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My therapist often asks me how I feel about dating. And I almost always give her the same answers: “I’m content with being single”/”I’m open to the idea, but not looking for anything”/”I’m focusing on myself”/ “I’m too busy”/”All men are trash.”

I give her all the excuses any other perpetually single twenty-something wou.d.

And while all those things are true, they aren’t to blame for me being single. I’m not single because I hate men or commitment or because I’m afraid of having my heart broken or time wasted.

I’m single because I don’t know how to date after my rape. And I’m afraid to try.

I don’t know how or when to disclose what happened to me, so I avoid doing it. I ghost guys who express sexual interest or cut off communication after a first or second date so I’ll never be put in that position.

I’ve never talked about my rape with a potential partner and I’m hesitant to. I don’t want to share my story with the wrong guy and relive what happened to me for no reason. I don’t want to subject myself to potential humiliation and alienation. I don’t want to try to have sex with someone who won’t be considerate and caring about the fact that sex is now a really scary thing for me.

And I don’t want to subject myself to these conversations and interactions over and over in my search for a boyfriend.

I wish I could be like other gay men my age. But I’m not like other gay men and I can’t ever be. Rape has changed me. It’s changed how I view myself as a sexual partner and romantic person. I can’t have casual sex or feel fully comfortable around gay men I don’t know. I can’t accept compliments or attention without feeling slightly unsafe.

My rapist stole my sense of security and autonomy. He used sex as a weapon against me and convinced me my body wasn’t mine. He dehumanized me and made me feel like I had nothing to offer besides my body. I can’t look in a mirror and feel completely at home in my body because of him. I panic whenever someone stares at me in a sexual way because I’m petrified of someone taking my body away from me again. I cry and feel deeply uncomfortable whenever I’m reminded of it because the trauma of it is tied so deeply to me.

It’s going to take time for me to be able to trust men again. It’s going to take time for me to feel safe enough to open up to one and be vulnerable. And that’s okay. I’m not the same person I was before my rape, and that’s something I need to accept. I desperately wish I could leave what happened to me in the past. God knows I’ve tried to. I’ve tried explaining it away in therapy and sweating it away in the gym.  But I can’t leave it behind or be that person. 

And instead of trying to shut this new person out, I need to embrace him.

What happened to me is not an inconvenience. It’s not my fault that I was raped, nor is it my fault that I’m coping with it in the ways that I am. I’m not an undesirable boyfriend because I need extra time and understanding when it comes to sex and intimacy. I’m allowed to take things slow as I reclaim autonomy of my body and sexual identity.

Men aren’t entitled to my body after the first date or even the fifth. If a guy is unhappy that I won’t immediately have sex with him, that’s a reflection of his character not mine. No man has the power to make me feel guilty or wrong from abstaining from sex.

And I shouldn’t feel guilty or embarrassed about what happened to me or lie about it to avoid creating an uncomfortable situation. I shouldn’t dread sharing an incredibly important piece of me because I’m afraid it somehow makes me unlovable.

At the same time, I have to remind myself that not all guys are like my rapist. There are decent guys who are more than happy to wait, guys who will take things as slow as I need to, and never complain or try to change my mind.  And I deserve a guy like that.

Discussing my rape with a potential romantic partner will be scary. Having sex for the first time after my rape will be scary. But I can’t let my rape ruin every romantic prospect that comes away.  I refuse to be ashamed of what happened to me or keep it a secret and pretend to be the person I once was. I may be a different person now, but that isn’t a bad thing.

And instead of running away from who I’ve become, I need to accept the new me wholeheartedly and trust that there’s a guy out there who will do the same.