the other parties’ immediate priority. No-ifs-no-buts.

    My gut feeling is that you will look at this list and not find many of these things in your relationship with lets-call-him-Nathan, but that you will have lots of reasons why that is, and that many of those reasons will be your fault somehow, and that any of the reasons which are not your fault will be that the thing is unobtainable and unrealistic.

    I would like you to know that all of these things are realistic, and that people in good relationships have the majority of these things the majority of the time, and that if you don’t have them right now it’s *not because you are not a good person*, it’s because you are not in a good relationship. You deserve these things. If you do not have them in this relationship it is not your fault, but it is a sign that you should take the Captain’s advice and run like you are a ship and all the fucking winds are carrying you to safety.


      Look, the thing where people who are fairly new to poly and also fairly new to each other forget that they can’t actually read each other’s minds, make bad assumptions and step on each other’s boundaries? That happens. That happens frequently. Everyone I know who is poly has had it happen at least once. And it sucks, and it can be hurtful and scary, but it really should not get to the “punching things and not allowing you to talk to anyone who is attracted to girls” stage. When it does, you are with someone who doesn’t respect you and can’t do poly.

      Please don’t date people who don’t respect you and can’t do poly. You deserve better.

    2. I think I would add the caveat that you *should* be able to assume your partner is acting in good faith even when something goes wrong. And that is the sign of a healthy relationship yes. And I know you mean the LW’s partner should give her the benefit of the doubt here – and I agree.

      But assuming that someone was acting in good faith has been one of the worst relationship traps for me. Because actually many many times people *haven’t* acted in good faith and we always need to be aware of that possibility. I mean, right here and now the LW definitely can’t assume Nathan is acting in good faith.

      I know that’s not how you mean it, but I’ve spent so much time myself giving abusers the benefit of the doubt because that’s what a good girlfriend should do that I wanted to make it 100% clear that if you have evidence that someone isn’t acting in good faith don’t ignore that!

      1. That’s a fair shout.

        Although I would also say that finding yourself struggling to believe that your partner is acting in good faith is also in itself a sign that the relationship may not be good. When you know you can trust your partner from the core it’s not a question of giving them the benefit of the doubt, because there’s no doubt to weigh up.

        I’m not saying partners should try to make themselves trust each other. I’m saying that if your partner doesn’t trust you *or* if you don’t trust your partner, that’s a big old red flag.

        1. Alas I have known to my core that an abusive ex was trustworthy before and it took years of repeated terrible behaviour to realise that it wasn’t just a string of understandable mistakes and coincidences…

          I grew up with emotionally abusive behaviour and so I’m absolutely terrible at spotting it. One of the biggest things I’ve had to learn is that I can’t trust myself to have read people right and that they don’t always act in good faith. You know, and that the automatic belief that any badness is probably my fault isn’t a helpful one… :-/

          So yes, doubting your partner is acting in good faith is definitely a massive red flag. But some of us take longer than is ideal to get even to there.

      2. I’m not sure this is foolproof as I haven’t thought it throught, but it strikes me that one signal that a partner may not be acting in good faith is when he’s not trusting that *you* are.

        I’m not sure why, but projection is a Thing with abusers.

    3. Cosign all. Especially #4, coming from someone who has had to drive her spouse to be admitted into inpatient psych on more than one occasion. Even when situations that extreme existed, there is genuine care and belief in good faith on both sides here.

  26. Dear LW – I know you the thought of leaving may feel overwhelming. You have feelings for this person. You don’t have to wait for the feelings to go away before you can leave. You are unhappy, intimidated (scared), and unfree, these are reasons to leave no matter what you feel for this guy. Trust yourself to heal from your feelings later. They will pass, you will be ok. You may find yourself being worried about his feelings, how he will deal without you. He will deal, he will be ok. You are not *the one*, he can live on without you. (But he may work very hard to make you believe otherwise.)

    The thought that what he’s doing to you is abuse may feel overwhelming as well. You don’t have to stay longer to be *really* sure, to find proof. You can deal with the emotional outfall of this, with categorising and analysing what he did later, away from him. You don’t have to take on that task now. You don’t have to finish doing that before you can leave.

    I recommend starting with the practicalities. Leaving is a series of concrete, material actions that lead you to a place where you can feel better. You can figure out the steps of how to leave safely, where to go, finding someone who’ll help you, before you finish thinking about what you have experienced in this relationship. You can go through the steps of leaving, of separating yourself from this situation, even if you are having difficult and ambiguous emotions.

    Leave as soon as you can. But if leaving him takes time, forgive yourself for that.

    1. This. This is really really good advice.

      Don’t worry about closure, or being sure, or being scared. What you do know, you know this right now, you know what is happening now isn’t working. That’s enough to encourage you to try something different. And as askfaltkatt (and many others) says, “If leaving him takes time, forgive yourself for that.”

      You have nothing to be ashamed of. You have nothing to hide. So many people you meet, and know already, will listen to you, believe in you, support you, help you, give you a couch to sleep on, help protect you at parties. When I was ready to leave my bad relationship, a girl I hardly knew drove me to the house, helped me pack up all my stuff, gave me a place to stay for free until I knew what I was doing next. Even then, it was hard to leave and made me sad and it took a while before I started believing in myself again, but it’s definitely worth working hard to be happy, rather than working hard to prove you’re not worthless.

  27. LW, he WILL eventually hit you, but you shouldn’t stay around to wait for the day. Just get out ASAFP. My ex-husband once reduced a much-loved 12-string guitar to balsa wood in an argument with me, and then hung what was left of it in the garage. Of course it was meant as a warning to me not to step out of line again, although I didn’t realise that at the time.

    Did he eventually hit me? Yes, when I was four months pregnant with our second child. In fact, he karate kicked me and I came within inches of losing my baby and maybe also my life. I got the fuck out of there and so should you. You’re not a “whore”or anything else he called you, you’re a wonderful human being who deserves much better than this.

    GTFU, don’t tell him where or when, and live your life in peace and happiness. 🙂

    1. Oh, Number, that story makes me hurt for you down to my bones. I’m so glad that you’re out of there.

  28. Dearest LW, in my experience, it is so hard to see what is going on with a situation while you are in it. So many of us have been in situations like yours. So many of us have been deeply confused and scared and full of self-loathing.

    I had a boyfriend once who I knew would never physically hurt me. He did call me names, he did get upset when I spent time with other men, he did tell me he wanted to shake me very hard when he was angry, he did sulk and give me ultimatums and generally made it so unpleasant to refuse sex that I stopped refusing sex. I broke up with him eventually, but not because of any of these things, just because I felt so awful and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

    It was only with time and distance that I became angry at *him* instead of myself. I still haven’t made sense of it all. I still don’t know what to call those occasions when I had sex with him even though I did not want to, because it was preferable to the alternative. Kind, caring people have a hard time wrapping their heads around the abusive behavior of people they love. I believed my ex was a kind, caring person. That meant my behavior must have been egregious in order to provoke such reactions in him. For some reason it was easier to believe that I was a terrible person who did horrible things to him than it was to believe that I was a good person and he was an abusive jerk.

    I am so glad you will be going to therapy, LW. It helped me a lot. Just to have someone say that this behavior is Not Okay, that it is abusive and unacceptable and violent and in no way, shape or form your fault. I hope you’ll have all the support you need to leave Nathan behind.

  29. LW I really, really hope that you sit and read all these comments, and that you get to know the good Captain’s site a little more. Sometimes not all commentprs agree with one another and there will be debates that circle around for pages and pages, but your letter? You’ve got EVERYONE in agreement. EVERYONE with the same response.
    That response is that you are not a bad person.
    That response is that your boyfriend is selfish, abusive, and frankly frightening, and he should NEVER have the right to hurt you as he is.
    That response is that you should RUN.
    You’re better than this, and i send you all the hugs in the world because it isnt easy. Please do all you can to make yourself save. Cut Nathan away from your life, even if it feels like cutting off a limb, because that limb is rotten and it will completely infect all of you if you leave it there.
    Please let us know how you’re doing, and know that you have ALL of our support. Every last one of us. And it’s because we all KNOW that you’re worth it.

  30. Oh girl, I was once in a similar situation: Someone suddenly getting angry over an agreement that we had about sleeping with others, saying that I “should have known” that something was not okay, calling me “a slut”, etc. He scared me to hell (and raped me) when I went to his home to break up with him.
    I second everything the captain said, especially about how to break up with him.

    A decent guy would not do this to you. A decent guy with whom you had a simple misunderstanding would probably feel hurt, or scared, or whatever. And he would probably tell you that he felt hurt, but he wouldn’t make it your fault. Because it’s not. There’s a big difference between “I feel hurt cause I thought that you would tell me before. Maybe we can talk about how we will handle things in the future?” and the things your boyfriend has done to you.

    You don’t have to sacrifice caffeine to somehow prove him that you are worthy. Because you are already thousand time the better person, *because you don’t abuse anyone* and he does.

    And just as a side note, I strongly dislike “poly relationships” where there are different rules for the both partners. Sometimes they’re legitimately because people have different preferences, but most of the time it’s a big alarm bell when someone decides that their partner has more rules than themselves. It wouldn’t have occured for me that he wanted different rules for you when you told him yours, cause that’s absurd! Even when he had told you this (and he didn’t, so you had no way to know), it would have still required a special discussion and, in the end, your agreement that you were okay with different rules for you than for him.

    (poly person here)

  31. Here’s the thing LW, you might be a ‘whore’ and you might be an ‘unethical slut’. And you still don’t deserve to have your freedom curtailed or to be intimidated by your boyfriend.

    I see a lot of people here telling you that you’re not those things because: reasons, and I agree with them, but you’re allowed to feel how you feel about your behaviour. You can feel bad about it. I still cringe when I think about that guy I made out with on the train to go see my boyfriend that one time nearly ten years ago. Everyone messes up, and if you feel like this is a mess up then I believe you.

    But you still don’t deserve to be treated badly. And your boyfriend is treating you badly, and in a way that is scaring you and making you unsafe.

    The punishment for cheating on your boyfriend is that you hurt their feelings. That’s it. Not that you can never see your friends again. Not that you have to check in with your partner every time you move rooms for the rest of your days. Not that you should be afraid to say the wrong thing. Not that you get called names like ‘whore’ or slut’ by him or by yourself.

    None of these things are punishments for cheating – they are ways of controlling and hurting you. And you don’t deserve that, no matter what you did wrong.

    Please think about how to get your own space, LW.

    1. Seconding this!

      Alot of people are telling you you didn’t cheat, and I want to say that if you think you did something unethical, that matters, and we don’t know better than you do. But the things happening in your relationship right now are not OK, even if you did do something really unethical. (Some of the things that are happening fit some scary patterns that can really distort your sense of your own behavior and ethics, which is worth keeping in mind as a possibility, though.)

  32. LW, the responses you’re getting may not be what you were expecting. Some of the comments have been strongly worded, because people are concerned about you. It sounds from your letter that you have done a lot of judging of your own actions, and very little judging of Nathan’s. That’s an emotional shift that can be difficult to make. You haven’t shared your unhappiness with anyone because you are afraid people will condemn you. But this letter has received dozens of comments, not one of whom has condemned you. I don’t condemn you. I think you’ve done nothing wrong and you do not deserve to be punished.

    You’re living in a story in which you are the villain, everything bad that happens is your fault. How would this story sound to you if someone else were telling it? If a friend said to you: “I did something that I didn’t know was a problem, because my boyfriend never said he had a problem with it. He’s been punishing me relentlessly ever since.” Would you think she was the villain? Would you think that the misery her boyfriend put her through was her own fault?

    Calling a domestic violence crisis line can be very helpful. Maybe you’re worried about wasting the time of the crisis line because your situation isn’t “really” domestic violence. Or maybe it feels like an extreme step, putting a name to your relationship that you don’t want to give it. That’s not the case. I used to work on a crisis line and I often got calls from people who knew something was wrong, they were miserable, and they needed help understanding what was happening and how to deal with it. Sometimes they decided their relationship was not domestic violence, it was just an unhappy relationship. Know what? Those were worthwhile calls that I was glad to take. My job was to help callers understand their situation and make their own decisions.

    The Captain gave you excellent advice along the lines of “safety planning,” things you can do to reduce risk, whether in or out of the relationship. (like not letting him see that you’re reading a book about domestic violence, not giving him access to your phone.) A crisis line can also help with that. They can ask you questions about your situation and help you come up with a safety plan. Maybe that sounds unnecessary. But I have to tell you that I am concerned about the argument in which he punched a wall. Controlling partners tend to get worse when they feel they are losing control, because their partner is leaving or even just re-asserting herself. Planning in advance means you don’t have to figure it all out in the middle of a horrible argument when you’re scared and upset and it’s hard to think clearly.

    Everyone here is rooting for you, LW. I hope you’ll post a follow-up and let us know how you’re doing.

