It’s the eve of my 43rd birthday and despite the horror that best case scenario, half my life is over, birthdays don’t really bother me that much. In fact, most of the time most people are surprised I’m over 40. Either they are terrible at estimating ages or I’m immature enough to pull off “younger”.
But this year, something is different. For some reason, reality has hit the fan, so to speak. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m still companionless, yet another birthday, and no significant other to share it with. Or just the reality of how many things I have waited too long to do.
It’s a cautionary tale really. I don’t like repeating myself, like the conversational recaps that television shows do to make sure the audience is all caught up. Reign is a hyper re-capper. Every time Mary Queen of Scots refers to her mother, she calls her by her full name. Ten episodes in, she’s still doing it. It annoys the crap out of me, but recap I will.
The recap is this and there’s a little TMI here, so brace yourself. But I am including it for a reason. I am including it for all those who have experienced a physical or sexual assault and have isolated themselves as a result.
In my mid-twenties, I experienced a sexual assault. It was my first sexual experience, so you can imagine that it super-sized the already tatters of my trust after a pretty awful childhood... can you say ISSUES?
Well, that was the end of any social experiences until I turned 40. When I did, a serious mid-life crisis hit me and I decided I wanted to live again, but I honestly had no idea how. I like to research things, so I did. I read books, articles, blogs, got advice. I truly had no idea how to date, what to expect, and how to be normal. I had only had three romantic kisses in my entire life, all before the assault, so between the age of 16 and 20. So, not only was I up a creek without a schema, I was also scared to death.
I was scared of being physically close to someone for fear it would invite another assault. I was afraid of being physically and emotionally hurt again. It took me 20 years to pull myself together after it happened. I was also scared of just being out of my depth. I didn’t know how to do anything. I hadn’t hugged or kissed a man in over twenty years. I hadn’t held anyone’s hand. I hadn’t had a date. Imagine an alien in a strange land who had no “normal” reference for the human courting or mating ritual. I was a strange girl in a strange land.
What normal people don’t realize is that they’ve generally had the experiences that I started having in my 40’s, in their teens and twenties.
And of course, then there’s internet dating. I don’t drink, except for an occasional margarita with my girlfriend’s, and I didn’t do sports, so where the hell was I going to meet anyone?
So, how do you figure all of this out while trying not be catatonically scared every time? Well... I just kept trying and failing and trying again and faking it a little. Sometimes, I ran, as fast as I could. Some times, I jumped in... and then ran, my little voice screaming WHAT WERE YOU THINKING! Let me just say, there are frogs, frogs everywhere. I’m sure that there are plenty of frog women as well, I am an equal opportunity disparager after all. But trust me, there are frogs.
Most of the time I didn’t have to figure anything out because it was a quick coffee and “I wish you well.” But then, I met a man I was attracted to and the feeling was mutual, thank god! At least for a little while, I didn’t have to feel like such a loser. But when I asked him to slow down, he was talking about buying a house close to me by the third date, he somehow translated that to “she just wants to be my friend with benefits.” Unfortunately, he didn’t tell me this was the translation, so we saw each other for a couple months, very casually. Him, more casually than me, that’s the unfortunate part. I had no idea I was just a friend with benefits. Increasingly confused, I thought maybe I would just be direct. I told him I would like to see him more if he felt the same way. This was in a text, another unfortunately... His response. “Sorry.” Hmm?? What did that mean? I had no idea. Sorry, I missed that? Sorry, I am lost? Sorry, I don’t speak English? Sorry, I have no balls to just tell you I don't want to see you anymore? I had no idea... So, I went to Facebook to see if he could chat. Why on earth I didn't just call, I have no idea. I guess Facebook seemed easier than texting and... Ummm... Let’s see, a picture of the guy I was seeing, snuggled up with a blonde, celebrating New Year’s Eve... which was the day before. The caption... something like “I’ve met someone so special, I can’t wait to see where the new year takes us!” Granted, this isn’t verbatim, but seriously, this is close.
