Let’s Talk About Toxic Triads

Greyscale photo of wooden triangles in differing sizes, some with jagged edges, tessellating with one another

Content note: this post is going to refer in detail to emotional abuse, consent violations, threats of self-harm (and irresponsible wielding of a knife) and generally shitty behaviour by an intimate partner. Please feel free to give it a miss if you think that it would be harmful for you to read details on any of those topics, and be sure to join me next week for a post about pride month.

Both of the relationships I’m currently in started out as triads.

In the case of my relationship with my girlfriend, it was a case of our mutual friend overhearing my asking my girlfriend out, and asking if she could be a partner to both of us. Honestly, I was drunk and a bit high, so I don’t remember much of that evening. (That became something of a theme.) We operated as a triad for about five months, then dissolved; after about a month of space, my current girlfriend and I got back together, but decided not to let our mutual ex back into our lives.

In the case of my Daddy and I, we met through somebody (I’ll call her C.) who fancied us both, and was definitely hoping for a triad situation to emerge. She introduced us, there was sex (again, erm, I was wankered), and then added the two of us to a group chat which had a DD/lg-themed name. Y’know, because negotations aren’t a thing you have to do before introducing that kind of dynamic into a relationship (/sarcasm). We were a triad for a few months, then,

In both cases, the third person in each triad – the one I didn’t stay with – behaved abusively. I still have some mutual friends with them both, so I’m incredibly frightened about divulging all of this, but I also started this blog with the intention of speaking truthfully and making other people feel represented and less isolated. I’m sure that the toxic triad isn’t too uncommon, and I’m also sure that there’ll be at least one person out there who feels bolstered and validated by my account of the shit I went through. I’m mostly going to discuss C.’s bullshit behaviour, because it’s more “visibly” abusive, and because I’m slightly less scared of her than I am of the ex my girlfriend and I share.

C. would express intent to harm herself, and then explain that the only thing that could make her feel better was sex.

In writing, that strikes me as patently unacceptable behaviour. My self-esteem is boosted by people thinking I’m fuckable, but 1. I don’t place that responsibility onto their shoulders (or genitals) and 2. I’m aware that it’s a flawed coping mechanism that I shouldn’t indulge. I don’t believe that anybody (least of all an ostensibly consent-conscious member of the kink community) can have so little insight that they would fail to understand that they were manipulating my Daddy and I into doing sex things by holding the threat of self-harm over us.

At the time, though, I never really had room to think this through. My Daddy and I were both interested in keeping her safe in the present, and we could think about the far-reaching implications of this manipulative bullshit later.

She ignored requests to not spend money on me, buying gifts I didn’t really need and then lamenting about how little money she had. I didn’t want to be ungrateful, but I already have a tendency to feel indebted to people, and her highlighting how impoverished she was because she’d bought me expensive chocolates or a corset made me feel yet more guilty and inclined to “make it up to” her somehow. (I ended up lending her about £700, which she didn’t pay back until after the end of the relationship – all whilst making purchases like those listed here.)

She also ignored a non-monogamy-related boundary I set (which was along the lines of, “please stop trying to get it on with this partner of mine because I’m insecure about it at the moment and he and I are still trying to figure shit out,”), and then cried when I explained that her ignoring it had made me feel unsafe around her. A few weeks later, she proceeded to ignore a boundary again, this time telling a crush of mine that I liked him in spite of me explaining I wasn’t going to get involved with anyone new for a while (partly because I felt that all my needs were met, and partly because I was crushingly overwhelmed by her).

This escalated; the resulting fallout involved me engaging in a self-destructive eating disorder behaviour, our Daddy leaving (walking out of his own house, in fact), and, when I went to follow him and check he was safe, C. physically dragging me away from the door. This was followed by her telling him, in our triad group chat, that if he didn’t come back, she would cut herself “to pieces”. Meanwhile, in his kitchen, she was brandishing a steak knife and shouting at me about how it couldn’t be “an empty threat”. My mum, who was receiving updates from me whenever I took my eyes off C., wanted me to call the police. When I suggested to C. that I might need to ring the emergency services because she didn’t seem to be safe (what with the knife and all), she only got more aggressive, and she cut into her thigh once, then tossed the knife onto the counter in frustration. When our Daddy finally returned safely, she yelled at him until he shut down entirely.

I thought I was handling the situation badly and causing her distress, and I hated myself for it. I blamed myself. And I still thought this was a relationship I wanted to maintain.