  33. LW, I don’t know if this will help you, but my self-harming takes the same form as yours (scratching myself and pulling my hair because that’s the only way I had to interrupt the feedback loop) and this helped me?

    Basically, if you’re in a place that you can, get some ice and hold it in your bare hand/to your bare flesh. It still hurts so your brain accepts it as an input, it’s non-destructive so you’re not going to do yourself a permanent injury with it, and sometimes just the act of LOOKING for ice can distract you enough to break the feedback loop of pain. It’s a thing that I know some consellors recommend, so maybe try it and see if it helps?

    I have been here, LW, I have done the outrageous contrition and penance because my brain told me that I had fucked up and people were going to desert and/or hurt me if they didn’t have visible proof of my contrition (My first job was a house of evil bees and my dad was something of a carrier). The difference is that when my friends and my now-husband found out what I was doing, THEY TOLD ME NOT TO. THEY DID NOT WANT MY PENANCE. THEY WANTED ME TO APOLOGISE AND THEN LET IT GO. (I am somewhat bad at this, owing to anxiety occassionally turning my brain into its own House of Evil Bees.) Please, please tell your your therapist about this. Tell her all the restof it as well, because otherwise they’re going to be looking at symptoms and not the cause, but please don’t hurt yourself like this and not tell anyone. Your therapist may be able to help! Even if it’s just other non-destructive ways to get your brain to shush!

    Also, going through caffeine withdrawal while all of this is going on cannot be helpng your mental state. Honey, if you decide that you absolutely cannot cope with this without coffee, that is not weaknes on your part. You made a choice and you are allowed to change your mind about it at any time. (I mean, if you want to keep avoiding caffeine that is fine too! I’m not saying that you should immediately go back to it! Just that if you decide that you want to go back to the caffeine, you do not need to beat yourself up about it.)

    Other commentors: I apologise for not dealing with the rest of the letter, but that part struck a chord and was something I could help with. It looked like y’all had Nathan covered.

    1. Dittoing the not giving up caffeine thing. I went to zero caffeine from a four-or-five-cups-a-day habit, and the nightmares and headaches and crying jags were awful. (Oh god, the nightmares. I still remember those.)

      Also the way LW phrased giving up coffee made me think of ElodieUnderGlass’s guest post on breaking the low mood cycle, when you try to do something harder than you are equipped to comfortably handle right now and you fail and then you just feel worse.

      (I went back to coffee after a few months. I’m okay with this.)

  34. Ye Gawds, LW, this letter is so full of “it’s all my fault” and if only you knew that everyone reading it is thinking “the bastard has broken her, run girl, run!” Your Nathan hasn’t made you a whore, dear, he made you a slave. As the Captain says, he manipulated you into thinking something’s wrong with you when everything’s wrong with him.

    It starts when someone says “I don’t want you to do [whatever] / speak with [whomever]” or in the case of a poly relationship “have sex with [whomever]. You are certainly right there are rules within a poly relationship as well and they should be spoken and discussed, but ultimately the decision of what you do, whom you see, is entirely yours. If he doesn’t like your behaviour, he can discuss with you how you two deal with it, and it is his decision if he can live with it or needs to leave, but threatening you by displaying violence is a no go.

    I hope you get out of this highly abusive relationship asap. I second to get a therapist to help you get over this self-loathing Nathan installed in you. *hugs*

  35. Oh sweet thing. Even if you slept around with everyone it wouldn’t make you a whore or a slut.

    I suggest reading a little here about something called forced teaming. I see a lot of N telling you what’s allowed and other BS. There’s a method to his behaviour, no matter if he acknowledges it or not. It may all seem coincidental and like you’re making him do things N is not an innocent party in all this.

    Even if you don’t act on anything right now, you are still a brave and thoughtful and kind person who deserves more than this. If you are strong enough to stay in this relationship, you are strong enough to leave.

  36. I was in a relationship that was abusive and was also in a poly situation. And he was a very angry man. And I really saw myself in this one paragraph in an article on emotional abuse, and I see aspects of the LW in it too.

    “What I remember most about emotional abuse is that it’s like being put in a box. How you end up in there is the biggest trick – I never managed to work that one out. Maybe you think it’s a treasure box at first: you’re in there because you’re special. Soon the box starts to shrink. Every time you touch the edges there is an “argument”. So you try to make yourself fit. You curl up, become smaller, quieter, remove the excessive, offensive parts of your personality – you begin to notice lots of these. You eliminate people and interests, change your behaviour. But still the box gets smaller. You think it’s your fault. The terrible, unforgivable too-muchness of you is to blame. You don’t realise that the box is shrinking, or who is making it smaller. You don’t yet understand that you will never, ever be tiny enough to fit, or silent enough to avoid a row – because they aren’t rows. If you’re lucky – like my friend and me – you get to leave the situation. I’m not sure whether you ever completely escape the experience.”

    It’s time to make emotional abuse a crime – Lauren Laverne – http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/sep/07/time-to-make-emotional-abuse-a-crime

    Because yeah. I looked at myself once I got out of that relationship and I looked at the weird shape I’d bent myself into to keep him happy, not angry, healthy, calm… and I didn’t recognise myself. And he’d still been just as unstable before I’d left regardless of the accommodations I’d made. And I was so convinced that I needed to be in that shape to keep him from falling apart and when I left he was just… fine. Which was how I realised I was twisted in exactly the shape he wanted me to be in.

    1. this is deeply and profoundly excellent. And I’m so so sorry that you had that experience and I’m so glad you got out.

  37. Nathan sounds really terrible: scary, controlling, physically-looming, intimidating, and massively hypocritical.

    Here is a link to a PDF copy of Lundy Bancroft’s Why Does He Do That; consider it a recommendation to read, and see how much of Nathan’s behaviors line up with its contents: http://www.pdfsniper.com/why-does-he-do-that-inside-the-minds-of-angry-and-controlling-men/

    I’m afraid for you, LW. He punched a wall and put a hole through it in anger. That is NOT something normal people do and it IS an act of physical violence and intimidation. Good luck.

    1. I don’t think linking to copyright-violations of a commercially available book is a good idea for Captain Awkward’s website. The book is available on Kindle, which the LW could read on her phone or tablet if she has one, or in paperback, which she could have shipped to a friend who could hold it for her, for about US$10.

      1. Actually, the source for this link is up in CA’s advice to the letter writer. I located the same site, found a link that’s still active, and duplicated information that had already been given.

        I then felt quite silly for having missed the in-post link the first time around.

      2. In many cases the abused person is also under the abuser’s financial control, or the abuser is snooping into the abused person’s financial records. We don’t know where the LW is in that aspect, but if Nathan’s already trying to snoop, seeing $10 to Amazon could set off a ton of unwanted questions. For all we know, maybe Lundy Bancroft was the one who sent the PDF to the site to be available to people who couldn’t access the paid version.

    2. I downloaded it and the file seems safe. However, the pdf requires a password and the link with the password was a Not Found. If anyone knows the password, maybe posting it here would help?

      1. I have the exact same problem, I looked at the “read me first” text file and it gives instructions on how to get the password but they don’t work.

    3. This download doesn’t work properly. It makes you find a password then is just a BitTorrent tutorial not Lundy Bancroft’s book.

  38. Also, LW, (my other comment is in moderation) —
    I am no longer allowed to communicate with Peter or spend any time with any other hetero/bisexual men or homo/bisexual women (presumably because I’d totally suck their dicks, too).

    This is a deliberate move to cut you off from, presumably, a huge swath of your support group, from people who could be critical of and/or see through his shell and recognize the toxicity underneath, and he has you blaming yourself for it. HE is being unreasonable here.

    1. Just realized that could also be a prelude to making her drop out of school. Does the no-contact rule include class activities? If so, LW’s going to have a hell of a time forming study groups if she has to ask everyone’s sexual orientation first. I’m not trying to be flippant. At what point does Nathan’s order start applying to merely asking a classmate about homework?

      1. And now I can see that path: LW talks to classmate, Nathan flips out and makes her drop class, Nathan eventually makes her drop all classes, LW has nowhere else to live so she has to stay with Nathan. And if he’s still in the dorms, she could get in trouble if he turns her in, which he’d do if she doesn’t do what he says….

        I apologize if that seems like I’m treating this like a joke. No. I’m serious. I can see the no-contact rule heading that way fast.

        LW, please get out now!

        1. So: the LW didn’t mention anything about her financial sitch, and I want to throw this idea out there in case it’s feasible.

          Changing schools, putting miles or hundreds of miles between yourself and Nathan, or studying abroad without him, things which would make it harder for him to escalate to stalking: if that is a thing you can do financially/logistically, please don’t discount it because it’s a pain in the butt, especially if your current school is reluctant to help. For a semester abroad especially, you would get a break to assess the Nathan situation without him looming over you gaslighting the entire way.

          (Also, if you haven’t already: it would be a really good idea to get on some kind of semi-permanent birth control that is completely under our control — whether that’s the shot, the implant, an IUD, anything that doesn’t involve Nathan being in charge of the condoms or able in any way to disrupt your pill schedule/have your BC go mysteriously missing.)

  39. I have been in a polyamorous situation where we set boundaries and then followed those rules and then one partner realized the initially set boundaries made them uncomfortable and unhappy and jealous and we renegotiated the boundaries. This is a thing that happens. The appropriate response is telling the other person it upset them, and trying to work out new boundaries that are less upsetting. There might be anger and jealousy and tears and guilt, but there’s no room for blaming the partner who just followed the rules. And once the initial wave of anger/tears/whatever passes, a good partner would not continue trying to control your life.

    An appropriate response is NOT “you cheated on me! you horrible person! I must now control every waking moment of your life.” That’s a serious red flag. That’s a person who probably should’ve known better to do anything involving poly. Possibly a person who should know better than to date at all, until they become less of a controlling jerk.

  40. LW, even if you *were* the worst intentionally-cheating liar on the block, or a greedy harlot, or whatever, it *still* wouldn’t be okay for him to respond like he’s responding. The okay thing for him to do would be to say, “Wow, you’re not who I expected and this bad behavior is not what I want. We’re breaking up now.” Cheaters/liars/harlots don’t deserve to be treated in such a messed up (controlling/manipulative/abusive) way, either! You feeling square with your own conscience (or not) and his reaction to your behavior are two separate things.

    … Although as everyone has already said, you didn’t do anything wrong in this situation anyway.

  41. Just re: polyamory, Nathan is the one who messed up, by not asking up-front for boundaries that were different from the ones you did ask for up front. I do not think you cheated.

    I am in a LTR with a man I did cheat on. (We were monogamous then, and now are in a more open relationship, which in our case has involved lots of talking and “processing.” Based on us & others, it seems anecdotally pretty common to me that some sexiness happens and *then* it gets talked over, so we eventually evolved a “tell me as soon as is reasonable/feasible” approach. But the point us we evolved that agreement *together*.) It was years ago that I cheated and I can’t remember if he then went on a date with someone else or just asked her out. He was upset with me, to the point that he needed a break; we didn’t see each other at all for a couple weeks, and he raised his voice a little on the phone (he described it as yelling but it wasn’t) and he did stipulate that I get an HIV test before we reunited. He also did his best to articulate all his needs and feelings after it happened. He helped me NOT self-harm over my guilt feelings, and has (ever since) done his best to help me have HIGHER self-esteem and to feel better about myself, not worse.

    I wish you a loving and mutually supportive partner in the future, LW! Or many of them! There is a healthy level of greedy sexuality and it should be available for women as well as men. ((( Jedi hugs, if you want them. )))

  42. LW, I completely agree with everyone else that Nathan is seriously bad news. I hope you can get away from him safely.

    When you’ve done that, maybe have another look at your encounter with Peter? You sound very, very passive in the way you talk about it: you “didn’t realise” there’d be snuggling, but you “weren’t opposed”; he wanted to go further so you gave him a blowjob – was it definitely what you wanted too? I don’t know if you’re just downplaying your active involvement because you feel guilty about it (which you shouldn’t!), or if you really were as, “ok, sure, if you want to, I guess” as you sound. Maybe think about it?

    It is totally, completely ok if you like or prefer being a little bit more passive/submissive in your sexual encounters and the idea of submitting to someone else’s desires gets you off. There is nothing wrong with that at all! But make sure that’s an active choice, yeah? Don’t assume that doing what your partner wants and being meh about your desires is the only way to do sex.

    But first, definitely try to get away from Nathan. He sounds scary.

    1. My browser keeps freezing / eating my responses, so: COSIGNED. You deserve more than “weren’t opposed to” in sex, LW. Please don’t devalue yourself in that arena (if you are – you sound like you know what you want and how to discuss those wants, but that Peter encounter as written also gave me chills). But most important is to get out, get safe. Be well, LW; we’re rooting for you.

