I started dating a new beau, and it’s going pretty great. It’s the most adult relationship of my life. We communicate well, and he’s incredibly kind, open, attentive, and supportive.
A couple of days in, we discovered that he’d previously dated a friend of mine, Carmen.* I asked him how things had gone between them. He freely shared that they’d been part of a poly triad which had been his first foray into non-monogamy, and he’d made some mistakes that he regretted and had since learned from. After some conflict and recurring jealousies, he’d broke things off to focus on the other partners he’d believed were a better fit at the time. They hadn’t spoken since, but he wished they could make amends. That was four or five years ago.
When I sent Carmen a courtesy text to let her know about my new relationship, she lost it, declaring “That’s my emotionally abusive ex!” My heart sank. As a volunteer victim’s advocate, I’m conditioned to believe people when they disclose abuse. But as she went on to share details intended to warn me away from him, none of it was as damning as she seemed to think. In fact, it sounded, just exactly as he’d described, like messy poly bullshit and nothing that, as far as I could tell, came even close to the definition of abuse unless it’s been recklessly expanded to include anything that upsets you. And yet her zeal painted him as an irredeemable monster who deserved nothing short of outer darkness. She also made clear that she would have difficulty trusting anyone close to him, effectively placing an ultimatum on our friendship.
So, about this friendship... We’re both WOC which has been a big solidarity bond since there are precious few in our community. We don’t hang out, but we do participate in many of the same online groups, and we occasionally DM each other to vent about our social circle’s caucasity. We have very different temperaments, but our only disagreements up until this point have been limited to divergent opinions about Beyonce’s wokeness, and thus there’s never been any strife between us. By and large, we’ve been allies, but even though we’re usually on the same side of an argument, I’ve also noted she has a lamentable tendency toward splitting. There is never grey area for her, no compromise, just her way or the highway. She’s basically on the vanguard of cancel culture. Agree with her take on this highly divisive and/or nuanced issue or she’ll unfriend, if not block you. It is because of these qualities that I have, to some extent, kept her somewhat at arm’s length.
When I spoke to my beau about Carmen’s allegations, he was defensive at first but quickly softened when he saw how conflicted I felt. He was willing to resolve things with her, for my sense of harmony more than anything else, but she had left no room for that. She had no desire to see or speak to him, and the only message she’d authorized me to pass on to him included the wish that he die in a fire. The only resolution he had left to make was with himself and with me, and despite my initial assessment of Carmen’s allegations, I had to allow for the possibility that there might be some truth in what she said. To his credit, he understood my doubts and took them in stride, knowing that we’d have to build trust over time. And though he wanted to be with me, he’d also respect my decision to end things if that’s the choice I felt I needed to make.
After all this, I let Carmen know that it was all a lot to process and that I had a lot of priorities on my plate at the moment, but I was taking it seriously and would get back to her as soon as I had time to give her my proper attention. 48 hours later, I received a text from her saying, “So I assume you decided to continue dating him?” Everything about this rubbed me the wrong way. The assumption. The impatience. The demand on my time. I tactfully told her as much, that I wasn’t avoiding the issue, just very busy, and that her approach was triggering my anxiety, that I couldn’t understand why she wasn’t satisfied to just caution me and wish me better luck than she’d had. She responded that this was about her, how I had triggered and retraumatized her, and how I dare criticize any expression of that. She urgently needed to know whether I intended to date him because if so, I could not be trusted. She asserted that she had mentioned him to me before, so I must have known who he was from the beginning. She said I was an enabler. She seemed convinced that he was dating me to regain access to her social circle, or that he’d sidestep her block settings and stalk her social media on my (ahem, password protected) laptop or phone, or that he’d warp my mind against her. I expressed that I felt I’d earned the benefit of a doubt and established myself as someone who wouldn’t violate her trust or be so easily susceptible to manipulation, and that I was hurt at any implication otherwise. But somehow any attempt to allay her concerns was interpreted as my “centering myself over the victim” or “defending her abuser.” She instructed me to unfriend her until I had terminated the relationship and never to mention him unless it was to say that we’d broken up. It was as if she’d brought all her worst traits to the fore - she was controlling, self-absorbed, irrational, grandiose, inflexible, deflecting, and unable to admit fault. Most saliently, it felt a lot like she was far more invested in punishing her ex by depriving him of a potential love match than she was in protecting her friend from a potential abuser.
I was both troubled and annoyed by all of this. I couldn’t see how I owed her answers about my private life, or even how my dating choices impacted her. All our shared online spaces are protected by privacy rules. Outside of those, we almost never interact or attend the same events. I hadn’t seen her in a year and a half. And my beau seemed to care a lot more about just clearing the air than he did about reconnecting, let alone internet stalking. I also felt that even if they were any truth in her assessment of who he was then, enough time had passed, and he was engaged in proactive strides toward self-improvement through therapy, medication, and self-education, and so, if he had changed, I deserved the opportunity to judge for myself. But she wouldn’t let up. About a week later, she texted again to ask if I were still dating “her abuser.”
