by Sue DeGregorio-Rosen, RN, CLNC, Contributing Editor
To live, to love and to matter are natural for the person that I am.
I noticed him before he noticed me in a crowd of people mingling at a family event. He was a friend of my brother who introduced us. Polite, with an irresistible smile and interested in learning more about me, he found me to be amusing, and when we talked, he looked deep into my eyes. His name was Nick, and he was my brother’s football teammate in high school. He told me when he was younger that he used to try to get my attention, but I was older, by 5 years and he was way too shy to approach me. He told me I was his dream, and I loved every minute of his very artful seduction. He was adorable.
We began this seduction dance as friends, and then we became friends with benefits, and soon after, lovers. He was tender, compassionate, a fun man/boy that showered me with gifts, and he was kind and considerate, so it happened, I fell in love with him,
But then six months later, things began to change. I started to notice things, sometimes just in his eyes, a feeling of tension when we were together. He didn’t make love to me in the same fashion, his sexual needs became demands, games were played and he would hold my arms over my head at times, like I was his capture and vigorously fuck me until he was spent, not allowing me any pleasure at all. Other times he would insist that I strip for him, as if I was the show, leaving myself dressed only in a garter belt with stockings and high heels, insisting that I masturbate for him, while he watched. I became exhausted from making every effort to keep him happy.
So, I talked with my close friends and family members. And I knew they were concerned but I assured them I would be okay. I said he was probably going through a rough patch, I was the woman he had always wanted, I had more experience, I was successful, and he was trying to navigate through our relationship. He wanted to feel like a man.
I stayed, and he continued to make me feel less each time we were together. Toxic can spread slowly at first and then quickly become overwhelming. And the thing about toxic relationships si you think you can manage. I wanted to believe in him. He began to realize how I could feel he was giving as much of himself to the relationship as I was. He said it was the way we communicated that was so off, and that it had nothing to do with control. He would bring me flowers, run a bubble bath for me, and help me undress and massage my naked body with oils, and then make love to me knowing my body, knowing I would succumb and forget the problems from the day before.
I was wasting my time, even though I wanted so desperately to believe that combining love and patience would give me the kind of relationship I yearned for, with him, if I just gave it some time.
How much time? Women like me don’t give up so easily and we tough it out. We are self-motivated and willing to keep getting up even when life throws us a curveball. I stayed in a toxic relationship with a toxic man.
And then one night he brought home another man. I thought nothing of it, he was Nick’s friend, sweet and very attractive. His name was Hunter, and he began a game of innocent flirtations. It was a game in which my strengths were being used against me. “Nick is a lucky man, you are stunning” Nick poured the wine. “You must have a lot of men come on to you”. Nick poured me another glass. A game which started out as innocent was just that, it was a game. And then Nick left the room, and Hunter made his move. He backed me into the kitchen island, grabbed my hair and held me back, forcing a kiss while he pulled my dress up and pushed my panties aside and I felt his fingers slip inside me. I tried to scream, but Nick entered the room and joined in on this assault. He told me to just do this, do it for him. He wanted to watch me have sex with his friend. There was no upfront communication to prepare me to see what I wanted. He morphed into a bully. Two bullies at once.
I resisted, I fought, I reasoned, but they were stronger than me. And so, I finally stopped resisting. They both wanted me, and so into the bedroom and onto the bed I was, as Hunter undressed me, and Nicky watched. He watched his friend have sex with me, without my consent or did I? He took pictures while I cried, as I allowed myself to be humiliated.
Hunter dressed when he was finished, and he and Nick left the room. I had no idea what just took place other than the shame I felt, the confusion, and why I had hoped that things would workout.
When women are sexually assaulted, we feel like it was our fault, we ask what could we have done different. Nick took pictures of me having sex with another man, I felt as if the ground beneath me was splitting in two. It was so difficult for me to see the reality of this situation. I could not believe I had been so blind. I was completely shattered. Why didn’t I fight more, scream more. Why didn’t I recognize the signs when the circumstances became too bad for my foolish optimism to stand. I was in love with someone who obviously didn’t love me back. I became a willing participant and gave up so much of myself to make this relationship work, because of my naïve belief in what I had mistaken for as love.
I did nothing. I did not call the police, I did not seek help, I did not tell Nick to pack his bags and get out, and instead, I blamed myself. I was flirtatious, I was inviting, and I didn’t fight hard enough. I gave in.
And so, I took a shower and tried to scrub off this thing that just happened. Nick left on his own, but before he did, he reminded me that he had pictures. I asked to see them and was mortified. He laughed and told me that I loved every minute of it, and that we should do it again, soon.
I was horrified. And then one day, I told my story.
#MeToo……became a movement that was built on people like me who survived a sexual assault, whether it happened as a child, whether it was violent or whether it was coerced as was in my case.
For way too long, and as we continue to do so, we learn more and more about the assails. We hear about the traffickers, as in Jeffrey Epstein, who not only indulged the rich and famous, but who also had a taste for the very young and innocent. We hear about the alleged assaults by former presidents, and the taking down of a governor who was applauded for his war on the covid19 virus. This cannot continue to be acceptable, despite our efforts to dismantle this system of oppression. Patriarchy, racism, misogamy, sexism must stop. We must continue to fight for our dignity and restore courage for survivors like me to move forward. We need to continue this dialogue. We need to support the survivors, hold the assailants accountable, and remember how sacred our time here is, without fear and shame.
My dignity was stripped from me, I was humiliated, and I was over-powered and then made to feel that this was my fault. No one should be made to feel that kind of harm. I also learned that a sexual abuse act would not hinder my relationship with men or women. I would not allow it to be the framework of my life.