“At 50, I’ve been single for 11 years after a very abusive marriage.
When I finally managed to get rid of my husband I decided to concentrate on my ten-year-old and one-year-old. During that time I saw the occasional man, but never introduced them to my children. I’m very happy, at times lonely, but I have friends and we are a close family.
Over the past three years I’ve occasionally met up with one man I’ve known for years through friends, although every time I went to his place I felt pressured to have sex.
On the last two occasions I didn’t sleep with him and tried to explain that I wanted a relationship not just based on sex. I want to go out for a drink and enjoy other things – which we never do.
On Friday he came to my house, but as soon as he sat down on the sofa he was trying to touch me and I did not feel comfortable.
Originally, I said he could stay. Then, as the evening progressed, I asked if he minded not doing so.
He got angry, said he’d never known anyone as frigid as me, that all the girls he has had in the past are always willing.
He’s my age but is used to going out (and still does) with much younger girls. He said I have issues with sex and he wasn’t patient enough to put up with it because sex is a way to get close to someone.
I explained I need reassurance that he wasn’t just seeing me for sex and how I’m not used to the ‘pawing’ all the time. I said laughing, talking and going out mean so much to me.
He suddenly walked out of my front door, like a petulant teenager. I haven’t heard from him since.
In the past, every man who tried to befriend me had the ultimate goal of sex – including a couple of relatives when I was very young. And I was sexually abused at 13, which my parents never believed.
Because of that I want to change things and find a man who likes me for me. Is that wrong?
Perhaps I just didn’t fancy this guy. I said to him it was my body and I felt that it should be my decision if I want to have sex with someone or not.
Is there something wrong with me? I would love to meet a man who respects me. Surely sex comes naturally and isn’t an issue when you are with the right partner?
I wish you could reassure me.”
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mail.
This is a terribly sad letter. It starts out as a letter about a miserable relationship with a nasty man, but it turns out to be a letter about the adult sequelae of childhood sexual abuse. You say ‘abusive’ right at the top, referring to your marriage. You then describe a situation in which you are obviously feeling (and being) objectified and abused. Only at the end do you mention you were abused at 13 and that you were not believed. You are hoping that the ‘right partner’ and someone who ‘likes you for you’ will be the cure but it seems clear that this won’t happen until you have dealt with the aftermath of the original abuse and its dismissal by the very people who were supposed to protect you.
You say you want to ‘change things’ but it sounds as though you want this man to change. He won’t. By the sounds of it you have reenacted an abusive scenario over and over again all your life, half disbelieving it yourself, unsure about whether you deserve to be treated well and liked or whether you perhaps deserve to put up with objectification and abuse.
The first few paragraphs seem to be about resilience. You’ve had a terrible marriage and been lonely but you have put your children first and managed to be happy in some areas. ‘I saw the occasional man’ sounds pretty bleak, as though these weren’t relationships that offered you much. Then we meet your current lover and this idea that every time you see him you feel ‘pressured to have sex.’ It’s an interesting way to put it. You don’t say; ‘He pressured me to have sex.’ You say you ‘felt pressured’. Of course, someone could pressure you endlessly without you feeling pressured. The feeling is generated by you and seems to suggest that although you would like to be appreciated for something other than your body, it is all you really feel you’ve got to offer in return for affection or friendship. If someone wants it, you seem to think you’re supposed to offer it.
We then hear about the very unpleasant incidents when you refused sex and bravely asked for what you wanted. However, the situation had rejection and disappointment built in because you already knew that he was interested only in a sexual relationship. You allowed yourself to be used sexually and then tried to explain that you don’t like the dynamic. You accused him of ‘pawing’ you. He then became openly abusive.
The trouble is that you had previously allowed him to treat you in this way and he had perhaps imagined that the ‘pawing’ and sexual contact was something you enjoyed as much as he did. He perhaps didn’t know that sex for you is a bargain – you provide your body, you want affection in return.
Sadly, it has never worked like that for you – you give your part but don’t get what you feel has been implicitly offered (care). You go on to say that every man who has tried to befriend you ‘had the ultimate goal of sex’, with the strong implication that sex is something men want to take and you don’t want to give. Something horrible.
You want to meet a man who respects you, but this man would have to deny wanting to have sex with you. Your ideal man is an old-fashioned gentleman who would wait until you were ready, forming a committed and fulfilling relationship before having sex (certainly not impossible). However, I suspect, that when he finally did admit to wanting to have sex with you you would immediately add him to the list of abusers.
That’s not to say that the men you find are not abusers – it is likely that your early life and the fact that your suffering was ignored by (perpetuated by?) your parents has made you feel so worthless that you seek out men who share your one-dimensional view of yourself and reinforce your view of men and the world. Nonetheless, this imaginary man who does like you and respect you would end up on the heap of abusers if he did, in the end, want to have sex with you.
Sex does not just come naturally to someone who has been sexually abused and who has no experience of the sexual act as making love, as a genuinely intimate and mutual experience. It is so strongly associated with abuse in your mind that men who want it are abusive and women who offer it are, or feel, worthless.
It is striking that the happiness you describe in your life comes from non-sexual relationships, your family life with your children. You are in control here, not the vulnerable and confused child wondering what’s going on and why your needs are ignored. Your confusion is extreme because what you think and know and want are very different from the way you actually behave. You tell this man what you want, what you do and don’t like and that your body is your own. All very true and courageous. (When you were abused you bravely told your parents). However, your words are hollow because, in fact, you have been allowing this man to objectify you for many years. You expect not to be heard and imagine that the relationships other people have are not for you.
It will be a long slog to deal with your history of childhood abuse and to get yourself into a position of being able to seek a relationship on a mutually respectful basis. For, it is important to remember that, assuming all men just want sex (as if sex is a nasty and abusive thing) is not respectful of them either. You don’t respect this man you describe (and he doesn’t sound like a person worthy of respect), or your husband or other lovers, any more than you feel they respect you. You’ll have to stop hating men and using your body to seek intimacy if you do want to move on and have a lasting and sincere relationship with a man. A difficult and painful process.
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