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her web of lies: a story of caution, aka putting my past behind me

This is her life.

She no longer has anything but a tightly cordial, transactional relationship with someone she used to claim was the love of her life.  If she has a relationship with her children, they never speak of it in kind terms.  She believes the last decade of her life was a waste- as evidenced by how passionately she tried to replace it with something new in every way. Since her old life was mostly built on false premises and flatteries, she’s probably right.

Oh, she’s kept a few friends from her old life. If you can call them that. She needs human objects to listen to her misery. It appears she still has a few who will absorb her words in exchange for her validating their own problems. She has a new husband. This relationship, too, is based on multiple lies, but, after all, what else does she know?

She’s stopped the big lies, for the most part. She still clings to the biggest lies that nobody but herself believes anymore– but as the little one tells me, “She can’t let go of anything.” Mostly she offers small, inconsquential lies that appear to have no benefit to herself, but do cause minor annoyances to those around her. It’s probably not just to annoy people, though. She probably doesn’t notice she’s doing it.

Why does she do this, you might wonder?

She is desperate to keep herself safe. To me, she is trapped in her own, pretty web. To me, the spider has long since moved on. But she’s still there. Just sitting there. Nobody will hurt her while she’s in her safe space- though she’s convinced the spider is a real and immediate threat to her- but there’s not much else. She fights the ghost of something that never existed. Still. Her life is isn’t bad. It’s hardly over. She reminds me of the Garden State movie.

Of course, what do I know? Maybe her life is more alive than I think. Beautiful, fulfilling, active. I thought she was happy one time. “She wasn’t happy,” little one tells me. “She looked like she was happy,” I say. “She was pretending. She’s good at pretending.” I hope we are both wrong, but I can’t grasp a single point of surety to convince me otherwise.

This is your life.

“I’m not cheating,” you say. “This is different,” you insist. You’ve read stories about cheating spouses with secret families. But you aren’t like that. You have an arrangment where you’re allowed to date other people and do whatever you want, you just “don’t want the details.” Fair.

“It’s not a big deal,” I’ve heard it said.  “DADT is someone’s choice.”  And it’s true. Everyone should have the ability to make that choice for themselves. Do they share a very little bit? Everything? Something in between? Everyone, it is true, deserves their right to privacy. To their own level of comfort. I would never argue against that.

But I wonder at the choice some make.

DADT is not the same as privacy. Privacy is a right and sometimes a luxury. DADT is a choice. It’s a choice that means you never know if your partner is telling you the truth.  Are they at the convenience store?  Or did they go to a lover’s home, spend an hour with her?  Did she give your partner a plastic bag as he left with some shampoo and razors to safeguard the deception?  Will he show up one day, so it’s over, say he loves her and he’s moving in with her and he hopes you’ll understand?  It won’t happen to you, you say. I know you mean it. My partner never thought it would happen to him, either. Never thought she would change and move on.

Put yourself in the girlfriend’s shoes. Would you still be okay with it? Your boyfriend tells you that his wife says it’s okay, they have an arrangement, you just can’t ever talk to her or openly be affectionate with him in front of her (yes, sometimes the secret girlfriend is brought around the wife as a “friend”). You’re totally cool with this, right? You’ve never heard that story before, right? He said it wasn’t cheating, no cheating husband ever used that line. That would be lying!

You’re supposed to change.

Supposed to grow. Whether or not you believe in it, people change. Your partner will change. Who do you want him to tell about his new desires, fears, and self discoveries?

I know you think you’ll still talk. And you will. You might not even notice what you’re missing out on, and it may not be much. Heck, you might not have anything to worry about– which is great.

But then I think about her. I don’t know that she knows about her daughter’s first jump off the diving board. Her daughter gets in trouble if she shares any stories that don’t involve her mother. Of course, it’s stupid, really, such a small thing. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’m projecting my own feelings on her, thinking of what kind of relationship I have- and want- with my mother. But I think it would be nice if they could talk about it. Swimming is such a huge part of this little girl’s life. And she won’t be little forever.

I don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong, but I know what makes me feel uneasy.

