What Does a Relationship Without Consent Look Like?

I could talk for a living, but I cannot talk about this. This wasn’t meant to be an open letter to you, but it turned out that way. This is not about you though, it is about me, and about how I am letting go of the anger and the bitterness and the feelings of inferiority.

We were in a relationship for two years, from the age of seventeen until nineteen. Through school graduations, dances, the start of university and all the ups and downs of two years.We is not a word that is comfortable to use, I no longer want to think that I acted as a unit with you. I am writing this to make myself understand, to make you understand, and to make other people understand.

My hands shake as I type, I once loved you but I hate you now. This is not a story about rape, at least not to my mind. It is a story about consent, something I did not know existed when I was seventeen.

It is not something I ever thought could happen to me; it is also something I did not realise had happened until recently, until an encounter with you made it clear. I lost my virginity to you when I was seventeen. It was at my house, in my bed, my parents were away for the afternoon. It was the first time we had been left fully alone. You had broached the subject earlier in the day, and I said no, I didn’t think so.

You pointed out I had said before that I thought maybe we could have sex in the Summer. You said it was now Summer. I said I still wasn’t sure, and you said that was fine. Later, one thing led to another and it seemed like this was happening. I felt like I could not disappoint you, that I could not let you down, even though in my head I never wanted to do anything less. But I still wasn’t sure.

I was shaking and I still remember the marks of my fingernails on your thighs; how much is hurt, how it felt like I was being ripped apart. All that was running through my head was that I did not want to do this, and how we stopped because it was so painful. You didn’t stop until my hymen was broken, you seemed to feel like you had to do that, and I was shocked at the blood. I remember thinking this did not seem right.

I will always remember you saying afterwards that if this were a different culture, and I were your bride, you would not have stopped. I remember the bitterness in your voice when you said that. I remember the colour of my face, which was white as a sheet. I remember you made me hot chocolate. I remember the sense of relief that this mystery had been solved. I remember feeling terrible, and sad and scared and taken advantage of it. I remember the reaction of my friends to the fact that one of us had finally had sex, I couldn’t tell them the truth. The closest I got was ‘lie back and think of England’.

We had sex maybe five times in two years, every time the refrain ‘please make it stop’ ran through my head. I remember the conversations about it, the coaxing the beguiling, the thinly disguised manipulation, the disappointment in your voice. I began to feel insignificant, small, I lost my sense of self. I felt trapped, I could not talk to anyone and I did not know what to do. Why did it hurt so much?

I went to doctors, I really tried. But the thing is, sex was always on your terms, it was your domain, you initiated everything. You tried to teach me things, the implication being that I was the one at fault; belittling me, patronising me, I didn’t know what to do. To you, it was all my fault. But actually, it was all your fault, you didn’t understand that this all started too early, you were too persistent.

I dreaded each sexual encounter. I began to make excuses not to visit, not to stay over. I felt like I was failing at being a woman, I felt there was something wrong with me, I believed what you said, I was chipped away.

There was something very gendered about how we dealt with it as well. When we broke up I immediately felt relief, then sadness. Despite all the flaws of our relationship (and the good parts), I took a long time to mend and heal, to regain myself. I feel now, that this is because I was unable to fully comprehend or deal with the sexual side of our relationship. I realised it was not normal; I did not realise that this was not my fault.

I did not know what consent was. I know now, but it was a recent realisation, something that only began to dawn this year. When I was having sex with someone,  I asked to stop because it was painful and he immediately obliged. When I thanked him and said not many people would do that he seemed shocked, and said ‘What kind of people have you been getting with?’. And I mumbled, ‘not very nice people’.

You made me feel that I was in someway physically or psychologically damaged and that was why I would not sleep with you, or perform sexual acts with you. I know now you believe that I damaged you. You and your new girlfriend decided to ambush me one day to testify to that. That was painful, as she told me that I had damaged you, damaged their sex life, and all I could think was this is my problem, it is not yours.

I was so embarrassed and so angry, and I stayed so calm. Well, calm for me, I have a raging temper. So many people tell me that I am tough and strong, with you I am not strong, but that day I tried to be. I will never, ever forgive you for that day, for bringing her with you, I won’t forgive her for ganging up on another woman like that. I will never forgive you for saying I damaged your sexuality, your physicality, your self esteem, that I emasculated you. You damaged me! FUCK YOU!

Why don’t you understand that it was you who damaged yourself, by damaging me. It was a horrible experience, and I kept thinking a) don’t panic, and b) You don’t get to do this anymore, you don’t get to make me feel small.That encounter was weird, and it forever confirmed to me that you are an arsehole. It is a shame, I like your friends and family, but I do not like you.

The story of the confrontation with you and your new girlfriend was discussed with my close friends, and with my lovely mum. Everyone was aghast, they were so angry on my behalf. That is when I began to rally, and understand. When I came to terms with, and applied the correct terms, to what had happened.

When a dear, dear friend said that they couldn’t understand how you did not feel bad about your actions, why your conscience hadn’t kicked in. They pointed out what had happened was not consent. If you understood, I could forgive you, but until you do I can’t. I do not crave your love, your apology, your respect, your friendship. I have wonderful friends who have helped me so much. I would never discredit or undermine the sufferings of people who have been raped by saying I have been raped. I have not. I would not even say I was sexually assaulted, there is something of a grey area. All I know is I have been badly affected by this, something was wrong and the repercussions of it have continued to damage my relationships with people and with sex.

Some people may think I am making a fuss over nothing, that I need to check my privilege. I understand why they may think that. My unbridled anger may not be appealing to people either, but hey ho. As Charlie says in the Perks of Being a Wallflower

‘I think that if I ever have kids, and they are upset, I won’t tell them that people are starving in China or anything like that because it wouldn’t change the fact that they were upset. And even if somebody else has it much worse, that doesn’t really change the fact that you have what you have.”

One of my best friends seemed hesitant to understand, despite my repetition of ‘It’s not rape, but it’s not consent either’, that hurt, but I hope she understands now. I don’t really know what else to say. If I see you again I want to punch you in the face, but I probably wouldn’t, as it will fuel your narrative that I am emotionally unhinged.

I am doing much better, I feel good. I am strong, and I am brave. I am light years ahead of you, I am doing fine. So go fuck yourself, and at least you know you have permission to do that. But you will never read this, for those of you who have, thanks for sticking it out, it’s longer than I thought it would be. And if you understand, thank you.