April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, for which I am participating in the Red My Lips campaign and sharing this publicly for the first time.
Since a long absence from this blog last summer, I have a few posts elsewhere that I'll be adding and updating here as I am able. I wrote this November 10, 2014.
Not recommended for family . . . but whatever; you're adults.
CN: about 1800 words describing sexual abuse, emotional manipulation, boundary and consent violations
I’m trying to deal with something and have only spoken about bits and pieces here and there to different people. I think getting it all in one place might be helpful, though my heart now pounds furiously, just shy of a full-on panic attack.
There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you. – Maya Angelou
Not quite a month ago, I was at an event and a friend said to me, “Hey, isn’t that [your ex] over there?” Startled, I looked and quickly replied, “No, I don’t know that guy,” not recognizing him. A little while later he said to me, “Hey, stranger,” and I inhaled sharply. “Oh, I didn’t even notice,” I replied with false cheer and quickly walked away.
I spent the rest of the afternoon with my heart racing and barely fighting the urge to jump into my car and leave straightaway. I managed to avoid him for a few short hours until dinner, because then he sat with my friends. I pointedly ignored him and left early.
Before that day, I truly thought I would never see him again, and I was surprised by how upsetting his presence was. I was ill at ease me for days—two weeks—after that until speaking of it with complete strangers at a women’s event I attended on a whim, and there conceded that I ought to contact the friends who I believed brought him and ask them to let me know in advance if it happened again.
I sent a message to that effect, explaining that seeing him unexpectedly was emotionally too much to handle cold and asking if they’d please give me a heads up if they knew when he’d be attending future events. I was then informed that he’d recently been attending quite regularly at the Denton chapter again, from which he’d been absent since we broke up in 2005.
And since learning that, I’ve been seriously considering quitting altogether this organization that I’ve belonged to for nearly a decade. I’ve been fine with ignoring another ex at events all year, but the thought of seeing this one again makes me sick.
Our mutual friends know we dated in the past but didn’t know there was any problem. (They can see this, but I don't know whether they will.) I was 18, a freshman in college, and I was drawn by the allure of dating a dark and mysterious “older” guy (24). It was my first adult relationship, and I was oblivious at the time to how deeply flawed it was, having never seen modeled a healthy adult relationship in my life and never been taught about the concept of “consent.” I thought this was what a relationship was and that I was just inexperienced and immature. I was/am REALLY smart, and that sort of thing—emotional abuse—doesn’t or can’t happen to intelligent women like me, to good people like me.
He would frequently get me drunk and push boundaries because he (and he actually said this) got off on the idea of popping my cherry, though I’d told him I intended to wait for marriage. I was raised Catholic and had no such reservations about most other sexual contact, though, so we did fool around. And more than once he’d shove his dick in my face begging for a blowjob until I was literally in tears. I didn’t want to stick some guy’s dick in my mouth; I viewed it as shameful and gross because of the way men talk about it and talk about the women who’ve done it.
Throw some body-shaming into the mix: He told me I should do pushups because my pert, 18-year-old D-cup breasts were too "floppy." THEY'RE BREASTS! I was shocked, hurt, and shamed into silence. Anger over that remark has stuck with me since then.
I went to a camping event that summer with him and his friends, whom I’d barely met but were very welcoming, even if they teased more than I was used to. He served a shift one evening at admissions, and in the meantime I’d had a fantastic time sitting at the main campfire with one friend I knew there, listening to everyone’s stories and soaking up the good cheer.
His close friend rushed up to me and said boyfriend was upset and looking for me and was back at camp.
I went to find him and asked what was wrong. He was in a panic, said he’d been searching for me and couldn’t find me and thought the worst. I’d been with [woman friend] at the main campfire and hadn’t ever seen him pass by that area. He assumed I’d gone to fuck some other guy. He was hurt and scared and upset. I tried to comfort him: “What have I ever done to make you think I’d do such a thing?”
“You’ve never done anything to make me think you wouldn’t.”
I was shocked into silence, absolutely horrified. And, deeply hurt, I began to cry. I tried to get up to leave, but he held me—stopped me. (No, it wasn't like *that* I would later tell friends who suddenly reacted with anger.) He tried to explain away his words, blame his insecurities on the ex-girlfriend he’d wanted to marry before me. Once I’d managed to calm myself, I got up again to go to the bathroom I told him. “But you’re coming back, right?” he pleaded. I wanted a little space to breathe for a few moments, but I don’t think it had occurred to me not to return until he said that. And I placated him with an affirmative response.