I make stupid jokes on forums. “I don’t want the first time I talk to [your partner] for it to be, ‘Hey, I’m your boyfriend’s fiancée, maybe we should get some ice cream and get to know each other? Oh, you thought he would propose to you first? Well, you see we thought we should get married before the baby is born………………….Anyway, do you like mint chocolate chip? I was going to pick up some ice cream from the store. I think I might be going through a tunnel. Gotta run!”

Okay, so that’s probably not going to happen. Life isn’t a movie script. Like you say, it’s no big deal. Your partner isn’t going to fall in love and have a secret life. You just don’t want the details. And that’s lovely, truly.

But, you see, life doesn’t have to be dramatic to be devastating.

It’s the little things that build a relationship. The little pet names that you thought only you and he shared. The silly songs in public that you thought were just for the two of you.

It’s the little lies that erode the relationship. “Oh, I’m just picking up a few items from the convenience store.” “I’m working late tonight.” “I need to swing by my mother’s house to change the outdoor bulbs.” “I love you, sweetie.”

People will tell you a relationship dies on a single lie.  That, in itself, is a lie.  I’ve gotten over plenty of lies before.  I would venture to say almost everyone has— but at a certain point THAT lie DOES destroy everything.    

It isn’t just one lie. 

It’s THAT lie, after a million others that happened, but you didn’t catch them.  No, it’s never one lie.  It’s the whole, goddamn environment that is BASED on lies.  Because where do you even go from there?  When you can’t trust a single word they utter?  You stop believing even the truth.

When they say they care about you.  When they say they love you.  They show it, yes, they nurture your love languages.  Words of affection were never yours (and God help your relationship if they WERE!), but every time he buys you a present, he peppers it with the words, “I got this because I was thinking of you.”  But he doesn’t pick QUITE the right gift, so you wonder,

Was he thinking of me?  Or of someone else?  She massages your shoulders at the end of a hard day, but she also whispers to you, “I love you,” as her fingers expertly manipulate…your muscles.  Yes, your muscles.  It’s like if every moment becomes ever so slightly tainted, at best, and absolutely ruined at worst.

It’s the lies that lead to stress, anger, and fights.

It’s getting mad at finding a condom in your partner’s suitcase, because they aren’t supposed to be sleeping with anybody else– so maybe next time the partner just doesn’t use them, because then there’s no risk of getting caught and there’s no fight.

Perhaps you believe you can control it. Maybe you’re even right. I hope so. That you can navigate that delicate balance between what they can tell you and what they can’t. Perhaps it works for you.

…but my very smart, competent, professional metamour thought the same thing. So you never know…

I might be living a DADT right now, unwittingly. 

I don’t interrogate and tail all my partners. Perhaps they pretend to go visit their sister, when really they are seeing me. They don’t have to lie to me, but that doesn’t mean they won’t.

I can only hope for, and ask for, them to not deceive me, lie to me outright, tell me they are at a convenience store when they are with another partner.  Not even under the guise of “polyamory.” I can only hope that I haven’t met their partner, because it hasn’t been convenient. Not because I’m not allowed to, or they are not in the open relationship they claim.

But I am cautious.

I allow myself privacy. I don’t have to share all my text messages or sexy pictures with all my partners. I’m always free to post anything I like (so long as I respect the privacy of the individuals in the photo and do not show identifying marks or faces).  I can keep some things entirely to myself.  The right to privacy is a sacred right to me, a Constitutional right I believe in wholeheartedly. My partners have the same right (even if I sometimes get nosy, they can always tell me no.)

I just won’t do a relationship where I have to hide what I have with you (this only applies to the persons directly involved; you don’t have to tell the world, but you do have to tell anyone you are in a romantic relationship with). You ask me to trust you that it’s okay. That you and your partner have a solid relationship that nothing could break. But I know that nothing is unbreakable– and I don’t want any part of helping that happen.

I worry, too, that you might find another partner willing to be your consensual dirty little secret– and they will be more drama seeking than I am.