A day or two later, with the intention of patching things up and helping our triad continue to function, my Daddy wrote a lengthy message in our group chat explaining the emotional abuse he’d faced in past relationships, the ways in which C. had frightened and hurt him, and the reasons he’d walked out when he did. She had responded to it with something along the lines of, “I don’t understand what this means. Are you breaking up with me?”

And that moment, dear readers, is when my patience ran out.

My theory as to the existence of toxic triads is this: abuse victims find each other. Naturally, without intention, we gravitate towards one another. My girlfriend and I were both abused in similar ways by similar people; the same is true of my Daddy and I. We didn’t start out our relationships talking about this, but it made perfect sense once we’d disclosed our troubled pasts.

Abusers like C. find abuse victims and single us out because we’re vulnerable. They smell blood in the water: they can’t not know that we’re likely to assume their abusive behaviour is normal, and submit to it. The allure of two victims is too much to resist. You can pit them against one another, play off their shared and their differing insecurities, and they’re both going to assume that this is what triads are usually like, because their previous abusers have trained them not to question things. Plus, they have the added insurance of both victims being too scared to leave and thus lose each other. I remember thinking more than once, This relationship started as a triad. If I leave C., can my Daddy and I make things work as a pair?

The fatal flaw in this logic, though, is the assumption that we think all abuse is normal. (If that were true, we’d probably behave abusively ourselves.) Abusers don’t realise that we think abuse perpetrated against ourselves is normal, but we recognise that abuse perpetrated against other people is unacceptable. After all, other people are actually people.

This was C.’s downfall, and it was the downfall of the first shitty girlfriend I mentioned, too. I could be yelled at and coerced and even dragged around and taken advantage of while intoxicated, and I would never spot a red flag. But watching a partner have those same things happen to them?

I lost every shred of fondness I had clung onto for C. when she ignored and diminished the heartbreak and trauma that our Daddy had disclosed to her. At that point, I saw red, and I saw all the red flags. She had no intention of changing her behaviour to help my Daddy, our partner, feel safer. She was concerned only with herself.

My breakup message to her was so curt that her fiancé contacted me to tell me it was a dick move. I felt physically sick with anxiety, but my mum (a life coach, an abuse survivor, and somebody who’s known me for twenty solid years) forbade me from explaining myself any further. She said I’d only get sucked back into the whirlpool of gaslighting and manipulation that I’d been battling through for days before deciding to call it off, and in retrospect, I think that she was right – and that C. didn’t need an explanation anyhow. My Daddy and I had tried to explain, and she’d masterfully ignored us both, because she didn’t want to understand (or acknowledge) the harm she was causing.

I pushed myself out of my comfort zone in writing this post. I hope that it helps other people in toxic triads, or people who have left them, feel less alone and more understood. I hope that I’ve made those readers feel that they deserve their safety, and that it’s possible to break up with one member of your toxic triad without losing the other.

I also hope that y’all in the comments will be kind.

To find out more about abusive relationships, visit the Women’s Aid website, contact the National Domestic Violence Helpline, or Google the phrase “abusive relationship” alongside the name of your city to find resources based in your area. Stay safe, and remember that you deserve to be treated well.

Thoughts On Being Groomed (Yes, That Kind)

Content note: This post refers to my experiences of being groomed sexually online by an adult whilst I was a minor, and the knock-on effects those experiences had on my psyche. The hyperlinks included in this post also deal with topics relating to grooming, assault and CSA. Please make the decision that’s best for you with regards to reading this post, and if its content is too heavy or triggering, next week’s update will be a hot Smut Saturdays post that (hopefully) anyone can enjoy.

When I was fifteen, an adult I trusted got me to do Sex Stuff™ on Skype.

I’ve discussed this publicly before, and I did go to the police over it. I’m always unsure which and how many details I’m legally allowed to share about it, especially after police involvement, but what matters to this post is: the whole affair fucked me up.

It fucked me up for the, y’know, predictable reasons: I thought I was mature and that this person really loved me, so when I realised that I was a fifteen-year-old child and that the adult involved saw me as such, I felt betrayed and used. My understanding of boundaries was fucked, as was my understanding of consent – specifically, of the importance of my consent. You know, classic CSA-survivor stuff.

However, it wasn’t just sex stuff. Like, I’m sure, a lot of predators, this person was toying with power exchange in ways I was too young, autistic and naïve to grasp. In this instance, this means that the adult involved introduced kink stuff.

I didn’t know why he wanted me to call him kink honorifics like “Master”, although I thought I did. I had brushed up against power exchange in fanfic, and I thought it was a hot thing you threw out in the moment, akin to a gasped “Harder!”, and then sort of forgot about. And sometimes, terms like “Sir” and “Master” can be that – but I can only intuit that he meant for them to be more significant. He liked me calling him “Master” because he knew that he held power over me that I wasn’t even aware of. I have to guess at these things, because we never had a conversation about any of it.

