“Amber’s” Relationship Testimony With Franklin Veaux
The first-person testimony of “Amber” from The Game Changer by Franklin Veaux, as sent by email between March 13 and July 14, 2018. Edits have been made for clarity and privacy. Read Kali Tal’s analysis here. Read Louisa Leontiades’s notes and supporting analysis here.
UPDATE: On August 1, 2021, Amber began blogging on Medium, where she is breaking down her experiences with Franklin and in other polyamorous relationships and examining what healthy polyamory might look like.
I woke up this morning feeling very resentful of this parade of men (including Franklin) in my life who have come to me at various points to confirm that they are not ‘a bad guy,’ and that something a woman said to them can’t be right, because I didn’t experience that, right? And it occurs to me that, to them, the only story is their story.
And if a woman (because let’s face it, this is a thing that happens mostly to women) tells a story and they are in it, but it is not *their* story, the knee jerk response is that she is either being manipulative or crazy. But never does it occur to them, or has it occurred to me for most of my life, that there is a whole different story running parallel to theirs with a woman who is centered at it, and that she might have a different experience!
I think Franklin must have had a very different experience—which seems in retrospect to be a hero’s journey where he bravely stopped letting Celeste control him, and then apologized to me for Celeste controlling him, and was a *good guy,* and I forgave him and everything was ok. And I feel like he has put a lot of effort into reinforcing that story. But it’s not *my* story.
For me, it was a shitty, disrespectful and neglectful relationship with a lot of trauma that I have never really processed, and [have] mostly been trying to outrun for years. Like, if you really center me in my relationship with Franklin, it was just… a shitty relationship that set my growth as a person back.
Like, if you really take him out of it, if it’s really not about him, then that’s all it was to me. It has taken me a long time to even consider or experience or remember that relationship from my perspective, and not just as some catalyst for Franklin’s story.
Franklin has an unhealthy ‘tolerance’ for emotional pain in his partners. When someone you care about is deeply in pain, it is the very nature of intimacy that you will also experience empathic pain and you will be driven to act to stop that pain. If that pain is directly related to you and your actions -or- if it is somehow within your power to otherwise ease that pain and you cannot or will not (which are both reasonable choices) make the changes or take the action that you need to alleviate that pain, then I really believe for any healthy person that this mutual pain must at some point drive you to leave the relationship. I think this is the natural and healthy course.
Franklin will essentially stay forever with a partner who is suicidally miserable. How is that? Why is that? And how do his partners bend around that reality?
Well, for me, the solution was to attempt to build a skillset that would allow me to manage and take responsibility for the pain and stress that I was experiencing as a direct result of my relationship with him. Of course my history with depression confused the issue greatly about where my experience was coming from, but I understand now that it was straight up coming from the relationship.
Franklin has or had a very misplaced admiration for my ability to try to transform, tolerate, or otherwise grow from the pain that I was experiencing. However it was this habit that I developed with him, of internalizing and managing neglect, disappointment, instability, and confusion that made me ripe and tolerant for the gaslighting and control that I experienced in another relationship.
I believe that the way that Franklin is able to tolerate his partner’s pain over long periods of time is that he never, fundamentally believes it is coming from him. No matter how bad it is, actually, especially when it is so bad that you, as his partner become hysterical, ‘irrational’ or otherwise crazy, he will continue to see it as essentially something that is coming from you. And, this being the case, he will be a kind and calm and loving friend, helping you through this thing that you alone are experiencing.
In this way, do you see how the very construct of the relationship will gaslight anyone who is emotionally invested in him and then suffers for it? Because you will always be steered towards believing that the pain is ultimately coming from you, when you know, you *know* that it wasn’t there until he did that thing, or didn’t do that thing, or did that series of things. But because he is now being the kind and loving friend that is helping you through this, it is very difficult to stand strong enough to call him on his actions.
I know he tries to recognize the pain that he has caused. In particular, he did a lot of work around how the relationship between he and Celeste and I put me into a very difficult situation. But the thing that he has never ever understood, that I can tell, is that the situation with the three of us, was just a manifestation of the thing that caused pain in our relationship after he left Celeste, and also the thing that seems to cause pain in every relationship he has with someone who is emotionally invested in him.