Do I trust they will be like me, confident, allergic to drama, and open minded? Or are they are the type that think “polyamory” is just another word for cheating and are turned on by the idea that they are pulling the wool over your spouse’s eyes? I’ll give you three guesses– but I’ll give you this clue: I care who my metamours are and I want them to be people I can respect. I also don’t want to find out you are dating another girl because SHE accidentally tells me at a munch (because you are so used to DADT you “forget” to tell me this little detail).

Call me stubborn, if you like. Unmoving. Unsympathetic to your situation. I won’t offer any less, and I won’t accept any less. I’ll compromise and settle all over the place, because I think that’s what mature human beings do when it comes to dealing with other mature human beings. But not when it comes to this.

You don’t have to make the same choices as I do, of course, but I hope you heed my warnings. Because I’ve seen the consequences and they broke my heart.

Dear ex metamour,

This is my promise to myself to remember the cost of what happens when you lie to yourself and to allow myself to let this relationship go, with closure or without, and not let it poison my own life any further.

I wish you the best, but I cannot hurt myself any longer in order to help you. The brief conversation we shared at the end of this year tells me you will never change, never forgive, never let go. I’m not bitter. I’m exhausted. So I need to do it myself.

Thank you for everything you taught me.

Note: I may not like or accept everything that people do– but that is their lives, not mine. Not my business. DADT is different for me. This is my only true dealbreaker and the one thing I will not accept as a “choice,” because the ones it hurts are the ones who have no choice in the matter. The ones who are burdened with the emotional labor you refuse to do. Think before you choose it for yourself. Is the pain others feel worth the peace of mind you think you are creating for yourself?

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how i speak about my past

This is for anyone to use as a template if they have trouble with how people talk to them about their trauma and abuse– and would rather stay silent than deal with second hand trauma from having poor reactions from people who are trying to help, or make it worse.

We speak of victims and abusers as if they are two distinct categories. As if victimhood is a rare experience that we must help the unlucky few overcome. But I’ve found nearly every person I’ve grown close to– and some who just needed someone to listen– has their story.  

The truth is that few of us manage to avoid abuse in our lifetimes.  It wouldn’t hurt if we could learn to speak with each other more effectively about this.  Even better if we could do so in a way that is sensitive to those of us that have already gone through hard times and specific traumas. We need to be heard and supported– and that doesn’t always come naturally. Sometimes we need to learn how to hear someone’s words.

I can’t control how others speak to me.  I can only control how I speak to them, and how I respond.  This has helped me:

I share the good, before the bad or the ugly.

I’m not saying you have to do it my way. But this is how I do it– and that doesn’t mean everything about my life is wonderful. It’s just something I’m not ready to talk to you about.

This is about more than not saying, “Hi, I’m ______, my ex so and so did such and such to me.”  Nobody— or at least nobody I know or have heard of— introduces themselvese along with their trauma.  When a survivor speaks of their abusive past, it’s as much to help others avoid the same as it is to gain some kind of self therapy. It’s not bragging rights.

But it also may not be something I bring up for literally years. This is about me needing to build trust with the person before confiding in them (assuming this isn’t something actively happening to me or an urgent matter).  Because I have no right to a stranger’s belief in what happened to me.  I won’t demand their unwavering faith in me, when they barely know me.  I do ask for politeness and respect.          

But because of that, I’ve had people speak to me like perhaps my past wasn’t real or “that bad,” because I wasn’t forthright about it and I “hid” it.                                                                                  

I don’t appreciate and will not tolerate aggressive questioning, but please talk to me! 

I’m not seeking validation or support (although I cannot say I won’t appreciate it, if you’re so kind as to give me that). When I do finally bring it up, I’m trying to do something nice FOR OTHERS. A warning about what happned to me, so it doesn’t happen to someone else.

I might not give every single detail right away, or on an online comment. That doesn’t mean it’s not real, or I want you to immediately hassle me for every single gritty detail. I’m not going to take the chance on sharing my trauma, just to have YOU, a stranger, further assault me emotionally.

However, I’m okay answering questions and talking about it.  If it’s asked politely. It’s okay to ask questions. All I ask in return is that you are kind and polite.  That you don’t merely question me in order to bully me, but that you listen to my answers. If you don’t, I will check out and I won’t hear anything you say.

