amber: notes & material


The cover of "The Game Changer" acts as a metaphor. A shadowy figure of a woman behind the pixels.

Figure 10: The cover of "The Game Changer" acts as a metaphor. A shadowy figure of a woman dances behind the pixels.

notes and supporting material

If ever there was a woman who has been put on Franklin Veaux’s public pedestal, it is Amber. Amber, the eponymous “Game Changer” and the epiphany in Veaux’s polyamorous life.

The dedication in his memoir reads:

"Amber, my game changer, my giraffe, who inspired me to reach beyond fear and become the best person I could possibly be. I would not be who I am without her, and I will always be forever in her debt."

 But you’ve just read Amber’s story—the one where she is the centre of her own life and not simply Veaux’s “catalyst”—and the way Veaux describes their relationship is far from how she remembers it:

“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.”

But if Veaux idolized Amber so much, it might seem incongruous that she experienced their relationship as traumatic and shitty. There’s more than one reason which explains this, but several of them involve Veaux’s propensity for passivity.

Passivity which was noted in Elaine's story.

In Celeste's story, and by the witness account supporting it.

Supported by Veaux’s own LiveJournal entry on November 18th, 2011:

“It's also a feature, too, this lack of proactivity in relationship. It gives me flexibility.”

And alluded to in Veaux’s glowing description of his relationship with Amber, which now takes on a different light. From his memoir:

Loving Amber was completely effortless.”

Maybe it was. But maybe that was because Amber took responsibility for all the pain and the stress of managing the relationship. This is her experience:

“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.

……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.”

Yet it seems that Veaux found Amber’s approach to relationships, where she managed his emotional needs, suited him very well. In a LiveJournal entry on October 6, 2006, he wrote:

“It means less headache and less hassle. It means less worrying, less policing one's thoughts and deeds. I am very fortunate to have found in Amber, and in my other sweeties, people who understand this intuitively. And I am fortunate in that there are certain things I do not have to worry about. I never have to worry about Amber’s other partners; I can trust implicitly that when she chooses to open herself to other partners, she will make those choices in ways that consider my needs as well.”

Based on the testimonies published so far, the same cannot be said for Veaux. He did not make choices that took his partners’ needs into consideration, only his own––even if it caused his partners pain. Amber writes:

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…

But what if, as Amber believes, the pain and unhappiness does stem directly from his participation (or lack thereof)? Then it becomes a relationship dynamic which inherently gaslights.

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.

Gaslighting has also been mentioned in Elaine and Celeste’s testimonies. And Amber’s perspective is supported by a conversation I had with Oliver, who was also her partner during the time she was involved with Franklin. Oliver’s witness statement was taken March 1, 2019. He has allowed his words to be used with the following caveat:

“So I want to preface everything by saying that this was a long time ago. So any recollection I have is gonna be colored by that fact. Also I am not sure how good of a narrator I am on this stuff––Amber was somebody who I was deeply in love with, I was crazy about her. And it's been one of the hardest breakups in my life.”

He says:

I met her [Amber] right when she had enrolled at University of Florida and moved away from Franklin. I'm wondering if she was trying to get some distance even then. I don't really know. But after a year being in UF she moved in with me.

During the time when Amber was with me but before she broke up with Franklin, she gave me a description of Franklin that I actually I have used to this day, in that "Franklin is not the kind of person who will check to see if guests need water." And I thought that was a fantastic summation of how he interacted with people and also some great like, Southern-style shade.

Like, if somebody is having a problem, it's always their problem, and if he helps you with it, he's helping you with your problem. And you know, I read More Than Two, and I would often tell people like you know, "I never saw him try to be particularly caring of other people's like struggles with things, he would be 'oh yes this is hard' but like, he would make it always his partner's problem to deal with something."

In all the conversations I heard between him and Amber, I never heard him say “Hey, how can I like, how can I do this differently that would be better for you?" And at the time I just assumed I didn't hear those parts of the conversation or that you know, Franklin was this person who wrote about poly and like so, obviously he knows about how this works more than I do.

Veaux admired Amber’s tolerance to pain and adopted it as a part of his polyamorous philosophy, which he would advocate elsewhere (this will be explored in another piece). In the same LiveJournal entry from 2006, he wrote:

“There is not any part of life that Amber does not live with passion, and there is not part of life that Amber does not face with an unflinching, razor-sharp intellectual honesty. She probed and prodded the weak spots in my relationships, the thousand little compromises I'd made and the choices I'd made without consciously being aware I'd made them. There are, I think, few people who can stand up to that relentless probing and pushing…”

But according to Amber, her ability to tolerate pain was built, or at least enhanced, as a direct consequence of having to take responsibility for their relationship:

“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.

 

And Oliver's statement includes another incident regarding the emotional labour Amber took on as a direct consequence of Veaux's tendency to avoid taking responsibility:

"I had a moment with Amber where she was talking about, you know, when she had been to visit Franklin. And two of his other partners had been there. And he had left her basically in charge of figuring out who sleeps where. And that just seemed like it seemed really inconsiderate—like, at the time, I was just like "that's inconsiderate."

And really I just thought it was a crummy way to deal with that because like if you have partners, then you should take responsibility for how stuff is gonna work. But instead he left it, you know, basically up to his partners to sort out, so that no one could blame him if they felt left out. This was the first time I really had any concern about his behavior."

harmful behaviours & red flags

a huge question I’ve seen circulating around the polyamory community in forum discussions over the past months, is whether a shitty relationship and/or treatment constitutes abuse. As Douglas Adams might have said, this is the wrong question.

