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What it's like to date after being sexually assaulted

Apr. 8, 2017

“Why don’t you have a boyfriend?”

It’s a simple enough question, and it’s one that’s usually intended as a compliment by your family member/ classmate/ coworker, since they usually follow it up with some opinion about how wonderful/ fun/ thoughtful/ ideal-girlfriend-y you are. But it doesn’t always have a simple answer. There are a million things you wish you could tell them, a million reasons you wish you could tell yourself. Even the few people you trust enough to have told What Happened can’t answer that question for you. You hate that What Happened changed you, but it did. 

And now you’re dealing with it as best you can, but sometimes that feeling of helplessness creeps up when you least expect it. It’s the feeling of fearing intimacy, loathing your body because you feel like it betrayed you, waking up sweating and terrified even in places you know you should feel safe. It’s the cold feeling that sweeps across your neck every time you walk through a parking garage alone or put in a tampon or hear a rape joke and someone you trusted laughs. You’re drowning in the air. It’s not fair, and you know it’s not fair, but sometimes you can’t help but feel totally and completely helpless. 

For months after my own incident I wished I could just forget it all together. I felt totally lost and adrift and lost all semblance of physical stability: cyclical bouts of depression, eating disorders, strict workout regimens and caloric deprivation, periods when I totally myself go. Sex was out of the question. Letting someone touch me in any remotely sexual way was out of the question. I wanted to be held, hugged, and made to feel safe, but I had no idea how to communicate that, let alone how to foist such emotional baggage on anyone. I hated feeling helpless, and I hated that my well-constructed life plan had been shattered by a stranger. I hated that I now thought of life events in terms of Before It Happened and After It Happened. Most of all I hated what my newfound helplessness meant for the future I’d always envisioned for myself: if I couldn’t even bring myself to date, I’d never have a husband or kids, and that just destroyed me. 

After thirty-two months of resigning myself to the fact that I would never be able to communicate that baggage to anyone or let anyone in, I went to dinner with an old friend, then another dinner, then another one. And maybe it’s because I’ve known him for most of my life, or because he feels like home, but for the first time I got to reconsider what it would be like to actually be in a relationship. I’d resigned myself to a whole future restricted by my inability to ever be intimate with anyone – staying single, adopting – and for the first time I felt like the conventional life path I’d always dreamed of could maybe be an option once more. 

When he kissed me for the first time I didn’t freeze up, and that felt like a huge step. When he asked if I wanted to go back to his apartment I nodded and held his hand, and that felt like a huge step. When we got back to his apartment and he asked (as respectfully as possible) if he could take my pants off, I told him everything, and that felt like the biggest step I could ever take. And when he was content to just hold me and let me talk, that meant the world to me. 

We’re taking small steps. He’s the most patient, kind, and considerate person I could ever ask for, and I hope I get to spend the rest of my life coming up with ways to thank him.

For some it takes a long time until you feel comfortable enough with yourself to consider letting someone in. For some it takes no time at all. Everybody heals at different speeds, and you deserve to move at your own pace, whether it’s days, weeks, years. You never signed up to be a soldier or use your body as a battlefield, but now you’re a survivor. And survivors don’t need anyone to feel whole. You’ve already proven to yourself that you can withstand the worst on your own, and you should be proud of that. 

If they deserve you, they will understand when they need to be a friend, a protector, a confidante, or just a plain-old partner. They’ll know that sometimes you need to talk about it, and sometimes you don’t want to think about it at all and wish you could forget it all together.

If you’re in the same boat as me, just know that no matter what anyone might have told you, it is not your fault. No one deserves to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to them. You do not deserve that. And you will find someone who deserves you, even if it seems impossible. I promise.