Trigger warning: sexual abuse
When a girl who was never shown the right way to love tries to get into the game, how can she possibly win?
What could I possibly say to a 24-year-old virgin who has never had a relationship or a proper kiss? If I were looking at one right now, I would say, “I get you.”
Wading through your 20s can be one of the most confusing times in your life, or so I have been told. I like to think I have a lot of life left to live beyond my 20s and many more confusing moments waiting for me. What is not confusing is the fact that my relationship status is considered strange by many in my age group and beyond. Often, I find myself responding to comments like, “Girl, you have to get on that,” or “How have you lived without sex?”
Blissful ignorance, I assume. Maybe the same way a nun would live without it. You never know what you are missing until you try it, right? I identify as a Christian, but no religious conviction has led me to where I have found myself. In all honesty, there are some nights I wish I had someone to hug or cuddle with while watching a movie. I suppose every human who finds themselves without a significant other feels this way now and again. The difference I face, however, is not knowing how the other half lives. No amount of Kate Hudson and Kiera Knightley romances could teach me what a 20-something should know about love, and trust me, I have seen them all and still feel clueless.
What is worse is the fact that my self-imposed chastity is not my fault, even if it took me years to finally believe that.
I was eight-years-old when my nightmare found me in the form of a grown man. Someone who shared my blood. Someone who should have known better than to hurt the family he was supposed to love. We are taught that relatives have our best interests at heart from the second we are born. Constantly stuffed into many sets of arms that promise to love and protect you as infants. They are to be trusted… until they aren’t.
My parents believed in family, so they did not think twice before they left me in his care. In fact, I didn’t think anything of my babysitter that day. He was familiar and had the same smile I had seen my entire life. I trusted him, until I didn’t.
The National Center for Victims of Crime reports that “1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.” I do not know whether to feel better knowing that I am not alone, or cry for all the people who, like me, have to carry the weight of this abuse for the rest of their lives, forever being able to close your eyes and go back to those dreadful moments waiting to pull you under. You never forget, no matter how much you may want to. Every sense is on high alert in those moments, and every sense remembers what it felt like for the rest of your life.
My nightmare physically lasted until I was about 13. That was when I became strong enough to fight back. When I saved myself because no one I told believed me.
Mentally, however, I still struggle. You do not have to be raped to be scarred. Sexual abuse in any form leaves a mark.
Today, I wake up at least twice every night to take a stroll through my house, checking every single lock to make sure they are secure as my dog watches on. I never miss a night, not trusting myself that I locked them correctly before climbing into bed.
No, I have not trusted myself in a long time.
Then there is the hate. Hate for the man and everything he stole from me. How my first kiss will always have been forced, and the first sight of a naked man was one where tears were flowing from the eyes of a child. I hated how the shower was never hot enough to wash him away, burning my skin but leaving him there. It has been a hard struggle to come to terms with how much he stole from me. How much I missed at his hands.
He stole the word “pretty” from me.
“Good girl,” he would say after he was done with me. “You’re so pretty.”
Bile creeps up my throat at the mere thought of that word. In my youth, I gained 50 pounds trying to stop being pretty. Praying that the weight gain would save me, when it only left me depressed and at his mercy.
Entering my teenage years, I never had butterflies around a crush or wished for someone to hold my hand. I did not, and still do not, trust easily, only adding to my list of obstacles I need to overcome.
No date took me to junior prom, having closed myself off from those around me, unable to trust my judge of character anymore. The closest I have ever come to a relationship was in eighth grade when a boy named Robby, who had blonde hair and was at least three inches shorter than me, asked me to a movie.
“No thank you,” was my response, trying to seem calm on the outside while my anxiety rippled through my chest. Fear was the only emotion I was capable of feeling in that moment. He must have misheard my response, though, because when I got home from school, there was a relationship request from Robby waiting for me on Facebook. I did not make us “official”, and after two weeks of avoiding him, he told the school that he “dumped me.” In all honesty, I think childhood was far more confusing than my twenties could ever be.
Even now, I can count on one hand all the times I have been 100% alone with a man, related or not. Just the thought of that type of interaction forces my heart to beat at twice its speed.
I hate him for what he did to me.
These feelings are not only reserved for him, though. You see, I told people. Family members. Begged them to save me, only to be called a liar by the first two I told. Then I stopped talking and started to hate myself.
Somehow, I was able to pin the blame on that little eight-year-old girl who did not understand what was happening to her, knew it was not right, but could not stop it. She was stuck, just like I found myself for so many years. She was trapped in hell and I was consumed by the memory of it. Forever feeling dirty and used, not understanding that when something is taken from you, you can always rebuild.
I hated her, and it took me a decade to understand that it was not her fault. Let’s be honest, nothing about pigtails and dirty overalls told that man that I wanted anything he did to me, no matter how many times he told me I did.
So here I find myself, in my “prime” and breaking the status quo. I cannot imagine that a Tinder profile that reads “24-year-old virgin without any relationship experience” would get me very far. Add some emotional scarring to the mix and suddenly I am a full-fledged pariah. That is how I feel, anyway.
It is probably for the best, though, if we are being practical. I am far too paranoid to ever try online dating. We cannot forget to add that to the list of issues waiting to be overcome as well.
Baby steps, though, because I am now speaking about something I swore I would take to my grave. No profound revelation led me to writing this. No, the secret just got heavier and heavier on my shoulders with each passing opportunity to speak about it. I could not continue to move forward with my past clawing at my ankles. Maybe typing these words here will make it easier to use my voice.
Living in the midst of wanting love but struggling with not knowing the first thing about it, I am essentially lost. My parents went through a horrid divorce and all, but one of my grandparents was dead before I turned the age of 10. No one was there to teach me what love looked like and what I deserve in a partner. And while I love handwritten notes, the only man who has ever written me love letters and left them on my bed was the monster who might as well have been hiding under it.
A grown woman who has battled back from the darkness now, I still do not know what love is, but I am getting closer. I have forgiven that little girl with the tears in her eyes. Though bad days still find me, I have accepted that I had no control over the situation I found myself in, no matter how much I wish I had. It was my dream to be able to escape, and after graduating high school at 16 and running away to college that same year, it would seem I have been running ever since.
Every six months I would move, but for the past two years, I have stayed in the same place. The same town that holds my worst nightmares. All the abandoned parking lots and football fields he would park in with me in the car are here, but instead of falling victim to it, I have been fighting back at the darkness. He is not in my life anymore and will not ever be again. My mother knows now and gave me the largest hug I have ever received as she cried with me.
And with sweaty palms and a racing heart, I replied to the man next to me on the treadmill yesterday when he said, “Hello.”
Loving myself was never an option, but this year I have chosen to do just that for the first time in many years. Who knows, maybe by the time I reach 25, my relationship status will change. I am not rushing it, though, because I have learned that the best things, especially healing, are worth the effort.
As for love, I like to think it is worth the wait.