TW: sexual assault
That’s Not Love
Intimacy is something I’ve struggled with all my life. Becoming close to someone when there’s always a chance they could disappear from your life at any moment terrified me.
I believe the fear most likely stemmed from my childhood. Having to watch my parents go through a divorce when I was six years old. I suppressed a lot of it. My sister remembers more of the late-night fights we would listen to while sitting on the stairs, eavesdropping on the destruction taking place in our living room. My parents practically avoided each other and showed no affection, so that was what was normal to me. Love was displayed through fights and no physical touch. The only affection displayed in my house was to my sister, the one who remembered the divorce more than I did. The one who suffered severely from anxiety and depression, longing for attention. I would be left on my own to rock myself to sleep at night, while the inner demons no one knew about danced and paraded in my mind.
I never had an image of what genuine love looked like as a child. I came to find out within this last year that my mom is unsure of whether or not she even loved my dad. They were 25 and 26, just dating to date, enjoying their mid-twenties. When my mom’s favorite radio show host Johnny B. announced they would be giving away a wedding to the biggest sports fans in Chicago, my mom took advantage of the opportunity. Neither of them actually thought they would win the wedding. Both being jocks in high school and loving sports into their adulthood, they ended up winning. The first time they ever said “I love you” to one another was on their wedding day. Looking back, should they have gotten married? Who’s to say. Somehow both families were on board with the chaos of it all, getting married one week after it was announced they had won. Most would probably say it is a good thing they got married because had they not, I wouldn’t be here writing this today.
Five years after their marriage came my older sister, followed by me two years later. I was the reason they stopped having children because I was a very troublesome child. Jaundice and other varying issues, I was a hand full for them- for two people who didn’t love one another. I envy those whose parents are still together and have genuine love still fueling the relationship. The fear of being trapped in a marriage where there’s no love left to give terrifies me.
Sunday mornings were always the highlight of my week as a child because it was the one time where my dad wasn’t home. He would be out golfing with his buddies, which meant my sister and I had the entire morning to ourselves with just our mom to do whatever we pleased. Usually it involved laying on the couch and finally having control over the living room TV. It meant I got to walk around the house without the fear of being yelled at for reasons I didn’t know.
Growing up with an angry, verbally abusive father brings forth a really toxic living environment as anyone could imagine. He had a very short fuse, with the tiniest of things setting him off before you even realize what you did wrong. One moment he would be happy and warm, then the next yelling and shaking from anger. I was lucky in the sense that he never put his hands on anyone in my family, but the haunting thought in the back of my mind that it could change at any moment still lives there. This completely altered my view on love and what it was like to receive it. I carried with me the walking on eggshells and keeping my mouth shut to avoid being met with anger. The phrase, “This isn’t yelling. You don’t want to hear me yell,” forever etched into my mind. Crying from confusion and being told to be quiet and toughen up. I needed to be compliant for someone to want to be around me and love me.
I was six and in first grade when they finally got the divorce. What should be a sad day in most people’s lives was one of the happiest for me. I only had to see him every other weekend. The pain was finally going to stop. Some weekends were actually fun, filled with trips to Great America or to a Brewers game; whereas some just ended in my sister and I crying to our mom on the phone about how we wanted to go back home.
I’m not sure why my dad is the way he is. I still see him maybe once a month, even less now since I no longer live at home. I started going against him as I got older. The utterances of how I’m a failure and a lazy piece of shit who’s going nowhere in life don’t hurt me as much as they used to. I am happy to finally be away from my hometown without the obligation to continue talking to him or carrying a relationship with him. I feel bad for my sister that she still has to endure his wrath. I’ve started sticking up for myself, but she continues to let him berate her because “this relationship with our father is better than not having one at all.” We are supposed to love our families no matter what, but when do we tell ourselves enough is enough? Being told I’m worth nothing isn’t love. Biting my tongue to avoid angering him isn’t love. Having to watch every word I say around him isn’t love.
The Past Follows You
I grew up very alone. I avoided every man out of complete fear they’d be someone like my father. Middle school boyfriends would break up with me for being a prude, saying I was no fun. Hardly any guy looked at me in high school, except for one my senior year. We talked for six months, never once meeting in person. Sex, love, relationships, and getting close to someone were all things that carried immense weight over me. I wanted to be like the normal, pretty girls who were dating a new guy every three months. But what if these guys wanted something more from me that I wasn’t ready to give? I enjoyed talking to them and the validation it gave me, feeling like a man actually wanted me around. As soon as there was any sign of it going further than over text, I would leave. I would cancel dates out of fear. I didn’t want to be loved because that came with belittling and not being my true self. I always believed it was better to be alone than to have to endure someone like my father.
Things changed my sophomore year of college during my second semester. In eight months, I was going to be moving to Normal and starting my time at ISU. I didn’t want to be the 20-year old virgin who still hadn’t even had their first kiss. I convinced myself I was a weird girl and that no one would ever want to be with me. This was a pivotal moment in my life where I realized I didn’t want to fear intimacy and being close to someone anymore. I had started therapy that semester and was determined to kiss a guy before I moved in August. Nothing ever good comes from desperation.
