There are very few people who know this story, and none with whom I could possibly share every detail. Part of that is simply because the more I explain what happened, the less it feels like an explanation and the more it feels like an excuse for something which is clearly inexcusable. I have spent more than twenty years wanting to speak out publicly about it — to out myself and lay myself bare — but have vacillated back and forth. I have desperately wanted to come clean and take responsibility for my actions, but at the same time I have been haunted by the potential repercussions (beyond any for myself) of this kind of confession. The myth that women frequently lie about rape is inevitably falsely reinforced by one woman coming forward (in spite of statistics to the contrary). I don’t want my lie to reflect unfairly on those who have made genuine claims. It has also never been my desire to re-open old wounds for the boy I hurt and whose life I damaged.
But these things have a tendency to eat away at you when they sit unresolved, and although I wouldn’t say that I have forgiven myself for the choice I made, I do understand it more now. That understanding has made it both easier and harder — maturity has given me the emotional tools to dissect and understand the choice I made — that I felt I had to make at the time — but it has also distanced me greatly from the person that made that choice. I cannot imagine doing such a thing today, or allowing myself to be in such a vulnerable position where I felt there was no other option. This means that although I understand it, I find it hard to empathize with it.
He preferred a more arm’s length approach. I was not invited to his house or to meet most of his friends. He didn’t want to meet my friends.
The majority of our relationship involved him rarely returning my calls and coming over to my parent’s house after dark to have sex, which we did mostly in the dark, and during which he never removed his baseball cap. Ever.
Looking back, I have to wonder if any of his friends even knew that he had a girlfriend (was I his girlfriend?), and there is a good chance that he was seeing other girls as well. Things came to a bit of a head when, after repeated requests for him to come to a party with me, he refused and I went on my own.
What happened next wasn’t his fault — if I wasn’t getting what I needed from the relationship I should have just ended it (that seems perfectly logical now, of course, but teenagers don’t often have the emotional maturity to go along with their sexual explorations). I was hurt and needed validation.
This was, understandably, a pretty big boost to my self-esteem. He wanted me so much and seemed so hungry for me, and I was so wounded by rejection that I couldn’t get enough. It didn’t register with me at the time that part (or all?) of that hunger was less a function of my irresistible desirability and more a reflection of his age.
He was 15. He was a virgin.
Not only was he 15, but he had just turned 15 that week. He was in grade nine and I had already graduated from high school.
This did give me pause. Of course it did. But I made all the rationalizations that I am sure men make of underage girls who they convince themselves ‘look older’ and are ‘mature for their age.’ By law in Canada, it was legal for us to have sex. Barely.
In any case, we did not have sex that first night, nor even when we met up again the next day. I am not certain that was even my goal. It was a bit of a runaway train that, of course, he was going to ride as far as he could, and that I was feeling less certain about the more sober I was. We eventually went home to my parents house and did, finally, consummate what seemed inevitable.
It was awkward and absolutely not horrible physically, but mentally I realized (during) that I had done a very, very stupid thing. I knew I couldn’t continue seeing him (regardless of what happened with my boyfriend) — enough time had passed that I had actually spent talking to him to realize that, while sweet, he was a child and we had nothing in common. He was beginning high school and I was going to head off to university. I had just been his first sexual experience and I had no idea how to deal with the situation in a way that wouldn’t destroy him.
So of course I pretended everything was fine and waited until he called me the next day and did it over the phone.
When my boyfriend found out, he was angry, but didn’t yell or hurt me in any way. He didn’t even dump me. He just insisted I tell him everything about the boy and his name. I asked him if he was going to hurt him. He said no. I told him not to. He said he wouldn’t. I didn’t believe him.
TW: Trigger Warnings for talk of rape and abuse after the fold…
But I felt alone.
It wasn’t long before I met the person who would become my university boyfriend and first fiancé. We fell for each other very quickly — in fact he didn’t really give me much time to sit back and reflect on just how fast things were going. He told me he loved me and when I didn’t respond right away, his hurt was immediate and palpable. I said it soon after, but before I really had a chance to know what I felt. He was intense and showered me with affection, but I insisted on calling my boyfriend back home before I allowed things to progress to sex.
I didn’t want to be a cheater. I wanted to be someone who learned from their mistakes and didn’t repeat them.
I didn’t realize back then that there are a million different ways to make the same mistake, even if it looks like a completely new thing each time.
He agreed, but insisted on being in the room while I did it. That probably should have been a red flag for controlling behaviour to come.
After I finished the phone conversation (during which my now ex-boyfriend repeatedly begged me not to break up with him), I was in tears and extremely emotional. Rather than consoling me, my brand-new boyfriend got angry and demanded to know why I was so upset if I really wanted to break up with my ex. If I genuinely wanted to be with him instead, I should have been happy, not crying. That really should have been a red flag.
Of course I ignored it (or rather, apologized profusely to calm his ego) and we dived headfirst into what would be a volatile and abusive relationship.
It started with him weighing in on what I wore. One night he threw a fit because I went out to the pub in a short skirt. Soon I was walking on eggshells over what clothes to wear, or things I said to other people, or even things I said to him. He would scream at me and call me names, and then go on his knees and beg me to forgive him.