Frustrated, I reached out to Jane, also a victim’s advocate as well as a mutual friend of all involved, in the hope that she might provide some perspective and guidance. Before I could even tell my story, at the mere mention of Carmen’s name, Jane promptly shared that Carmen had once dated her longterm partner Eric, that they’d (also) broken up over Carmen’s jealousy issues, that Carmen had (also) speciously accused Eric of emotional abuse, and had (also) refused to remain on speaking terms with Jane while her relationship with Eric continued. Comparing notes, Jane and I did our math and came up with four or five different exes who Carmen has accused of abuse. This, apparently, is just what she does and who she is.
At this point, I’m less invested in the hope of preserving our friendship than I am in maintaining harmony in our social circle. We share an expansive but interconnected group of friends and acquaintances. She’s already had my beau blacklisted from one of our community events. Despite her faults, she retains a lot of social influence, and her reaction to this has caught me so off guard that I really don’t know what she’s capable of. For this reason and also because, despite everything, I still care about and respect her, I would like to come up with a final response for her that acknowledges her feelings while still firmly sets my own boundaries, all without awaking the hornet’s nest.
Any advice? Halp!
*all names changed
Thank you all for weighing in.
I finally sent her a DM saying that I appreciate her sharing with me, that I’ve heard her concerns but need to be able to judge people for myself, that I hope she can be reassured that all our interaction is limited to online spaces with privacy rules and thus any impact on her is likely to be only self-fulfilled, and lastly that I hope she can make peace with my decision and find some healing.
I woke up the next day to find that she had blocked me entirely. And so I am completely unable to respond to her reply in which she writes back that she had been content to just ease back on our interaction but that after reading my “abuser enabling bullshit,” I’ve confirmed myself as an unsafe person who “prioritizes dick over the safety and sanity of those I call ‘friends.’” She says that I’m no friend of hers, that I don’t respect her trauma, that I’m gaslighting her, and that if our paths do ever cross, I shouldn’t bother to say hello.
She falsely accuses me of continuously defending an ex of mine, a veritable social pariah who’s been accused of consent violations and of using his leadership to protect other accused abusers, despite my having vocally supported efforts to remove him from positions of community leadership and pouring a metric fuckton of emotional labor into trying to get him to take accountability.
She also now claims that my new beau was abusive to his last four girlfriends. He has only ever had four girlfriends as an adult. He was in a stable monogamous relationship with one of these women for 18 years. They’re on still good terms. I’ve met another, the third party of the aforementioned former poly triad. They stayed together as a couple for another year after he and Carmen broke up, and from the looks of things, are still pretty chummy. He was very forthright in telling me about his most recent ex who has a diagnosis of borderline personality comorbid with narcissistic personality and with whom he broke up last year. She accused abuse and filed a restraining order against him for stalking but was seen by witnesses pacing his block. She also, I later learned, made over $1K in fraudulent charges to his credit cards and started sending greeting cards to his mother. And then there’s Carmen.
Carmen capped things off by posting her own skewed summary of events to her personal feed (in which blessedly and/or shrewdly doesn’t name me), and as a final grace note, added a vaguebook flounce in the online QWOC group that I created and moderate, announcing that she was leaving the group after having blocked me for her own personal safety, prompting at least one other person to leave the group as well. I texted Jane about it, who declares this move “very on-brand” for Carmen, and offers her sympathies.
I know from our previous conversations that Carmen chooses to block people in order “to punish them by depriving them of access” to her. Carmen knows from these same conversations that I block people only out of concern for my personal safety and boundaries and consider this the only rational cause to do so. It would appear that she may be co-opting my own language and weaponizing it against me.
It’s just such a mess. Her force and conviction make me doubt myself and my choices, but then she says verifiably false things that represent such a gross distortion of the truth that it casts everything she says into doubt. But then I wonder about the real abuse she might have suffered to make her see the world this way, and then I feel like maybe I am being a shittier friend than I would’ve wanted her to be to me in the situation. But then I feel like she tied my hands with a lot her own choices and that even communicating with her was a nerve-wracking minefield that in itself is a red flag of an abuser. And I then I understand that anything decision other my complete obedience to her will and judgment would have provoked this outcome.
TLDR: Everything sucks. This is all so ugly, my stomach is in knots, and I don’t understand why it had to be like this. I feel bad for her, and I want absolutely nothing to do with her.
I regret having reached out to her in the first place since. He and I could’ve dated for a few months or a year or two and she probably would’ve never been the wiser. At the moment, he’s out of town and off the grid until next week, so I can’t even talk to him about it. Please say comforting things now!