There is nothing more common than a story of a woman giving in to a bad boy, or getting involved in an abusive relationship. So in many ways, my story is not that unusual. But to paraphrase Tolstoy, all happy relationships may be the same, but difficult situations have many different explanations.
For the most part, my serious relationships have been with more respectful men, the kind who would describe themselves as feminists, and wouldn’t dream of doing anything abusive to their partner. But every now and then, I become entangled with men who aren’t just alpha males but real motherfuckers who will mess me up physically or psychologically. Even those of us who pretend to be above animalistic desire will give in to men we shouldn’t, given the right circumstances.
What got me thinking about my behavior was reading some stories of other people’s experiences that so closely mirrored my own experiences. They really made me see my relationships in a totally new light. I had always seen these encounters with these men as sexual exploration and sometimes victimization-terrible mistakes that I had made. I hadn’t realized the extent to which I was drawn to them, or realized that the I didn’t just derive sexual pleasure out of these experiences despite the abuse but from the abuse as well.
This story is about a relationship I had with a work colleague in my first job after college, and it wasn’t the first or the last of its kind, but it kind of stands out in its intensity and abusiveness. Sean and I were both junior reporters at the same newspaper. We started at the same time, and were assigned to the same desk (newspaper speak for department), and had cubicles next to each other. It was the first job out of college for both of us. We were polar opposites-he was loud and obnoxious, and I suppose you would say that I am more quiet and deferential.
I was put off by Sean when I first met him. He was very self-impressed and thought of himself as quite the player. He was the kind of guy who bragged about the success he had with women. He would talk about how good he was in bed, and imply that he had a very large penis. He had one of those big athletic bodies you get from spending a lot of time in the gym, and the confident air that is attractive to a lot of women, both things that really appeal to me sexually. But if you had asked me if I found him desirable, I would have said denied it. My denial about my physical attraction to him tells you a lot about how I wrestled with my sexuality when I was younger.
Sean was constantly saying inappropriate things of a sexual nature at work. Not just to male colleagues, but to women as well. He was just a sexual harassment lawsuit waiting to happen. I know a lot of the things he said were meant to be jokes, but I felt that they often crossed the line and were disturbing to me. But no one seemed to complain about it, and most people seemed charmed by him.
At some point, he started to target some of his lewd comments towards me. I am not the kind of person who is well-equipped to deal with situations like these. I’m not the kind of woman who gets a beer with the guys after work and can dish it out as well as the men. When someone says something lewd to me, I’m sure I just seem like a deer caught in the headlights.
Sean began by making remarks about my body, mostly about how small and thin I was. He would compliment me on various parts of my body. I once wore leggings to work, and he kept telling me all day about how it was like he could see what I looked like naked, and he liked what he saw. I probably shouldn’t have worn them to the office ever again, but I think I wore them more after that. I think the female psyche is sometimes difficult for even us to understand. I just tried to take his comments in stride, and say “Thanks!” when he complimented me, no matter how inappropriately.