    2. THIS.

      I’ve been in abusive relationships. My relationship with my mother is/was…problematic. Even knowing that, learning to tell the difference between “things I want” and “things someone else wants and I do them because that makes them happy and I am pretty sure making other people happy is my only redeeming quality” has been HARD. It doesn’t help that the happiness created by giving someone what they want can feel an awful lot like the happiness created by getting what *I* want. Ideally, they are the same. Sometimes they aren’t, and that’s okay! really okay! But one of the hardest things to learn is how to tell the difference. Sometimes that means saying, “look, I think I want this, but let me sleep on it to make sure, okay?” (or “I can’t decide right now; is it okay if we table this for now?”) and figuring out what you want without the pressure of someone waiting for an answer. Whatever works for you.

      I’m not saying Peter did anything wrong, and I’m definitely not saying you did anything wrong. The way you described the encounter with Peter just concerned me a little bit, so I wanted to share in case it’s relevant. If it is, that’s a really really good thing to talk to your therapist about – learning that you are allowed to want (or not want!) things that conflict with others’ desires is normal and healthy and there is nothing wrong with it.

      Above all, remember that you can’t help anyone get to a good place emotionally if you aren’t in a good place yourself. Even if you can’t leave for yourself, staying in this relationship is going to do Nathan more harm than good. Everybody wins when you take care of yourself. I’ll be wishing you all the best.

  43. Let me tell you about the whores I know. These are people who have sex with strangers for money as an important part of their income stream. Some of them are men, some are women, and at least one is trans:

    They talk with their partners about boundaries and expectations, right up front, including whether or not they might be willing to give up whoring if it makes their partner uncomfortable. For most of them, the answer so far has been no, because they like their work and the independence that the money provides. They play safe, they have fun, and they dump the partners who treat them badly more readily than any non-sex-workers I know, I think because they see pretty early if a new partner is going to be controlling and evil.

    What I’m saying here is that if you are a whore in the literal sense (you’re not), you’re in great company and if you’re a whore in the derogatory, insulting sense, mostly that means you’re a woman who has gotten mixed up with a person who is wiling to call you a name that is insulting on the basis of you being a woman who enjoys sex, and believes your partner at his word.

    You seem eager to accept his bad characterization of you and your behavior, but I think it’s worth making like an actual whore and reclaiming your life to live the way YOU want.

    1. Yes, thank you! I was going to comment here to tell the LW, all the whores/sex workers I know have the same relationship problems as everyone else. They have conflicts over negotiating boundaries, they have work/life balance questions, they have expectations for their partners and they have expectations placed on them by their partners.

      It sounds like you’re worried about liking sex too much. Everyone here has told you that the problem isn’t how much you like sex, it’s that there’s no level of “liking sex” that will please Nathan, except “liking sex whenever he wants it and however he wants it and no more.” If Nathan wasn’t abusive, I’d suggest that what he needs is a businesslike arrangement with a sex worker, because then you can get the sex you’ve specifically bargained for and nothing else, but an abusive person isn’t going to accept any terms or conditions.

  44. Dear LW — umpetythirding all the comments above.

    First, reading your letter brought back the pain I felt when I was in an emotionally abusive relationship long ago in university. And the thing for me that made me try so long to make it work was that I loved him, and in many ways he loved me. I was so hungry for love. I’d treasure every last little thing he did that showed he loved me, even as they became more and more rare. I spent almost two years trying to remake myself into something I thought he’d like — not even on demand, I did it all myself. People would say, “you need to leave him” and I would recoil. I loved him. How could I cut him out of my life? Eventually he did me the favour (which certainly didn’t seem like that at the time) of dumping me, saying “you’re not the woman I fell in love with.” So I hear the pain. Excising the person you love from your life is so, so difficult. But it’s worse if you try and be someone you’re not, because then you start to lose yourself. It sounds to me as though that may be what you’re feeling you have to do. So while I vehemently agree with all the advice on leaving him and how, I also understand how hard that might feel.

    Secondly, I work in student services and I know that sometimes the dormitory situation can get difficult. You said you were sharing a single dorm room, so without knowing if that’s official or he’s in yours or you’re in his, you may need to get Authorities involved to find some separate space. Which can be tricky depending on how things work at your institution.

    Ideally, you’d go to your residence assistant or residence life manager or equivalent and explain that you’re leaving a relationship that makes you feel unsafe, and that you need to establish some distance, preferably in another building (two locked doors instead of one). Ideally, the residence staff says, okay, of course we we can do that, what else do you need to feel safe and supported, and is there anything you need us to say to him or other ways you’d like us to follow up?

    That may not always happen as sometimes people feel the need to take over the situation and do what they think is best, not what you want. Or maybe your school has a zero tolerance policy which automatically triggers disciplinary proceedings (which should be YOUR choice), or they may not believe you, or they may say they need proof you’re afraid (!) or any of the other many, many ways people’s safety concerns can be railroaded or dismissed, including in universities.

    So you may want to start the conversation out as a hypothetical, “what would happen if” conversation, like asking “can you tell me what the options would be if someone was leaving an abusive relationship and needed to move? Are there any policies or procedures that would apply? What would that look like?” … and so on. See if you’re comfortable with the answers. If you’re not comfortable with the answers, go up the housing food chain and find a more senior, experienced person to talk with. Or there may be other resources such as counsellors, sexual assault/sexual harassment officers, and so on. Or a faculty member, particularly in a department such as women and gender studies. It is incredibly helpful to have an ally who can advocate for you.

    If you’re sharing a room partly to save money, there may be a financial services office which can provide bursaries or short-term loans to help pay for new accommodations. This would be particularly helpful if there aren’t many dorm options for you and you need to move off campus.

    Thirdly, this kind of thing can be all-consuming when you’re a student. Whatever your choice ends up being, this situation can of course affect your studies as well. This is another reason to see a counsellor, because s/he can probably help you if you need extensions or other academic consideration, so in case this situation is affecting your academic work it’s something that won’t affect you long-term.

    Many hopeful vibes heading your way, LW.

    1. Yes, I completely agree with Tehanu. Your RA or RD (or whatever they call it where you are) should be a person you can go to for help. You need to get out of this unhealthy living situation ASAP. I’m sure this is not the first time that something like this has happened at your college.

      Also, college is a great time to meet people, both friends and romantic interests. If Nathan is stopping you from meeting people, that is controlling abusive behavior. If you get out and meet people, I’m sure you will meet many awesome people who will treat you better than Nathan.

  45. This guy is the Darthiest Darth that ever Darthed.

    The fact that you have bought into this “i am a whore and a greedy whore at that” dialogue so easily really scares me. I hope you don’t really buy into the idea that un-approved conversations with other people will inevitably lead to accidental oral sex. What happens when Nathan decides that the control you’ve agreed to isn’t enough and you must increase your penance? Because with guys like this, the bar will always move. There will always be something you’ll have to do to ‘make this up” to him. And when the sexual boundaries have already been blurred, that can become seriously dangerous and unhealthy. I have seen this play out until it spirals into “you did that potentially dangerous sexual thing that I asked you to do, but you seemed to enjoy it too much, and that hurts me and makes me doubt you even more, so now you have even more to make up for. So what even more debasing, dangerous thing will you do next for me?” ending in some emotional and physical scars.

    I’m guessing that while you are basically on lockdown, Nathan gets to go out and be as poly* as he wants. If he cared about you and your relationship, he would say, “You know what, we’re not great at this poly thing and we need to take a break and focus on our relationship and making it work before we bring more people in.” He would not be punching walls. He would not be intimidating you. He would not be putting restrictions on your life.

    *And by this, I mean his definition of poly, which is, “I define your sexuality and mine. If you decide you like someone else enough to have sexual contact with them, WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, you are an awful, awful whore.” This is not poly. This is a man who has given himself permission to cheat and wrapped it up in a pretty socially progressive bow

    Please go back to the counselor’s office and see if you can get an earlier emergency appointment. You are self-harming. This is a dangerously slippery slope, particularly with the “slutty whore” dialogue that’s been embedded in your head. Then call the student housing office as the Captain suggested. And then consider calling the registrar’s office and look into transferring schools. You need distance and safety and people who care about you and you need them now. And you don’t need to be around Nathan or Peter.

    (Neither Peter, NOR YOU, did anything wrong in this situation, but you need to get yourself in a clear headspace before you start any sort of relationship with anyone.)

    Good luck. We are pulling for you.

  46. I can’t add anything better than all the excellent comments that have been laid about before me (I give everyone +1,0000 for all the comments!) and from The Captain. I’ll just add another voice to those saying to the LW: you do deserve better than this. You deserve to be happier than this. You do not deserve self harm or giving up caffeine or feeling scared. You deserve to live an amazing, wild, juicy, expansive, and fabulous life and this guy is asking you to cut that off all that possibility in little pieces and blame yourself for it. You deserve better. WAY BETTER.

  47. This guy is the Darthiest Darth that ever Darthed.

    The fact that you have bought into this “i am a whore and a greedy whore at that” dialogue so easily really scares me. I hope you don’t really buy into the idea that un-approved conversations with other people will inevitably lead to accidental oral sex. What happens when Nathan decides that the control you’ve agreed to isn’t enough and you must increase your penance? Because with guys like this, the bar will always move. There will always be something you’ll have to do to ‘make this up” to him. And when the sexual boundaries have already been blurred, that can become seriously dangerous and unhealthy. I have seen this play out until it spirals into “you did that potentially dangerous sexual thing that I asked you to do, but you seemed to enjoy it too much, and that hurts me and makes me doubt you even more, so now you have even more to make up for. So what even more debasing, dangerous thing will you do next for me?” ending in some emotional and physical scars.

    I’m guessing that while you are basically on lockdown, Nathan gets to go out and be as poly* as he wants. If he cared about you and your relationship, he would say, “You know what, we’re not great at this poly thing and we need to take a break and focus on our relationship and making it work before we bring more people in.” He would not be punching walls. He would not be intimidating you. He would not be putting restrictions on your life.

    *And by this, I mean his definition of poly, which is, “I define your sexuality and mine. I get to put my penis wherever I want, but if you decide you like someone else enough to have sexual contact with them, WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, you are an awful, awful whore.” This is not poly. This is a man who has given himself permission to cheat and wrapped it up in a pretty socially progressive bow

    Please go back to the counselor’s office and see if you can get an earlier emergency appointment. You are self-harming. This is a dangerously slippery slope, particularly with the “slutty whore” dialogue that’s been embedded in your head. Then call the student housing office as the Captain suggested. And then consider calling the registrar’s office and look into transferring schools. You need distance and safety and people who care about you and you need them now. And you don’t need to be around Nathan or Peter.

    (Neither Peter, NOR YOU, did anything wrong in this situation, but you need to get yourself in a clear headspace before you start any sort of relationship with anyone.)

    Good luck. We are pulling for you.

  48. Can’t add to the very good advice already given, but all my sympathies are with you, LW. On the poly front, when you have the time/energy/inclination/interest, the More Than Two blog (https://www.morethantwo.com/blog) is a good resource for navigating *non-abusive* poly relationships. Lots of practical advice, lots of good self-care advice, and a firm stance against things like sexually-controlling veto power.

  49. LW, you deserve so much better. And you do NOT deserve his abuse. Like CA and the other commenters said, there are lots of lovely people out there who will treat you much better than he does, the way you deserve to be treated.

    You said that you feel like you’re a whore, and that if you try to convince yourself that you’re not, then that makes you a greedy whore. I’m not sure what specific thing you mean by a whore, but I’m guessing it’s a woman who likes sex, a woman who has sex for money, or a woman who has sex with multiple partners. And absolutely none of those are wrong or bad things to be. But the word clearly means something bad to you, and you think it’s greedy of you not to want to be that bad thing (while also liking sex or wanting sex with multiple partners.) It’s not. You’re not selfish or greedy, and you did nothing deserving of such condemnation, and you’re not whatever bad thing you think your actions or desires made you.

    You made a minor miscommunication, one very common in poly relationships. Do you realise that both your partners made the same mistake as you? You communicated your boundaries with Nathan (good!), you assumed his boundaries were the same (oops) and he failed to communicate his boundaries to you (oops). Then you went to watch a movie with Peter, and he knew you were poly. You didn’t initiate a discussion about boundaries and how you do poly (not oops! because you thought you knew where you stood with Nathan!) and neither did he (oops! he should have asked! you had reason to believe you knew where Nathan stood, but Peter had no such reason.)

    Your fuckup was not very bad at all, and both your partners shared it. Do you think they’re all the terrible things you’re thinking about yourself? Are they hurting themselves like you’re hurting yourself? If a partner inadvertently violated your (unstated!) boundaries in a way that hurt or upset you, would you want them to feel like you’re feeling, or treat them like Nathan is treating you?

  50. LW, I knew the guy was bad news and you had to run, not walk out of there after your first paragraph. Not like everything after didn’t confirm it, because every word after just made that conviction stronger.