Wow... WOW... Honestly? I felt like my frontal lobe imploded. I felt like an idiot. I truly had no idea he was seeing someone else or had even thought about seeing someone else, or had even thought about anything, I guess, because apparently, I didn’t know him at all. I felt used and confused and had no idea what was happening or why anyone would do that to another human being. I would have never done that, no matter how casual the relationship. It’s just so disrespectful and kind of mean. It sounds a little old-school, I know it’s 2014 and all, but if I even kiss someone, that’s it for me! I don’t mean instant “head over heels”, I just mean, when you touch someone else’s lips with your own, you owe it to each other to see where it goes. If it’s one date, so be it. You shouldn’t be kissing anyone else until you actually tell the other person it’s over, don’t you think? You shouldn't keep kissing someone when you've started kissing someone else! Is it just me?
Well, after licking my wounds for a while and with a lot of encouragement from my amazing friends, I got myself back out there and started making coffee dates again. More frogs. Frogs wanting a friend with benefits, frogs sending me penis pictures as soon as I trusted them enough to give them my number, married frogs, lying frogs, “open relationship” frogs. I was so exhausted by the end of it, I was ready to give up. Truly ready. I had been defeated, my spirit was completely broken. I had no hope of finding someone. So, I logged into my account ready to delete it and just resigned myself to life alone. I wasn’t happy about it, but it didn’t feel like I had a choice. And alone was familiar. I had reviewed all the options in head and so far was batting 1,000 frogs. Forgive me, I’m not sure if that sports analogy actually works because I’m a sports idiot, but you get the picture. Statistically, I was on the ropes.
Now, let me be clear. I am not the girl who can’t stand being alone so to avoid it, she seeks out any human with boy parts to call boyfriend. Remember, I’ve been alone from age 20 to age 40... technically, 42. And I should include most of my childhood in that as well. I am also not the girl who is in love with the idea of being in love. I’m just not. I think love is messy, relationships can be hard and yes, the experts are probably right, they are work and compromise. I believe that, I just haven’t had an opportunity to test the experts advice. I’m also not the damsel in distress looking for a sugar-daddy to pay her bills. I pay my own bills, thank you. I work on my own car... ok, sometimes, and I have no problem wearing the pants in my family of one. What I am after, is none of these things. I simply am at the point in my life where I finally have the courage to try to share it with someone else. I want to let someone in and vice versa. I want to make someone dinner and snuggle and watch movies and go for walks and go for long drives and go to dinner and go camping (there's a lot of on the go here, do you see the theme?) and build a life and have true intimacy. I want a partner and a friend and a lover. I want to be happy with someone, not just by myself. In fact, I desperately want to let someone into my life and be a part of theirs. I'm starting to think that being a part of theirs is even more important me because I've never really felt like a part of anything... I've always felt like an outsider looking in. Even before the assault.
So... back to the previous paragraph. I logged in to delete my account and scrolling across the bottom of the fish market were pictures of local eligible, or so they say, bachelors. There was a face that caught my eye. Handsome in a cuddly, kind sort of way and so familiar. But I couldn’t place him. Distracted by this shiny object, I clicked “favorite” or something like that. I logged out and forgot to delete my account... And later, he wrote me...
Long story short, we saw each other for 7 months. The best 6 months of my life. The last month, he was more and more withdrawn and I didn’t want to bring up the elephant in the room, so I just smiled and hoped for the best. I won’t tell you the whole story, that’s for us to know. But I will tell you, I’ve been crying since Valentine’s Day, literally. And I don’t say literally, lightly! I can’t seem to stop and today it’s particularly bad. It goes without saying, I hate Valentine’s with a new vehemence I didn’t think was possible. Next V-day, I’m just going to light something on fire or sacrifice a virgin or something and call it good.
So... I’ve strayed off topic a little bit and really what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to, is this:
To anyone, man or woman, who has experienced a physical or sexual assault, please don’t spend your whole life “checked out”. You didn’t expect that, did you? I mean it hasn’t exactly worked out for me and as of this moment, while I’m writing this, I am crying so hard I can barely see... but the result is not what you’re after. Please trust me on this. There are good people out there that are worth getting to know. There are people who give you amazing memories and help you to grow. (I was having a Suess moment, forgive me).
I wouldn’t trade all 7 of those months, even the weird one, for anything. I would give anything, my 401k perhaps, to have them back. I was happy. Happier than I ever thought I could be. I finally understood what it felt like to be loved, what it felt like to be wanted, and even what it felt like to have an inside joke with someone. All new to me. And I felt like I had a future. Finally. Imagine that?
