I lived with a boyfriend for over a year who I very rarely argued with, and who never physically threatened me. He never told me he loved me either, but I told myself I didn’t need that. I just wanted stability, something easy. When friends asked me about my relationship at the time I always used to say “it’s very low drama, and that’s what I need at the moment”.
In the flat we shared, I always went to bed first because I had to get up early to go to work and he preferred to be left alone with his computer until late at night. So I got used to going to bed alone and sometimes being awoken by him coming in to bed later. It didn’t start off this way, but gradually the times that we would have sex when I was fully awake and conscious grew less and less, and him instigating sex while I was asleep or half-asleep became the norm. I don’t remember ever thinking of it as rape at that time — I just remember feeling sad and frustrated that he never seemed to want to have sex when I wanted to, only in the night after I’d been sleeping and it was all on his terms. It took a real toll on my self-esteem and my happiness, but I don’t remember feeling wronged or angry at the time.
I do remember, on just one occasion, challenging him and saying that him having sex with me while I was asleep was “technically rape”. And as soon as I said the word he became furiously angry and stormed out of the flat in a rage that seemed frighteningly out of character. And I just remember sitting in the flat feeling lonely and scared, but most of all worried and guilty for upsetting him. When he eventually came back an hour or so later I just said I’m sorry, I take it back, I didn’t mean it, I shouldn’t have said that, until he calmed down. And I never challenged him on it again.
A few months before the lease on our flat was up, I decided that I didn’t love him and I said I wanted to break up. But I was so keen for it to be all amicable, and I had no money to move out early, so we agreed that we would just carry on living together until the lease was up but the relationship would be over. We had separate bedrooms anyway (he had insisted on that when we moved in), and I just kept as busy as I could. I saw friends almost every night, and I started dating other people casually. He said that he didn’t care, that he never got jealous. I never brought anyone back to our flat — the few times I had sex with someone else it was always at their place.
Things got worse during this time, after we had broken up but were still living in the same flat and barely speaking. One of the experiences that particularly haunts me in flashbacks is a night when I had been out on a date, had sex with someone else and then gone back to my flat and gone to sleep in my own room. I woke up suddenly with him fucking me, felt disgusted and pushed him off, telling him to stop. He got up and left without a word, furious, and slammed the door. The next day I went to work, feeling shaken and repulsed but not thinking, “I was raped”. I just put it out of my mind and didn’t think about it. Looking back, I wonder if he was trying to punish me for having sex with someone else. I’ll never know.
Similar things happened over the months after we had broken up, and it’s hard for me to place them chronologically or piece together all the details. I remember him pressuring me for sex after I had explicitly said I didn’t want to, until I gave in and just lay there, feeling sick and wanting it over, begging him to wear a condom. I remember him coming to pick up some of his belongings from me after I had moved out, and storming off in a rage because I refused to have sex with him. “I find it insulting that you are sleeping with everyone else but me”, he said.
It’s only in the past few months, a year after I last saw him, that I have started to think about it more and more. I have panic attacks thinking about it when I can’t sleep. I shudder and have to change the subject when anyone so much as mentions his name or the flat we lived in together. It’s so hard to trust my own memories when I didn’t really tell anyone about it at the time, and I only started to feel the pain and the injustice of what happened over a year later.
Now, even though I will probably never have to speak to him or see him again, I find it hard to move past my anger at him, and at the whole oppressive culture we live in that makes this not even an exceptional story. Making sense of what he did to me and why I ever got into that situation has made me feel like I’m losing my mind. I’ve doubted myself to the core, doubted my memory and my motivations and my judgement. I’ve felt like a fraud and an attention-seeker for talking about it. I’ve felt like a coward for just cutting him out and letting him carry on with his life unchallenged, never having to accept or face consequences for what he did to me.
I am starting counselling in a month, and I know that this is only the beginning of coming to terms with it. Even now, reading about the abuse and violence so many other people have suffered makes me feel as if what happened to me wasn’t so bad, and I’m just weak for letting it get to me and unravel me. But just being able to finally explain to those close to me what happened is a relief I need so badly.