I've heard of Gallows Humour but this....
August 27, 2019 7:40 AM   Subscribe

How much of a red flag would playful references to violence be in a new relationship?

I've been dating someone who, when we start flirting and coming onto one another, playfully refers to "smothering" me, chaining, tying me up or confining me, killing me (usually in the context of like-the-serial-killers-do). He is definitely a dominant, dominant type--but so am I.

He has had a violent past including run-ins with law enforcement, but has not expressed or evinced anger, violence or has even seemed ruffled in front of me. Other than what he says or has told me, I have not seen any violence.

I can't lie: I enjoy a little boundary pushing, but I want to be safe. I don't have experience with men with a history of violence and wondering if playful(?) references, particularly as related to sex, are not more than that.
posted by Dressed to Kill to Human Relations (52 answers total)
Very red flag.
posted by bilabial at 7:44 AM on August 27, 2019 [66 favorites]

Is it too much of a boundary-pushing killer to step outside of the exchange and discuss those very boundaries together? Because if you don't it might be hard to spot the red flags sailing by.
posted by einekleine at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2019 [10 favorites]

As red as China's flag.
posted by Calvin and the Duplicators at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

killing me (usually in the context of like-the-serial-killers-do)

Nope. Nope nope nope.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:50 AM on August 27, 2019 [22 favorites]

I might enjoy having someone talk to me like that in a kink context.

But. I'd want them to have gotten my consent ahead of time. I'd want it to be happening in the context of a relationship where we'd already built a whole shitton of trust by playing in less frightening ways. I'd want them to be really, really proactively checking in about whether I wanted it, and going way out of their way to respect any boundaries I set around it. I'd want them to be treating that kind of flirtation as a low-level scene even when it stayed playful in tone, and giving aftercare accordingly. I'd want them to be opening up to me about what they liked and didn't like about playing that way, and convincing me that they'd done their homework around understanding their own motives.

Without all that stuff, yeah, the absolute best thing you can say about this guy is that he really sucks at having healthy kinky relationships.

Tl;dr: Yeah, enormous red flag even on the most generous interpretation, and I say this as a fellow perv.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2019 [56 favorites]

oh yeah. red flags, especially the killing part. as is the violent past with run ins with law enforcement.

you are experiencing the tip of the iceberg, in my opinion.
posted by domino at 7:54 AM on August 27, 2019 [17 favorites]

NO. Red flag, very red flag. I may be a bit hypersensitive but IME this kind of boundary-pushing won't stop here, because he's not trying to figure out where your boundaries are, he's trying to change where they are and/or get you used to letting him run roughshod over them no matter where they are. Also, I'm sure there are plenty of people who will disagree, but I think there's just a categorical difference between someone who thinks imagining you hurt/dead/scared is funny or hot and someone who doesn't -- and personally, I do not want to be with the first kind of person. Too dangerous, too painful. Like I said, I'm a bit hypersensitive because of past experience but this would be a deal-breaker for me -- because it's a trust-breaker for me. YMMV.
posted by rue72 at 7:54 AM on August 27, 2019 [17 favorites]

This is absolutely a red flag.
posted by stripesandplaid at 7:55 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Oh, whoa, RED RED RED. Even in a kink context, that kind of stuff needs heavy negotiation and a good basis of communication first. This is something completely different. I am concerned for your safety, if not now then in the future.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:01 AM on August 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

Massive, massive red flag.

Someone who has kinks around violence needs to be very thoughtful about getting their partners’ consent, reassuring them they are trustworthy, and only want to hurt them with consent.

Someone who is uncomfortable or unwilling to open this conversation for any reason isn’t qualified to be playing these kind of high stakes games.

The lines are already blurry and this is likely to get worse. Ask me how I know.
posted by Dwardles at 8:06 AM on August 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

Hard no. HARD NO. Do not pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, dump this man yesterday. WOW.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 8:12 AM on August 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

I have been watching Mindhunters recently so yikes!! but...

yeah, I am a dom and used to be in the BDSM scene and this is not...ok.