    “I acted like a whore”

    Those are HIS words, not yours. He flung a word at you – a mean, unfair, deragatory thing – so hard it stuck. So hard that something you did according to your best knowledge and belief (being with Peter during what you rightly assumed was an open relationship) retroactively becomes tainted as something malicious and low.

    NOTHING changed from that time you were intimate in Peter’s room. His silent acceptance of your rules has not changed just because he’s angry now. The fact that you two had agreed to have partners outside of your relationship has not changed just because he’s angry now. The fact that when he agreed you could have partners aside from him you rightly understood this as you have partners aside of him and be as intimate with them as you please DID NOT CHANGE JUST BECAUSE HE’S ANGRY NOW.

    Which begs two questions:

    You did nothing wrong. Why is he angry now?

    You did nothing wrong. Why are you the one who’s “guilty”, who has to give up friends and personal freedom, who has to change who she is?

    He hasn’t laid a hand on you. (Yet). But why would he have to, when he can simply reach right into your head and smash, and break, and hurt your very sense of self-worth and confidence?

    “I acted like a whore”

    First, unless you had sex with Peter for money, I don’t see any behaviour that fall under this label. Second, let me tell you something about whores. They are decent people, trying to make a living. And funny thing? If you engage with them, they tell you upfront exactly the terms and conditions of what is going to happen and how. Almost like having a converstion laying down the terms of being in a relationship and acting on it, eh? And if a john decides that they can’t live with these conditions after the fact, or break these conditions? Than they are the one who’re despicable and were out of line. And quite frankly, I’d rather associate with an actual whore than Nathan. Better company.

    Please try to take that label, that hurtful “whore”, and defuse it. Nobody cares if he thinks you deserve to be called a whore. But everybody here cares if YOU think that you deserve to be called that.


    You don’t.)

    1. Speaking as someone who’s done this kind of work, thank you for this:
      “[L]et me tell you something about whores. They are decent people, trying to make a living. And funny thing? If you engage with them, they tell you upfront exactly the terms and conditions of what is going to happen and how. Almost like having a converstion laying down the terms of being in a relationship and acting on it, eh? And if a john decides that they can’t live with these conditions after the fact, or break these conditions? Than they are the one who’re despicable and were out of line.”

  51. Poly person here. If you’re like me, no matter how many people tell you you are being abused, you won’t be able to let go of the idea that you did something terrible. You won’t be able to let go of your compassion for him. In your mind, you will remember all the good things about him, and you will remember all the things you believe you did to hurt him. Just remember though, if you are as horrible as you think you are, the best thing you can do for him and yourself, is to get some space and work things out for yourself. And if all of us who have seen this before are right, and he is exploiting your compassion and kindness to control you, the best thing you can do is leave. No matter what the reality is, the very best thing you can do is leave.

    If you are hurting yourself, then you may have bought the narrative that you are damaged and crazy. I used to hit myself in the face. I gave myself a black eye once. And he would get so angry at me, and I would promise him I wouldn’t do it again. I thought he was saving me, I thought he was what stood between me and my self hatred. But I always hit myself out of shame for what I believed I had done to him and the others in the poly group. When I left, I lost all urge to hurt myself. I stopped feeling crazy. I stopped being crazy. You owe yourself the space to see who you are outside of this relationship. And you have the right to leave. For any reason. You have the right to leave.

    When I left, I hated myself and I expected everyone to hate me. And I was so grateful for every small positive interaction with any person. I figured, even if I was a monster, I could endeavor to make the future better. And I decided to treat myself with compassion, even though I believed I was a monster. And I took long baths, and I read books, and I just tried to be grateful for the good things in my life. I’m still not better, over a year later, but I can admit now that I was abused. And even knowing that it was abuse, I still wish I could fix it, still wish I could help him, still have a part of me that wishes I could have been who he wanted me to be so I wouldn’t have “destroyed him.” I don’t know if it ever gets completely better, but I hope you will come to understand that no matter what mistakes you make, no matter your imperfections, that you deserve compassion and respect.

  52. I found myself saying “but he doesn’t hit me…” about my ex-husband. It was at that point that I realised the relationship was dead. If things get to the point where not smacking you around looks like an Actual Good Thing (rather than just, y’know, reasonable behaviour) it’s time to run.

  53. This is the first time I’ve actually commented on a post here instead of just reading the posts and responses. But this one speaks to me.
    I have been in a few poly relationships, and one of them was very abusive, like the one you are describing right now.
    I understand how very hard it is to accept the word “abusive”. It took me years, and therapy, and even years later I still second-guess some of the things I thought or went through.
    So if it makes it easier for you, try the word “unhealthy”. You and Nathan are in an unhealthy relationship, and you have my full permission to use that word to people you aren’t comfortable telling the whole story to.
    Poly relationships require a whole lot of constant communication and negotiating. Checking in, updating your partners on new partners or changes with current ones, on negotiating time and space and comfort level. The feelings of hurt and jealousy that Nathan is having are not unreasonable, but how he is handling them absolutely is. Demonstrating violence in front of you, banning you from normal human activity (what are you supposed to do, run screaming down a hallway if someone who could potentially be a partner to you walks up to ask about homework/notes/etc?), these are not appropriate responses, and they are quite frightening warning signs in a partner.
    I think the one thing I was most surprised about when I left my husband was the number of friends who stuck by me. Even people who didn’t understand what had happened were happy to stay friends with me. Yes, I lost a few friends. But at the same time, I also learned which friends I could count on to get me through the worst.
    Figure out who your “team me” is. Find a friend or two that you trust, and tell them as much or as little as you are comfortable telling them. Figure out the safest way for you to separate your life from Nathan’s. You are not the bad guy here. You deserve someone who will love you, who will negotiate boundaries with you, who will not control you or scare you.
    Some other thoughts I had: you acted completely within what you thought your boundaries were. Failure to communicate on his part does not make you a bad person. If he had wanted different boundaries, it was his job to communicate them to begin with, or to clarify them after an event like this (“You couldn’t have known this, but in the future, I would prefer to be given notice of your relationships before they become sexual”, etc), which gives you both a chance to reestablish what you are both comfortable with, possibly adapt his boundaries if he is going to restrict yours, etc. You could not have known at the time that you were with Peter that the actions you were taking were against the negotiated boundaries of your relationship, because you didn’t know what those were at the time. Clearly something Nathan did or said to react to the fact made you at least subconsciously aware of it, because you were hesitant to admit your actions after the fact–but you didn’t know, and couldn’t have known from square one that you were doing something out of bounds.

    I hope you found what you were really looking for here. I hope that this letter, for all that you wanted us to agree with you and tell you how to fix it, is at least on some level a cry for “what if it’s not me in the wrong?”
    You’re not.
    You aren’t a mind reader. It isn’t your job to keep your boyfriend from being hurt or angry or anything like that. You shouldn’t have to anticipate his every mood and be there to fix it before it happens. It isn’t your job to read his mind and know what might be against his mental rules he has set for you. You deserve partners who will work with you, who will take their feelings and handle them with adult discussions and a reasonable amount of logic. I think we’ve all gotten upset with a partner, but there are always constructive ways to handle that. I don’t think Nathan has any idea he has been unreasonable, and that is the most worrying part of this affair. The only person benefiting right now is him. He gets to see other people, he gets to absolutely control who you talk to or have relationships with (and my guess based on this reaction would be that he is not really okay with you seeing other people, even if he says he is/thinks he is), and he knows that if he tells you you’re out of line, you will go above and beyond to make him happy/make things okay.

    You deserve to be happy. Is this really making you happy?

  54. LW, you say that Nathan would never physically hurt you, but he is physically hurting you, right now. He’s intimidated and shamed you to the point where you are physically injuring yourself. He doesn’t have to hit you because he’s,convinced you to scratch yourself for him.

    I wish you would do a thought experiment. Imagine that you came home from Peter’s and told Nathan what had happened (which, by the way, was you acting within what you reasonably thought were the boundaries established). Now imagine that Nathan gets upset. He says he’s hurt, and he needs to talk about it to figure out why. In the course of a quiet conversation, you two discover that there had been a misunderstanding. When he didn’t tell you what his boundaries were, that’s because he hasn’t figured them out yet and he assumed there would be at least one more conversation before poly stuff started happening.

    But when you explain that when you said what your boundaires are and he didn’t object, you thought that meant these were boundaries for both of you. He thinks about it, and agrees that it wasn’t clear, and that you acted in good faith. He’s hurt, but he can see that it’s the result of a misunderstanding. When you start to beat yourself up about it, he tells you, no, you were acting within what you thought the rules were. You didn’t do anything wrong. Then he hugs you and tucks you into bed.

    A couple days later, he comes back to you and says he’s ready to discuss boundaries again. So you do, and this time, you make explicit agreements. He tells you that he’s still a little hurt about the Peter thing because it came out of nowhere, since he thought poly was still nder discussion, not actively up and running. And then he says that he understands that his feelings are the result of assumptions he made without checking that you shared them and that he doesn’t hold his risdual hurt against you, because it was his responsibility to make sure he said what he was assuming out loud. They are his feelings and he’s dealing with them. He says that he’s glad such a small thing triggered all this rethinking, because now he’s more clear about what he wants and needs, and he hopes you are, too.

    Okay, that’s the thought experiment. If that had been what happened, do you think you would be walking around calling yourself ugly gendered insulting names, and hurting yourself to keep yourself from crying, and trying desperatley to follow ridiculous rules that are designed to strip you of your agency and your dignity? Because I don’t think you would be. And really, that’s how a misunderstanding in a poly relationship should work.

    You negotiate boundaries. You act within the agreed on boundaries. You are reaponsible for your own feelngs and you manage them yourself instead of blaming them on your partner. When something doesn’t work the way you imagined it would, you open the negotations again. And if you find your feelings are overwhelming or excessively unpleasant, you say that you don’t think you can handle poly after all. And if you find yourself so angry that you are punching walls, you LEAVE, because punching walls is a sign that you are in a situation you cannot handle.

    What you do not do is punch the wall and then insist that it’s your partner’s fault you punched the wall, and make a bunch of rules that if she only follows them exactly will protect you from ever having to punch a wall again. Because that? Is abusive.

  55. Firstly LW, a lot of people here are urging you really strongly to leave this relationship because they care about you and want you to be safe. But if you don’t feel able to leave right now, or if you try to leave and it doesn’t work out, then that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and doesn’t mean you’re a failure in any way and you should absolutely feel free to keep participating in the CA community if you want to. On average it takes 8 attempts to leave an abusive relationship.

    Also, you say “All I feel is that I have burned my bridges. My friends who are friends with Nathan would hate me if they found out. My friends who are not friends with Nathan all live far away. My family does not know I’m polyamorous and would also probably hate me.”

    It sounds like you’re feeling really alone and isolated. Something abusers are really good at doing is making the person they’re abusing feel this way, because it benefits them and gives them more control. I don’t know your family and friends and it’s possible some or all of them are more on Team Nathan than Team You, or would hate you if they knew you were polyamorous. It’s also possible that some or all of them are deeply worried by the way he treats you, don’t actually like Nathan very much and/or would be appalled if they knew how he is choosing to behave towards you. In my case, I believed that my abuser was the popular sociable one in our relationship – it was only when I ended the relationship I realised that lots of ‘her’ friends were already growing disillusioned with her behaviour, or were actually only tolerating her in order to spend time with me. She also manipulated me into believing my family were homophobic (spoiler: they weren’t) in order to prevent me from confiding in them about our relationship. Leaving an abusive relationship can sometimes mean discovering friends and allies you never knew you had.

    1. Firstly LW, a lot of people here are urging you really strongly to leave this relationship because they care about you and want you to be safe. But if you don’t feel able to leave right now, or if you try to leave and it doesn’t work out, then that is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and doesn’t mean you’re a failure in any way and you should absolutely feel free to keep participating in the CA community if you want to.

      YES THIS. Believing in yourself and getting what you deserve can be incredibly daunting! If the advice right now feels impossible, LW, let us know and we can help you break it into smaller and more manageable steps, or negotiate obstacles that weren’t in your letter. We’re here for you.

  56. Dear LW, please print out the Captain’s letter and carry it with you everywhere, so when Nathan starts gaslighting you or you start doubting yourself you can pull it out and re-read it and get a beautiful dose of reality. Maybe you should print the comments to so you can also remember how heartbreakingly COMMON this is. Please take care.

  57. ‘“When you make mistakes it’s your fault, when I make mistakes (like scaring you) it’s also your fault.”’
    Oh jeez. I’ve been trying to boil down the reasons why I won’t have an abusive family member in my life into one sentence that I can repeat until, and this hit me like a ton of bricks. I had to stop and slow-breathe to keep from collapsing in tears at work. But a lot of freedom came to me from those words. Thanks, Captain.

  58. Holy hannah! Get out! That is an abusive relationship. Believe me, I have been there. I know, it’s embarrassing. You’re not one of “those women.” You’re well educated, you’re strong and independent and liberated. Yes you are. Those women do find themselves with abusive partners. Most of the women I know can tell this story, including one who is 6 feet tall and a Quantico trained federal agent.
    Don’t shame yourself, get the support you need and deserve and leave.

