This survivor story was written by a tough, funny, smart, educated, and humanitarian woman. She is evidence that violence can happen to anyone, and that it’s not always easy to pinpoint or recognize at first. Here is her story in her words.
I’ve often wondered why isn’t there a website where we can search for reviews of other people’s performance in bed? When I think on how often people would use it, I’m shocked this hasn’t been invented yet. In an age when we can look up our doctors, plumbers, and even rate our teachers – a place where there are clearly some subjective undertakings – why can’t we learn more about who we might wish to sleep with, before we take the plunge? (Have fun dreaming up names for that kind of social media site for the rest of your afternoon.)
Hear me out: Angie’s List, a site for the reviews of professionals and hired help around the house, doesn’t allow the company being reviewed to make changes to the assessments they deem unsatisfactory. And with good reason! Companies would flood the site with fake, positive appraisals of their work. I was once inappropriately hit on by the Elvis impersonator at my grandmother’s nursing home, and when I went on-line to see if there was a place to complain, there were already multiple negative comments about this guy. People who had hired him before said he has stolen from other nursing home residents, he’s been seen dangerously speeding on the interstate, and if my grandmother’s convalesce facility had just taken a peek on-line, they might not have hired him. There were precautions in place. There were warnings.
But back to the issue at hand: Pretend you’re a woman who is dating someone that seems pretty great. Wouldn’t it be reassuring to Google them and learn “Tom was so attentive. He listened to me and, when something wasn’t working, was willing to try new things.” Ah, sigh of relief. Now, if there are hundreds of reviews, we can start considering how many people he has pleased and also make an informed decision based on our understanding of what kind of sexual history is right for us. Oh, the possibilities! But alas, we have to make choices about others for ourselves; and sometimes we’re wrong.
I fell for a guy who seemed really great on the surface. He is so gregarious, and always has groups of people surrounding him and laughing along to his stories. He’s a terrific communicator, we had so much in common regarding work and interests, he’s well-groomed (but still rugged and handsome), and a bit older – all things that, to me, indicated we could take our relationship to the next level. Great communicator = great friend, right? Great friend = great lover, does it not?
Well, our first time being physical together was a disaster. Something about his wants were at odds with each other. He is a really tight-lipped kisser, which is fine, I can work with that. There was nice foreplay; he really seemed to be avoiding some sort of first time rush. But then, in the act, there was so much pushing, and grabbing, and hair pulling. I had no idea a nice, mild-mannered man would be so violent in bed. But it was the first time. Maybe he was over-acting, you know, trying too hard to impress?
Some weeks go by and he’s still a nice guy, still wants to spend time with me and talk and, except the occasional, short-lived fight, we really get along. He keeps pushing the idea that he wants to get to know me better, and he’s definitely not a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” kind of guy, so it seems like things are going great. I can work with this. But the next time we’re physical, a few weeks later, it’s just more of the same. I am more vocal this time, and say things like “Please don’t pull my hair,” because, let’s face it, it didn’t feel playful and I couldn’t enjoy myself. He listened, but with a shocked “oh,” as if considering “who wouldn’t like that?” But I thought ‘this could work; maybe we can compromise.’ That’s what great communicators and friends do.
But I was wrong. Time and time again it became apparent that he couldn’t climax unless I was pinned down, immobile, quiet, and basically in pain. This is no sexy Fifty Shades of Grey agreement thing, which I’d probably argue isn’t sexy anyway; this is a psychological need of his to overpower and conquer. Sure we tried other things. But, it was more of the same. The more I tried to suggest intercourse in which we’re equal players and both have a say in the rhythm or pace or location, the less he was into it. He’d want to stop halfway through, which would make me feel inadequate, or like a failure. I’d feel like I was doing something wrong. He would never finish “making love” to me unless I basically laid there and let him hurt me; but he is such a “nice guy,” remember?
Maybe some women might feel accommodating to these needs, and I am certainly not one to judge, but it’s just not in my nature to continue with this kind of behavior when I feel so uncomfortable with it. Maybe he had been with other women who liked him being forceful, and hurting them. Maybe he watched pornography that reinforced this behavior. And I wanted to accommodate his needs because he is so nice, but in the end it was hurting me far too much.
The truth is, I stayed with a man that was hurting me – a man that couldn’t bring himself to not hurt me, even when I asked.