RED FLAG. I would be freaked out by this.
posted by supermedusa at 8:16 AM on August 27, 2019 [14 favorites]

Joking about chains and tying someone up could be kinky flirting. Joking about smothering or otherwise killing your partner is either an incredibly specific fetish introduced by someone with no social skills or an indication of an outright sociopath who will ruin your life.

Any chance you could talk with some of his exes? Asking that question might be a pretty good test of whether or not you can trust him. Consider doing so in a public space.
posted by eotvos at 8:20 AM on August 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

The reason that Dave Chappelle's "is Wayne Brady gonna have to choke a bitch?" joke is funny is because Wayne Brady doesn't actually go around choking people (presumably). It's distinctly less funny when you're talking about someone who has actually been arrested for choking someone before. In that case, it's not a joke; it's a statement of intent. I suppose it's possible to be a violent criminal who's also into BDSM, but it's much more likely that the kinky stuff is an extension of other violent behaviors, and I'd be very worried about this person's ability to recognize the boundary.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:29 AM on August 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

How does he act when you tell him that his "humor" is a little unpleasant?
posted by desuetude at 8:39 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

You're getting truth in advertising. Walk away.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:45 AM on August 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

This is such a red flag that I'd not only break up with him, I'd be very careful about how you do so. Don't bring up your concerns about the way he talks or his violent past. Do not ask ask to speak to his exes. Do not do anything that could be perceived as a "test" or suggest that there's any way you'd stay in this. You need some kind of reason that will make him go away without letting him know you're worried. Probably other people here can come up with suggestions.

(Had a guy who made a few violent references turn to horrible violent threats and stalking when I broke up with him over his drug use. I was sixteen, and I realized years later that I'm very lucky he didn't kill me - it was in the 70s, so "stalking" etc. did not exist as a concept in the general culture, and even if I'd gone to the police, they wouldn't have taken it seriously. Even now, they can't do much. I don't mean to scare you, but this is serious. You need to get out safely as soon as possible.)
posted by FencingGal at 8:50 AM on August 27, 2019 [48 favorites]

very red flag, speaking as someone with a bit of that sense of humor (but also no actual history of violence)
posted by brilliantine at 8:53 AM on August 27, 2019

Hey, guess what, I am super kinky and have a morbid sense of humor and yes, this is a red flag. So very, very red. Run, don't walk.
posted by fiercecupcake at 8:57 AM on August 27, 2019 [10 favorites]

If (when) you break up with this man please do so safely and let someone sensible know that you need to check in with them at a specific time afterwards. He is testing the waters with you, in a way that is very much not part of a healthy and respectful kink exploration.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 9:00 AM on August 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

I'd suggest calling your local domestic violence group to see if they have suggestions for how to safely break up with him.
posted by FencingGal at 9:02 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thank you for your answers and concern, everyone. And for the reality-check. We are very casual and I don't think breaking up will be an issue; and I'll stop playing with fire now. Thanks!
posted by Dressed to Kill at 9:04 AM on August 27, 2019 [29 favorites]

I don't know that he's actually going to murder you but it definitely seems like some intentional boundary-pushing to see if you'll be accepting of...well, who the fuck knows? I would absolutely skedaddle.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:06 AM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

We are very casual and I don't think breaking up will be an issue; and I'll stop playing with fire now.

Please do be careful breaking things off. It’s easy to say that you don’t think it will be an issue, but this is like an entire factory of red flags and it’s better to be a little cautious. Your safety is worth it.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:27 AM on August 27, 2019 [9 favorites]

This is so outside the norm that he must know it brings up a “ha...WTF?!” response in people he’s just starting to date. Which raises the question—why would he want to create that reaction in potential romantic partners? Is it a turn on for him (red flag)? Is he testing you to see how you respond (red flag)? Can he not control himself (red flag)? Yes, red flag.
posted by sallybrown at 9:38 AM on August 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

Seems very much a 'when people tell you who they are, believe them' situation.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:28 AM on August 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

Seems very much a 'when people tell you who they are, believe them' situation.