  59. If someone was unable to control their anger and hit a wall that’s a really bad thing in my opinion. I can’t look into his mind but the way people deal with their anger usually says a lot, from what I know it often escalates if the relationship continues. Abuse may sometimes seem to have stopped but then the question is why? Because the partner changed or because you are doing/behaving what the abuser wants from you? I often thought of 100 ways to please my ex and stop the abuse but that lead to more control on his side = more abuse.

    Anyway I really hope you are able to stay away from Nathan(in case you miss him etc). You mention the hole in your heart, it might be incredibly difficult to deal with your new situation. After all you had a partner and you saw Peter whose company you enjoyed. I would say it’s now the time to be super nice to yourself; surround yourself with people that care about you and are there for support, do things you enjoy and be easy on yourself. Therapy can be super helpful! Take some time to think about everything and maybe think of ways that helped you feel better about yourself in the past, maybe that’s something your therapist can help you with as well.

    As for what you did with Peter… you thought you were allowed to. You communicated your rules to him and he decided not to set rules for you, that’s his responsibility. Don’t feel bad about what you did, you were open about it to him and as the captain said any decent guy would’ve replied very differently. Maybe make a list of all the hurtful things Nathan has done/said or his bad sides and read it when you miss him. Take care!

  60. If I had known about emotional abuse with my first marriage, and as a teenager, I would never have married him, let alone made the mistake of having (a wonderful, caring and not f*ed up *still confuses me but I am happy* son). It was four years that still haunts me in my relationships, and in my self-esteem in general. Run, don’t walk to individual therapy and possibly a women’s shelter. This is not a safe, good situation and you will only be hurt by it. On a side note, I would not hook up with Peter anytime soon again except as a friend… this needs to settle and your head needs to get back in shape first. be careful…

  61. I came up with the idea of giving up caffeine so that I could prove myself able to devote to something.

    Others have touched on this, but I wanted to really unpack this bit, possibly because I didn’t have coffee this morning and oh, man, giving up caffeine is no small thing. Do it, if you want to for health reasons or just for fun, but not as a punishment, ok? And as for proving yourself devoted:

    You are in college, which proves you were able to devote yourself to schoolwork, test taking, and the application process. It’s a big deal, getting into college! A multi-year project. Lotta devotion right there.

    You’re on the executive board of some organization, you don’t say which, but that means that you’ve devoted your time and energy to a group, to service, with enough dedication that other people recognize you as a leader in the group.

    You committed yourself to a relationship with the understanding that it was a polyamorous one. You devoted yourself to it – and to your principles of caring and sharing – so much so that you apologized for not responding quickly enough to text messages demanding you leave a social event so that he could go to bed (what?) and for his feelings of loneliness because you didn’t make your belongings available to him at all times (double what?). You devoted yourself to it so much that when your understanding of your partner’s unstated boundaries clashed with his, you’ve agreed to cut yourself of from literally half the population. (Please don’t do that.)

    You are a person capable of devotion. This was a very short letter, and you showed three separate instances of real devotion to long-term projects, groups, and relationships. I bet you can come up with a lot of other ways you’ve shown yourself to be a person of substance and commitment in your life. If you’re having trouble, try asking a good friend to help you, because they will be able to give you so many examples. Maybe over coffee.

  62. I don’t have any particular wisdom to add here but I want to add one more voice to the chorus saying: you have done NOTHING wrong, and you have done NOTHING to be ashamed of. This guy is bad, bad news, and I hope you get away safe.

    You mention expecting that mutual friends will hate you, and this I can address a bit: I wish I could tell you that they won’t, but there do exist people who will choose this asshole over your kind, brave self. Nathan will probably lie to them to keep them on his side. You are probably going to lose some friends here, through absolutely no fault of your own, and it’s going to suck. But: some of them will probably surprise you, and you will find new friends. There are lots of awesome people where this guy is not, and it may take a while, but you will find some. In the meantime please know that a lot of internet strangers are rooting for you and here to talk on the forums.

    Your parents are not going to hate you. If it helps, you don’t have to come out as poly to explain this guy and get their support: there is nothing, nothing you could do that would justify the punching-walls-as-threat and the controlling behavior, so it is not lying to be vague about the inciting incident. And even if you do come out and they, worst case, are bad about that (they may surprise you, too)—they may judge you, and it may get awkward, but they aren’t going to take the side of some asshole that threatens to hit their daughter over yours, and they are still going to love you.

  63. Letter Writer, I think you need to hear that you’re a kind, generous person who did nothing wrong. You deserve to be happy and don’t need to punish yourself, because you’re wonderful and anyone who makes you feel less wonderful is not worthy of your time. From your letter, it’s obvious you’re empathetic and a huge people-pleaser, to the point you feel guilty for self-care and not being constantly available to others. I want you to know that you don’t have to sacrifice yourself so much. The people who are worth it will understand that you have needs too.

    I just want to give you a big Jedi Hug, and let you know that your compassion is your strength, and you don’t ever deserve to have that manipulated by people like Nathan.

  64. My mum and dad were together for 25 years. In that time, he never laid a hand on her. We would all have told you that he had a bad temper but would never be violent. He was intimidating to all of us in different ways, as we found out later when we compared experiences.

    One day when I was 16 he and I had a shouting match that was no more aggressive or intimidating than normal, and shouting matches were pretty normal with him. It wasn’t out of the ordinary right up until the second he put his hands around my neck and slammed me into the kitchen cabinets. He did not stop choking me until he was pulled off by the combined efforts of my mother and brother.

    “He would never get violent” is not true. It is never true. If he wouldn’t hurt you, he wouldn’t frighten or control you either. I don’t say this just to frighten you, to be honest I don’t think me saying this is going to scare you more than what you already feel is in him. I just know that me and my mum were very invested in making excuses and coming up with convoluted justifications for how my dad behaved, and squirming uncomfortably at the slightest suggestion that he was abusive, because he “wasn’t like that” and we could not really address that he was like that until some time AFTER the murder attempt. And I swear to you that it was not like my dad was this bad-tempered but very feeling, very caring, incredibly sociable and gregarious guy and then BAM he turned into Heathcliff. He was still that guy after he strangled me, and he’s still that guy now, and he has NEVER been Heathcliff. If you’re reading this and thinking “wow, that’s awful, but he must have had some way deeper issues than Nathan” etc., no, he had the exact same issues. I’m just saying, I know it’s horribly uncomfortable and squirmy and scalding and shameful, but if you can take this in it will be a lot easier than trying to come to terms with it after he escalates on you.

  65. Hi LW.
    I’m not poly, but I was there. And everything was fine as long as I hung out with approved people and answered all of his texts and always answered my phone and always had my phone turned on and with me and was only out of my dorm the minimum amount of time I needed to be and was always available through gchat and always, always dropped what I was doing and paid attention to him whenever, even during finals or my sixteen-hours-a-day job and followed all the rules and intuited the unspoken rules. (spoiler: I did not do this. I did not follow all the rules because there are too many and it was impossible)
    And he never hit me. One time he threw his phone and shattered it, which was my fault. He pulled my hair (another rule was that I had to let him pull out strands of my hair whenever he wanted to because he found it soothing? if I told him no he did it anyway?) He held me in place and wouldn’t let me go. One time he got fed up and made me walk up a slippery icy hill at night without my mobility aids, laughing at me for wobbling and struggling. But he never hit me. So it wasn’t abuse. (Spoiler: it was abuse)
    Leave as soon as you can. It’s going to be awful in the short term. (It’s really hard to leave, I know). But once your time and brainspace is yours again and the constant terror lifts off you and you can devote your energy to things other than rules-calculus and his sucking need, it will be worth it. You will feel light and free. You’ll have time for yourself, for whatever you want to do, and you will have space to stretch out in and sometimes it will be scary but it will be worth it.
    Good luck getting out.

  66. “Creating a fog of ambiguity around everything is a great abuser trick, because it keeps you on your toes always second guessing everything and always focused on working out what will please/displease them.” <— That. That is exactly how my abusive ex-husband kept me feeling like an awful failure as a wife. He would never set boundaries ahead of time, and he would dance around constantly so that I was pretty much guaranteed to offend. If it didn't bother him two weeks ago, it was a mortal offense two days ago. Normal people don't do this; they just don't.

  67. Funny thing about these “You made me punch the wall” guys: despite their seemingly uncontrollable rage, they always manage to aim well enough to avoid hitting the wooden studs! Not that difficult to punch a hole in sheetrock.

    LW, I hope you can get away from this person as soon as you feel it is safe. We all have your back!

    1. Also they never destroy anything they don’t think they can get back. Someone up there said he shattered his phone and blamed her, he wouldn’t have done it if he didn’t feel sure he would be able to get another one. Usually the only unfixables/replaceables they break is stuff they don’t care about.

    2. In a similar vein, Stuff Breakers (who often overlap with Wall Punchers) never break their own stuff. It’s always their partner’s stuff! And even though they broke the vase/picture frame/cell phone/dish/etc., they never clean up the mess. Their partner does. It’s basically a microcosm of an abusive relationship: the abuser does the damage, but it’s on the victim pick up the pieces.

      1. Something else I just thought of in this situation: who stands to lose the deposit because of a fucking fist-sized hole in the wall?

    3. And isn’t it so very convenient that these “uncontrollable” rages never happen when others are around? Like, specifically, no one they can’t control, or whom they want to impress?

      Man, what a coincidence.

  68. LW, you are not a whore and you are not an unethical slut. It breaks my heart to hear you talking about yourself like that and it makes me deeply worried about the toll this relationship has already taken on your self-esteem. Please make a pact with yourself to stop using those words to refer to yourself.

    Also, seconding everyone on this thread who says Nathan was totally in the wrong for not defining his own boundaries within a poly relationship. Like, that shit is literally Poly 101. There’s no way around it – there is no default script for poly relationships, which means the people involved have to sit down and talk about their expectations and limits. It sounds like you tried to do just that and Nathan did not respond. I agree with everyone on this thread who says that Nathan’s failure to communicate his own desires was not just reticence or absent-mindedness. It was deliberate and, on some level, calculated.

    Keeping the “rules” of the relationship ambiguous is a classic abuser tactic, whether the relationship is monogamous or poly or otherwise. It’s part of making sure the victim is constantly walking on eggshells and terrified of “fucking up”. Because you can never get it right if you don’t know what “right” is. And I can guarantee you, even if you hadn’t gone as far as you did with Peter, or even if there was no Peter in the equation at all, sooner or later Nathan would find some other technicality to browbeat you with, because Nathan is an abuser and this is how abusers operate.

    Abusers will always “forget” to ask you to pick up the pick, so they can freak out about having no milk as soon as you get back. Abusers will always want you to arrive “soon” or “early” but will never specify an actual time, so you’ll always be late no matter what. Abuser will say “sure honey, I don’t mind if you meet up with you ex!” and then turn it into a screaming match later on because “I didn’t realize he was that ex, that changes everything!” or “Getting coffee doesn’t take three hours, what the fuck were you really doing?” Abusers thrive on miscommunications and misunderstandings, because every honest mistake is another chance to make it all your fault and remind you what a worthless, awful partner you are.

    Nathan will never “forgive” you, even though there’s nothing to forgive. You will never be able to make it better, because Nathan enjoys it when you are prostrating yourself at his feet trying to make it better. Nathan is going to hold this over your head for as long as you stay in a relationship with him, and even if he never ever raises a hand to you, you are going to spend every second of your time with him doing penance for this one tiny transgression that was far more his fault than yours.

    Get away from Nathan. You are better and you deserve better. Good luck and, above all, please stay safe.

    1. “Abusers thrive on miscommunications and misunderstandings, because every honest mistake is another chance to make it all your fault and remind you what a worthless, awful partner you are.”
      Oh my god. OH MY GOD. I’d thought I’d done all the realizing I had to do about an abusive relationship I was in… But somehow I’d never quite realized this before. She kept it vague on purpose. she wanted me to mess up. Oh my god. I was not an idiot.
      Thank you, so much, for this.

  69. Reblogged this on syrens and commented:
    Also, this whole damn thing is heartbreaking. For a lot of reasons. A LOT of reasons. Not the least of which is that I’ve done that kind of math and it is AWEFUL to have to do that kind of math. 😦 (Glad I’m not there anymore).

