You Can Be Both Abused and Complicit in Abuse: A True Story

“Just living is not enough,” said the butterfly, “one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
– Hans Christian Anderson

TW: this post is about abuse

One late afternoon in spring of 2015, I went to meet my then-metamour in a coffee shop. Talking to her was a last resort in a tangled, confusing mess of a situation that I couldn’t find my way out of. Our shared partner had become increasingly unstable, volatile, and verbally and emotionally violent towards me, and I had simply no idea what to do.

She called me her sister, and in some ways we were closer than close. We shared not just a partner but a coven, a plan for our little polycule’s future, and sometimes even a bed.

In other ways, though, there was always a wall between us that we could not scale. That wall was made of a lot of things. Of the fact that we both knew that, if push came to shove, he would choose her. I simply did not compare, as I was told frequently. Of the fact that I was a kind of human shield to her, someone who took the worst of his heat and terrifying temper away from her. Of the fact that I was afraid of her, because I knew she too could yell me into submission if I did anything she didn’t like.

Still, I turned to her because I thought she might be the one person who could get through to him. I’d seen how, sometimes, she was the only person in the world he’d listen to. So we sat across from each other, at a quiet corner table, and I quietly told her, in as few words as possible, that I’d realised I was in an abusive relationship with her husband.

I’ve never forgotten, and I doubt I ever will, the icy chill that ran through my body when she met my eyes, sipped her coffee, and asked calmly, “am I supposed to be surprised?”

That might have been the moment that I realised I was on my own. She was the final ace I had to play, the one person I thought might actually be able to help me. Instead, she told me that she’d known for years that he was abusive. She’d learned to live within it, she said, so I should too. I should be stronger, be better, be more loving. Remember everything he’d been through, his painful childhood and his fucked up family and all those girls who rejected him.

I didn’t have to be another source of pain for him. I didn’t have to be another brick in his wall of hatred and distrust of the entire world, especially women. Instead, I could help heal him. I could be one of the good ones. All I had to do was be quiet, be good, be better. Swallow my needs and my feelings and just smilingly let him be what he was.

That day, that conversation, was one more little step in my journey towards the inevitable end resolution of I cannot do this any more. Less than a week later, I left. Even as she counselled me to stay, what she inadvertently did was give me another of the series of little pushes I need to leave. Because I realised I had two choices: live within the system he’d built for me, or get out of it. It was never going to change.

No longer satisfied with just surviving day after day, I decided to get out.

Even after I’d left him, she struggled to retain access to me and piled on the pressure for me to stay. “How could you do this to us?” she asked me, even as we held each other and cried in her living room. “How could you choose someone else after all this time?”

What I wanted to say, and didn’t, was that it wasn’t about choosing someone else. It was about choosing sunlight and freedom and flowers over an oppressive cave where I could barely breathe and there were rocks just waiting to fall on my head. I didn’t say any of it. I just told her I was sorry, got out of that house as quickly as possible, and didn’t look back.

What I realise now is that she – my metamour, my friend, my sister – was both complicit and a victim. I do not doubt that he behaved abusively towards her, probably for most of their two plus decades together. I also see now that she behaved abusively towards me. She directly enabled him, counselled me with variations of if you could just be better he wouldn’t hurt you countless times, and did her fair share of yelling and threatening and intimidating me herself.

In the classic, endless, fucked up circle, the abused became the abuser. There’s a part of me that left because I didn’t want to end up an abuser, too. I do not forgive her, but I also hope that she will get away from him someday. I still feel guilty sometimes because I couldn’t save her. In the end, all I could do was save myself.

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