I knoooooooowwwwwwww but (I'm weak!) he's just SO charming and wildly attractive. I typically gasp and laugh at his jokes. His voice and tone don't sound threatening--honestly sometimes it's goofy; although my gut always makes a point of *reminding* me of the precise words he's used and I will find myself thinking to myself... "did he just say he wanted to smother me?"

We're not serious. We've known one another for over a year, and we've gone months with no contact (not acrimonious, just busy). Slipping out of his life won't be difficult, but it feels like a bummer because I like a little danger. Not real danger, just some excitement.

But yeah, the gut. My gut typed the question. And you guys validated my gut. So thank you.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 10:44 AM on August 27, 2019 [12 favorites]

It's casual for you, but don't assume you know how he's seeing things. Be CAREFUL.
posted by amtho at 10:49 AM on August 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

I am on team DTMFA.

Even the most generous view of this behavior would be that he's engaging in some kind of metahumor, with the punchline being predicated on how these jokes are only funny because he'd never do any of this stuff. And even in that case, you'd be talking about a man who doesn't know how to separate edgy humor from making the people around him feel uncomfortable and even unsafe. You'd be talking about a man so far back in remedial heterosexual male behavior that he hasn't gotten the bulletin yet that women being hurt and killed is not really larf larf larf material.

And that's not even the likeliest explanation. But even as the most generous one, under this explanation he still sucks.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:58 AM on August 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

Not real danger, just some excitement.

This is real danger.
posted by mhoye at 11:27 AM on August 27, 2019 [11 favorites]

I cannot shout this loudly enough.

This is real danger.
You are absolutely NOT weak. You are sensible and smart and your instincts are 100% correct here. You have spent your entire life being conditioned to give more than you get, and to ask for so little. You are steeped in a culture that values your acquiescence above your safety.

You still knew to reach out and check the calibration of your WTF meter. This guys "jokes" didn't feel good or safe to you and you checked in with people you trust.

You have made a very good decision to reach out. Please continue to utilize your safety net. If this guy knows where you live, please make it a point to not be there for a few days or weeks after you break this off. Tell him in no uncertain terms that you will not be answering his phone calls or other messages and then follow through on that. If he thinks calling you ten times will get a response, he will call 100 times. If he threatens self harm, call the police. Do not rush to help or check in on him.

You can do this.
posted by bilabial at 12:03 PM on August 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

What he is doing is actually an extremely common thing for abusers to do. He is testing the waters to see how you react to his comments. I think you should run away as fast as you can.
posted by thereader at 12:13 PM on August 27, 2019 [11 favorites]

My ex, apropos of nothing, told me he could kill me and get away with it. Twice.

He used a joking voice when he said it and went on to specify that he knew which chemicals to use. (He worked at a T1 university research lab). When I became upset he rolled his eyes and told me I was too sensitive.

Not long after those incidents he physically attacked me by grabbing me by the throat.

This flag is red enough to have an accompanying siren so I'm glad you are lacing up your running shoes.
posted by JaneTheGood at 12:13 PM on August 27, 2019 [9 favorites]

Nthing that this is a huge red flag. Anecdata: years ago, I went on a date with a guy in my community who made similar jokes. He creeped me out so I never went out with him again. After the #MeToo explosion a few years ago I found out multiple women were accusing him of inappropriate behavior and sexual assault.
posted by vanitas at 12:16 PM on August 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

it feels like a bummer because I like a little danger. Not real danger, just some excitement.
Nothing wrong with that but you are smart to recognize the difference between a kinky edge and a real threat. You can find what you really want if you keep your eye for it but, as you realize, this is on the wrong side of the line.
posted by metahawk at 12:46 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

My gf and I make these kinds of jokes constantly. Neither of us have a violent past, and she knows I'd never harm her. So we feel safe and comfortable talking about murder and worse. But if either one of expressed discomfort, we'd stop immediately.