Franklin will not take responsibility for himself, his life and his relationships. The thing that caused me pain when he was with Celeste was not actually the rules he had with Celeste. Those sucked, sure. But it was the fact that he would not take responsibility for his agreement to those rules, and so he was constantly pulling me in and then it became my responsibility to figure out what the emotional effect was going to be on Celeste, and so *I* became the manager of those rules.
The first time I was ‘with’ Franklin in any capacity, I remember asking him ‘is Celeste OK with this?’ and he said ‘I don’t know,’ and I remember this just inner screaming, but I didn’t have good context at the time to know how incredibly incredibly shitty a thing that was to do to me, like it was the beginning of me internalizing responsibility for shit that wasn’t my responsibility. And then it just became par for the course.
After he left Celeste, and it was pretty much the two of us, we were living on my credit cards because he would.not.get.a.job. I was working full time and trying with all my heart to go to school and every morning I looked on Craigslist for jobs for him, and I sent them to him, and he did.not.apply. And he would deflect when I asked him about it. His business was faltering, and the company he was associated with was waiting for investment money, and we waited for months, and he would not take action to make our situation better. I felt like I was holding both of our lives together, and I would sit and cry in my car over my lunch break. And he just would not share that burden with me. We were not a team, I was just holding all the stress and misery over our future by myself. And that’s what killed it. That’s what extinguished that little light inside. It just went out and smoked a little bit, and I just didn’t care anymore. It had nothing to do with poly, and actually very little to do with the situation with Celeste. It’s because he wouldn’t just be a grown up with me, and I couldn’t feel like a parent to him anymore.
And honestly, as far as I can tell, those two fundamental core problems, which is really just the one problem of not taking responsibility, have not changed. I have watched the women in his life do so.much.labor for him. And I have seen him experience these amazing things, and realize many of his dreams, and have all of these exciting and intense romantic experiences, and what I see is a bunch of women just bearing the labor of the neglect, and disappointment, and the processing, and the scheduling, and all of the domestic world building you have to do so that Franklin can just be Franklin. And so for me, that child like wonder and glee that he has, well, it’s just not that beautiful thing that I thought it was. It’s a way of being that comes at the cost of the time and energy of the women in his life, time and energy that could be used for literally anything else. And I don’t like it.
One more realization that I have had, is that there is a difference between intense love and intense relief. I never had a chance with Franklin to really find out what love with him would look like, because I was too busy riding the roller coaster of pain-attachment and relief-attachment. I understand much better now what secure love feels like, and it just… it just never feels like that. With secure love, sometimes you hurt, and you have to work all the time, but it doesn’t feel like almost dying and then being resuscitated over and over again. That’s something else.
[Franklin] is 12 years my senior. I started dating him when I was 24-ish, in a period of incredible instability…so the type of bond I formed with him, was very child like and worship-y, and this was reinforced by the intermittent nature of our relationship while he was with Celeste (the sense of ‘safety/security’ I had with him was never quite reachable, and this kept the illusion alive), but then it kind of dissolved once it was (for all intents and purposes) just he and I. I was freshly divorced (actually, I was about a month away from the legal divorce at that point). I felt at the time that the marriage was pretty OK, pretty solid in a lot of ways, but I was leaving it because I wanted to be poly and he didn’t. And so, I was basically in the position where I was leaving what seemed like a perfectly fine relationship, for poly, which I had no experience with, nor did I have any experience of what it might look like if it were healthy. So, as miserable as it was, I kind of felt like that’s what I had signed up for, and it was important enough to me to be poly, that I had to find a way to try to push through and make it work.
Until I moved in with he and Celeste, I moved approximately 10 times. I moved to be closer to him (from Orlando to Tampa), and then I moved to be farther away because of the pain of being closer (from Tampa back to Orlando), and there were a couple of moves that only lasted a few days due to nightmare roommates. So I remember that time as not being a time when Franklin and I dated, but a time when I felt very strongly about him, but I felt completely and utterly miserable, and trapped somehow. I tried to leave the relationship multiple times, but it felt like *dying*. I don’t fully understand what was at work for me internally during that time.
