I was always utterly convinced that I was stronger and more logically driven than the average woman when it came to dealing with relationships. I remember reading stories about women who stayed with men after being hurt by them; who made excuses for a man’s violation or abuse, swatting away any logical notion of leaving and taking their dignity with them. For what? Validation? I never understood what the hell that was supposed to mean. Rather than reaching out to friends, family or professionals for help, you stick around to be validated by the very person that took something from you? That, and all the other obscure, irrational reasons that are so often cited. I was convinced that I was far too strong and sensible to ever stick around after being treated poorly. I’d turn and leave the asshole to fester in his guilt … at the very least.
Well, when it happened to me I didn’t leave. As for excuses? I made a trillion of them.
We had been dating for a little over a year, on and off, but at this point, we’d decided to give the relationship a real shot. We even had a romantic trip away booked. One night, we had this nice, lazy movie night together, culminating in a hefty sex marathon. Seriously hefty, which was fucking great and nothing out of the ordinary, but it meant that in the morning, I was well and truly benched. Damn sore. He, on the other hand, was ready and raring to go again.
I lovingly but very firmly told him that there was no way; I’d burst into flames if we re-visited my vagina. He lovingly told me he’d “be quick.” I insisted I couldn’t. He whined that he hadn’t seen me for so long, that he’d missed me, and “Please?”
“No. Sorry. Physically incapable,” I told him.
He “promised” he’d be “really quick” and would “stop if it hurt.” He tried talking me into it, kissing me into it, loving me into it. I grew exhausted and uncomfortable by the back-and-forth, I felt guilty, and ran out of non-insulting ways to say no. I shut my mouth for a matter of seconds, and with a quick but somehow gentle flip I was face down, and it was happening. I yelled out in pain. Asked him to stop. He asked if I was OK, I said no, but he was already in another world. He didn’t stop.
Maybe if I screamed at the top of my lungs, he would have stopped – but I didn’t. I didn’t want to piss him off, and most of all, I didn’t want it to be a thing. If I had to scream or belt my elbow into my boyfriend to get him off me, it would automatically be a horrible, deep, gutting big deal with repercussions I was scared shitless of.
Immediately after, in the deafening silence as we dressed, I quietly tried to raise the issue of what had just happened. Very quietly, very awkwardly, and very badly. I had no idea what to say or how to process it. Besides, he had a football game to get to.
The burning pain made me angry. The emotions felt so foreign. I was hurt that he had neglected my well-being. I was upset that screaming/shoving were maybe the only ways it would have stopped; that my insistent “no, please don’ts” weren’t enough. However, I couldn’t (or didn’t want to?) pinpoint this wobbly weak thing I was feeling.
As for him? I actually do believe that he locked that morning up and packed it away in an unreachable corner of his mind; that was always his M.O., so there was no way he was going to initiate conversation about it. I channeled my jumble of emotions into passive aggressive anger towards him, about anything and everything. In my mind, I wanted him to speak up and tell me that morning shouldn’t have happened, that he was so sorry and he should have stopped.
He didn’t, and I couldn’t bring myself to articulate to him or even feel the reality: I am hurt, confused and upset because I feel physically and emotionally violated by you.
It was when he suggested that if I was this stressed and grumpy then we should cancel our weekend away that I panicked and retracted. I felt an overwhelming need for him to stay by my side.
I sucked up the weird, confused emotions in the hope that it’d all go away. But it kept leaking out in my behavior, which was nothing but destructive. When I finally decided I had to raise the issue, I was positively shitting myself. He didn’t want to hear it, and I didn’t want to say it.
I reassured him that I knew he cared about me, I knew he was a good person who would never intentionally hurt me, that this was all going to be OK, it just needed to be addressed and then it’d go away. By the time I finished my disclaimers, I was in tears and he already knew what I was going to say. His defenses were up.
“So you want to actually use that word and make me feel like a monster? It will never go away, so why don’t you just leave?” he yelled.
No fucking way did I want to leave. I couldn’t. I felt like I needed him more than ever at that point. I needed him to love me, I couldn’t bear to watch him look away from me. I also couldn’t deal with watching him struggle so hard to push away the utter grief that would inevitably be caused by facing his actions. He looked like a little kid who had accidentally broken his mom’s favorite vase then quickly disposed of it because couldn’t bear to ‘fess up and see her face.
I sucked it up again. I said it was OK. I said that I knew he never meant to hurt me, that I loved him, I knew he loved me, that he was so good to me and I appreciated him. The more I denied it, the more he warmed, and I felt better when he was warm with me. We never broached the subject again. I buried it, and he buried it even deeper.
Nothing was ever quite the same for me after that. We broke up a few months later, and it wasn’t amicable. When it was over, he took his warmth with him. As soon as he was gone, the chill of that morning returned and with it came a morbid lack of self-esteem. I’d relied on feeling his warmth to feel valid, and to help keep this shitty thing patched up with excuses. I felt deep down that I’d brought it on myself with complacency, lack of strength, stupidity, human vulnerability or whatever you want to call it.
My false sense of strength came tumbling down. With it, the emotional consequences of that morning finally hit me like a ton of bricks. I thought about it daily, cried about it and descended into this gross state of sadness and weakness. I asked him to help — I fucking begged him to help, to at least talk to me. Of course, just as he never wanted to engage with it when we were together, there was no way he wanted to go there now. The more I pushed and needed and desperately pleaded, the further he ran.
In the depths of this ugly despair, and without him to talk to, I finally opened up to my best friend about it. Then my parents. Then my sister, and eventually a couple of other close friends. Rape was a scary word to say out loud for the first time. It helped, but I went back and forth. One day I’d allow them to comfort me and take on their loving validation of my experience: declarations that I’m a beautiful, worthwhile person who doesn’t deserve to have my emotions dictated by how this guy treated me. The next day I’d feel utterly convinced that he was the only person that could validate me and give me back my sense of self-worth. Going through weeks in this dark haze, I felt like my personality and sense of self were zapped. I felt gross, trashy, unlovable, ugly, stupid. I couldn’t toughen up. My brain understood the logic my friends and family were telling me – that seeking validation from him would never properly reinstate my personal strength – but I was too weak to listen. I felt like he owned my self-empowerment, and I couldn’t get it back unless he gave it back to me.
Today, I’m still working towards being emotionally at peace with that morning. I wish I could conclude this tale with solid “how to deal” advice, but I’m still wading through and figuring it out myself. I still can’t believe I was weak enough to go where I swore I would never go. I’ve learned through this experience that vulnerability exists in everyone; even tough little old me. I am predicting, however, that once I’m fully back on track, I’ll also know this: it exists so that we can learn from it and kick its butt the next time.
[Photo from Shutterstock]