Being Sexually Assaulted Led Me To Myself

Her Voice

I have always enjoyed hanging out alone — movies, dinner, concerts, whatever. Not because I don't appreciate being around people, but sometimes, if you wait on someone to take you someplace or go with you, you'll be waiting forever. This year, I've decided to hang up dating romantically and commit to taking myself out on weekly dates — not just random meals on any given night. My date day is Sunday, and here's why.

Just before we rang in 2019, I was sexually assaulted. He wasn't a stranger, but our relationship was very new. I'd always prayed for a partner I could travel with, try new restaurants with, and explore new places with — I thought this is it. He was well-traveled, successful, 37, which my girls and I thought was a good age, had a great relationship with his mom, outwardly claimed to care about women's issues since he had five sisters, and he was making a lot of effort to spend time with me since we were long distance.

While I was in Atlanta for the holidays, we planned to go to all of my favorites: South City Kitchen, Negril Village, No. 246, and Babette's Cafe were all on the list. However, we didn't make most of our reservations because I walked away from the entire situation less than 24 hours after the picture below was taken.

I've gone back and forth on whether to delete this picture because he's the one that took it — and things were great until the next morning when I'd told him I wanted to slow the physical part of our relationship down.

I could feel his fingers touching me … there without my consent, while I was asleep to which I asked him to stop. I'd woken up because I felt cold to see him standing back and staring at my uncovered body (he'd taken the sheets off while I was asleep). His hands were constantly touching me, and not in the sweet way you're probably thinking. I started to feel like I was losing control over my body. So, when he reached out to grab my breast after I'd told him "no" what felt like one hundred times, I abruptly closed my laptop and took off my headphones (I was working), and said: "We need to talk."

I explained to him, I wanted to slow things down because I felt like he was pressuring me. "Okay," he said. I put my headphones back on and continued working to look to my left to see him touching himself. Would you mind not doing that?" I said "Since you won't do it, I'll have to," he said matter-of-factly, without stopping what he was doing.

Instead of walking out at the moment, I showered, got dressed, and went about the plan we'd made for the day. But, the silence in the room was deafening. I felt myself trying to "make things better." "Are you okay with what I said?" I asked looking up from makeup bag. "Sure," he said, without even acknowledging that I was speaking to him.

The rest of the day went just like that. He stopped holding the door. He walked ahead of me. He barely spoke to me without me prompting him. I'd consulted friends because his behavior, which I now understand is a form of sexual coercion, was making me second-guess myself, which is why abusers often use it as a tactic.

"Maybe you made him feel unwanted," they said. "He seems cool," my other friend chimed in through our text chain since she'd met him the night before. Maybe they were right. We spent the rest of the day together in silence visiting all of my favorite places throughout the city, but I'd had enough after the topic came up just before our pottery class. "You were intimate with me, you slept in this bed with me, so I didn't know there were rules," as we sat and ate the leftovers from our Italian meal the previous night.

I immediately lost my appetite. I knew that I couldn't stay. When he went to shower, I texted my friend Sequoia and said: "I'm leaving" as I stood in the corner of the room near the desk. I stood there for sixteen minutes before he came out and still didn't feel ready to say I was leaving. I mean how do you say that? I now understand how much courage it takes victims of domestic violence to walk away from their abusers.

When I did, he sat and watched me pack. His eyes following me back and forth across the room in complete silence. There was not even a hint of background noise because the television was off. As I rolled out, he gave me a look I'll never forget. It was a squint with a hint of evil.

When I made it out of there, I called my girls and laughed about it. "He's crazy," I said with a giggle. Then, as the days went on, I felt shame. Then I felt sadness. I didn't shower, eat, or wash my face for three days after that. "Are you okay?" my dad peeked into my childhood room in Atlanta. "Yeah, I'm fine." I wanted to tell him what happened, but I was ashamed. I thought he'd judge or dismiss what happened like some of the women around me did.

I knew I'd experienced something, but I didn't know what to call it. I mean he hadn't raped me, but I still felt violated. Thanks to my Rainn counselors, I understand that I was assaulted and that everything he did was a form of sexual abuse. Both of the women I talked to made sure I realized I am not to blame for his behavior, and even though our relationship was new, this behavior would have likely shown up at some point because he doesn't understand consent.

I'm in the process of taking the reins of my life back, and I am doing it through food. No, I'm not overindulging, but I am taking myself out on dates. My third week back in Los Angeles, I woke up on a Sunday and said I'm taking myself out. I love great food and experiencing new places, why should I wait to go to experience that through dating romantically? Why not just date me for a while?

That Sunday, I left the house sans makeup, with my hair doing whatever it was doing, in a favorite pair of athleisure sweats and headed for a Sushi spot with great reviews in Sherman Oaks. "Hi," I said to the host at the front door of the tiny sushi restaurant as she looked behind me to see if there was someone with me. "It's just me," I said.

She sat me at the sushi bar where I ordered everything I wanted on the menu, racking up a sixty-dollar bill. When I got my bill, I felt empowered. I know you might be thinking, Girl, you paid for a meal. What's so empowering about that? I can understand that perspective. Putting my feeling of empowerment into words is tough, but it's just a feeling.

I don't have to get dressed up. I don't have to put on makeup. I get to do me.

I've realized dating myself doesn't mean always going out. The following week was rough on me. He was popping into my dreams, and I couldn't get a restful night of sleep that week, so I Door Dashed the Cajun Chicken Pasta and a slice of Oreo cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory to my house and ate it in my PJs and watched the Golden Girls.

I am writing this at 7:30 AM on my "date day," but once I'm done, I'll be getting ready and heading out for a 1:15 showing of What Men Want, then to a brunch reservation at a new spot in Woodland Hills, where I plan to treat myself to whatever my heart desires and enjoy my self's company.

I've learned a few things from this experience, sexual assault and abuse can come in many forms. The second lesson is something I've always known but was reiterated, and that is I am the prize. No man is worth me compromising my boundaries or body, and I won't have to teach him to respect me — he'll just know. We must always put ourselves first. I will be starting counseling next week, and I will continue to date myself on the way to healing.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image by Getty Images.

This article is in partnership with Xfinity.

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