The R Word

Rape happens in relationships. I am going to say that again: Rape happens in the confines of a relationship.

When I was sixteen, I was raped by my boyfriend. That is how I lost my virginity. I had a purity ring. I still have it. The inside says, “Love is patient.“ When my boyfriend and I started sleeping together, I stopped wearing it. I wore it on another finger if I did, but most days I just left it at home. Because we weren’t patient. At least he wasn’t.

He was so charming. He took me on dates, he paid for my dinners, he drove me everywhere. He introduced me to all of his friends and family, and I was just the pretty, innocent, wide-eyed girlfriend from across town. I was being introduced to a completely new world, far away from my home, my family, and my values.

So I thought that as long as he was treating me so well in public, then our relationship must be pretty good. We went to church together, we ate dinner with our families, we drove across town for each other. He told me things that every sixteen-year-old girl wants to hear…we were "in love.”

This is what I soon learned: Love is not defined by dinner dates and presents. Love cannot be bought. Love cannot be repaid. Those sweet gestures should be a response to love, not something you do to convince someone of your feelings for them. Love is also not an excuse for sex.

I told him I didn’t want to have sex, but we had already done so much, I felt like a hypocrite for drawing that line in the sand. Telling someone no doesn’t make you a hypocrite. Whether you are a virgin or have slept with multiple people – even if you have slept with that same person previously – telling him no doesn’t make you a hypocrite. Just because you have done something in the past does not mean that you have to keep going. It doesn’t give them the right to keep going either.

Our relationship was a cycle. We would fool around and have sex, leaving me feeling completely violated. I have never shed as many tears during my nineteen years of existence as I did during those nights. He told me every time that we didn’t have to do it anymore, that that was the last time. And he maintained that promise – for a few nights. Until he asked again, and I told him no, and he did it anyways. I never gave him permission, but he took my silence as a yes. As our relationship continued, the time between my tears and his promise to never do it again grew shorter and shorter.

I finally left the relationship. It wasn’t dramatic, there were no tears. The end of “us” had come many months before I officially ended it. But leaving him didn’t make me whole again.

The first step to healing was recognizing and identifying what had happened. I told some of my closest friends in the most round-about way that I could, but I never used the word “rape.“ I didn’t think rape was something that could happen in relationships, I didn’t think rape was something that happened to people in love, and I certainly didn’t think rape was something that could ever happen to me.

Rape happens in relationships.

Rape happens regardless of feelings of love.

Rape happens to people like me.

Saying it out loud gave it a life that I didn’t want to give it, but it also gave me validation that my feelings of emptiness, brokenness, and depression were real and appropriate responses to what had happened.

Being naïve and in love is the most dangerous combination. I became emptier every day I spent in that relationship and I looked to physical closeness with him to make me feel whole again. I was not being responsible or mature in my decisions, nor was I being aware of my emotions and my heart.

When I came to college I became very aware that despite my attempts to make myself better and healthier after that relationship, there were parts of me that weren’t completely healed. Instead of choosing healthy relationships and encouraging people to surround myself with, I found freedom at the bottom of a bottle. I wasn’t scared of boys, I wasn’t scared of being intimate – I felt fearless. I spent a lot of nights with a lot of different people, but sobered up the second the intentions of sex entered the picture. No matter how many nights I went out, no matter how many guys I went home with, I couldn’t get past my physical, mental, and emotional inability to have sex. There was still a part of me that wanted to save whatever I had left for marriage. Just because I lost my virginity to one guy didn’t mean I had to keep losing myself over and over again. That wasn’t going to make anything better; it was going to make me emptier.

The best conversations I had were the ones where I told the people closest to me what had happened to me. The conversations where I opened up about my inability to be intimate with people, my fears about relationships, and my scars that had yet to heal from what he did. The conversations where I still couldn’t use the word rape, but they knew anyways. The conversations that explained so much about who I was, without many words.

These conversations were more liberating than any amount of alcohol I could consume.

They meant that there were people in my life who could hold me accountable. Who could watch out for me. Who would understand why I ran from relationships and intimacy. Who knew my story.

Letting these people into the darkest parts of my life was my second step to healing.

They shook me out of that ignorant state of mind. They made me realize that I was raped, I was a victim, and I needed to take steps in order to have healthy relationships in the future. They made me realize that I don’t have to cry every time I am intimate with someone, and that I don’t need to be afraid of every man who touches me. Not everyone in my life is going to hurt me. They also made me realize that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t understand it at the time, but my actions did not give him the right to rape me. They didn’t give him the right to take something from me. They didn’t give him the right to destroy me.

I didn’t want the labels “raped” and “victim” to be used to define me. I struggled with this for a long time, because although those labels aren’t the definition of who I am, what he did played a huge role in shaping who I was becoming. So where do you draw the line between being shaped by the actions of someone else and not letting their mistakes (and yours) define you?

You become better. Stronger. Braver. And hope that in overcoming what happened, you have also overcome the possibility of being defined by it.

I thought that what he did was an isolated incident that didn’t need to have any effect on my future relationships. I was wrong because what he did changed how I behave in relationships. It changed how I respond to intimacy. It changed how I respond to hearing things like “rape” and “sexual abuse” and “making love.” It changed my perceptions on sex, and my feelings about being physically involved with someone. It changed my opinions about abortion and protection. What he did left permanent scars on who I am as a person, and I was just starting to realize that, almost three years after the fact.

The inside of my purity ring still says: “Love is patient.” Not because I am still a virgin waiting until she is married. That opportunity is long gone, and I know that I can’t physically get it back. But I can still be patient. The people who date me and interact with me have a choice: be patient or leave. Love is patient, not in the black and white sense of virgin or not virgin, but in the grey areas between that suggest that there is more to each person’s experience with sex than we give thought to. Love is patient because it was the love of my closest friends and family that brought me back to life again. Love is patient because one day someone will see more to me than someone to sleep with or someone who was raped. Love is patient because I have hope that one day, I will be able to be with someone, intimately, but know and accept that getting there will take a lot of baby steps and patience from him. Because there are scars that are still healing. But that isn’t going to stop me from loving.

Written and loved on by Mallory Paige