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Sex + Relationships

Trying to Find the Courage to Date After Sexual Assault

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Tomorrow, April 1, kicks of Sexual Assault Awareness Month. This is my story. 

Six weeks before the world shut down to the COVID-19 pandemic, I was sexually assaulted in my apartment. I was living in the East Village and I was supposed to meet a boy for drinks (I will call him a boy, because even though he was 26-years-old, his actions were not that of a man’s). 

We had matched on Tinder a few days prior to this scheduled date. He seemed nice and funny. We turned out to have a mutual friend and had similar interests. We planned to meet at a bar near Tompkins Square Park on a Friday night. 

As I was getting ready to leave for our date, he texted me as he got off the L train that he had to use the bathroom. I happened to live directly next to the L stop. He told me it was urgent and could not wait a 20 minute walk to the bar. So, I obliged and buzzed him up. 

I end the story there because the violence that followed him entering my apartment is not necessary to write down. 

After it happened, all I felt was blame. And I carried that weight with me for what felt like forever.

Now, all I carry is a mixture of sadness and anger. 

*** 

In the two years since my assault, I have not really been dating. I’ve gone on three “dates”, but they were really just awkward conversations over drinks. I learned from my time with those individuals that my guard is incredibly high. 

I was a guarded person even before my assault. My attachment style is a “fearful avoidant”. As much as I have always craved love and affection, it terrified me. And now, those feelings are amplified. I want to find the courage to go out on a first date with someone and meet them, but the fear of what could follow is overwhelming. 

*** 

It does not help my situation that the main way people my age date is via the apps. I used to have Tinder, Bumble and Hinge on rotation. Now, I barely log on. And when I do, everybody always asks, “What are you looking for?”. I never have an answer. But, 20-something-year-old boys usually think that a swipe right means I am down for some sort of fun. 

A swipe right does not equal consent. It does not mean I want to kiss you, sleep with you or even meet you. It means, “Oh, he’s sorta cute and maybe I could have a conversation with this human being.” That’s it. 

Before my assault, I would always say yes. If a guy wanted to meet for drinks that night, I’d say yes. If he wanted to send an inappropriate photo and get one back, sure, why not. I was bold, confident and a bit impulsive. My relationships were a string of short term situationships and friends with benefits. 

I never dated in high school. The way the social scene worked at my high school, I was not one guys noticed. Or if they did, they dare not say anything. I had my share of crushes, but kept those feelings private. I moved to New York City inexperienced and pressured by new friends who were not good for me to have all my firsts. 

First date, first kiss, first time. 

The first person I had sex with I never saw again. Think: the scene from Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird, but unfortunately it was not Timothée Chalamet I lost my V-card to. 

I was not used to having power over boys. After moving to New York, I  learned quickly the power of my curves, of my body. I confused lust for love. Perhaps, if I gave someone my body, they would want to get to know my heart. 

It does not work that way. 

***

Over the last two years, I have done a lot of self work. I sometimes find myself missing the version of myself before my assault. I feel as if I am two different people. I lived a before and now I am in the after. 

As I go forward, I know I will always be a bit guarded. The fear of being physically mistreated will always be with me and in the back of my mind on a date. I will fidget and be awkward, stumble over my words. I might even come up with an excuse to leave. Even if the date went well, the fear of unwanted hands on my body is overwhelming. But, I cannot let it control me. It is not a way to live. 

In healing my relationship with myself and my body, then I’ve begun to reclaim it as mine. And in that act of reclamation, it feels a bit like a rebirth. That perhaps, the next time I kiss someone, it will feel like the first time. The next time I have sex, I will feel safe and cared for. 

My body does not belong to my rapist; it belongs to me. 

I can only hope to remind myself of that and to find courage as I go forward in my dating life.

Sydney Epstein

New School '22

Sydney Epstein is an artist and writer from Boston, MA. She is in her final year at The New School. Sydney is double majoring in photography and creative wiring with a minor in screenwriting. When she's not creating, she'll have her head buried in a good book, at the gym, or FaceTiming her dog. Follow her on Instagram @sydeps.jpg for dog pics, poems, and more!
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