Nikki's Story - Chapter 2: The Agreement
“We didn’t really have any discussion about rules and boundaries, I think we presumed we’d deal with that as it came up. Ben went on a date with this lass and her partner, cos he’s also a swinger. So, I found it very struggling for him to meet with this girl and her partner and then have sex that night and then come home the next day and have breakfast together and we talked about it. I said this is moving way too fast, can we slow down?”
One prevailing theme across all of the people I interviewed about emotional abuse in polyamory was the lack of a clear agreement and boundaries in their relationships. A discussion about what polyamory means to the people involved and the details of “how” they are going to manage this is central to managing expectations and clarity for future conflict. In the example provided above, Ben presumed casual sex came under their agreement to be polyamorous, but Nikki didn’t. In this case, they were able to come together and create a shared understanding about this difference in expectations, but unfortunately that was short-lived.
“That’s when his interest switched to Petra, my best friend. I had a rule - I don’t want you to sleep with my mom or a best friend - he agreed to this… then we all ended up starting to (kinky) play together as a group and then they started going to events and then they had a specific dynamic and I felt uncomfortable as he sectioned that off for him only.”
Ben agreed to not sleep with a best friend but ended up engaging in (BDSM) playing with Petra. Nikki was agreeable to this, as her rule (no sex) had been maintained. She also wanted to engage with Petra on this level, which did happen.
But then we see an unnamed, insidious escalation in Ben and Petra’s relationship. They began attending events together, and then engaged in an exclusive type of dynamic and BDSM play, limiting Nikki’s ability to join in. She says of the situation “The rules started falling apart… I was told that this was for her (Petra) only.” This could be an example of what is called “creeping consent” in some polyamorous communities.
Creeping consent usually refers to a rule violation, escalation or change in boundaries, relationship status that occurs over a period of time without regular checking-in. It involves presumed consent from the party - that because they agreed to an earlier aspect (BDSM play is permitted with Petra when I am present), then the consent also applies to an escalation or other form of that (BDSM play that does not involve me and trips to events excluding me are permitted). Nikki’s discomfort and lack of agency in the change that occurred between her, Ben and Petra resulted in her being unable to engage in the five pillars of consent - this dynamic wasn’t as a result of freely given, reversible, enthusiastic or due to a specific agreement.
I personally despise the term “creeping consent” as it feels akin to “non-consensual sex” for me.
The insidious and vague nature of this type of escalation resulted in Nikki being unaware it was happening until it was established. At which point she was told it was too late to try to create boundaries, or express concern about it.
“I was told and if I ever brought it up it didn’t matter. We agreed we’d be poly. As dates, events, non-sex play with Petra came up I was just told it would be a temporary uncomfortability and I would get through it. We agreed we’d keep doing it until we see how it feels. But at that time it would have happened so many times it’d be like “well that’s how me and her are now, we can’t go back.”
Here we see the beginning of some gaslighting and invalidating behaviour from Ben towards Nikki. As she raises concerns, she is brushed off. That her consent to be poly means she consented to this. She is also invalidated by being told her feelings will change, or as she puts it:
“Let’s continue your discomfort and I would agree and think yeah maybe next time I won’t feel this way I’ll get used to it because I’m just adjusting. And then it’d get worse because I couldn’t put a brake on it. I couldn’t stop things because I’d be interrupting their relationship, basically I was told back off and back out. I can’t control them.”
This may also be the initial signs of Ben isolating Nikki from her supports. A trio dynamic has been broken up without discussion. By doing so, Ben and Petra have isolated Nikki from both of them. Nikki has now lost a best friend to confide in about her relationship and also carries the weight of possibly spoiling Ben and Petra’s new relationship energy by voicing concerns about Ben’s behaviour at this point. She risks losing both her partner and her best friend.
Sadly for Nikki, this inconsiderate behaviour between Ben and Petra escalated to an absolutely clear violation of her rule:
“They slept together and told me about it. I wasn’t allowed to be upset about it or bring it up. Because I was using it against them and their relationship and withholding their relationship by putting in rules and stuff.”
“We decided to live all together which was fucking stupid but we’d agreed it like 8 months beforehand.” Ben had moved into the apartment with Nikki and her best friend. He had his own room (small single room) but mostly slept in either of their beds.
At this point Ben approached Nikki and told her that he wanted to have unprotected sex with her best friend. “I struggled with that, I was going through a lot at the time so he stopped asking.”
“Every month I would ask him and get upset. I’d know something was wrong and I would ask “are you having protected sex with my best friend?” and he would say yes. This went on for 4-5 months. During these months and living together, the emotional abuse from Ben intensified and further rules of Nikki’s were broken.