Emotional abuse, which makes up a large part––but not all––of what is discussed in these pages, is notoriously difficult to define. Yet some aspects of abuse are clear.

Firstly, that abusive behaviours can be inadvertent or deliberate. But, either way, the harm is real. It needs to be recognised and stopped. So to quote Amber:

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.

Secondly that:

“Unlike physical and sexual abuse, where a single incident may be considered abusive, emotional abuse is characterised by a climate or pattern of behaviour(s) occurring over time.1(O'Hagan 1993; McDowell 1995a, as cited in Woodham & Lapsley 1996)

Instead of deciding whether a shitty relationship is abuse or not, it seems more useful to ascertain whether Veaux’s behaviours, experienced by the women as harmful, happened more than once. Was there a climate or a pattern of behaviour(s) occurring over time?

This is the question I have attempted to answer.

In Amber’s testimony she describes incidents which are strikingly similar to those encountered by Elaine and Celeste. I’ve already noted two commonalities: gaslighting and an inability to take responsibility––in Amber’s words––for “himself, his life and his relationships.” These facets have been experienced by all three women.

But there are others to consider. Below I have compiled a non-exhaustive list of items which have occurred more than once, as documented in the testimonies and materials published here so far (for completeness I've included gaslighting etc. as well, although where they are many incidents representing the same behaviour I've only picked one).

  • Elaine

    “...when we brought it up to him it was like, he did the blinking-eyes-wide, I don't know what you're talking about thing. And it's like but you're the one that brought it up!""

  • Celeste

    "Trying to tell me that I was being tricked, that I was believing what all these people were saying...while this texting was going on, I'm thinking that's what you're trying to do here!"

  • Amber

    “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 [...]In this way, do you see how the very construct of the relationship will gaslight...?”

knock-on effects of harmful behaviours

just as the love and abundance of one relationship can be beneficial to others in a polyamorous configuration, so the detrimental impacts of a single relationship can have a tendency to spill out onto all the other relationships in the polycule.

Amber was Oliver’s nesting partner after she started to attend the University of Florida. He has listed two specific instances of the impact of Amber and Veaux's relationship on him as a metamour, from the time Amber writes about as “a black hole of awfulness."

So I can say a thing that happened to me. I remember clearly that I felt very much like Franklin policed to sex life. Because at the time, you know, my only partners were my wife Amber. And if I wanted to have an interaction with somebody else, I had to talk to both Amber and Franklin. Basically everybody involved with Franklin. And if Franklin had concerns about safety, then it meant I couldn't be intimate with Amber.

Louisa: So were you fluid bonded with Amber?

Oliver: Yes. There was an instance where I didn't engage in some intimacy with someone because they had HSV1 and because Franklin was concerned about that. And then like three months later Franklin did the same thing, he got involved with someone with HSV1, and there was no question, it was fine.

At the time Amber lived with me, and she would...every two weeks go visit Franklin in Atlanta. And when ever she'd go to visit, she'd come home a wreck. She'd be unhappy, emotionally exhausted.

And it got to the point where I was having mild anxiety attacks when I would pick her up from the bus, and I didn't know why. I remember thinking at the time, "Why am I feeling bad and anxious? I'm excited to see her!" And she'd get home and be a wreck, and like, I would be like, "Oh, well I'm glad to see you" and she'd be like, "I do not want anything to do with people." And I don't know if this is Franklin's fault exactly. And the really unfair or the really like selfish thing I'll say is, I really think he stole six months to a year of that relationship from me. Just because every time she saw him, she was a wreck. And that had consequences for my relationship with her.

Louisa: How long did it take for her to recover after these visits?

Oliver: About a week and a half. So I'd get two or three good days with her. And this is the stuff that's really subjective. She was also under a lot of stress for school. You know it's one of those things that's complicated. But looking back, it felt like there was a pattern of every time she’d go to see him, she'd be a mess. And by the time she was feeling better was about when she'd be leaving go see him.

My wife refers to Amber as the most difficult person in the world who's also the most awesome person in the world two days a year. Because that's the experience I had when I was involved with her. She was stressed and exhausted and freaked out for so much of the time. But when she wasn’t, she was amazing. But my wife just loathed Franklin. I should have paid attention to that.

Of course this story is not about Oliver or his wife. Yet their stories and experiences are also important. Your partner's state of mind, or even your partner's partner's state of mind, can easily topple the dominoes holding up your own well-being.

And at the time Amber was with Oliver, she was also "busy riding the roller coaster of pain-attachment and relief-attachment" with Veaux, which, she writes, felt "like almost dying and then being resuscitated over and over again."

Samantha Manewitz, the licensed therapist on the survivor pod, says Amber appears to be describing a trauma bond:

"A trauma bond is an unhealthy and highly seductive form of attachment, which a perpetrator can leverage to strip their targets of their sense of agency."

Amber was only too aware of her "freaked out" state during her relationship with Veaux, but it took her years to realize that her attachment to him wasn't her predominant attachment style. In her emails with Eve in 2018, she recalls the revelation:

I remember having a conversation with F where I said 'anyone can be anxious-attached in certain context.' The whole thing pissed me off because I had gone from someone who was just constantly freaked out in relationship to someone who was just calm and secure and happy, and I realized. It wasnt.fucking.me.