  70. Delurking because this letter hurts my heart so much I have to say something. Probably because I just finished a nine month internship at a domestic violence center and I’m not really done processing all those stories and all that I couldn’t do for so many of our clients. So I really have to say, for the sake of my own conscience, that just about every red flag we were taught for determining whether a woman was likely to be in serious physical danger in the near future is in your letter. I encourage you to look at this handy-dandy checklist of warning signs you are in a violent relationship: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm I also encourage you to google the Power and Control Wheel, which details examples of different types of violent behavior in relationships: not all violence is physical and that doesn’t make it any less violent. I don’t just encourage but out right plead that you will use this template or a similar one to develop a safety plan, just in case: http://www.domesticviolence.org/personalized-safety-plan/ I see so much confusion and pain in your letter, I can guess that it may take a while for you to sort through all that and make sense of your situation (and when you do, you may come to different conclusions than I, going just on this letter, came to) and it would be really wonderful if you could do anything to keep yourself safer or feeling safer in the meantime. I think just about any other suggestions I would offer has already been voiced in the comments. I really, really, hope you’ll come back and tell us how this all worked out and in the meantime I’ll be sending you jedi hugs whenever I think of you and wishing you peace and safety.

  71. Just wanted to add one last thing to the chorus — it’s been said before, but just wanted to say again that the part of you that said “hey I’m going to run this by the Captain”, that part of you is sharp and lively and tolerates no injustice quietly and is going to take you so many fun cool happy delightful places when you keep letting it bust on out 🙂

  72. This letter was heartbreaking. Oh, LW, I hope you follow the Captain’s advice, and that of the many helpful commenters also. No-one deserves to be in your situation.

    Problems in a relationship are normal. Healthy people discuss is, talk about what each of them wants/needs, and find something that fulfils these wants/needs for everyone involved (or, if that’s impossible, they save each other time and trouble and move on). On the other hand, guilting someone, making them feel shame, controlling where they go/what they wear/who they talk to/who they are allowed to be in the same room as, etc. is 100% never okay. And, as a bonus from Nathan’s perspective, if you have to force someone to do the things you like, then you really shouldn’t be in a relationship with that person, because they aren’t right for you.

    Abuse isn’t just physical. You don’t have to be hit to be abused.
    Non-physical abuse isn’t more serious or less serious than physical abuse. It turns out all kinds suck infinitely.
    Controlling behaviour like this is textbook abuse.
    Being abused says nothing about what kind of person you are. The best people in the world can end up in abusive situations.

    I hope you tell everything you’ve written here to your counsellor. Oh, LW, I am so sorry you were put into this situation.

  73. LW, I am adding to the enormous pile of people who care for you and love you (yes! love you! because one letter lets us see how much you are hurting and self-blaming!) and to say THIS IS NOT YOUR FAULT.

    His behaviour is not your fault.

    No, really. Nope. Not even that part. You don’t control his behaviour — he does. But right now he’s also controlling yours. It’s not okay, and it’s not your fault. This is literally “You make me do this to you”. You don’t make him do ANYTHING.

    You care for him. There’s a reason you live with him, there’s a reason you’re together. That’s okay. But it’s like loving a bear trap — it is going to clang shut on you one of these times, if you’re not incredibly careful about where you step, about what you touch, about not moving around much, every single moment of every single day. We don’t fill our homes with bear traps. We don’t live in fear and walk on eggshells and modify every element of our behaviour to prove to the bear traps how committed and repentant we are to make them stop being bear traps. The bear traps don’t care.

    (TW Child abuse, eating disordered thinking):
    I’m coming from an abusive family that I could not quantify as abusive until I was long gone from there. I’m coming from a relationship that has contained abuse (and maybe in 6 months or a year or 6 years I will quantify it as more than that, but right now I am too close to it all to be able to, and the idea of re-framing my thinking scares me… but I’m also getting out, and that should not fill me with as much relief as it does). I love this person, we have been friends forever and partners for almost that long, I VOLUNTEERED to go along with the abusive behaviour… and still none of that makes it my fault for having food withheld from me, for being food insecure for months, for waking up in the morning and going to bed hungry, and being unable to “cheat” on it (because a small handful of almonds is “cheating”) because I hated myself so much. It doesn’t matter. It’s not my fault. Because you do not do that to people, it is not okay, and no matter what I did, I did not make him do that and it harmed me badly.

    Like I said, I’m getting out, and then I will have time to breathe and look at everything else. That period, I was able to look at because it was several years ago and it stopped… and it’s shocking how bad it looks. Seems. IS. Now. So even if you’re not sure… you are hurting, you are scared, you are blaming and hating yourself, all of these reasons are very very good reasons to get away, get space to yourself, to get some perspective on what is going on (preferably with people who can help with that perspective). I learned with my family that if I spend time with them, they re-define my reality and I take completely abusive things in stride as being “Normal”. It’s only when I get away I go AAAAAAUGH WHAT WAS THAT THOSE WERE BEES IN HUMAN SUITS.

    We are your sympathetic outsiders. We are here to tell you it’s not your fault, there is nothing wrong with you, and everything wrong with the situation. All the hugs to you. Come to us on the Friends of Captain Awkward forum if you need more help — we’re there.

  74. LW, when I was reading your description of your night with Peter, the only thing I could see that you did that was in the wrong in the sense of consciously or unconsciously going against what you knew to be an established and presumably reciprocal relationship norm was ignoring Nathan’s texts. That’s it. That doesn’t make you a whore under even the most sex-positive reclamation of that word! Others have done a great job pointing out that it was *Nathan’s* job to explain his poly boundaries, so I won’t reiterate. Instead, I want to talk about how Nathan was upset with you about the texts before he heard about the sexual events of your evening–when the ignored texts were the only issue that Nathan knew about, his reaction intimidated you enough to write him a note rather than speak to him directly. I suspect he has a long history of seizing on things like this–the kinds of goofs we all make, that are aggravations in a relationship but that are inevitable in the course of people living their lives, and turning them into opportunities to intimidate you. He seems to have convinced you in the course of this particular intimidation that his loneliness that night was your job to fix (by coming home on his schedule or by making your private computer available for his use), but it wasn’t. It was his. In a healthy relationship, that would have gone down as an apology on your side and a de-ruffling of feathers on Nathan’s side, without intimidation or boundary-shifting.

    Whether or not Nathan planned this, he was definitely primed to seize every opportunity to shame and control you, and I think any moment of basic, human, forgivable and normal imperfection or vulnerability you’ve shown has already, ongoingly been an opportunity for him. I think anger gives him a thrill of power, and seeing the sexual dimension light a fire of shame inside you is something he is clearly working to the max, and on some level, reveling in, as he sees how many restrictions he can make you accept. I’m sure he is showing you his pain, but it is a pain that it gives him a thrill to turn into a weapon against you. He is in your head, convincing you to think his thoughts instead of your own. You need to get him out of your head so that your head is your own again.

    I know you feel trapped, but the good news is that if you are in university housing it will be relatively easy to find a new rooming situation (as compared to needing to put together first month’s rent and security deposit for a new apartment, or to move into an apartment while still paying a mortgage). The bad news is that a campus setting makes it hard to get as much space from him you are going to need to get your head back, but hang in there. Get through this, and it will get better. You will love yourself again, because you are awesome.

  75. Oh, LW, I had tears in my eyes reading your letter. The way he’s treating you, the things he’s demanding of you, and worst of all, the way he has you talking and feeling about yourself–there is nothing right about that at all. There is no truth in what he’s saying or how he’s making you feel. I hope you’re able to get from him.

  76. “I know he would never hit me/physically harm me”

    No, you don’t. You don’t know that about him; you don’t know that about anyone, ever. I’ve been in abusive relationships, romantic and otherwise, and I’ve been in healthy relationships (and more than a few that fell somewhere in between). I’ve held the hand of friends who just learned that their partner is in fact the type to hurt them and we can always look back to a time when it seemed impossible. I’m not saying that everyone will abuse, but I do believe that the faith that you would somehow KNOW before someone shows you that they’re capable of getting physical is an extra danger for the (potential) victim: it prevents you from seeing the warning signs.

    Controlling behavior is a gateway – not everyone who controls will hit/choke/stab/run you over with a car, but it’s sure as hell not a GOOD sign. Use of superior size to “win” at conversation (herein referred to as “intimidating”) is another red flag. ACTUALLY HITTING THINGS is a serious fucking sign that someone is willing to hit, and may get around to hitting other things, like people, like you. But our LW maybe isn’t seeing those as warning signs because she “knows that he would never.”

    None of us will ever know anyone so well that we can say with absolute certainty that they would always/never ANYTHING. Hell, we don’t even get to know our selves that well, because life is a series of changing circumstances and circumstances dictate a lot.

  77. LW, I am in a poly relationship with my now-husband and have been since 2009. Especially at the start, I messed stuff up a bit. Things happen and the other person realizes that they weren’t quite okay with it, or it affects them in a way they don’t realize, etc. This has been my husband’s lot more than mine, since I am the one who has ended up actively nonmonogamous. (I will note that we absolutely do NOT have different rules, or rules at all…just different sex drives and interests, so that’s been his choice.)

    So anyway, the thing is, my husband has never called me names or made me feel ashamed. He has never asked me to stop doing anything or seeing anyone. He hasn’t imposed rules on me. He hasn’t held anything over my head or held anything against me. He hasn’t made me feel scared to talk to him or like I have to flagellate myself and grovel in order to make things right.

    It is not right that Nathan is making you feel so terrible. A good partner is just that — a *partner*. Nathan isn’t a partner. He’s mean.

    Let’s say that you did cheat on him. Okay, so? There are really basically two options — they feel sad but they love you and you work things out, or they feel sad and they decide you need to break up. There is not actually a third option of treating the cheater like shit, controlling their lives, and destroying them mentally.

    He had the perfect opportunity to talk to you about his boundaries and what would make him feel secure in his relationship with you, cause you communicated like a champ. But he chose not to. Why do you think that is?

    And…it’s messed up to be using sex-negative epithets about yourself. I am just really, really sad about that.

  78. Actual whore-as-in-sexworker here. LW, reading your account made me a) feel majorly protective of you and b) remember a couple of my own Nathans. The number of commentators with Nathan stories of their own shows how very, very common this terrible behavior is. Sometimes it’s easier for me to grasp difficult emotional stuff when I can connect it to more abstract cultural stuff, so here: Nathan is a misogynist. He has bought into patriarchal culture that tells him he has a right to control your sexuality, your associations, your movements. He’s using not only his size advantage, but your socially-conditioned tendency to take responsibility for conflict and keep the peace. He’s also taking advantage of your internalized fear that a nonmonogamous woman is inherently flawed or failing as a partner. You didn’t fail, he did, and not just as a partner but as a decent human being.

    I suspect he called you a whore, right? Or implied it heavily. What does that say about how he sees women? How about women who are/have been sexworkers? Do you want to be with someone who thinks a woman’s personhood depends on her sexual behavior?

    Breaking up with my Nathans was hard. Each time, I lost a ton of friends. I worried that I was “the bad guy” for giving up. But I wasn’t giving up, I was reclaiming myself. Each time, I healed and grew and made new connections and moved forward. You can make it through the hard part, I promise. And you’ll probably be surprised, as I was, at the sheer relief of being done, and at how much energy you have once you’re not spending it trying to appease him.

    One last thing. Abusive relationships can give you complex PTSD. They also make you doubt yourself and your reactions. Talking to a trauma specialist, researching C-PTSD, and reading other people’s experiences can help you keep from blaming yourself if stuff gets weird in your head after you leave. This can happen immediately or after years; there’s no time limit. I tell you this because I had all sorts of “see, I’m crazy for no reason even without him, so I must’ve deserved it all along” brainweasels when I started having flashbacks and nightmares about an abusive relationship years later. A lot of the time, brainweasels are about the self, not other people, so you can kind of reverse-engineer compassion for yourself through compassion for others. And it helps to know what might crop up.

  79. This may or may not be helpful to the LW. Since she seems to be internalizing the “whore” and “greedy slut” insults that are probably coming from the boyfriend, I wanted to offer perspective. She signed “Unethical slut” so maybe is familiar with the book, “The Ethical Slut?” If so, I recommend going back to read it, because I don’t seem anything in LW’s behavior that was either unethical or particularly slutty. With “greedy” and “whore,” I was waiting for the part of the story where, “then the football team came in and I blew them all too,” or, “then they all paid me for my services.” A single blowjob doesn’t even ping on the slut scale (intending the most sex-positive use of the “slut” word here.) So, not greedy, not slutty, certainly nothing to do with being a “whore” at all. All this is in the mind of the abusive BF/roommate. (I do realize when one is being subjected to this abuse, it’s not helpful to argue the point. But it might be helpful not to internalize the insults if you can get a glimpse of how ludicrous they are from another point of view.)

    On another, lighter note, the Chenille Sisters (a quirky folk harmonizing girl group) has a great song called, “Co-Dependent with You.” Unfortunately I have not been able to find it on youtube or easily shared format. The lyrics start “You hold your breath, dear, and I turn blue, cause I’m so… co…dependent with you,” with a lush tune that delivers like a faux love song. Very amusing, when you’re years out of that type of situation. Might be less well received if you’re in it. I think it’s on their 1994 album “True to Life.” If I make it to a meetup sometime, I’ll dig out my cassette and walkman and bring it along.