Anyone can do this for a person. If it turns out that I’m gaslighting you, well, there’s karma. And I believe karma is real. What comes around, goes around. 

Please remember that sometimes my trauma isn’t all my own, but also- or even mostly- that of those I love.

I am hesitant to share details that may not be mine to share. So I might leave out a lot of details.

I can’t help but feel empathetic, even to someone who has hurt me. Or who has hurt someone else. I get inside their head as part of my process in understanding what has happened. Sometimes this might make me appear sympathetic to the abusers’ side– and sometimes I even am sympathetic!

But that doesn’t mean I’m taking their side, that I forgive them, or anything that might lessen my support towards their victim. It’s my way of protecting myself against accidentally siding with an abuser against a victim (abusers will pretend that they are the true victims to further alienate their victims from getting support). Or maybe that’s just how my brain works. I can’t really help it.

It can be especially hard when I say something against someone you like. Someone well liked in your circle, perhaps.  It might be hard for me to tell you anything, knowing I might well be the one blamed.  So I might stumble a bit as I try to get my words out.  On your part, I know it’s hard to hear how someone who has always been good to you might have harmed someone else.  I am grateful that you are even giving me the chance to explain.

But it’s okay, even if you don’t believe me, so long as you listen, because, you see: 

I don’t expect you to believe me, nor will I ever require that.

This is very important. Please read my words carefully; twice, if need be. Because this might sound like I am not sincere about my claims. “If she’s not telling you so you know what happened, why is she telling you at all? Is this just some stupid story or fantasy to her? Some game she’s playing?”

I promise you, that isn’t it at all. It’s merely that the general expectation, it feels like at least, is that you won’t be believed. It’s taught to us when we’re children. We trust the first therapist we’re brought to– and that person merely sits and looks at us as we brave ourselves to tell the truth. Stumbling through our tears. And then tells us we’re making the whole thing up and tells our parents we need medication. Or the first person we tell about the friend that raped us, and the friend calls us a slut who asked for it.

I probably won’t consider that you might believe me, but I would like to have you listen, anyway. Maybe once you are my friend, I’ll trust you to believe me. But again, that takes time. For now, I just need to get the words out. I don’t need you to attack or verbally abuse the other person, either. Just listen for a moment.

Because what if the person who hurt me, one day hurts someone else you know?

Just maybe, you hear my story again. From someone else. And you wonder if maybe it is true. Or maybe you hear a similar story happen to another person, in another circumstance. And something in you compels you to help that person.  Maybe my story helps you believe another victim.  

Don’t think that you could have been fooled by that guy, he was so nice? Don’t think that girl got drunk and assaulted me? She doesn’t seem the type? Okay.

But when your friend hangs out with that girl who just “can’t hold her liquor, but you can’t judge her for it!”, can you at least warn her of what you -heard- happened to this other girl you knew? Help your friend protect herself?

I’m not sharing to gain your belief. I’m sharing to stop it ever happening again. Because I can’t unmake what happened to me, but I can try to stop it from happening again.

For what it’s worth, another reason that it doesn’t matter if you believe if I’m the sort of person to tell the truth is because I trust myself. I don’t lie about important things. Stay around me long enough and you’ll see the veracity of my words yourself. You won’t need me to say another word. I’m just doing this to help protect you, but if you don’t need my protection, that’s fair.

I want to hear your stories, too.

Sometimes it’s easier to share when we can mutually be vulnerable with each other.  I do hope you share your stories with me, however raw or painful. Let’s share our experiences. The good, the bad, and the ugly.  Life is hard enough, let’s help each other.  

It’s not a competition.  Maybe you went through worse. Or not nearly what I did. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter. I share, because it helps me. I hope it helps others. That’s all. I don’t mind you telling me about your pain. If I want you to listen to my story, I should listen to yours.

This is how I deal with speaking about myself and my past.  

If all of this helps you, great.  If it doesn’t, please let others know how you, personally, would like to be spoken to about your past.

Thanks for listening.