He was also super interested in butt stuff, and he got me trying that on cam to him without discussing, or even suggesting I research, best practices and risks involved. I trusted him blindly, not considering that tearing could be a Thing, or that I might want to use barriers and lube. I didn’t really consider anything that he instructed me to do, I just did it, hoping that it’d make him proud enough of me that he might actually express some affection once his dick was back in his pants.

I am a person who fucking loves silver linings. It’s not because I’m optimistic, it’s because I’m spiteful and petty and I will wring every last drop of joy and positivity from a sour memory or bad breakup just to spit in the face of whoever hurt me. I keep clothes that exes gave me because I’m going to look good as fuck in them, regardless of my heartbreak; I listen to bands that former friends introduced me to even if the friendship went to shit, because I deserve good music in my life, and fuck them.

So I’ve been searching for the silver linings on the heavy cloud of trauma that this whole grooming thing left me with.

The first is that it has lead me to become a huge sex/kink nerd. I refuse to be in any situation ever again where I’m in the dark about a sex act, only realising its significance and implications after fucking doing it – so I do my research. I listen to podcasts, read articles, consume all the information about sex and kink that I can get my grabby little paws on. I share this information, too, so that nobody I care about goes through the same – I’m “the sex friend”, the one that people come to with their awkward, mumbled questions. I blog, I tweet, I never shut up about sex and kink. And I’m always hungry to learn more.

It’s pretty cool.

The only other tangible upside to getting groomed that I can point to is that I know my angles now. My predator lived in another country, which meant hours-long Skype calls, which meant cam sex. Not only do I know how to light my face to look fucking angelic, but I know how to position myself so that I look like a damn hourglass. I know where to wedge a laptop or phone camera so that you can see both my vulva and my face, and only one chin.

I also know very well what my bits look like, which is great for being aware of and maintaining my vulvovaginal health.

On the downside: I don’t wank.

I should clarify: I don’t wank independently. If my Daddy orders me to, with the intention of receiving a video or photos, then I can do that (though I can’t always orgasm). If I’m in a room with somebody, and they want to see me get off, I can do that.

Wanking just because I fancy an orgasm? No chance.

When I was living with a boyfriend, that wasn’t an issue, because I could get laid whenever. When he made me a very tiny bit homeless and I ended up back at my mum’s place, it also wasn’t an issue, because I was living in a haze of depression and probably couldn’t have found my clit under all the hoodies and empty energy drink cans. I didn’t notice I couldn’t wank until I went to uni.

And then it drove me crazy.

Recently, my Daddy was away, seeing his parents – so not in the ideal situation to sext me. My girlfriend was also not available for sexting, and I didn’t have anybody else to ask for encouragement (or, let’s be real, permission) to enjoy myself. So, I complained on Twitter and I tried to ignore my sex drive nagging at me, even as my period pains stabbed at my womb and my subconscious fed me dreams about getting eaten out and creampied. It fucking sucked.

I’m working on it, but I’m full of anger and resentment. In coaching me through my first ever orgasm, and dozens after that, the motherfucker who groomed me rewired my brain to think that orgasms were for him, or at least, for someone. I get five minutes into wanking alone and I feel crushingly self-conscious, I get distracted, and I can’t find the motivation to follow it through, no matter how badly I want to cum. I stare at my junk and whatever toys or hands I’ve got on it, and I think, fuck this, there’s no point. Not to sound like a petulant child, but it’s not fair.

My relationship with my sexuality is improving, albeit slowly. I’m able to tell my Daddy when I’m horny, or in need of a beating, or desperate to enter little space. And, usually, he’s able to meet my needs, or help me to meet them myself.

The thing about kink is that, when done right, fully informed and consenting, it can be super empowering. I’ve explained to my therapist that taking a beating is meditative, that it grounds me, that I feel like I’m inside my body more strongly than I ever would in normal life. (I highly recommend you find an accepting, willing-to-learn therapist if you’re kinky and need therapy. Mine is amazing.)

More than that, in deep subspace, I feel like I’m handing myself over to my top (usually, my Daddy) in body and soul. Which, I realised recently, is incredible. It’s a huge step.

Because, dear reader, in order to hand my body and soul to somebody I trust, it had to be in my hands to start with.

It’s gonna be a long, cloudy journey to recovery. Being groomed fucks you up. But goddamn it, I’m gonna heal, and I’m gonna wank alone.

One day.