It was a long walk and I felt numb. I saw one or two of our friends between the camp and toilet. His friend told me that boyfriend had been talking some craziness about packing everything up and catching a bus back home that very night because he was so upset, thinking I had left him. He would have stranded me. I didn’t want to go back to him, but I didn’t know what to do.
I now know that I would have been taken care of, that his friends are good people, but I didn’t then. I didn’t see any choices but to . . . I don’t know—beg his forgiveness for the imagined betrayal?
I stayed with him—we were in love, right?—but tried to break up with him about a month later. I was resolved, but somehow he talked me to tears again, reminding me that we loved one another, something crazy about emotions and not-quite guilt-tripping me into a “break.” I ultimately conceded in the hope that I could at least leave his damn house sooner. (I was living on campus but stayed over with him a lot. God, I HATED his fucking water bed. My back was always wrecked by it.)The typical pain of a breakup haunted me for a few weeks and months afterward, but I was OK then. He tried “befriending” me a few times a few years later. I took him at his word and treated him as such, but he hid his disappointment at my casual disinterest poorly.
I never wanted to be a victim. I never wanted to use that word. After escaping that relationship, I recognized and named the emotional abuse for what it was. But I never used that word. And I read a lot of stories from a lot of women very like me, but I didn’t use the R-word either. It didn’t seem to fit, and I couldn’t manage the implications if I called it that. Either I’d be appropriating a word and status that didn’t belong to me, because it wasn’t like he forced me. I eventually gave in and had sex with him for my own reasons, or that's what I tell myself. But he'd been pushing for it for several months.
The fact is: coerced consent is not consent; resigned consent is not consent; and impaired consent is not consent (such as by alcohol).
He was always speaking of his sexual experience and prowess as if he were God’s gift to women, and I’d laugh and demure, since he knew I didn’t want to have sex with him. When we finally did it, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, if this is how great sex is, I guess I’m going to spend my life rather disappointed.” It didn’t nearly match his hype, but how was I to know any different?
Only more recently have I been able to name the manipulation and sexual abuse for what it was. I want to believe that talking about it can help. Recent events have triggered a lot of remembered hurt and there may be a lot left unprocessed because I didn’t want name it for so long.
I hear through the grapevine that he’s a different person now. There’s an unstated societal expectation that I (that anyone) should let go, forgive and forget. Our mutual friends don’t know most of this story, and I don’t know whether I ought to tell them.
Whoever he is now and whatever he’s been through doesn’t change what happened, and it doesn’t change how it’s ruined a big damn part of my past, present, and future relationships. I’m not obligated to forgive anything. Forgiveness is a gift of absolution to the wrongdoer. It doesn’t do anything for me.
From Skepchick commenter LeftSidePositive: This focus on “forgiveness” can also mean that the person who was wronged might be pressured out of making decisions in their best interest–for instance, someone might have “moved on” after someone stole from them–but by conflating this with “forgiveness” they can be guilted out of taking precautions not to let them be vulnerable to theft from that person again. And then the conflation goes the other way too–when someone in the social circle implies that the wronged person is unhealthy and hasn’t “moved on” enough when they take reasonable precautions having learned from being wronged. . . . As such, an abusive person can simply wave our cultural imperative about forgiveness and continue the cycle of abuse, all the while enablers are insisting that the wronged person is actually more “empowered” by “forgiving” and remaining vulnerable.
I don’t know what’s going to happen now. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. Painful though it may be, I think that remembering all this is a necessary step in validating my present feelings and desire not to see this person or be around him ever again. (Aside: What the hell kind of fucked-up socialization does this society have that I feel the need to write 1800 words validating my fucking feelings?) But my feelings are a bit calmer now, at least.
April update: I still go, though not as often. I've had to interact with him in a professional manner because of positions in which I've volunteered to serve the organization. I'll be attending a weekend-long immersive event and will see him frequently because we're both competing in the same competition and typically camp with the same people.
I can no longer camp with my friends because it's not a safe place for me to be any more, and I don't know where I will end up this weekend. This is causing no small amount of daily anxiety leading up to it.
I expect to need a long break after the event. And that will undoubtedly hurt my opportunities for advancement in the organization. Twisted. But I have other things going on in my life that I enjoy pursuing. That's what I tell myself to lessen the hurt and disappointment.
I don't know what else to do.