At Thanksgiving, he came home with me to my parents’ house and we shared the bed in in my room, at least at first. Back at school he had started to become obsessed with my sexual history. When we had sex for the first time, he told me he was a virgin. When he asked me how many people I had been with and I told him three, he quickly laughed and said “I’m just kidding, it was four for me.”
Later though (and certainly not laughing), he pushed further: “Why didn’t you save yourself? How could you not know you were going to be with me?” I had no idea how to answer that other than to apologize, but he couldn’t let it go. Finally during that night at my parents’, he pointedly asked if I had ever had sex with anyone else in that bed. I admitted that I had. He got out of the bed and crawled onto the floor and cried, curled up in the fetal position.
I tried to console him (even though in my mind I had to push back thoughts of shock and disbelief). I genuinely didn’t want him to feel so hurt, but I was at a bit of a loss as to how to make things better. The next day he insisted that we return to school a day early, leaving my parents and grandmother completely baffled.
As his obsession grew, so did his abusive behaviour. He started making various sexual demands and showed little regard for how much pain he caused me, with the excuse that I owed it to him because I had ruined things for him. He started refusing to come inside of me during sex, because I was dirty.
I had brought a teddy bear to university with me that I had been sleeping with since I was a child — it was an obstacle that stood in the way of his requirement that I love him and only him. He made me take a knife to it, slice open its guts and throw it in the garbage.
When he got very angry and I tried to leave the room, he would lock the door and pin me down on the bed, and insist that I say “I’m sorry” and that I wouldn’t leave. Genuinely terrified, I screamed at him to get off of me until other people in the dorm would come banging on the door telling him to let them in. Eventually, because I stayed with him, they stopped coming. I struggled with wanting to make things work and the sheer exhaustion of the impossibility of the situation. Out of desperation, I tried once to go with razor blades to take a bath and slit my wrists in the co-ed bathrooms, but after five minutes on my own he followed me in there and began banging on the door. He insisted we take all showers together.
He cheated on me and I tried to end it. The next day he proposed marriage and promised that things would change.
Getting engaged did change things — they got worse. Still unable to resolve the fact that I had cheated on him (according to his logic) prior to our relationship, he attempted to create a narrative that would satisfy his twisted logic. He hounded me repeatedly about whether I enjoyed sex with my previous boyfriends. My answers of “I don’t know” turned to “not really” and finally to “no” by the hundredth ask, at which point he began steering me in the direction he wanted.
“So you didn’t want to have sex, right?”
“I guess not?” We went back and forth over this several dozen times until I said it with enough confidence that it rang true in his ears. I knew that it wasn’t true but it felt like a harmless enough white lie that you could tell someone you loved to spare their feelings. He pushed on.
“So you were raped, then.”
I balked. It seemed too far, even if it was only between us and only to assuage his feelings. But he pushed and pushed. He used any tool that he felt he had to manipulate me, including the most effective: withdrawal of affection. At this point he had already cut me off from my friends (and was trying his best to do so from my family). Eventually I caved, hoping that the issue was now resolved and that we could move on.
But it wasn’t. He could tell himself that I had allowed myself to be raped by my boyfriends (because that was somehow acceptable by his standards — women submit to their boyfriends), and that I had to have sex with them. But that didn’t sufficiently explain the time I cheated with the 15-year-old. Clearly I had sought out sex. We fought about that for a long time, until he brought up rape again, the catch-all solution for his delusional logic.
Worn down, I agreed.
Again, it didn’t end. If anything, he got more amped up by it, and his attempts at control and manipulation grew even more vicious, aided by an unexpected change in living arrangements.
Near the end of our first year, a teachers’ strike forced everyone home early. Rather than allowing me to head home to my own family (for whom he had an increasing mistrust), he insisted I come home with him. When the summertime came, that stay was extended. There, he had complete control over me. He would routinely threaten to break up with me. Even the screaming fights didn’t stop, despite being within earshot of his elderly mother, who spoke up about it, but I think felt pretty helpless to do anything.
One day I went out on my own to a cemetery with a bottle of Advil, planning to down every single pill, only to lose my nerve and go straight back to his house.
At this point I felt I had nowhere to go — even the job where I worked for the summer had been procured by his sister. One day after he broke up with me I even went so far as to tell the foreman I was quitting, only to have my fiancé ‘un-break’ up with me, and requiring me to go and plead for my job back.
Rape scenarios continued to play in his head and he would torture me with them, making me repeat back to him what happened. By Thanksgiving of the next school year, he had devised a plan for me: I was to go home for the weekend, file charges against the (now) 16-year-old with the police, and tell my mother that I was never going to speak to her again. Then and only then would things be done and we could move on.
So that is what I did, the whole time feeling like I had no choice, but also thinking that there must still be some way to stop it. I thought surely that something would happen to stop me. That my mother would see through what was happening and help me. But of course she thought she was helping me.