But yeah, if gut is worried, listen. Just from your description I'm leery, despite the fact that I say such things
posted by Jacen at 1:33 PM on August 27, 2019

I wasn't going to add to the chorus until I jolted after reading your update that he's charming and wildly attractive. DANGEROUS combination. He sounds like someone who could manipulate you into submission, then attack. Very, very dangerous. Wasn't Ted Bundy known to be charming and attractive? You seem to be relishing in this risk. I would treat this as a potential DV situation. Get some plans into place before you "break up"
posted by jj's.mama at 3:11 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Okay, but ... for real, maybe I’m (or we’re) watching too many murder shows?

Nothing has actually happened. I never thought I’d be the person who would be like “Babe, you wouldn’t REALLY hurt me right babe heh heh heh?” but here we are.

And it’s not like we aren’t a little conditioned to be responsive to power and dominance sometimes. I just can’t tell if it’s safe and gut says no. And you all say no. That’s enough for me.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 3:35 PM on August 27, 2019

If you're a straight guy out in the dating scene, you are almost certainly getting messaging (sometimes explicitly from the women you are dating, i.e. "I NEED YOU TO DO THIS FOR ME") that is encouraging you to act more dominant and play-scary than maybe you were used to acting in your former life. It can be a doozy of a code switch. It is not uncommon to sound some horrifically wrong notes while you're getting the hang of it.

This doesn't mean you should put up with murder-flirting that isn't sitting well with you, or that charming sociopathic serial killers don't exist. But it's a big weird world out there.

The best you can possibly get from AskMe is reassurance to trust your instincts.
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:45 PM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

he's just SO charming and wildly attractive

I promise, there are people out there who are charming, funny, wildly attractive, and won't have AskMe begging you to get away from them before they hurt you.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:51 PM on August 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

Just to add another voice to the chorus, all of the nope! Seriously, your gut lead you to write this question, and that, along with everyone here (me included) unanimously think that this guy is not safe to be around. I promise you that you can have a guy with all of the good traits that won’t make your gut beg you to run away. You can definitely find a man who knows good kink play guidelines and is exciting but stops short of being a potential murderer. Please stay safe!
posted by Champagne Supernova at 4:09 PM on August 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is all that matters:
He has had a violent past including run-ins with law enforcement,

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Do you trust he has undertaken and maintained the total life overhaul it would take to stop being a violent person? Wouldn’t part of that reform process be excluding violent themes and rhetoric from interpersonal relationships?
posted by kapers at 6:53 PM on August 27, 2019 [8 favorites]

The thing that stands out to me is that he has a record with law enforcement. Unless the record is because he participated in an Occupy protest, or drove while brown, if this is just a Typical White Guy, then he behaves in such a lawless manner that the police have actually had to come down on him. Even a lot of abusers will not cross the line in such a way that it attracts the attention of law enforcement, because they value their reputation with the public and with authority, and this guy doesn’t even pass THAT smell test.

Combine that with someone who jokes about murdering you, and I definitely agree this dude is ridiculously bad news waiting to happen. Delete, block and ghost, and maybe keep an eye out to see if he escalates in any way.
posted by Autumnheart at 6:54 PM on August 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

Many years ago, I briefly dated a guy almost exactly like this, minus the actual criminal record. I had the same instincts as you, and something told me to just let the whole thing slip away with as little drama as possible (ie. be busy, tell him about my plans to leave town in the next few months, focus on my career, don't make any effort to hold his attention etc.).

We parted ways amicably. Every couple of years, I'd run into him at a party or something with his very charming, sweet, quiet girlfriend, who eventually became his wife, and I'd wistfully tell myself that my misgivings had come from the fact that I had never been his type. I also rolled my eyes at my former dramatic interpretation of his "jokes."

And then, he was arrested for murdering that sweet, quiet wife, whom it turned out he'd been keeping in a cage in his basement, with a choke collar around her neck, for a year before he strangled her.

Red flag. Blood red, IMHO.
posted by rpfields at 9:58 PM on August 27, 2019 [19 favorites]

oh dear god! I had a bf like that. Run for your life.
posted by james33 at 4:54 AM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

My contributions come from person experience. I don’t watch much tv and I absolutely don’t watch murder shows. My actual lived experience includes a relationship that began with this pattern of ‘jokes.’ Women in America are murdered by intimate partners at an astonishing rate. Many on Metafilter have friends and loved ones who have died in or after relationships that start the way you describe.
posted by bilabial at 9:14 AM on August 28, 2019 [5 favorites]

Yeah, I was with a dude who, on an early date, got out of our car at a stop light to go punch the person in front of us. Yes, this escalated to him getting violent with me.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:19 AM on August 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

Okay, but ... for real, maybe I’m (or we’re) watching too many murder shows?