It was Valentine’s day when a guy from my class who I had never spoken to followed me on Instagram. I figured it was just another random guy wanting another follower because he gave me the impression he cared too much about what people thought of him. I followed him back because why not? I later posted a story of me listening to Somebody to Love by Queen with the caption “Valentine’s Day mood.” He slid up on it and said, “great song.” My first thought was how it was extremely weird for him to message me with no communication ever taking place prior. The next time we saw one another in class, he didn’t even acknowledge my existence. The next week he slid up on my story again and talking became a part of my daily routine.
I had to convince myself I thought he was attractive because it felt nice having someone think I was interesting enough to want to talk to. He was easy to make conversation with and we started to establish a bond. I became attached because I was desperate to feel something. Even with a fear of intimacy, I have always easily trusted people.
Weeks went by of us flirting and talking over text, with no acknowledgement of one another in person even though we saw each other twice a week. It made me feel weird about myself and that I was some sort of secret. It had been a month of us talking with no words ever exchanged to one another in person. Surprisingly, I was the one who kept making a move to see him in person because I didn’t like the games we were playing. We would make plans and he would end up staying out too late with friends or never following through. I should’ve dropped it at that point, but I liked the attention. He was nice.
Anytime the sex conversation came up with a guy in my past, it always got weird when it was made known that I had never done anything with anybody. The toxic masculinity kicked in where I became a target to them, a prey to conquer. They would become attached to this idea of wanting to be my first and sexualizing the “innocence” I had, when it was really just because I was terrified. This time was no different, but for some reason I continued to stay. I had told this guy, who we’ll call “P”, multiple times that I wasn’t even sure I was looking for a relationship since I would be moving soon. But the determination I had of wanting to kiss someone persisted. I kept trying to convince myself I wanted that with him.
It took until the end of March for us to finally meet. I drove to his house and we walked around his neighborhood. He consistently kept trying to get closer to me physically, and I would pull away. We sat on a park bench, and he kept asking to hold my hand. I kept saying no. He didn’t understand the word no. He would say how it wasn’t a big deal and I just needed to accept my feelings, trying to convince me that I wanted that with him too.
Since this took place a year and a half ago, I am able to look back and realize I never liked him in a romantic way. I liked the attention he gave me and the validation. I wasn’t sexually attracted to him. I only ever wanted to be his friend. I had no one close to me in my life who wasn’t family, and it was nice to just have someone. He only wanted more. I was a helpless doe, looking for acceptance. He was a wolf, looking to sink his teeth into whatever he could. My sister ended up calling in the middle of our first time hanging out, being a saving grace without even realizing. We walked back to his house, hugged, and I left. I was safe for the night.
The late-night walks in his neighborhood became a weekly occurrence. He still wouldn’t talk to me in class. I had a male friend who I would sit next to and we got along really well. We were the only two people who would talk to each other in that class, so everyone could hear us. P would text me after class being angry with me for blatantly flirting with my friend, even though P and I weren’t even together. I just wanted friends. I just wanted to be needed.
P would always make a move on me when we were together, even though he knew I was reluctant. I would spend nights agonizing over how I wasn’t romantically attracted to him and didn’t want it to go further than friendship. Every time I would tell him I didn’t want to take it to the romantic level, he would say we couldn’t talk anymore. I just wanted someone to talk to.
I eventually ended up letting him touch me in the front seat of my car. I let him touch me before I ever let him kiss me because I didn’t feel like he deserved something so intimate. I didn’t want it to be him. He would want me to drive to these secluded places so we could “have some privacy.” When I’d say we shouldn’t, he’d persist. And persist. And persist. Violating my breasts with his clammy hands and aggressive mouth, leaving me with marks that would haunt me whenever I looked in the mirror. I kept trying to convince myself it felt nice and I wanted it. I wanted to want it. Him lowering his hand to my pants, me grabbing his wrist and saying I wasn’t ready, followed with him telling me it’ll feel good. It didn’t feel good. Him yanking my wrist to touch him through his pants, saying he wants me to feel what I did to him. I didn’t want to feel what I did to him.
He would pick fights with me saying I didn’t care about him or his passions. He would say I wasn’t supportive. He would lie. He would gaslight me and make me feel crazy. Anytime I voiced my thoughts or feelings, I wasn’t instantly shut down and felt small. Wasn’t that what love was though?
He eventually moved to California in June for an internship. What I thought was the worst thing, ended up being one of the greatest. Our entire time together, we never officially became a couple, even though I thought we were. Our last night together, he told me he thought he loved me. I didn’t say it back, but I thought I loved him too. I did not love him. I was afraid of being alone. Every day I am so grateful he was not the first man I ever told I love you to.
When he left, we classified ourselves as “dating.” He ghosted me one week after leaving and ended up dating another camp counselor at his internship. I felt so alone and desperate. He wouldn’t talk to me. I know he only told me he thought he loved me to keep me around in his back pocket once summer was over. I haven’t seen him since June 2019, and I would like nothing more than to never see him again.
Sometimes someone disappearing from your life is exactly what you need.