CW: sexual assault
I sat down to write an essay I planned. I’ve got the notes, it was all outlined, and then for whatever reason I typed some horrible lines about some truth I’d rather not deal with, and now, look where we are, an essay about something completely different.
The truth is this: I was sexually assaulted once on a date and I did nothing about it because it wasn’t until three years ago that I thought about it being anything but me leading a man on somehow.
Everything in my life was about NOT HAVING SEX. There’s plenty of good reasons why: I was really involved in church, youth groups, ministry, I consumed a lot of right-wing Christian narrative, I knew people getting it on and I couldn’t see the actual point of it.
The stories I grew up with were stories about sticky souls, having sex means you lose some of your sticky (ew, and technically correct). They were narratives about how girls wanted attention and love from All The Wrong Places and they could find it by having sex, but It Was Wrong. And, most importantly, God will reward you for your Self Sacrifice.
It was all such BS and an unnecessary use of Capital Letters.
Back to what happened: there was a date, but it didn’t go according to plan. Afterwards I felt used and lonely and really confused.
I kept asking myself what I had done, why had my date resulted in… well, what it resulted in. I hadn’t been wearing anything anyone from church would claim was provocative. In fact, I remember the outfit even now and it would still be something I would say is 100% G-rated.
I told no one.
Victim blaming was rampant in that time and place. Books, media, and even some preachers would harp on about how women had to ‘protect the brothers’ and keep covered so their eyes wouldn’t wander; so that women wouldn’t cause them to sin.
If I told someone what happened they would say, well what did you wear? What did you do to give him that impression? Why didn’t you say no?
I did say no but it didn’t matter.
And I said nothing, absolutely nothing until I was writing out some worries I had related to church stuff and I realised what happened when I was 16, and by time I was 31 I finally had the words to tell someone.
I was sold another lie: intentional dating. Being intentional with your relationships. There was a book about how we didn’t just have sticky souls when it came to sex. No. We had sticky souls just for creating an emotional connection. And I was trapped by a bad book, and a bad boy, and a bad way to frame Christianity. Anytime someone would raise an objection to the relationship I’d think, well, too late. This is it for me.
I think sometimes about who spoke to me about it. There were a couple of great people in my life who said they didn’t think it was a good relationship but no one quite framed it right. The language to say: ‘this guy isn’t a good guy and you should break up with him. In fact, God cares about you and loves you, and whatever you decide to do will be fine by Him.’ And, of course, the language wasn’t there about red flags, or stalking, or victim blaming, or even really about sexual assault.
For whatever reason I believed that it was my burden to carry. I’d got into a bad relationship but now THAT WAS IT. I was NEVER allowed to see anyone else and I’d have to MARRY THIS DUDE.
I didn’t marry him, but not because of any of that, and it’s a story for another time.
For a long time I wanted my story not to be about me. I wanted to be seen as selfless and loving and an all-round God-girl.
But if the story isn’t about me, and it’s my life, then who is at the centre of the story? Of course, the Sunday School answer is God. But in reality I’d moved myself and God out of the centre. Instead I’d made some dude more important than me, my needs, what I wanted from life.
Why does this story matter now?
Because sometimes I feel like I’ve just started in that world again. Because two and a half years ago my marriage ended and then things weren’t the fairy tale I had planned. Because sometimes when I think about dating someone new I think about all of the stuff I should forget — stuff about sticky souls and just wanting sex to fill a void and how you need to intend on marrying the person you’re dating because you need to have an end-date so that you’re not constantly thinking about sex (?!).
I trust my judgement because I’m an adult now. But my world is slightly devoid of wise counsel. As a teenager I had wise counsel, but look where it got me: stuck in a relationship I was too scared to leave because it wouldn’t please God. While that sounds bananas, it was a lie I was sold and a lie I believed, and so I need to be kind to myself about that.
What if I am my own wise counsel? And what if the same damn thing happens, I’m stuck somewhere and can’t walk out or leave, I have no one to back me up except myself, a person with a decidedly less sticky soul than people who are still in the Virginity Club or the Got Married Club. Unsticky me has to make good decisions because no one else is coming to save the day.
It leaves me stuck in another place. A place of Intention, or Lack Thereof. I’ve been on the dating apps and they all ask the same question: what are you on here for? I told the latest person I was chatting to I wanted a boyfriend (duh), widen the social circles (currently my circles are single women or people with partners), make new friends.
Me too, he said. But looking for long term as well.
No no no no.
Long term parking at an airport is expensive. But long term parking at Andrew’s Airport Parking is cheaper. And you know what else is cheaper? Living reasonably close by and catching a taxi to the airport. A long term relationship is expensive. It’s taxing. It’s so damn complicated.
Part of me could see the advocacy for the quick marriage here.
The other part of me could see too much mess and destruction.
The conversation hasn’t gone on any further.
The fall out from all of this: I probably need some counselling. (I’m actually on the waitlist as we speak.) But also I probably need to be more honest with myself. What do I really want? Do I want to spend hours on Tinder trying to make a match for a conversation that stops when a guy you know almost nothing about says ‘hello. I want a long term relationship’? Or worse, the other guy who said ‘TBH, I’m just after a FWB. Which days work for you?’
When I stopped blaming myself for things like having the audacity to walk around with nicely shaped breasts (well covered up ones) or wanting to kiss cute but emotionally unavailable boys, the blame still existed. It existed in the culture I walked away from, in the choices I make now, in the shame that settles upon me when I think ‘yeah, I shouldn’t be enjoying this’. There has to be a middle ground, right?
That horrible date, the day of the assault I thought I was starting something God-inspired and God-blessed-it and God-would-see-my-heart. But instead God saw I was there, and saw what happened, and didn’t intervene. God was busy that day.
That’s why I can’t make relationship choices based on what I think God will think. Who am I to know if God is a fan of long term airport parking or if he wants me to leave my car in a field, to be driven to the airport in a minivan with a bunch of strangers and to worry about the car the whole time I am away? Or is God happy to put me up at the airport hotel where I leave my car for an extra ten bucks a day and the hotel dude keeps an eye on it?
Who knows; the only thing I do know is that no one’s flying anywhere and my soul was never, and will never be, sticky.