Writing by Sophie Rose // Photography by Amin Sharifi
I want to end this on a good note
Really, I do
I want to give you a beacon of hope
Yes, you’ll be able to trust again
Yes, you’ll be able to date again
Yes, you’ll find love again
Yes, you’ll feel worthy of being loved again
I don’t know any of that for sure right now
So I guess I’m writing this to explain a bit what things have been like since the rape
And to commiserate with you
Because I’m sure I’m not alone in the
That creep in anytime I try to be vulnerable
I was raped about twenty-one months ago. People know that it’s changed me, and how I interact with men day-to-day, but I realized recently that ultimately the way it’s changed me most, is in the way I approach love.
Which doesn’t make a lot of sense on the surface, maybe, because love wasn’t present, in any context, on that night.
I think it’s the intimacy and the beauty and the pain and the joy that I associate with love. The trauma has dulled those emotions for me. It’s made me forget, a bit, what it’s like to fall in love. It’s made me feel like everyone else is moving ahead in their lives and I’m stuck here in this stunted place. I can’t even blame anyone for not wanting me. Because I’m cold now, cynical, and nervous, and maybe too needy. Because my focus has been on trying to stay upright as I fight my way through hell.
Because you need to understand that before the rape I was the mushiest, most romantic girl. I loved love more than anything in the world. I loved the tentative beginnings of it, the moment that I knew it was there, the moment I said it, the moment he said it, the times I could feel my throat all full up with it. I even loved falling out of love. I relished something about that sharp, unique, common sadness. I had loved hard enough, I had experienced enough happiness that I could physically and acutely feel the loss in the form of a breathless, jagged gap in my chest.
I was never afraid of getting hurt. There was never a question of risk, of trust. If things went badly, they went badly. The good times would always, always be worth the pain. If I felt something for a person, if I decided that I wanted them, if they decided they wanted me, that was it. I’d be all in. Nothing could actually go wrong, because if it ever felt hard or miserable it meant that something else had gone incredibly right. I loved romcoms, was obsessed with Valentine’s Day and planning birthday surprises, would put hours and hours of energy into thoughtful letters, into decorating someone’s room, into figuring out how to rent out a movie theatre for my boyfriend to play video games with his friends.
They say we each need to learn our partner’s love language, because there are five that are possible (words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch) but really I think I adhered to all five. I accepted all of them and I gave all of them back.
The concept of professional life always took a backseat. I always said it didn’t matter much to me if I ended up with my “dream job” – as long as I had someone I loved to come home to at the end of the day. I couldn’t understand people who said they wouldn’t move for love. Even as I watched my parents fall out of love, I believed in it wholeheartedly. I don’t, now. Because so much of what I’ve been through hasn’t made sense. The idea of someone falling in love with me now, with who I am now, doesn’t make sense.
My important dating landmarks: a timeline
December 2009 – December 2010: first relationship (first kiss)
January 2011 – March 2012: second relationship (first sex)
March 2012 – December 2013: serious of trysts
January 2014 – May 2016: third relationship
October 2016: raped
April 2017: ready to not assume that every man I talk to will rape me
May 2017: realizing online dating is not an option for me
June 2017: ready to not assume that every man I am alone with will rape me
July 2017: first post-rape crush
August 2017: first post-rape crush in my bedroom, I asked him at one point to “wait,” he didn’t wait
September 2017 – April 2018: flirted only with, got involved only with men I knew were ultimately emotionally or physically unavailable
April 2018: cut off all connections, stopped trying to date
May 2018: randomly met man; instant vibe, comfortable, happy
June 2018: same man; fun, exciting, sexy
Early July 2018: I trust this man, is this what hope feels like, I can’t remember
All this to say that dating is hard for anyone. But it’s especially hard after you’ve been assaulted. Because all those things we’re told are the building blocks of a healthy relationship – trust, intimacy, communication – are so close to impossible for survivors to develop with someone they don’t know.
From October 2016 to now I’ve had four jobs. I can’t seem to hold one down.
I worry and worry and worry about my heart. As much as I still crave love I don’t believe in the giddy magic of it anymore because I don’t believe in the inherent goodness of humans anymore. And it’s really, really tough for me now to come to terms with that. To remember how I was before and recognize how I am now and realize I can’t snap my fingers and go back.
“Just change your mindset about it! Have faith in people! Go meet someone else! It’s all in your attitude! Trust me trust me trust me”
It’s not easy like that
You need to earn my faith in you
All of you
Are guilty until proven innocent
At this point it boils down to
Will you pity me?
When you learn about my trauma will you condescend to me, coddle me, fetishize my pain? Turn me into your flavour of the month, your DIY project, until you’ve satisfied your saviour complex, made me your mission to be accomplished, score, you won, patting yourself on the back and slipping away with a smile and a breezy kiss on my cheek?
Will you problematize me?
When you learn about my trauma will you step back, slowly, surely, creeping on eggshells, eyes, pitying, wide, afraid a wrong step will set me off, afraid if you blink I’ll go insane, shushing me before I speak in hopes you’ll quell any memory of the trauma you are (quick to remind me you are) not responsible for, waiting until my back is turned and all you’ve left is a woozy woody-scented letter of regret on my bedside table?
Are there men out there who can accept my past without letting it impede our future?
Shit, can I even do that?
Part of the reason men have fallen in love with me before is that romanticism I had, my intense empathy, how much I loved love. How open and vulnerable I was and how ready I was to show my affection. It was endearing, I heard. Charming.
How the hell am I supposed to get vulnerable?
When beyond the usual up and downs of early adulthood
There’s this whole extra layer underneath it, this trauma I need to contest with
When just being not-sad or not-angry or not-numb when I wake up sometimes feels like the biggest effort
May – July man
My heart went all warm when I met him
I didn’t feel the inexorable brick in my chest, the one that’s made it hard for me to breathe since October 2016
I lost my phone during our first date and that should have made me panic but it didn’t, things felt fine, they felt like they would be okay because he was there
And I was so grateful for that innately calming and comforting presence he has
And for how easy and fiery our chemistry is
And for how quickly he became my friend
But our communication’s been off
And I need the communication because without the communication it’s not a conversation it’s just someone making decisions
It’s a person making choices about my life
(maybe I’m doing something that makes people think they can decide to change my life because if something happens more than twice it’s a pattern, not a coincidence, right)
Yeah I’ve got trauma all up in me and my psyche
Maybe you’re thinking ‘it’s too soon’ for me to date
But man it feels like forever I’ve been out of this game
And I’m tired of hearing I need to be patient and that it takes time
How much time is time?
At what point do I stop feeling like I fail because I am still being punished for what happened to me that one night?
At what point will my skin feel comfortable on my body?
See, I told you
This isn’t a nice tidy wrap up
We all know healing isn’t linear but
Shouldn’t the baseline lift a little bit, even if it still wants to waver and fluctuate
Higher enough, better enough that we don’t scare everyone away?
I just know that writing helps me process
I don’t know how to fix this
But maybe you do and if you do, please let me know
Or maybe you don’t either but
At least we’re all here in the same boat
But hopefully not for much longer
Maybe I do remember what hope feels like[share]