“You won’t hate me if I sit next to you at dinner, will you?” she asks me.
“Of course not,” I say. It’ll stick out in my memory for a long time as an odd question because there’s actually nowhere else for her to sit, unless she sits at a table across the restaurant. And everyone else sitting at this table other than me is a long-time friend or a current/former lover of hers.
Maybe she’s nervous and just trying to be polite, I tell myself.
It’s the first time I’ve met her in a small group setting, although I’ve spent hours chatting in online chat rooms with her. She’s in some online communities I frequent. I’ve met her in person once but only briefly at a conference, where we were both surrounded by countless others who know us both.
She’s good friends (and a one-time love interest) of someone I’m dating. Was romantically involved in the past with another.
A lot of people think highly of her. She’s quirky. Cute. And she speaks with a high-pitched voice that makes her sound like a little girl that a lot of people find endearing.
But I keep noticing things about her that make me not trust her. There’s something very affected going on. Everything about her emanates an aura of harmlessness. A “tee hee, who me?” vibe.
She’s hapless and helpless when all eyes are on her. But when she thinks no one can see her, she seems to move very intentionally. She’s very calculated. And I can see how she could be malicious when she’s reasonably certain she won’t get caught.
In the context of all of this, the girlish voice, the kiddish vibe, seems more like a defense mechanism. A way to avoid accountability for… anything, really.
Asking Permission for the Weirdest Things
I suppose it doesn’t help that she keeps asking permission for the weirdest things. Things that adults don’t need to ask one another permission for.
Sometimes it gets downright silly. When I host a party, she asks me if she can drink a can of Diet Coke that she brought with her.
That she bought. And that she brought plenty of extra with her to share with guests.
She asks for permission to message me after I tell her how. Even though it’s sort of implied that I’m okay with it after I gave her the instruction. Because how ridiculous would I have to be to hook her up with a way to contact me and then to be offended that she did?
It’s very peculiar.
I try to give her the benefit of the doubt, since we have a lot of friends in common. And people who think highly of her.
But it keeps happening over and over again.
I tell myself that she could just be extremely consent conscious. Or anxious or something — not understanding how boundaries work to a degree that’s causing her to ask unnecessary permission. Out of fear of angering others and not trusting her instincts.
This last point hits home for me, since I asked people for unnecessary permission all the time when I was in the early stages of recovering from PTSD and sick from anxiety and fear chemicals that flooded my body.
I know I did it in the past without any intention to manipulate.
Over Time, Permission Is Asked for Actual Favors. Then the Favors Become Progressively Larger.
But as time wears on, I begin to notice that she’s ramping up that permission. And that she’s asking me for more and more. And I reach a point where she’s asking me for things I’m not comfortable with.
When she’s finally told no, when she reaches a clearly unacceptable ask, she doesn’t accept it gracefully.
Instead, she throws a giant fit. Begins to declare this refusal a wrong that has been perpetrated on her and cites irrelevant information in order to support it.
It’s a spectacular reversal to behold.
Everything clicks into place when I get word that she actually violated someone else’s consent at a party (witnessed by others), that she was pressuring someone else to have sex with her who didn’t want to. And then flipped the script and acted innocent and/or victimized and outraged after the fact (depending on who she was talking to about the incident).
She is exactly how I feared she would be. The little things that concerned me were tells of bigger problems.
Creeping Concessions Can Start with Asking Unnecessary Permission, a Non-Favor
As I mentioned in an earlier post, one common tactic that manipulative people use is creeping concessions. I explain the phenomenon more fully in that post as well as how I first stumbled upon it, but briefly creeping concessions is a process whereby a person starts by asking very small favors of you and progressively ramps up those favors over time until they’re asking for very large things from you.
And when they’re told no, they bring up that history of your saying yes to smaller things as justification why you should say yes in this instance. And why you’re an asshole to break with your convention of complying with them.
This individual started by asking permission for things you really didn’t need to ask permission for, thereby guaranteeing a flurry of early yes-es.
I noticed in the time that I knew her that she did this to everyone. To everyone.
It was the way she operated, the way she gained control of her relationships.
So it might not exactly be fair, but when I hear someone asking for absurd permission, my hackles go up.
I Get It. Everyone Is Consent Focused. But It’s Also a Tactic Manipulative People Use.
I get it. I get that there are benign reasons why someone could ask for unnecessary permission. Especially in the circles I run in, with so many kinky people. Everyone is consent focused. People want to make sure they aren’t violating boundaries. And it would seem a safer direction to err in, asking for permission you don’t need as opposed to accidentally harming, annoying, offending, and/or victimizing someone.
But it’s also a tactic manipulative people use.
So whenever I see it in action, I am cautious.
How I Deal With Someone Asking Absurd Permission
Depending on other environmental details (how it comes in, if they’re a stranger and not a friend/acquaintance), I might actually refuse or ignore that initial unnecessary request.
If I do happen to do what they ask me to do (i.e., it was something I was planning on doing anyway, etc.), I’ll say something to indicate that I don’t think they needed to ask me permission. I am very clear that this is not a favor, that I’m doing something that’s fairly standard in most civil human interaction or implied by our history. Basically establishing that I didn’t really comply with their request since it was an unnecessary one.
Typically, I’ll say this warmly in a friendly manner. (There are ways to do this that work; you lead and close the statement with warmth and kindness.)
And then I’ll observe how they react to that. I’m basically giving them the warmest possible rejection I can muster. The one where I’m still doing the thing anyway. And I’m gentle and warm about it.
And if they react well to that, I’ll know that it’s one of the other scenarios — anxiety, consent consciousness/overconsciousness, etc.
But if they don’t, it’s a sure sign for an early stage manipulation and attempted creeping concessions.