Now, you might be thinking, “Why didn’t you just talk about it?” and you’d be right to. Sex is something we should feel comfortable discussing with our partners. It’s only safe and most pleasurable when we can. But he couldn’t. I’d ask ‘What can I do to help you climax?’ in, I assure you, usually sexier ways than that, and I’d be met with lots of “It’s a sensitive subject for me,” and “I just can’t a lot of the time, don’t worry about it;” but I wasworried about it. The only time he did was when I was feeling harmed in one way or another. If you think me a prude, that’s fine, but I’m not above a little spanking or anything, so don’t jump to conclusions on that front. I just can’t allow myself to be continuously held down in such a painful way, physically and emotionally.
He’d push me away when I brought anything about it up. I was in this mindset that I didn’t want to lose a nice guy. All of my friends adored him, maybe this was a little thing that could change overtime? If only there had been a website, some source for me to read before: “He’s so nice, but in bed you might feel uncomfortable if you don’t like rape-like role-play.” That would have been all I needed to know. Sure, sites like this could be misused, false negatives by dumped exes, or false positives by friends, but I’m learning you can’t trust what’s “on the surface” what will make someone a good match for you. And if, like in this case, the surface behavior never matches the bedroom behavior, then there is something going on there that I’m not strong enough to help him through. I have my own demons. I have my own needs, and I have the right to say what’s right for me, and how I best need to go forward with the situation. And you do too.
Think of all the people who don’t report rapes. We know assaults are happening, but they go underreported. They won’t go forward to the police. They’re afraid of the stigma. If there were a safe place they felt they could at least warn others then maybe we could avoid a few more date rapes, or a few more situations like mine, where I feel regret for sleeping with someone who would treat me that way. I never want to regret anything, and yet, here I am, wishing I’d had a warning sign because what appeared to be the start of a healthy, normal relationship, has hurt me psychologically in ways I can’t fully express here. When a person seems to understand the complexities of the communicative side of dating, does it hurt more or less when they treat you poorly in the bedroom? I think, in the end, it doesn’t matter.
And I just keep asking myself, why would someone who claims to be attracted to my intelligence, my love for life, my strength, and who calls me “brilliant” pretty often, treat me during intercourse the way he treated me? Why would, especially after a few beers, he stop listening to me say “no,” “that hurts,” or “can we stop?”
But people can’t come with a warning label. You can’t Google whether or not your potential partner has an STD. Or if they’ve behaved badly in the past. Or if they’re going to be the nicest person you’ve ever met. You only have each other. And trust. Trust you can build over time through conversations where you’re open about your pasts and needs and wants. I thought I knew this man, and thought we could communicate well enough, but if we’d just spoken more about sex before going to the place in our relationship where we were having it, maybe I’d have seen more of the warning signs. The “It’s a sensitive subject” would have been a tiny red flag. The most often not climaxing, another. An earnest discussion about our preferences another.
Or, more importantly, I could have said, “Well, I’ve been abused before, please talk to me before doing anything forceful,” or “Please don’t hold me down or force me into uncomfortable immobility. I need to feel like I have a sense of control.” But I’ve never felt brave enough to say any of these things before. Not until right now. Not until this article. And maybe it’s taken me too long to get here, but I want to share this with everyone else I can. Just because I’m older, doesn’t mean I only need to ask about STDs; I need to ask about all of it. Just because I know what I want, doesn’t mean I don’t have to tell my potential partner about it beforehand. And just because you don’t think someone is abusing you out of bed, doesn’t mean what happens in the bed is okay if you don’t want it. I don’t want one more sexual experience in which I feel badly afterward. Life’s too short to carry those around with us.
Despite my best efforts, even if we had spoken about our preferences before, I still think his preferred, violent sexual dominance would have surfaced, after the bar one night, or after a fight. But at least I wouldn’t have made excuses for him. I’d have known I told him before I wouldn’t be comfortable with those things. I would not have waited, and stayed, and kept trying to make it work. I should have been vocal about what was not okay from the beginning, because I put up with things that were not okay every time, and no one should keep themselves in that kind of relationship as long as I did. I blamed myself, because all of our friends thought he was so nice, which he was: in conversations, during afternoons out with groups, and even one-on-one. But this subject, and this behavior, he wasn’t comfortable talking about. And I felt guilty that I couldn’t give him what he needed so I continuously let it happen. But regardless of his attributes, this is something that is never okay. No matter who does it to you, no matter how nice they are in any other aspect, if it’s something you don’t want them to do to you and they still do it, it’s abuse.
Guest Blogger’s Bio: She has been an instructor of Composition, Creative Writing, ESL and Methodology. Usually a poet, she has recently started working on finding the voice to share her stories of abuse and tragedy. Sadly in life we have can accumulate so many of these, but sharing and reading them sometimes helps. She is taking a new job and will be moving soon, and she’s looking forward to a bright future.