Living with he and Celeste was just more of that same trapped misery for me. Not a relationship to me—honestly my mind has mapped that time to something closer to ’emotional hostage situation,’ and I just don’t think about it much. Then I did feel like we were in relationship, and I can confirm we had 2 different apartment leases, so that was either 2 or 3 years (the first lease may have been 2 years). Again, this was NOT a happy time at all, thought I no longer felt emotionally trapped.
As soon as I got my AA degree, and I would be transferring to a university and he would be moving to Atlanta, I remember feeling a very distinct sense of relief.
I lost a lot of money with Franklin when I was supporting us with credit cards and student loans, and paying all of the transportation costs when I visited him, and I’m still paying off debt from that time. We never really figured it out because he was just perpetually broke after that, so I just decided to forget about it. He didn’t specifically say that it was my responsibility, but he also never fully took responsibility for helping me to deal with that money I’d spent.
After we were living in different cities, and I was dating Oliver, I stopped really thinking of myself as being in relationship with Franklin. I even remember times when I would refer to Oliver and Sue and I as being a poly-fi V around Franklin, and there would be this dissonance in my brain. I suppose I was ’emotionally ghosting’ Franklin during these 3 years. He was still an important friend, and I visited him a lot in Atlanta, but I did not at all operate internally like we were in a relationship.
I don’t remember what the motivation was for the rings, but it certainly didn’t imply any kind of specific relationship thing or specific commitment to me (except maybe ‘important person’). I would say I thought of it as a ‘friendship ring’. I enjoy rings, but they only mean what is specifically negotiated…I don’t remember when I stopped wearing my ring…I did wear it for a while when I did not consider us in a relationship, but it was more like a ‘friendship ring’. At some point it stopped feeling right and I stopped wearing it.
I think actually the first time I felt that we were broken up was when I told him I didn’t want to be sexual any more. Like in my head, that was a really really clear point where we weren’t in a relationship, but I had been very clearly drifting away from thinking about it as a relationship for maybe almost a year before that. I actually remember when Franklin moved to Portland from Atlanta, and I felt this huge burden was lifted, because Vera was taking over the caregiver role, and because I was always worried about him while he was in Atlanta—like his life would just fall apart if I wasn’t watching it. Like I was still somehow responsible for it. It’s weird that I still felt like a mom long after I stopped feeling like a lover. It’s really not ok.
I have spent all most no time processing the relationship with Franklin. Like, I have a few key memories that I base my assessment of the whole situation on. But *7* years. What? When I dig in at all, it was an absolutely horribly miserable time in my life. When I look at my relationship with Oliver or K or J it’s fine—there’s good and bad—but it’s not *traumatic*. When I think back, as a real witness, to the relationship with Franklin and [another guy]…it’s just a black hole of awfulness.
I believed until recently that it was always external forces, and never his behavior, that fundamentally had damaged us and me. We can call it the ‘poly magic trick.’ Previously, my understanding of what happened was that Franklin was in a difficult situation and then he did the right thing, without really thinking a lot about how crappy things were after he ‘did the right thing.’
It is only in the last year  that I have realized that Franklin really mistreated me in my relationship with him. Like, Celeste didn’t mistreat me, and the ‘relationship’ didn’t mistreat me, and the ‘structure’ didn’t mistreat me, it was actually Franklin. Like, I was in a relationship with Franklin. Just Franklin. And in that relationship I was filled with shame and guilt and self loathing, and Franklin was a part of that, and pretty OK with it for a long time. It was with Franklin that I really solidified my tendency to take all of my needs and my hurt and turn them back on myself, either through self harm, or through dissociation…
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Franklin really understands any of the trauma that any of his partners has experienced. Like there were a few situations with him that left a big permanent gash in my otherwise healthy psyche.
I don’t feel like I had the tools to properly consent [to BDSM]. I don’t think the age difference was appropriate. I don’t think my lack of experience was appropriate. I won’t have anything to do with BDSM now. For me what happened with him laid the groundwork for things that were much worse for me later on, but it’s all part of the same—just awful continuum of awful stuff.
