During what seemed like a particularly hard time in my life, I met the classic selfish jerk that’s all talk and no follow through. He put me down and manipulated me every chance he got. Being as inexperienced as I was, I just assumed that was normal and dealt with it. My confidence, of course, plummeted. A year later I moved with him to another state. However, when I was finally able to prove my suspicions of his cheating, I broke it off. I remained in the new city because I did like it, and I didn’t want to run crying home.
About a month after that, I was raped. I was drugged and don’t remember much. My ex, being the only person that I really knew in this state, was who I confided in. He told me that all I was good for was sex anyway and laughed at me. He was the only person I told. From there, I just started sleeping around. I guess some part of me believed him. I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong. I didn’t feel like I was coping with anything. It was just sex and I cared about these men as little (sometimes less) than they did me.
During this time, I actually – accidentally – stumbled upon a real tried and true nice guy. He didn’t let me use him. He was there for me. I realized I didn’t want to sleep around anymore. Well, it turns out this is a much smaller town than I thought and men have much bigger mouths than I thought. I’d slept with two of his friends before I met him. I understand him not wanting to be with me. He didn’t judge me. It was just a hard situation.
Since then, I’ve kinda sworn off men. I’m happy single and while I do one day want to meet a nice guy again, I’m terrified. I know I don’t have to give out my “number” but in this town, it seems inevitable. I don’t know how to explain my actions in the past without getting into the full story. Most people still don’t know about the rape and I’d rather keep it that way. I’d rather be gossiped about and called a whore than a victim. A friend of mine (more of a sister actually) for some reason has become really invested in my dating. She finds me guys that seem nice but I rule them out fearing I’ve found another jerk or another guy who will be hurt by my past. She begs me to just let them take me out but I don’t really see the point. I don’t feel wounded, just a little cynical I suppose. Is she right in saying I need to give guys a chance? Like I said, I’m only 22. It just doesn’t seem that pertinent.
You sound very intelligent and self-aware and I appreciate your honesty.
Moving on is not as easy as snapping your fingers and putting trauma behind you…
So let me tell you a few things that went through my head in response to your email. And remember, I’m not a psychologist. I’m a dating coach who tries to provide perspective when people are too close to their problems.
Here’s what I see:
You’ve been burned by men, which gives you every reason to be wary of them. Moving on is not as easy as snapping your fingers and putting trauma such as rape, infidelity, and emotional cruelty behind you. Your experiences are very real and very painful and they’re bound to shade your whole view of the world.
Just please don’t let them determine it….
You definitely have a hard-earned cynicism about men, and who could blame you? But as you know intellectually, not every man is as bad as the ones you’ve encountered. It would be a huge mistake to blame each new guy for the sins of the men in the past. Tom shouldn’t have to pay the price for the boorish behavior of Dick and Harry. There’s nothing wrong with taking a dating hiatus (or a guy-atus, as my sister once termed it.) But realize that, eventually, you’re going to need to get back out there.
You will be tempted to close off to everyone you meet. You’ll continue to separate sex and emotion. You’ll break up with men before they break up with you. These are all common and reasonable responses to what you’ve gone through. Just know that you’ll never find love until you open yourself up emotionally. There are tons of nice men out there who would be lucky to have you, but if you shut down or make them prove that they’re not bastards, they may not stick around. So take it slowly and realize what you’re worth. If you, in any way, believe your ex’s claims that you’re worthless, you are setting yourself up for another broken, unequal relationship.
Sometimes, reinvention is the best remedy for a tortured past.
Surround yourself by trusted friends and family. Do things you love – working out, painting, weekend road trips with friends. Get back to being the happy young woman you once were. Then, open yourself up to your friend’s set ups. You’re not entitled to like any of the guys, but if they’re coming pre-screened, at least you can feel a little safer around them. And, to play it safe, don’t have sex until you have a commitment. This will protect you emotionally from any of the heartbreak you’ve felt in the past.
I can’t tell you how much it hurts to read letters like yours, Amanda. I’m sure everyone reading this wants to help you in his/her own way. I don’t know how tethered you are to your hometown (school, job, family, friends,) but it seems to me that you might need a change of scenery. As a guy who couldn’t get any girls in high school, all I needed to do was go to college, 500 miles away. Same guy, different location, different life. Sometimes, reinvention is the best remedy for a tortured past.
Like everyone else, you’re a product of your environment (late bloomer, strict parents, small town,) but that doesn’t mean you can’t transcend it. You can literally DROP all of those things from your former life and start fresh. You are not your past. You are your future. You are whatever you choose to be.
Choose confidence. Choose optimism. Choose therapy. Choose to dump men who don’t give you what you need.
We’re all the sum total of the choices we make. Keep choosing wisely and nobody can stop you from fulfilling all your dreams.
Good luck and stay in touch.
If you’re a woman who has gone through similar experiences with men and is ready to drop your past for a new future, it is my honor to show you a new path to love.
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