Women are doing the best they can with what society has to offer them.
My first encounter with abuse was in my junior year of high school — around 2013. I was sixteen. This boy and I had been together for a year. We had met right after I’d been cheated on by someone I considered to be the love of my life. This new relationship felt like a chance to start again. It was a breath of fresh air. He made me laugh and bought me a teddy bear. It was just like the movies!
Until it wasn’t. As time went on, his mask started to slip. When we would argue, he would often have rage fits that reminded me of temper tantrums I used to throw when I was a child. Once he realized that emotional manipulation didn’t phase me anymore, he resorted to physical force and harassment. I decided enough was enough. I ended it — or so I thought.
How naive of me to think it’d be over just because I said it was. He threatened to commit suicide if I left him, and when I stopped answering his calls, he recorded a voicemail of him screaming, crying, and jumping out of his second-floor bedroom window.
I can still hear his shrills echoing through the kitchen hallway from my parent’s answering machine.
After it was really over (don’t worry, he survived the fall), all I could think about was that this was some freak situation that I must’ve gotten myself into. I concluded that due to the extreme behavior I’d witnessed, this had to be an anomaly and I’d likely never meet someone like him again.
As I was processing these very serious events, the people around me encouraged me not to give up on dating. They said he was just a “bad apple.” He’s the wrong guy. If only I had a nickel for every time someone assured me that all I had to do was pick the right man — you know, one of those “nice guys.” I chose to believe that, next time, I would find the right one.
Unfortunately, as I grew into a young adult, I continued to meet men that were eerily similar to that teen boy I escaped in high school. Even though 8/10 dates I went on were as transactional as they were coercive, I told myself that these guys were just a few more of those bad apples. I needed a break.
I’m still picking the wrong ones, I thought. So I stopped meeting new people.
Of course, in 2017, the #MeToo movement caught fire. Evidence came to the surface that abusive relationships and violent encounters with men were notably common. For a few years before this, I’d had an inkling of this idea in the back of my mind. But I was at a sensitive stage in my life where I was constantly doubting the validity of my intuition.
But as I witnessed hundreds upon thousands of women and men speak out about facing similar adversities that I had lived through, I realized there was no reason to doubt anymore. But even this iconic wave of awareness wasn’t enough to prepare me for my relationship with a serial rapist the next year.
I was 23 and decided I was ready to give dating another try. He told me he wanted to help me explore my deepest desires. What he really meant was that he was going to force me to completely surrender my autonomy and eliminate the word no from my vocabulary.
He was protected by his involvement in the military — which is notorious for its sexist practices and institutions. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time. It’s not exactly advertised. His strength, size, and blatant hatred of women made me fear for my life daily — which is precisely what it was all meant to do.
After I escaped him, I was technically safe, but my mental health was spiraling. Failing to acknowledge this was a huge mistake. Instead, I put on a brave face and launched myself into the world of online dating and sexual exploration. Because I was determined to find the good men that everyone had been telling me about.
I told myself that dating must be like a numbers game, and I just happened to be going through the losers all at once. Soon I’d get my winning ticket, right?
One thing that I had at 25 that I didn’t at 23 was the cognizance that I’d previously been treated in unacceptable ways. I was finally well aware that I’d experienced trauma, but I didn’t quite know how to handle this information properly. As I flounced around the web, I swore that revealing this sensitive information to strangers was a clever way to test a connection.
At the time, I didn’t know that abusers often prey on previous victims and disguise their cruel intentions by using false empathy as bait. That was until I met these next two men, who taught me the harshest lesson I’ve ever had to come to terms with.
One was a self-proclaimed polyamorous guru and secret misogynist who used his large platform to take advantage of kinky women. The next was a covert narcissist whose wealth, status, and profession made it a breeze for him to groom vulnerable young adults and subordinates.
Both men created illusions of intimacy to ensure my trust. They sat and listened to me talk about how I’d been broken in the past and decided it was the perfect in — only to discard me like I was nothing when my luster had worn off.
All of these theatrics just so that they could use me for sexual pleasure, a convenient ego boost, or whatever they thought would make them feel like real men.
For me, reflection and healing after trauma has been like working on a one-thousand-piece puzzle. Somedays I remember a few small details, other days I have a breakthrough and can piece together a colossal chunk of memories I’d previously repressed. But these progressions don’t happen daily.
It’s taken years and years to highlight all that I narrated above, and these were only my more serious relationships. I’ve endured an immeasurable number of sexual violations throughout my entire life, which is why it feels nearly impossible to finish the puzzle.
It baffles me to think about how one ordinary growing girl can manage to cross paths with so many repulsive human beings within a short span of ten years. This line of thinking usually leads me down a rabbit hole of self-blame and catastrophizing.
Is there something wrong with me? Am I ignoring all of the signs? Am I cursed to forever align myself with predators?
But these self-deprecating questions weren’t exactly pulled out of thin air. They were derived from the patriarchal culture I’ve been immersed in since I was a child.