I am becoming aware here…that Franklin really got a free pass from me because I was so adept at turning on myself.
When Franklin is inconsistent, unclear, and isn’t taking responsibility so you can’t count on him, but you need him and love him deeply, it FUCKS YOU UP over time. When you are additionally, trying to ‘own your feelings,’ not be controlling and have a neutral impact on his other relationships, you are likely to be more hesitant to ask for what you need, call out things that feel wrong, or assert boundaries.
Every single nesting partner Franklin has had eventually comes off as being controlling and hysterically unstable. The ‘control’ comes basically just from this desperate need to get some kind of stability—but it’s actually not control, it’s actually not a bid for control, it’s a bid for consistency, trust, a safety net. The kind of crap that is fundamental to any relationship, but that you just keep trying to work around with Franklin. And you just.keep.thinking that you can solve the problem because he tries and he gets it right a lot, like 60% of the time.
So you’re just like, living on a 1000 calories a day, and you’re like “yeah I can handle this“, but then your blood sugar drops when you get stressed and you freak out. To people who don’t understand this, a ‘meltdown’ can look like a very selfish and ill timed bid for attention.
I mean, here’s a question. Is Franklin as powerless as he seems? Or is that the explanation he gives for making his own hurtful choices? It’s really the best possible explanation he could give, so then instead of getting a pissed off partner, he gets a sympathetic partner who is also feeling empowered in the relationship because he’s talking shit about another partner.
I just wanted to say a couple of things about the kind of the generically fucked position you are in when you’re in a relationship with someone like Franklin and you have needs in the relationship. So,
A) you are in a relationship with Franklin and you care.
B) you become aware that how and whether you get your needs met will be directly affected by how you manage your relationship with his other partners, because he is a passive participant, and there is real resource starvation that happens with him, due to him never wanting to let go of relationships, continually wanting to start them, and being highly distracted by whatever is shiniest.
So, you might initially try to express your needs, but then you will notice that in this way, he isn’t really a passive participant, and how your needs are interpreted (controlling, unreasonable, reasonable) is directly informed by how convenient meeting those needs are for him. So then your whole kind of mechanism for asking for what you need gets fucked up. So you have basically three general choices at this point. You can
A) try to kind of manage his interactions with his other partners, you can
B) try to form intimacy with his other partners, or
C) completely check out of the whole thing and try to just have a relationship with him.
There is also a choice D, which I will get to.
If you choose A or C, you will be interpreted as trying to lure him into a monogamous relationship without regard to the feelings or experiences of other partners (again, he is never an actor in these situations). So in this circumstance you will be deemed as ‘not poly enough’ and therefore incompatible, so yikes – danger will robinson! So, a lot of us go for B) which is to have incredibly coercive and shitty boundaries with his other partners.
Remember, the situation here is that you are trying to hold onto Franklin and get your needs met because you love him. And if this is the case, really your best bet is B). This ‘family’ model is really attractive when your only other option seems to be just resource starvation, but I can attest that all of my most extreme and awful and deep trauma comes from coerced group sex situations [including with Franklin]. Someday the poly community is going to work this out, and look back and be like ‘oh, shit, poly was literally just a trauma cult.’
So, back to choice D). Choice D) is just to not care very much at all.
To not have any attachment or needs, so you can take or leave whatever, and it doesn’t fuck you up or trigger abandonment, or dig down into your vulnerability and create trauma. The trick is just to not care and not to be vulnerable. When people are happy with Franklin, this is the trick they are using. This is the way to do it, folks.
I feel like I have tried all of these. A), B), C), D). But the game is rigged, isn’t it? You will always end up being seen as something terrible, and you will be unhappy, or you will feel nothing and then maybe you will start to see yourself as something warped and distorted, because there is literally no way to win. And this is why Franklin is never really happy with anyone, and no one is ever really happy with him. It is just a big vortex of misery. God help anyone who gets swept up in it.