Don’t get me wrong, I had a hard time with so many things during this process. I was constantly nervous. The first time he came to my house, I was embarrassed by the state of it. The first time I made him dinner, I spent the whole night hoping I didn’t make him sick. The first few nights that he stayed over, I was afraid to sleep in the bed. For those of you judging the “staying over part”, CAN it! I’m over 40 and Puritan values just don’t apply anymore. I wasn’t afraid of him, ever. It was the fact that I had never slept in a bed beside anyone, ever. I'm not using "sleeping with" as a euphemism here. I truly hadn't ever slept with anyone. For those who have experienced the trauma and loss of control that you do in an assault, you know what I’m talking about. You’re body does things without your permission. You startle easily, you automatically pull back even when that’s the last thing you want to do. Your body isn’t always “engaged”, and here I AM using a euphemism, in the activity if you know what I mean. The "you know what I mean" should clearly indicate a euphemism. See how that works? Your “fight or flight” switch goes on willy-nilly and when it does, you have to stop or fake it until you make it.
So, the first few nights I'd sneak out of bed and sleep on the couch. I felt bad about doing it. He felt bad too. He thought it was his fault. I don’t think he realized how scared I really was and I couldn’t explain it without him thinking it really was his fault, so I just told him it wasn’t him. It really really wasn’t. I wanted nothing more than to snuggle up with him and fall asleep. I felt content with him and safe. And safe meant a great deal to me. But at first, being able to fall asleep with him felt like the Holy Grail. Then, the first night I did stay in the bed, I woke us both by screaming myself awake from a nightmare. Again, I explained this away with a tale of stress and anxiety, but I remember the nightmare vividly to this day. It was of the man who assaulted me, on top of me and choking me. Now, my assault was not violent, as violence goes anyway, although it was a violation of my body. He didn't choke me or anything like that. But I was completely mute during the experience. I couldn't stop him with a "no!" because my voice was gone. I've always felt like he took my voice and that was worse than taking my virginity. I was a victim of “date-rape” without the date part. He was just a friend visiting my apartment when things went all wrong. But I couldn’t tell this amazing, kind, handsome man next to me that the anxiety and vulnerability of being asleep in the same bed as another human being had manifested this nightmare. He would know I was too broken.
And this is silly, but not only was I afraid of all those things, I was afraid of waking up looking like Yoda after a three-day binge next to the man I was falling in love with. The fear of him running for the door was almost too much to bear and I would end up getting up in the middle of the night to dab on a little makeup and comb my hair. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? It sounds so vain, but it was the farthest thing from vanity, I swear.
Even though a truckload of Prozac wouldn’t have cured any of these anxieties, I didn’t want to give any of them up and I wouldn’t have missed any of them for the world.
Six years ago I had given up. I was ready to spend the rest of my life alone. In fact, I was ready to give up on life altogether. But I didn’t. I got another dog so I had something to take care of. Something that I couldn’t leave behind and that, his name is Hairy, kept me going. He kept me going until my spirit finally said, ENOUGH! Get on with it! Stop existing and LIVE!
And no matter how hard the last 6 or so years have been, no matter how scary or difficult the experiences, I am still here. None of them killed me. I'm a little worse for wear. Very tender-hearted at the moment and licking more wounds and racking up more metaphorical scars than I care to have, but I'm still here!
What I’m telling you is, you don’t have to give up. You can believe in love, you can find it, even if it’s only for a brief period of time. It DOES exist. I’ve felt it. You can trust someone with your heart and your mind and your body. The right person will cherish them all even if they don't cherish them forever. You just have to find that person. It might be more than one person, each helping you heal a little at a time. It takes some work and there will be heart break. Sometimes it’s nearly unbearable. But you can sit next to someone again and maybe even hold their hand. You can hug them or better yet, LET someone hug you. You can have another kiss. And my hope is that you get a kiss that makes your toes tingle. You can lay in bed and talk and laugh with someone. You can be whole again.
There are no guarantees in life. I’m not sure I will ever be able to try for another relationship again. I’m just not sure at this point, everything is still too raw. But chances are, after a little time passes, I will probably try at some point. I’ve discovered that the point of life is to try. That’s all we can do... But when it works out, when you have a moment, even if it’s just one brief moment of happiness, all the pain and sadness and struggle are worth it. Trust me, you’ll see.