Growing up, I heard and absorbed how my friends, family members, and/or even talk show hosts responded to media depictions of sexual violence/murder cases. They’d almost always question the victims’ choices instead of the perpetrators.
Why would she associate with someone like this in the first place? Why did she put herself in such an unsafe situation? What was she doing at that club?
Since the #MeToo movement, our culture had begun subtly shifting perspectives about these once-normal victim-blaming attitudes. But this progress has not been as substantial as many proclaim.
Victim-blaming has been renamed “accountability.”
We frequently see and hear all kinds of ignorant excuses about why women are being abused — as if we’re doing it to ourselves. One popular retort to any slight criticism — aimed at violent men yet somehow offending all of these “nice guys” — is that women need to stop blaming their poor choices on all of mankind.
I’m not against taking personal responsibility for my actions. Many of the decisions I’ve made throughout my dating history have resulted in emotional turmoil, and I’ll be the first to admit that.
Personal responsibility concerning trauma is a complicated and individual issue that victims must deal with on their own. It’s not something that someone outside of the victim’s shoes could ever understand or make an accurate judgment about.
Accountability in this realm — for me, at least — meant acknowledging that there were a few personal issues that factored into the traumatic events I suffered, and it’s on me to improve them.
But that does not mean I was ever to blame for the actions of another person.
But men like Tate use the term personal responsibility to absolve themselves of any. All of these victim-blaming ideas are examples of patriarchal deflection. They assure that victims are thoroughly distracted with debilitating self-doubt instead of pointing the finger where the blame truly belongs.
It’s not hate. It’s not misandry. It’s self-preservation.
The reality of the situation is that the impact of the four men I described has pressed me into viewing the world through a cynical lens. Despite what people say about the supposed feminazis who revel in the denigration of men, I don’t enjoy having to think of everyone as a possible danger in order to protect myself.
I hate believing that men come in bushels of rotten apples and that I must obsessively examine and discard them one by one until I find a golden delicious. And even when I do, there’s always the possibility that I will discover a putrid decaying core underneath the deceivingly brilliant surface.
I’d rather not be burdened with all the evidence I have to support this belief. But my story, the story of thousands of others, and the numbers do not lie. I can’t unsee it.
“Why didn’t you make better choices?”
Because the wrong men don’t have bright signs and flashing red lights all over them. Because predatorial men purposefully misrepresent themselves to get what they want.
Because I shouldn’t have been expected to have had all of this wisdom and knowledge about the inner workings of emotional and sexual abuse at the ripe ages of 16, 23, and 25. Because I couldn’t possibly “learn the lesson” from a traumatic event I didn’t yet know how to properly process.
Even after I finally learned my lesson — and learned it again and again and again — I still fell back into the cycle of abuse.
Even after I filled every single page of my journals with lists of red flags and deal-breakers and strict rules for dating men, the bad guys found a way in. Even after I purchased weapons and informed my friends and family of every single date I went on, these acts didn’t protect me in the slightest.
Even after I made sure to introduce these men to my trusted inner circle — seeking the approval of others after I felt I could no longer trust my judgment — they charmed everyone and made it through to the next round.
Even after I remained celibate and refused to go on dates for years, forbade myself from ever admitting my romantic feelings to anyone, and took a break to reflect on what I’d experienced and absorbed, it all still happened.
Why? The answer is anything but simple.
Abuse involves psychological manipulation which is specifically designed to deceive entire communities. And —as I now know all too well — survivors of domestic, sexual, or childhood abuse are at high risk of being abused again.
These men aren’t your run-of-the-mill bad boys and heartbreakers. These men aren’t your Fonzis, Danny Zuckos, Joey Tribbianis, or Dr. McSteamies. These men are calculated, entitled, and dangerous.
I’m not stupid. I’m not “attracted to the bad boys.”
What I am is a person who once dared to believe that not all men are bad apples and to hope that the next one could be that Prince who sweeps me off my feet if I would just give him a chance.
Isn’t that what we’re conditioned to do? Protect men’s feelings? So we excuse away abhorrent behavior and keep giving out chances. If we don’t, we’re frigid and stuck up. If we do, and he turns out to be rotten, we shouldn’t have picked him.
This double-edged sword is why so many of us stop picking altogether.
Go ahead, call us jaded. We’re only adapting to our environment. Some of us are surviving and — despite all efforts — some aren’t. Remember that many are killed for getting into abusive relationships, or rejecting them, or refusing sex, or wearing high heels, or existing.
We need to collectively accept the undeniable fact that even if a person makes the worst possible choices they do not deserve to be abused. They did not bring it on themselves. Period.
If you want to blame women — or any survivors — for the trauma they’ve suffered, make sure you hold yourself to the same standard. Reflect on your dating history and let us know how immaculate it was in the comment section below.
Try a lifetime of blaming yourself for everything horrible and heartbreaking that’s ever happened to you, and join the club.
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