There was a brief period where I was still in a relationship with him, and I literally did not give a fuck about anything, and it was amazing (compared to what preceded it). But then, rapidly, there was no point in any of it, and intimacy with him started to seem…. really, really wrong. So, maybe that’s what happens when you actually don’t care.
While it’s helpful to try to understand why he’s doing what he is doing, he’s really the only one who can discover this. Like, he has to be the one to say “why do all of the women I nest with go crazy in the same way, and express the same problems over and over again, and why don’t I believe them?” Like, the problem has been laid out for him, multiple times. The information is there. He is the only one who can look at it.
The level of misery in Franklin’s relationships is NOT NORMAL, and he is the common denominator.
I think Franklin believes that what he is doing is reasonable. I think he believes that there are women out there who would take care of everything, love him intensely, and never complain. I think he believes that when the women in his life get upset, it always boils down to something they could improve in themselves. So he’s not testing or pushing boundaries, he’s behaving in a way that he thinks is reasonable and then naturally selecting for people who will tolerate it. And reflexively, he’s engaging in behaviors that work best to manage their upset-ness, through a process of trial and error.
Since he doesn’t really believe that their upset-ness is caused by him, it expands his acceptable reactive toolkit. I mean, it seems like he knows the harm he does sometimes, or that he’s taking responsibility, but I really think that this is just part of his toolkit of managing things he doesn’t like. Like, the toolkit consists of compassion, claiming some responsibility, stonewalling, gaslighting, avoiding, etc. If he really truly believed that *he* was doing harm, and not just that his partner was experiencing harm in his vicinity, I think he would actually change his behavior.
Misogynistic abuse is usually rooted in some collection of beliefs about women. We tend to think of abusive men as “grooming” women by testing their boundaries, and applying pressure. However, I think from the perspective of a lot of these men, they are just looking for a woman that matches their internal image of what a woman should be. So at first, they are excited and hopeful—like “is she the woman that I’ve been looking for?” And that excitement can be intoxicating, and if you are a woman who is engaged with it, you want to try to be that woman, and the more warped his idea of what a woman should be, the more you start twisting around yourself. And then once he starts to realize that you aren’t what you ‘should be’, he will start trying to ‘encourage’ you to, you know, ‘be your best self,’ ie. the thing he thinks you could be. And eventually, he will just start doing things to try to manage your ‘out of bounds’ behavior.
I mean, for Franklin, he has this image of a confident, smart, poly woman who cares about him deeply enough to step in when he is suffering, but also to never feel ‘insecure’ or ‘destabilized’ by his actions because she just has so much self esteem. So in the beginning, he’s looking like ‘are you the one?’ ‘Are you the smart, compassionate, insightful, independent (but also codependent) woman that I have been looking for?” And you’re like “OMG, yes, I AM that amazing!” And while he will kindly accept your flaws for a while—fundamentally, he is holding you up to this warped image, where your needs and boundaries and well-being just don’t really factor in
It literally does not matter whether he is aware of what he’s doing or not in terms of the harm that he’s doing. But for what it’s worth, I think most abusive men don’t know what they are doing, they honestly think their framing of the world is totally fine – which is why they so often feel like the victim.
Amber’s romantic relationship with Franklin had ended by the time he left Atlanta for Portland, in summer 2009. But this was not the end of her story with him. We may post more here, from Amber’s perspective, at a later date.
As of November 8, 2020, “Amber” has given consent to be credited as the author of these other pieces, which were published under different names.
- “On Consent in Romantic Relationships,” October 2013, republished June 6, 2019. This piece was adapted with permission to form key parts of More Than Two.
- “Abuse in Polyamorous Relationships,” November 22, 2014, writing as Shea Emma Fett. This piece is about a relationship that happened after Franklin: the “other relationship” mentioned in Amber’s testimony about Franklin.
- “10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Gaslighting,” July 5, 2015, writing as Shea Emma Fett. (Republished August 27, 2015, on Everyday Feminism as “10 Things I’ve Learned About Gaslighting As An Abuse Tactic.”)
- “Why Jessica Jones is important,” November 27, 2015, writing as Shea Emma Fett.