As luck would have it, the police officer I saw was a misogynist and skeptical jerk. He questioned the veracity of my statement (rightly), saying that penetration was impossible without lubrication (wrongly), and that I had clearly wanted to have sex or I wouldn’t have invited the boy into my bed (irrelevant). I mostly wanted it to be over, so I signed my statement and left. I then told my mother about disowning her. She tried to hold it together, but completely broke down on the drive back to school. She didn’t understand what she had done (and of course she hadn’t done anything).
I was a cold and numb wall of nothingness.
I was beyond disgusted with myself — I felt like I had crossed a line that there was no coming back from. Every horrible thing that my fiancé had ever said about me, or that I had ever thought about myself was true, tenfold.
The relationship that I was supposed to return to, the one where we were now happy and the past was behind us, naturally didn’t exist.
If anything, I had only proved to him the lengths that I would go to in order not to lose him, and he enjoyed his newly-improved power status. He continued to threaten to break up with me. Sex had been reduced at this point to him summoning me at various points during the day so that he could jack off and come on me. He flirted with other girls openly. By the time the police officer called to let me know that they had spoken to the guy I had accused and decided that it wasn’t true, my indignant response was half-hearted at best.
The next time my fiancé went home to visit his family without me and called to break up with me, I said that he had better mean it this time. (Because inside I knew that I did.)
When he returned and tried to recant, I told him that we were done. Of course he didn’t believe me — who could blame him, based on our track record — but this time it stuck. There were some baffling occurrences after that, like when he would insist on coming to me to tell me about his latest conquests, or the time I woke up because he had come into my room in the dark to help himself to some paper. He seemed to think that we were friends. I did not want to be his friend. I learned to lock my door and avoid him like the plague. Ultimately I was only partially successful with that — by the next year at school I was still having panic attacks every time I saw him where I simultaneously wanted to run away crying and to pummel his face in with my fists.
I quit university and didn’t finish my degree.
Most people have that one mistake that they want to go back and change. I also want to go back and change things. But how far back do I go? What is the change that makes all the difference?
The easy answer is to go back and not file the rape report, and of course it’s the thing I wish most of all that I could fix. I repeat: I would not do it. But if I hadn’t filed the report, I undoubtedly would have been kowtowed into performing some other (perhaps even worse) act of degradation — that much seems sure.
I ended up breaking up with him shortly after I filed the report — why not before? Why couldn’t that have been my moment of clarity? I suppose the only answer I have to that is that it was because I did such a horrible thing that I was able to recognize my rock bottom and pull myself back out.
Maybe the best choice and the one that would have changed everything would have been not to date him at all, or at the very least to break up with him when things got bad. I guess that’s the hard part to explain to someone on the outside of an abusive relationship — it’s pretty rare that things just ‘turn bad.’ Abusers build you up and tear you down slowly, in little ways, until you are in so far that you feel like you can’t get out and have no support system to back you up. If I knew it was going to be such a destructive relationship, I would have steered clear. I was an insecure, mentally ill teenager, wounded by repeated emotional abuse by an absent father. I did not have the skills necessary to advocate for myself.
If I could go back further, I wouldn’t have had sex with the 15-year-old in the first place. I hate putting that down on paper, because it was his first time and if he reads this, I don’t want him to think that he did anything wrong, or that it was bad because of him.
I had no business having sex with anyone so young, and it was completely unfair to use him just because I was feeling hurt.
In truth I would like to go back even further and change how I handled the relationship with the football player. I should have stood up for myself and asked for what I deserved — or better yet, learned how to be alone and worked on myself. If I had dealt with my emotional problems sooner, maybe I wouldn’t have let myself believe that I was worthless. Maybe I wouldn’t have let myself be abused and hurt because I was so worried about being alone.
Because the problem is, even after the rape allegation and the breakup with my fiancé, even though I had made a promise to myself never to lie again (for myself or anyone), I didn’t really resolve my feelings of self-worth.
I told myself I would never let anyone abuse me again, but with the knowledge of the horrible thing that I did always in the back of my mind, self-worth was something that was still impossibly out of reach. It took two abusive marriages, two affairs with married men after that (and several short-lived relationships with men who either lied or cheated) before I was able to step back and acknowledge that I had some patterns (and a whole lot of internalized guilt and shame) that I needed to sort out.
It took me even longer to admit to myself that my university boyfriend had raped me repeatedly during the course of our relationship, because I felt as though I had deserved it — that it was a fair recompense for the false accusation I had levelled. The fact that those rapes started before I’d even made the accusation didn’t matter in my mind because he had me so convinced that I owed him anything he wanted due to my lack of chastity.
To say that I am not the same person who did those things would be disingenuous. I can’t distance myself from them or wash my hands clean just because I’ve grown as a person. But I have changed. I think the unfortunate (but necessary) thing about personal growth is that a lot of the time you have to learn by making the wrong choices. If you’re lucky, those wrong choices don’t have any lasting or damaging effects. Unfortunately we aren’t born having all the answers or possessing all of the strength of character that we need to point us in the right direction.
Sometimes that strength of character comes later, when it’s too late to change what has happened, but not too late to acknowledge it.