"What Two Consenting Adults Do Is Their Own Business"

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Sheila made $14 an hour and had no savings – which was a vast improvement on the dirt-poor family she’d grown up in.  She’d started to get the little luxuries most people take for granted – being able to pay her bills before the shutoff notices came, seeing the doctor when she was sick, not worrying about the landlord’s visits because her rent check was in.  Even if her apartment still had a thermostat that didn’t work and a leaky bathroom ceiling because her drunk neighbor upstairs kept overfilling her bathtub.
Then Peter told her something really awesome: for the same amount her apartment cost, she could buy a house.
The government was subsidizing housing loans, now, and what with the rising economy, houses would be cheap forever.  He showed her all kinds of reports showing how she could keep a nice, two-bedroom house to raise her kids in, instead of the sketchy neighborhood Sheila lived in now.  She was doubtful – $14 an hour wasn’t a lot, particularly after the bills came due – but Peter was on her side, wanting her to get the nice things she deserved.  He kept coming by to explain all the complicated financial details that would make this work – an endless series of refinances, exactly what all the rich people did, to keep her payments low.
Peter was kind, and sweet, and even strangely protective of her, in his own way.  And frankly, Sheila didn’t have a lot of experience in matters of finance.  She’d grown up in a place where most business was done on a handshake, where traded favors were the norm, and hardly anyone had the cash to deal with taxes or interest rates or anything like that.
She had no clue.  But Peter did.  And Peter, as noted, was nice.  He even bought her lunch sometimes.
So when Sheila signed the contract and moved into her new home, she was thrilled.  She held a housewarming party, so all her friends could see how she’d moved up in the world!  She told all her buddies and co-workers that she was a proud homeowner.
This was one of the greatest moments in Sheila’s life, honestly.  This was proof she’d escaped poverty.  That she’d worked hard, and now was being rewarded with the American Dream.
She was truly, deeply happy.

She was also a consenting adult.

Now, I’m pretty sure you know where this is going: Sheila’s happiness was based on a bunch of false assumptions, the first of which was that Peter was her friend.  Peter was, in fact, selling houses in bulk because he got a percentage of the final sale – once the sale was completed, so was his interest in Sheila.
Peter’s entire interest was to get Sheila to buy as expensive a house as could possibly be wrangled out of her, pulling various tricks to fluff her credit (including some outright fraud in what Sheila made), and engineering the absolute worst kind of loans.  If he could get $14-an-hour Sheila to buy a $200,000 home – and he wasn’t even the bank giving her the loan! – then he would get $10,000 in cash.  He told Sheila, “Oh, you can refinance later on,” but that was never going to happen; the minute interest rates rose by half a percentage, Sheila was toast.
Peter didn’t give a crap.  To Peter, Sheila was a target to be fleeced.  He knew she had no experience with finances. He knew, in fact, that in the neighborhoods she came from, it was seen as a sign of disrespect to question a friend’s word.  So he abused Sheila’s reluctance to let himself outright lie about what was on the contact, telling her entirely different things than what were on the paper she was legally binding herself to, knowing that nobody had ever told Sheila, “You read everything before you sign it.”  And in fact, Sheila did notice some oddities as she was signing, but Peter told her, “That’s just a contract, we’ll renegotiate those in a year.  This is standard operating procedure.”
Sheila, it should be noted, was very very happy on the day she bought her house.

Now.  This isn’t (that) fictional a story.  My wife’s a bankruptcy lawyer, and she’ll tell you about all the messes she’s cleaning up from Peters who used every legal trick to screw people out of their money.  In fact, her job is largely seeing what she can to keep people in their homes, which they’re very proud of, and heartbroken to lose.
But what she often has to tell people is, “Peter lied.  The only reason you moved into this house is because Peter was quietly fucking you over to get his commission.  And now you’re going to lose the house.”
The Sheilas of the world are not happy.  Very not happy.   In fact, all the happiness they had when they threw their housewarming parties now seems like utter foolishness.
Which, actually, it kinda was.
Shame they didn’t know better.

Now, you can have all sorts of debates about how smart Sheila should have been despite an environment that had utterly unprepared her for complex questions of finance, or exactly what sort of duties Peter had to warn her about his true motivations.  But that’s not the point.
Strangely, this essay isn’t about the housing market.
It’s about consenting adults.
Because over the weekend, one of my old essays went viral again, racking up over 1,200 new “loves” on FetLife and 250 new comments plopping in my inbox.  That essay was on how awful the One-Penis Policy usually is, wherein some insecure dude tells his girlfriend she can date anyone she wants, so long as it’s someone he’s attracted to.  And not someone with a penis.  Because God forbid there’s a penis to compete with his colossal schlong.
And while there are many women who remain happy with this arrangement, many more eventually find that the One-Penis Policy is actually a danger sign: the boyfriend doesn’t want his girlfriend to be happy, what he wants is to have all of his fantasies fulfilled.  He doesn’t actually give a shit about her, he only cares about potentially fucking her friends, treating her like jiggling bait dangled in sexy waters.
And when the girlfriend’s emotional needs come into conflict with the boyfriend’s – as happens, in any relationship, over time – then they discover that their entire relationship is a variant on the One-Penis Policy – which is to say, “Your sex life is only all right so long as it titillates me, and your emotions are all right only as long as I’m not inconvenienced.”  And at the first major divergence, poof.  He’s gone.
This isn’t an illusion, by the way.  Like my wife endlessly trying to fix the mess that poor homeless Sheilas are in now, you can go to FetLife and see literally a hundred comments from women going, “Yeah, that happened to me.”
But there’s also half as many comments from people going, “Ghod, Ferrett, this is two people in a consenting relationship, and if both are happy, who the fuck are you to judge?”
And the answer is, because Sheila was happy.  She was happy because she thought Peter was her friend, whereas Peter was actually looking at her as a natural resource to be exploited.  Her happiness was based on something that wasn’t actually true – an untruth encouraged by Peter, who did everything he could to obscure his true motives.
And while there are doubtlessly good-Peters out there, Peters who found a legitimate way to get good housings for Sheilas with slightly better credit lines, saying, “Well, as long as it’s between two consenting adults, it’s wonderful” is to condemn poor Sheilas to years worth of agony and self-recrimination.  I’m not saying that every Sheila is getting fucked over, nor am I saying that every guy who institutes the OPP is a selfish and unsupportive monster.
But the comments will show: Some significant percentage of them are.
And to handwave that experience away under the guise of “Who are we to judge?”, implying this judgy topic shouldn’t even be raised, condemns ignorant future-Sheilas to endless predations by Peters.
I’m not saying women should never enter into a One-Penis Policy relationship.  I’m not saying Sheila should never ever buy a home.  But I am hoping to fuck that anyone who enters into a One-Penis Policy understands that it goes wrong for a lot of women in precisely this way, and to watch for the danger signs, because even though you’re as happy as a new homeowner now, this happiness may turn out to be something you ultimately regret.
Maybe it won’t.  And if so, I wish you success with your new sole-penis in your new two-bedroom home, because if you’re happy in the long run then I am happy.  For true.
But a little education would have saved Sheila from a tremendous upset, just as reading my OPP essay has caused a couple of women to reexamine their relationships and ask some questions that revealed the true motivations of their boyfriends.  And if you’re going to say, “Who are you to question what happens between two consenting adults?” the answer is that I am not anyone who should be questioning.
The person in the relationship should be questioning.  And sometimes, like Sheila, they don’t know quite enough yet to ask the right questions.  And it’s only by airing questions like this that they have any hope of learning.

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