Dear Wendy: “Should I Tell My New Boyfriend I Was Raped?”
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for three months and things are going great. I really enjoy his company, I respect him, and I feel safe around him. The problem is, three years ago my ex-boyfriend raped me. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I was raped (because he wasn’t a stranger, because it wasn’t the stereotypical “guy jumping out of the bushes” scenario) and so I never talked to a counselor about it. For the most part I have moved on with my life and am able to function normally in romantic/sexual situations. Every now and then though it still bothers me and I feel really angry and upset. I would like to tell my boyfriend about this part of my past, first because it does still affect me and second because I need to talk to someone about it and I feel like I need to be able to admit to it happening to be able to get over it. But, we haven’t been dating that long and I don’t want to make him see me differently or feel differently about me. I also am worried about scaring him off (which is probably irrational) or making him feel like he can’t be sexual with me. Advice? — Survivor in Indiana
First of all, I’m so sorry your ex-boyfriend raped you. Regardless of the details and the surrounding circumstances, rape is a traumatic experience that no woman — or man, for that matter — ever deserves to experience. You’re right that you definitely need to speak to someone about the feelings you’ve been trying to process for the last three years, but it shouldn’t be your boyfriend. In fact, I would hold off on telling him about the rape until you: A) seek counseling from a qualified professional, and B) know your boyfriend well enough that you trust the news of your rape will be received in the most caring, loving way. If you’re worried you could potentially scare him off, you’re not at a point yet in your relationship and in accepting yourself as a rape survivor that you can trust him with such an intimate revelation.
Speaking with a qualified professional — preferably one who specializes in rape counseling — will help you understand that while what you experienced was terrible, you aren’t to blame and you have nothing to feel ashamed of. A rape counselor can help you deal with feelings of anger, sadness, rage, fear — all the emotions associated with your rape and its aftermath. These are issues and feelings you absolutely need to deal with in order to move on and have happy, healthy relationships not only with men, but with yourself and the world around you. But it’s important to remember that as much as you may care for each other, it’s not your boyfriend’s job to be your counselor. Entrusting him with that role not only jeopardizes your relationship, more importantly, it jeopardizes your healing process. Your boyfriend might be a great listener and a wonderful friend; he may even, after only three months, show remarkable support and care for you. But none of that qualifies him as a counselor, and giving him that kind of responsibility puts undue pressure on both of you that could very well scare him off. I’m suggesting that even if he’s mature and compassionate to handle the news of your rape well, that definitely doesn’t mean he has the tools to guide you through the healing process.
And the thing is that there are guys out there for whom rape is a very scary topic. There are guys who could very well turn in fear at the news that their new girlfriend is a rape survivor. Obviously, those aren’t the kind of guys you’d want to be with anyway, but until you get the kind of counseling you need, I worry that a reaction from a guy like that could do some serious damage to your psyche. After only three months, it might be hard to tell whether your guy falls into that camp or not, which is why I’m suggesting holding off on telling him the news until you seek professional help. A qualified counselor can give you the tools you need for sharing your news with potential mates and dealing with their reactions. For the record, I do think the news should be shared with someone you plan to have a committed relationship with, but you need to learn when and how to share the news, first. In the meantime, I assume you’ve shared the story of your rape with your parents and close friends you trust, but if you haven’t, begin there. Start with people who have known you a long time and whose support and encouragement you can trust. While they may not have the professional tools a counselor has, they can complement the work you’ll be doing in therapy and support you on your road to healing.
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