    “Unfeeling! you’re way off the curve,
    but darling that’s fine, you’re all I deserve,
    I’m hooked on the hell that you put me through,
    though a snake gets more love in the zoo,
    you’re my albatross,
    but you’re still the boss,
    I’m co-dependent.”

  80. LW, I can see where you’re coming from. You think there’s a hierarchy of Real Abuse, and that that starts with hitting you. You think that because of this, Nathan won’t cross that line. But here’s the thing: the line of what is Real Abuse starts with emotional abuse, including the things that Nathan is doing *right now*. He’s already crossed the line, he’s already willing to abuse you. “He’s never hit me” will become either “He’s never hit me hard enough to send me to the hospital” or “I wish he *had* hit me, it would have messed up less”. Please, please, take care of yourself.

    1. +1 to this from someone who said “I wish he *had* hit me, it would have made things simpler” about Darth Ex.

      Darth Ex never actually hit me, but engaged in various physical menacing and deliberate frightening of me, alongside various verbal abuse that included calling me a “fucking whore” and otherwise saying nasty things about my sex life from before we got together. (I am a rape survivor, and “dealt with” that for several years after with “I can’t be raped if I don’t say no” as my guiding logic. This led to what Darth saw as an unreasonably high number of past sexual partners.) He was also interested in going poly, which included posting a personal ad for a threesome without even letting me know he had done so and lots of gross offers to “hide a girl in your bed for you” and such. And when he was high, which was often, he would go on about wanting to seduce my (male, gay) housemate – though he would go on all kinds of homophobic rants when sober.

      The beginning of the end was when I cheated on him, under circumstances bearing more than a passing similarity to LW’s. And I think it was necessary for my getting out because part of Darth Ex’s emotional abuse was trying really hard to convince me that because we were Destined Soulmates(tm), even though I had been a totally slutty slut in the past, I would never again be able to have meaningful or satisfying sex with anyone else. The person I cheated on Darth Ex with…disproved that rather conclusively.

      1. Oh, that rings bells. My Darth Ex managed to engage me in a threesome I wasn’t even aware was a threesome until, like, halfway through (I had been under the impression that the other participant was asleep. Boundaries/consent were, astonishingly, not effectively communicated).

  81. LW, dearest, I am coming to you from perhaps the most distant place to your own beginning point; I am an asexual who, when dating, is monogamous. I am interested in romance with a single person at a time, and I do not want to have a sexual component in it.

    Please let me say that even from my place staring across at you from such a distance of different needs you *did nothing wrong at all*. You have heard above from these wonderful, strong people who share your sexual identity, but perhaps the narrative of your youth is still poking you in the back trying to tell you that poly is wrong. It is not.

    You are honest, and you are clear about your needs, and you are so, so wise to set out what is acceptable to your partners, and this is *everything*.

    You mentioned that your family wouldn’t understand, and that makes me think and wonder if part of the wheel your Hamster of Anxiety is running on is made up of the concept of a two-person-only relationship, so that when Nathan tells you that you Did Poly Wrong it links into that story you grew up with.

    You shouldn’t need anyone to tell you that your sexual identity is okay, but it seems to me that Nathan is telling you that your sexual identity is *not* okay…so here I am; a person on the internet who shares no part of your identity, telling you that you are fully and joyfully allowed to love who you want in the ways that are gratifying to all of you. Even if that’s just one person, even if that’s you and fifty other people who have some elaborate set of who loves who and in what way. If everyone is happy, that is good and wonderful and beautiful.

    You aren’t happy, LW, and I feel like I hear you wondering if you are allowed to love the way that you are designed to love. You are. You so, so are. Please, find a way to leave this person who makes you feel worthless and sad and wrong so that you can find the wonderful people who will love you joyfully and honestly.

  82. LW, you have, at this moment, almost 200 comments’ worth of people who love you and your wonderful, forthright, honorable self and want you to be free of this abusive, definitely not-right-for-you person. I want to add my voice to the chorus clamoring for you to share with yourself the love and consideration I can see that you harbor for others.

    I hope that you take these comments to heart. I hope that you can see that you DESERVE so much better. I hope for you what it took me so long to find for myself: a conviction that you, as you are, have worth and value. That is not something you have to earn or prove; it is as basic as the atoms in the cells that make up your body.

    I wanted to share something I once heard in a group therapy session. I really don’t remember the rest of the session at all, but this one quote stuck with me: “The most important relationship to cultivate is your relationship with yourself. After all, you are the only person in the world that you are guaranteed to be with for the rest of your life.”

    I have been in the headspace where you seem to be now, where you feel like everything is your fault and if you can ONLY _____, you can save the relationship. It can be a long journey from that mindset to not only accepting that you are being abused but getting angry enough to DO something about it. I know it took a very long time and a lot of pain for me to get there. I hope that you make that journey more smoothly than I did, but please don’t beat yourself up if it takes you a long time. Just remember that your relationship with yourself will end up being far more important than your relationship with this man or any other man or woman you will ever meet.

  83. Deep breath — just want to say thanks to the LW here, to Jennifer especially, to her moderator help, and for the link (“My father hit me”) and all the advice there, especially from Jennifer and Marie. I just called a national DV hotline, told my story, and got the confirmation that I needed to move ahead with my thinking and actions. I feel better, stronger, clearer. So many thanks, so much appreciation for Jennifer and the Awkward Army. This community is the best thing I’ve found in a long, long time.

    1. Congratulations on being so strong! Gather a really really strong Team You and know that we’re behind you every step!

    2. All the Jedi hugs to you. You are so brave for making that call. All the hugs to you. Stay safe.

      1. Thanks to you all — hours later, and I’m still reading stuff on the web. I followed up on all the Lundy Bancroft recommendations, and this was very helpful, so I’ll post it here, for the LW or anyone else who might stand to gain something from it:


        Let me add that one of the posts here on “what to expect when calling a help line” also influenced me to make the call. This website… Jennifer, there is a sea of beautiful karma surrounding you. Thank you for all that you do.

    3. ❤ ❤ ❤ I am so happy to hear that you're taking the steps to get yourself out. You are amazing and strong.

    4. Congratulations you brave soul! Jedi hugs for you, wild applause for you, and I hope SO MUCH that this turns out well for you.

  84. Dear LW

    I join the chorus telling you that you’re a good person.

    You’re clearly a person who tries very very hard to make things right, even when you’ve done nothing wrong.

    You’ve done nothing wrong.

    Your boyfriend, no matter how hurt he feels, is treating you cruelly. You can’t fix what makes him upset and unhappy. He needs to do that work himself.

    Please get to a therapist soon.

    Please also accept that your friends and family know you to be a good person. They won’t and don’t hate you.

    Jedi hugs if you want them

  85. LW, all these people here are telling you something that you know. Deep down below, underneath the hurt and the pain and the confusion, you know. You know, because you say so in your letter – sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly. Stuff like; I am no longer allowed to communicate with Peter or spend any time with any other hetero/bisexual men or homo/bisexual women (presumably because I’d totally suck their dicks, too). From the way you phrase this, and the sarcasm and all, it is clear that you know this is crap, that his distrust is bulllshit and completely unwarranted. You’re not in the wrong, and you’re right to be angry.

    Grab that feeling, hold on to it, trust it. You say you’re resentful? Be resentful Be angry. This is your survival instinct fighting its way to the surface and telling you that no, you’re not crazy. You’re not wrong. All of this just ain’t right.

    1. This +100

      The voice in your head that added the part in brackets? That is a good voice, trust that voice.

  86. Oh, honey. I want to give you all the hugs. I have dated a controlling, obsessive Darth similar to this, and I hope you get out, get safe, and find people who treat you better than this.

    May I offer a counter-example to your situation?

    I am now in a healthy relationship, and recently had a similar situation to the one you describe–my partner and I are poly, and he made a mistake and broke our main rule (if you do anything sexual with anyone else, you need to tell me before we have sex).

    I was extremely angry and upset. I felt a little betrayed and like my trust had been broken. BUT I did not lash out at my partner. I did not hit anything or call him a whore or berate him about his behavior or make him jump through a million unrelated hoops to “prove” he was trustworthy.

    Here’s what I did do:
    -Tell him I was upset and needed some space.
    -Cut off contact for a couple of days, including hiding his feed on social media.
    -Posted to the Friends of Captain Awkward forum and talked to friends who were also poly.
    -Evaluated this action in light of the overall relationship
    -Decided that I was still angry and hurt, but that it was clear to me that this was an isolated incident (with some extenuating circumstances) and that I felt it was not worth throwing away an otherwise great relationship if we were able to work through it
    -Messaged him that I was still upset, but asked if he would like to get together and talk in about a week’s time
    -Came up with specific things I needed to help me work through my anger/upsetness and to rebuild trust in our relationship: a break from sex, an increase in the safe sex practices between the two of us whenever we decided to start to have sex again, to spend only 1-2 nights together a week rather than 4-5 nights, specific steps from him on how he would make sure such a mistake didn’t happen again
    -Spoke to him calmly about them, brainstormed ideas together on specific, relevant steps we could take–in our case, we came up with a “code word” and agreed we would text each other with the code word any time *before* a potential sexual interaction with other person occurred, so we both knew it was on the table–this helps us make sure we both make space in person to discuss whether or not sex actually happened, before we have sex which requiring detailed reporting of all potential dates or sending of an awkward “I might have sex!” text during a date.

    Here’s what did not happen overall as a dynamic:
    -Nobody yelled or made threats or lashed out. There was no flipping the fuck out, even though a major trust violation did take place.
    -Nobody badgered to degraded themselves or the other (the fact that you refer to yourself as “a whore” in a derogatory, slut-shamey way for having consensual sex within the communicated bounds of your relationship breaks my heart)
    -Nobody decided the other party required 24-hour monitoring. To rebuild trust, trust has to be freely given (even if it’s somewhat restricted or only in small doses at first)
    -Nobody made arbitrary demands that the other person made dramatic behavior changes irrelevant to the subject at hand
    -Nobody tried to control the other person or put restrictions or controls on the other person’s behavior. (You’re not allowed to have friends?!)–the only boundaries were presented as requests to help the other person feel safe. That is, they didn’t tell him what he could or could not do. They told him what I could do and what I could handle, and were offered in a non-pressured way that he could take or leave.

    It is possible to rebuild bridges after a mistake. My partner and I are doing well, trust is well on its way to being fully rebuilt, and we’re having sex and spending more time together again. However, this was because we were both committed to healthy, relationship-building actions that showed love and affirmation for each other (and ourselves), even at the depth of my anger and his mistakes.

    It is not possible to rebuild bridges when one person is being a violent, controlling jerk. You could pour out your entire self into trying to rebuild that bridge, and he will take it all and demand more. You deserve better than that.

  87. unlurking for this fascinating letter. I believe that the LW may be a man? I see no evidence of the LW’s gender in this letter, and wonder at the apparent assumption that the LW is a woman. Is it harder to imagine abuse in same gender relationships? Does it change the picture here in any way? I’m not sure the advice changes, but the LW’s perspective might.

    1. Good point, and abuse happens in same sex relationships, though please remember that I can see real email addresses, names, photos when things come in and that misogynist abuse of women is a thing. It’s not the only thing, but it is this thing.

    2. The groups of people Nathan wants to disallow the LW from spending time with do amount to, basically, “anyone who might be sexually interested in a woman”; I think that’s the main reason commenters are making that assumption.

      1. Yes, that. Basically the only groups LW is allowed to hang out with, according to Nathan, are straight women and gay dudes.

    3. LW, If you decide you want to make some changes to your situation, I wanted to mention some things about logistics. If you’re a student at the school you’re living at, and if you haven’t already, I encourage you to look into whether your school has an abuse or violence counseling centre. My school has a separate centre specially for people in abusive relationships or that have been victims of crimes. They do things like partner with campus police if campus police are relevant, but they also do things like help you move classes or dorms when otherwise it might be against the rules to change roommates or buildings or course sections in the middle of a term, and they have counselors with specific training to support people in abusive relationships.

      You also mentioned therapy which sounds like a great idea. If you aren’t seeing a therapist through your school, you could still try contacting your school’s counseling service if there is one with respect to logistics on campus if something like avoiding another student or alerting people responsible for campus and dorm security about the possibility of another student bothering you becomes important. I know of a case where the locks to an entire building were changed because a student working there was being bothered by a former employee who still had a key.

      A third place to look would be your dorm. There is probably a dean of students or residence life coordinator and some dons or RAs. These people have training in separating students who need to be separated and changing rooms of students whose rooms need to be changed. If you do decide you want to change your living situation but feel like you can’t until next year because it’s not allowed, I strongly suggest talking to these people. They will likely be able to do something to help you.

      You probably already know this, but don’t feel like your situation is not severe enough to ask for help from services like this. You are having a really tough time rn. They are there to help if you want.