Men who think that jokes about assaulting women are funny are men who think that assaulting women is fun.
posted by mhoye at 11:00 AM on August 28, 2019 [9 favorites]

>Okay, but ... for real, maybe I’m (or we’re) watching too many murder shows?

Statistically the man most likely to kill you is your intimate partner. That's not murder shows, that's crime statistics. And murderers can be very handsome and charming.

Please please please be very careful about how you break up with him.
posted by Cozybee at 11:22 AM on August 29, 2019 [6 favorites]

Especially this is very much real deal no joke holy fuck kinds of danger. Stragulation is one of the primary ways intimate partner violence leads to death: Strangulation in Intimate Partner Violence Fact Sheet.
The Truth About Domestic Violence Murders:
  • “Strangulation” is defined as “the obstruction of blood vessels and/or airflow in the neck resulting in asphyxia.” And just like you can’t be “a little bit pregnant,” victims can’t be “choked just a little bit” by their attackers and not have serious, significant, permanent, or even fatal damage to their throats or brains. Brain cell death from choking is rapid and often fatal.
  • “One in four women will experience intimate partner violence (IPV) in their lifetimes, and of women at high risk, up to 68 percent will experience near-fatal strangulation by their partner. Loss of consciousness can occur within 5 to 10 minutes; death within minutes.” The defenses by an attacker that, “I didn’t know my own strength” or “I didn’t mean to choke her/him that hard” shouldn’t be valid anymore, and prosecutors are rightly moving to file attempted murder charges in these cases.
  • “97 percent of victims were strangled manually (with hands); 38 percent reported losing consciousness; 35 percent are strangled during sexual assault/abuse—9 percent is also pregnant, and 70 percent of strangled women believed they were going to die.” Sadly, these statistics are almost too painful to consider. Doctors, cops, prosecutors, and importantly, juries, have to hear these numbers and let their impact sink in.
  • The terrifying conclusion here is not only that if you have been choked before but you’re also likely to be choked again; it’s that you have a tremendous risk of being killed by someone who has choked you before.
  • “Only half of the victims have visible injuries, and of these, only 15 percent could be photographed.” The most common visible injuries are neck bruising and so-called “petechiae spots,” which show up on the face, scalp, mouth, earlobes, eyelids, and eyeballs of choked victims. Choking also causes damage to the victim’s throat, making breathing, swallowing, coughing, and talking difficult. Infrared forensic cameras can document tissue damage in the throat.
  • “Death can occur days or weeks after the attack due to carotid artery dissection and respiratory complications such as pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), and the risk of blood clots traveling to the brain (embolization).”
  • “Psychological injury includes PTSD, depression, suicidal ideations, memory problems, nightmares, anxiety, severe stress reaction, amnesia, and psychosis.” Imagine what goes through the minds of victims after their partners have damaged their ability to eat, speak, and breathe?
  • “Today, 38 states have legislation against strangulation. The 2013 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) added strangulation and suffocation to federal law.” Why is it not addressed as “attempted murder” all 50 states?
  • posted by Blasdelb at 2:29 AM on August 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

    Red flag. Get the hell out.
    posted by escape from the potato planet at 9:29 AM on September 8, 2019

    Domestic violence murders
    "Violent choking is almost entirely confined to fatal domestic attacks on women — while fewer than 1 percent of all homicides result from strangulation, 6 percent of women killed by intimate partners die in this manner, The Post found. It’s also a warning sign. Those who attempt to strangle an intimate partner are far more likely to later commit extreme acts of violence, police and researchers say, and many in law enforcement believe it to be a strong indicator that an abusive relationship could turn fatal."
    posted by Blasdelb at 11:52 AM on September 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

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