“Are you dating anyone?”
“How’s your love life?”
“Seeing anyone special?”
“Don’t worry. You’ll find someone.”
As I face the downward slope of my twenties, my love life is considered an open agenda item for all acquaintances to question. And after I detail a bad date, or my latest breakup, or my recent purposeful attempts to stay single, they devolve into the placating, uncomfortable, halfhearted refrain: “Don’t worry. You’ll find someone.”
I think about telling them I’ve given up, and I think about how it would go, and I know it would make them more uncomfortable than they like. It would make them pity me when that’s not my goal. So I keep it quiet. But secretly, usually, I have given up on the idea of someone loving me, for a long time, as I am. That doesn’t mean I won’t date, I won’t have fun, I won’t enjoy casual sex or drunken flirtations. It just means that I’m not holding my breath for another great love.
I was a fifteen year-old virgin when I was raped by my boyfriend’s best friend, who repeated “I love you,” throughout the assault, even while his hand covered my mouth and he told me to hold still, as though manic declarations of love would make me stop crying, stop begging, stop fighting. He did it because he loved me so much, he said later. He had to show me.
I was sixteen, and somehow still naive, when he did it again.
I was twenty-two when I finally broke up with his best friend, my boyfriend of seven years, the one who was my boyfriend even through the suffering and the trauma and the recovery. He doesn’t know that I often doubt whether he loved me as much as I loved him. Sometimes I tell myself it’s crazy to think he only stayed with me so long out of guilt over what happened, when we were so young, but other times it doesn’t feel so crazy to think that’s the only way someone like him, so genuine and beautiful and wholesome, could love me.
I have had sex with eight men in my life. Some were kind, some were brutal, some were rough, some were gentle. Some seemed to look right through me, even while they fucked me.
I was twenty-three when I started dating a man that I liked, one who I thought I could maybe grow to love given time. Having only been with one man who knew my everything, I had and still have a very hard time deciding how to broach the subject of my past with new men. On one hand, telling them early feels like a guaranteed effort to make the relationship heavy and cumbersome, meaningful before it’s ready to be. On the other – it’s going to come out eventually. While it grows easier daily to dispel reminders of my rapist, it’s harder to keep nightmares of suffocating underneath him at bay. Sometimes I call out in my sleep. Sometimes I disassociate during sex. Coping exposes me.
I decided to tell this man after we had been dating and sleeping together for only a few months. He made me laugh. He made me come. He was insatiable and I was enjoying an era of something new and fun after so much of the same for so many years. I was enjoying feeling wanted. I told him about my history and he got quiet. He said: “I’m sorry that happened to you.” He only hugged me good night, and he did it like he might break me, his fingertips on my shoulder blades. On our next few dates, I had to kiss him first, and press my body onto his, and still he kept his hands firmly to himself. He was no longer insatiable. Our few following attempts at sex were soft, quiet, serious. He did not look at me. And suddenly, he was busy at work. His texts grew vague, and then faint, and then nonexistent. He no longer wanted to touch me when he learned how else I’d been touched.
I was twenty-six when I decided to sleep with a man after only three dates, throwing caution to the wind in favor of breaking a four-month dry spell. I had not tried to tell anyone else about my trauma, instead praying that they did not trigger me and hoping they wouldn’t notice even if they did. Though we were still getting to know each other, and though it was our first time, he didn’t seem concerned with reconciling our needs. He fucked me rough and fast, held me down, hands on my throat and hips and twisted in my hair. I sat on the toilet and cried in his bathroom after he fell asleep, and told him the next day it couldn’t be like that again. When I told him why, this guy who was cute and laid-back and sensible, he balked. He put up his hands. He tried to soften the blow, but ultimately he said: “that’s too serious for me.”
He didn’t say the words but I knew what he meant: “that baggage is a deal-breaker.” “The bounty of being with you is not worth the cost of not being able to fuck you however I want.” “I don’t want to have to worry about your feelings while I get off.”
What he did say out loud, not unkindly, not with any trace of cruelty, was “When you get over it, you should call me. I’ve had a fun time with you.”
When I get over it.
When you get over it, you’ll be worth my attention again. When you can lay down and take it exactly how I want to give it, then you’re the total package. I am never going to be worth it. And that’s okay with me.
I am not saying that survivors cannot be loved, or are too much trouble, or that their trauma defines them even if they don’t want it to. I know that we are common, and we can be found in loving, healthy relationships of a dozen kinds, ones where our partners have borne our pain, talked through our grief, worked with our needs.
What I am saying, what has been made abundantly clear to me, is that I, personally, am not worth the very high premium of my detriments. I am not beautiful, or charming. I’m, frankly, unambitious; I’m mediocre. I’m not funnier than anyone else. I don’t take risks or make spontaneous moves. I am predictable, and middle of the road. And that means that no one will bother loving me, because what they get in exchange for the emotional labor of navigating my baggage is a thoroughly unremarkable and disengaging person.
This, all this, is what I would have to explain to people when I tell them that I know I’m not going to be loved again. I remember the men whose eyes flickered while they calculated my pros and cons, weighing RAPED, NEEDY, DAMAGED against the lackluster pros.
So instead of inflicting this on these well-meaning people, the ones who spring eternally hopeful and assure me not to worry, I self-deprecatingly chuckle and say, “Man. I sure hope you’re right.”