07 March, 2017

The Love Story

[This post was written by someone I care about deeply. She has published it elsewhere. I keep a copy here solely for my personal records.]

The love story was our first date in a vegan restaurant, and talking philosophy.  Our second date was listening to Peter Singer—almost a childhood hero for me—promote Effective Altruism.  The love story was when he was blown away by my mind, and could tell I needed him to step it up, which he noticed and could and did.  The love story was discovering that we had both been driven by the same intellectual questions, and the gorgeous discovery that it was possible to satisfy this loneliness that I hadn't even  realized I was hungry to fill.  The love story was adoring his brain and the way he'd chosen to live—helping raise money to fight childhood hunger, to protect animal welfare, living on the street for a month to understand what it was like.  The love story was phone calls into the night, and a third date of cuddling and reading Middlemarch, which is damn near peak intimacy if we're talking about me.

The love story is that on date three, he started touching me, as we cuddled—reaching under my bra—and it bothered me a lot that he hadn't asked first.  “I need there to be more asking and more talking,” I said, sending him home.  “OK”, he said.  “I'll try to get used to the peculiarities of your specific desire.”

The love story is that this was a red flag and I didn't ignore it.  The love story is that this wasn't the only red flag, and when I realized I needed to get to know him better before I was comfortable with any sexual contact, I told him and he responded perfectly.  The love story is that I told him I had a pretty intense background of trauma and mental illness, and that in order to make sexual choices that I was happy about, I'd developed a policy of always choosing my boundaries when I was not touching my partner.  The love story is that he was perfectly gracious, and told me he was in—that he could wait—that I was eminently worth getting to know without sex.  

The love story is that he had been so busy, our dates so widely spaced, that I wasn't even sure he was really interested until that conversation—but on that night, we talked about what this relationship was and where it was going, and our ideas about what marriage should be matched perfectly.  The love story was that he addressed my concerns in a way that made me feel safe and wanted and cared for.

The love story is that when I showed up to spend time with his family over Christmas, he took one look at me and said “Wow.”  The love story is that he lied when he said it was no big deal; I was the first woman he'd brought home to meet his family in fourteen years, and he was So proud to be sitting beside me.  The love story was that he—and a family friend who knew I was coming—unexpectedly gave me some of the only Christmas gifts I unwrapped that year, and they were beautiful.  The love story is that I grew up the black sheep, the bad influence, that this had never happened to me before and I was so happy.

The love story was that after we played board games and eaten food and talked and started to watch the game with his family, I was hurting and needed to lie down before the drive home.  The love story is that I feel the need to defend myself about this, now, to say I wasn't looking for a bed, that I wasn't looking for his bed, even though anyone who went to school with me knows I would (and regularly do) just find a random corner to curl up in and recuperate.  

The love story is that he took me to his bed, and he joined me there later, and we talked for hours and then cuddled, and at first it was wonderful.  The love story is I trusted him.  

The love story is that I felt perfectly safe, and he touched me, and my body responded, and I wasn't thinking very fast.  The love story is that with his hand in my pants, I found myself trying to come up with ways this could somehow be OK.  The love story is that I did what I did when I was molested as a kid, to get my control-oriented older sister to leave me alone: I asked for more.

The love story is that at some point I asked for a little space, and he went to sit on the other side of the bed.  The love story is that turning it over and over in my mind, I could not find any rescue.  The love story is that I told him I deserved better, and left.

The love story is that I implied to him that I was asleep when it happened but I was definitely not.  The love story is that I judged myself for not saying No just before my boundaries were crossed, and for not being more clear, and for not telling him again that I didn't want any sexual touch after he got up to wash his face.  The love story is that he asked that night about STDs and birth control and I stupidly believed this conversation was about the distant future.  The love story is that if something like that happened to him, he would laugh it off.  The love story is that I spent weeks picking apart every moment in the evening when I might have chosen something different to prevent this, and it always came down to trust.  

The love story is that it was four or five days before I could shower or leave the house.  The love story is that I found myself calling his name for comfort, as had just become my habit—and then remembering he had hurt me.  The love story is that I hated myself for this.  The love story is that my depression and PTSD went into an ugly tailspin and I lost the month of January, 2016.  The love story is that I forgot what it was like to want to be alive.  I knew the wanting would probably come back, if I could just hang on, but there was nothing to hold to.  

The love story is that we tried to talk, and he didn't understand at all.  The love story is that my boundaries were so strange it hadn't occurred to him that they mattered.

The love story is that I couldn't imagine trusting anyone ever again.  The love story is that I wanted so badly for it Just Not To Matter.  The love story is that without feminism, I'd never have identified this as a sexual assault.  The love story was asking myself perpetually: are you making this bigger than it actually is?  Bigger than it has to be?  The love story was asking myself perpetually, has feminism turned you into a victim?  The love story was feeling that those people I'm attracted to who could find me beautiful and connect with me intellectually would never be able to respect my bizarre, silly boundaries.  

The love story was painfully accepting that no matter how crazy it might seem to anyone else, this feminism and these boundaries are what I need to be healthy and safe.  The love story was believing that the world is filled exclusively with people who think my boundaries are absurd, plus maybe 5-10 crazy feminists like myself.

The love story was reading entire books about trust and forgiveness and sexuality, then reading them again.  The love story was wanting to send him the books too, and stopping myself.  The love story was sending texts to several of my friends about six months after the fact, thanking them  for never telling me my boundaries were unreasonable.  The love story was talking to him, six months after the fact, and hearing him say that I was not unreasonable, and that he should have listened, and that he was so sorry.  The love story was him breaking off that phone call apparently overwhelmed by grief.

The love story is that when I tried to date again, I experienced a level of fear and confusion I'd never brought to that situation.  The love story was getting tachycardic and wanting to curl up in a ball and cry the next time someone wanted to cuddle with me, and the next time after that, and the next time after that too.

The love story is, no one has touched me since Monday afternoon, when I saw Cat on the street and she hugged me—automatically, I think—even though I was wearing a mask to stop from spreading the flu.  The love story is that no one had touched me for over a week before that.  The love story is that the last touching I had before that was when I gave Julia a massage, and then held her, and it was lovely and I could feel myself beginning to uncoil just from that but I also spent the whole time bracing against tears because Julia has no room for my tears, and they are hiding in a flood behind this wall of unfelt touch.

The love story is that I still miss him, but I can only be missing the imaginary version of him I made up: involuntarily, still, I sometimes imagine him kissing me.  The love story is that real him doesn't like kissing, and also doesn't quite seem to completely believe in believing folks when they tell you their boundaries—even still.

* * *

The love story is that I think he is probably a good man, but also a mess; the love story is that he's a good man with a lot of work to do before he could be healthy to really have in my life.  Maybe the love story is, he's not strong enough for that work.  Maybe the love story is that it doesn't matter enough to him. Probably some of each.

The story is I love, or try to love, the real him: with gentle philos, or distant friendship.  Or forgiveness.

The love story is that I'm tired.  The love story is that it's been almost fourteen months, and never in that time have I stopped wanting this to be over for long enough to let it be and pass.

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