I want to
talk about the abuses that don’t “count.”
I want to talk about the things that seem to matter less, because I think we shine so much light on the sexual abuse that we forget that any kind of feelings-of-being-less-than matter. I think a lot of women are in a situation where they don’t feel like they should speak because “my situation was not nearly as bad as hers.”
I’ve never been in a situation where someone explicitly expressed attraction toward me. No one has ever outright said to me, “You’re attractive. Can I take you out?” Not until him. He expressed his attraction in a very flashy way: a literal double take. He looked at me and then he looked again. Obviously, I was quite confused because I didn’t know what he saw. Was it one of the mice we spotted earlier in the store or a coworker making a mess behind me? I ignored it and continued to treat him like a customer. He then asked for my number and I gave it, finally understanding that I was the one to catch his attention.
I was excited but nervous. It was thrilling to have been able to attract someone and for them to pursue me. I didn’t think about much else but that fact: I caught his attention! It was odd though, that my nerves were making me think clearly. I knew how I was when it came to first meetings and first impressions. I was standoffish and quiet and I didn’t want that for this date. So, I suggested a group date with people who would bring out the best in me. I thought I was doing us both a favor. I thought it would make both of us more comfortable, but he refused and I should have put more thought into his refusal.
During the date, it was clear that he was not interested in me, but what he thought—what he assumed—he was going to get from me after dinner. I was aware of what he wanted because he made it clear in the first ten minutes. I shot him down right away saying, “I have never and I don’t plan to any time soon.” He was so disappointed, he went so far as to warn his hand that it was going to be just the two of them for a while longer.
I pushed that part of the conversation away, thinking the crisis was averted, and enjoyed the rest of my meal and the conversation we managed to save. In my eyes, he redeemed himself from his foot-in-mouth comments. I enjoyed myself and I even stuck around chatting with him after dinner at his car, but I was obviously wrong about his redemption. He made yet another comment, “If I was with anyone else we’d be started by now, on top of this car.” I wish I remembered exactly how I responded; I hope I didn’t apologize because it was not my fault that he made incorrect assumptions about me.
I left that date stupidly thinking that, aside from those comments, it went well. I received a text message from him several days after that night saying that he still wanted something physical from me. I simply said no, that’s not something I do, and he basically said it was my fault that he didn’t contact me sooner. I remember my response to this message. Stupidly, I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to apologize. I knew he wanted a specific reaction, but I don’t think I even gave him that. “Am I supposed to apologize?” I replied.
Although I was able to say no, I still felt so stupid. Although I was untouched, I still felt so violated. Although he took nothing from me, I still felt less than what I know I’m worth. I didn’t know what it was about me that made him think I would give him things that were not previously discussed. I didn’t know how many other people looked at me the same way he did. I didn’t know if it was a smart idea to get close to another guy since him, afraid that he would also incorrectly assume things about me. I was scared and I’m still scared, all because my trust was broken before it was even established.
If you’re in a similar situation, if you were untouched and stood your ground, yet you have these feelings of naivety and shame and confusion, that matters. There is no scale for what counts as wounds that need to be healed. Abuse of any kind matters, whether it’s physical, sexual, or verbal. Even if that abuse is in the form of impossible expectations put on you by someone who has no right to do so. Even if that abuse is in the form of someone incorrectly assuming your character and blaming you for not playing the part.