  88. I saw up thread that you’ve called a DV hotline and you’re feeling loads better about stuff. Yay! That’s so excellent, and it was so brave of you to call and to write in here.

    Whatever happens next, I think you should practice some self care, because like I said, this was a big deal, and you could use a pick me up. I’m gonna suggest this either be something you do alone or with a close friend – mainly just not Nathan. Go see a movie (I hear Book of Life is really good!), watch your favorite TV show, get a mani-pedi, eat some leftover Halloween candy, reread your favorite book…. Something uncomplicated that will put a smile on your face.

    And in addition to the ‘treat yourself’ brand of self-care I just described, be sure to practice ‘regular/maintenance’ self care like getting enough sleep, not overworking yourself, going for a walk, eating good foods, etc. As I said, whatever happens next, there will be some tough days ahead, and you should do your best to take care of yourself.

    Everyone here is pulling for you, LW. You can do this.

    1. Just to clarify, the commenter talking about calling a DV hotline was not the LW. They thanked the LW in their comment.

  89. I’ve been in a relationship like this. What started me on the way out was archive-binging on Captain Awkward and getting the mantra “Wanting to leave is enough” echoing in my mind. It took months to really sink in. Wanting to leave is enough. I could always think of reasons why, even though I’d be horrified if I saw a friend with a partner who behaved like mine, my situation was just different and I had to cope, had to stay. Maybe you can think of reasons like this, too. But those “reasons” don’t matter. If you want to leave, that’s all the reason you need.

  90. There are so many supportive, compassionate, well-informed replies. Please listen to them. Please be kind to yourself.

    All I wanted to say is, unless you’re in a very well-defined and well-negotiated power-exchange relationship*, there is no such thing as one partner telling the other what they are ALLOWED. Not allowed to communicate with over 50 % of the population? Saying something like that does not make sense and is not part of the “communicate and negotiate”-mindset you need, in all relationships, but even more in a working poly relationship. So, my conclusion? 1) He’s doing it wrong 2) Your first responsibility is to yourself

    *Even when it comes to power-exchange you should be able to renegotiate things you’re uncomfortable with

  91. LW, you do not deserve this. You deserve better. You have literally *hundreds* of people supporting you right now, even if only in spirit.

    In case you are worried that you misrepresented yourself or Nathan in your letter, and that we wouldn’t be responding this way if you had included other details or phrased things differently, please know that nothing you could have said in your letter would make this okay. No version of this story could make you deserve the way you are being treated.

    I hope you stay safe.

  92. Oh sweetie–I just wish I could offer you a spot on my couch with a blanket and hot chocolate and a stuffed animal and your favorite thing to watch on Netflix. You are hurting so much, and it breaks my heart to read it.

    You may have a hard time reading all these comments, seeing so many of us calling Nathan’s behavior abusive. And it’s okay if you shy away from the label “abuse.” But please, please remember, that just being unhappy in a relationship is reason enough to end it. I’m sure you love Nathan, and I’m sure you believe that he loves you. But you are crying every day, literally physically punishing yourself, calling yourself names that you’d never, ever, ever call anyone else. You are hurting and miserable. And it is perfectly fine, reasonable, and yes, decent, to break up with someone when you are not happy with them. Even if you love them. Even if they love you. Because, despite what movies and books and songs say, love actually isn’t enough. You deserve safety and trust and respect.

    Please believe all of us when we say that you deserve to be safe, that you deserve to be happy in your relationships, that you deserve to be cherished.

  93. Let’s also not lose sight of the fact that she was in a polyamorous relationship in which Nathan had permission and she did not? Hello RED FLAG! She doesn’t say he acted on this permission but the inference to my ears is that they had a discussion in which he elicited the ‘permission’ to cheat on her using polyamory to legitimize that desire whilst at the same time carefully avoiding giving her the same verbalized permission. BEES. RED FLAG. GET OUT NOW!!!

  94. LW, my heart goes out to you on this message. Everyone has said so many wonderful and true things and I dearly, dearly hope you’re able to find a good solution to this situation as soon as you can. I just want to also add that wanting to do sex things with people you really like is a wonderful thing and I hope you can come to feel like you haven’t done anything wrong there. You thought you were acting within the bounds of your relationship, and the fact you are so upset about it goes to show you have a really kind heart on those things and never wanted to hurt anyone. In fact, it is you who has been hurt and somehow it just sat with me strongly that now you are calling yourself things like “whore” when all you did was act lovingly to a human being in a way that you thought was agreed to be fine in your relationship. (And by the way, even if you had acted outside of your relationship rules, the way your partner is treating you is not how anyone should be treated.)

    I hope you can cut this poisonous person out of your life and go on to live happily without the fear of unseen rules. Sending you all the best wishes I have.

  95. I know there are a ton of comments at this point, but I wanted to chime in. I have been in your shoes. I was with a guy for about 2 years who physically abused me but only when his blood sugar was dangerously low. (He was a type 1 diabetic.) That was always his excuse and the line I heard the most after an “episode” (as I called them at the time) was, “This was the wake-up call I needed!” I always corrected people who would tell me he was physically abusive by saying, “He can’t help it! His sugar goes low and he doesn’t know what he’s doing!” Then a friend said to me, “Would you be saying the same thing if he was an alcoholic and only came after you when he was drunk?” And that’s when I realized my way of thinking about the relationship was unhealthy.

    In any case, when you find yourself rationalizing and making excuses for someone else’s bad behavior, that’s a good red flag. Just know you are stronger than you think you are. I’ve learned through the years that you never know your own strength until it’s truly tested by something like this. Get out of the relationship as safely and quickly as you can. And know there are a TON of people out there rooting for you. Much love to you. Be gentle with yourself.

  96. Chiming in to add my story:

    LW, I think maybe you are me from 6 or 7 years ago. Or maybe I am you from the future. I had many similar rules, put in place theoretically so I could prove how much I loved “Nathan” by obeying him. But in reality, the rules were designed to be impossible to follow.

    Never talk to any hetero or bi men? Never talk to any lesbian or bi women? How are you going to participate in class? Study groups? Is he going to be watching you at your work/study job at the campus coffee shop to make sure you don’t have more than .5 seconds of eye contact with any suspicious people, because that’s what my “Nathan” would have done.

    The rules are designed to punish you once, right now, when you’re expending an absurd amount of energy trying to figure out how to follow them. And then he’ll have an excuse to punish you again when you can’t follow them, because you can’t, you really can’t possibly follow all of these rules.

    I hope you get to a safe space soon. The future is awesome, by the way.

  97. LW, I’ve been the poly person who did not clearly communicate a boundary I wanted (because I thought it was *obvious*).

    Of course, my partner did not read my mind, and when he told me about the thing, I had to go “hm… I guess I never said this, but I’m not actually OK with you doing that thing.”
    I was unhappy and felt hurt, but those were MY feelings do deal with, not my partner’s, because I had not actually used my words to say “Can we agree to not do this thing with other people.”
    We talked about it, and agreed to the boundary with actual words.

    I did not forbid him from seeing the person he had crossed that boundary with (totally not her fault whatsoever), or any other potential partners for that matter. I did not demand that he change other everyday behaviors and as a partner whom I trusted, I did not feel the need to remind him about his one time breaking that boundary and he was terrible and how could I trust him ever again?!?!

    Nathan is not someone you can trust to be in a relationship with you in good faith.
    He is proving that not only by flipping out and demanding to control who you interact with, but by letting you come up with ways to “prove” to him that you can be devoted to a thing.

    Jedi hugs and strength!

  98. I had a boyfriend like Nathan once. He punched walls and was mysteriously violently threatening but “I would never hurt you!” and then one day he kicked our dog. The dog he really seemed to love even more than me. The very next day, I packed up all my stuff AND THE DOG and left. Forever. Because if he was able to kick that sweet dog he loved, he was totally able to hit me, too. And I knew I’d be next.

    LW. Please, please, please. Leave. Forever. Because he is totally able to hit you. And he will.

  99. Joining in to say that even if you HAD cheated (which you absolutely didn’t), Nathan’s options would have been communicating his needs and deciding if he wanted to move forward, or ending the relationship. Making you feel terrible, telling you that you’re terrible, threatening you (punching a wall is a THREAT, make no mistake about it), and attempting to control your interactions with others are never viable options in a healthy relationship.

    I did want to gently touch on something else. Peter’s reaction to learning you were polyamorous and ‘innocently’ wanting to take things further reads as a red flag to me in and of itself. Assuming that a polyamorous friend will want to have sex or do anything with you specifically is not a totally acceptable, natural train of thought. It sounds more like he made a bunch of assumptions and may possibly have pressured you with them. The line about ‘watching movies’ being a code for making- a code that everyone but you didn’t know-also implies pressure and maybe some gaslighting. Sometimes watching movies really does just mean watching movies, and I’m concerned he may have said something like “come on, you should have known I really wanted to make out, everyone knows watching movies is just an excuse.”

    Just remember that you being polyamorous isn’t an excuse for ANYONE to make assumptions about what you’re comfortable with or willing to do. That includes Nathan AND Peter. If you feel pushed to give someone a blowjob because they made you feel like you lead them on, then that person doesn’t deserve even your friendship. It seems like you have a lot of people in your life who are making decisions and assumptions on their own and then trying to make you feel guilty for those assumptions, LW, and you’ll be vastly better off without them around you.

  100. Dear LW, I’ve followed this site for a while now, lurked but never posted but I feel I really have to here, because your letter broke my heart. I have been exactly where you are, LW. I was in a relationship with someone where I could do no right, where I was always walking on eggshells, because I too had ‘broken his trust’. I had to be immediately reachable, if he text me, I had to text back straightaway, or have a good reason for not doing so (whether the reason was good or not depended not on logic, but on him deciding whether it was a good enough reason). He stopped me from getting help for my stress-induced illness, saying he didn’t trust therapists and they would turn me against him. He would later threaten to have me committed. I absolutely wasn’t allowed male friends, or even to talk to men at all, in case they somehow tricked me into cheating on him. And because his family had been wrecked by cheating, it was ok for him to be extra defensive about this. When he got angry he would destroy objects, throw things around. I learnt to let my body go limp like a rag doll in these times and sit extra still, just in case.

    The thing is LW, in a good, healthy, loving relationship, that behaviour is never, ever OK, regardless of any ‘mistakes’ the other person has made (and for the record, as everyone has said, you have done nothing wrong here. At all.) It is never, ever OK for anyone to tell you who you can and can’t see or talk to. It also isn’t ever OK for someone to monitor your movements. Nathan is not a good person for you to be with right now. Maybe he doesn’t understand that his behaviour is not right, but everyone here understands it and I think you do too, deep down. But I get that it’s hard, it’s hard to reconcile this person who supposedly loves you and cares for you to do bad things to you. I couldn’t do it for a very long time. Please know that none of this is your fault. Nathan has been a master manipulator and re-framed everything you do into ‘things that are wrong’. Notice that he is never wrong. Good relationships aren’t based on one-upping the other person.

    I am so so glad you have found this site and written in, because it is a treasure trove of important information and help. Keep reading the letters, the replies, the resources. It took me a long, long time to realise I was not to blame (you are completely, 100% blameless LW!). But the more I read, the more I realised ‘this is not what a good relationship looks like’. The more it became clearer to me. And I hope the same happens for you, LW. You have so much support here. You deserve much more than Nathan. You are a beautiful person, one who cares so much that you’re bending yourself out of shape to try and make others happy. Please make plans to leave Nathan. Things will look brighter, be better. I hope you can disentangle yourself from this situation, safely and soon.

  101. LW, so many folks have said such good things here that I only feel like I can add this. My husband? 6’5″, 250 lbs., voice like a bass drum. I have never, not once, even for a microsecond, not in 16 years of marriage, found him intimidating. I have never ever even once been afraid of him. I have never said “he wouldn’t hit me” for the same reason I have never said “the sky is above me.” There are people out there who are not scary, intimidating, and will never do this crap to you.

    You deserve better, LW.

  102. Hi, LW here. I just wanted to thank all of you for your support.
    It was hard but also good to read of these comments and I have created a folder with all the lovely links left me.
    I have my therapy intake-session on November 5th, and am also planning on visiting our Relationship and Sexual Violence Prevention center on campus.
    I have borrowed a blanket and pillow from a friend in case I feel the need to sleep in my own (mostly-barren and right down the hall from Nathan’s) room.
    Right now, I am of the mind to wait until he graduates (in May) and possibly goes to grad school several states away. I understand that this is hardly the speed you all have encouraged, but I’m doing my best!
    I may send in a follow-up email once things are a little more solidly better.

    -The Lovely Girl Formerly Known As Unethical Slut

    1. Thanks for checking in! You do whatever you need, at whatever speed you want to go. I hope therapy is great for you, and someday that room of your own won’t feel barren, it will feel like power. ♡

      I’m closing the thread now – there is plenty to absorb here. Be well.

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