The Strains On My Friendships

November 7, 2017

Well, well, well. Here we are. I’ve been saving friendships as pretty much the last-ish thing that I plan to talk about in the sexual assault chapter of this blog. And here we are.

I feel like my feelings on my friendships, and how they’ve been affected over the last year and a half or so, are sort of complex. So, I’m not going to be able to fit this into one post. I’m breaking up my feelings over the next 4 or so days. It’s gonna be this one (which is gonna cover weirdness and some anger (which takes up tomorrow too)), then after that we’ll have embarrassment, then there’s going to be an apology post from me. And lastly, a thank you.

So, without further ado, let’s get into it with this one.

I’ll admit, I don’t think that I would’ve really known how to be a good friend to someone going through this stuff. I think I would’ve fallen into doing a number of the things my friends did. So, I am not above them. I don’t know what I’m doing… But I think potentially there are maybe some lessons here. So, I’m gonna talk about how I feel about various things that happened with my friends over this past year and a half.

(I would open this with thank you (Well, first! Let me say people were great because…). But as I said, we’ll get to that post! So, for now, I’ll just say…)

I love my friends. I think they always have the best intentions at heart. But there were some things that were hard for me:

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Attitudes that were hard to deal with:

(1 & 2 have sort of been covered on the blog before, in case you want to skip to number 3.)

  • 1) “Yeah. Well, you know how men are.”(Or any such version of that sentence.) I’ve talked about this before. So, I’ll try not to drill this point into the ground. But, please. I don’t want to hear any version (from men or women) about how “men are just abusive” (even if those aren’t the exact words you use). That’s hurtful. Not just to me, but also to great men (whom we should expect more of than that).
  • 2) “One of these days another women is going to come along, and she’s gonna know how to deal with them. What these men need is good women to shape them up.”

    I’ve also talked about this before. But I’m mentioning again, because it really hurt and felt really pretty harmful. I really never want to hear another woman be blamed for her own abuse/mistreatment. It’s not about a “good woman” changing an abusive man. The culture needs to shift. The abusive man needs to shift. I’m sure the woman is not a perfect person, and has things she needs to work on – but trying to figure out how to magically make a man not abusive toward her is not one of them.

    (p.s. random thought/side note – in the small sample size of my life, I basically only heard that thought from (mainly) New Yorkers (or, I guess maybe a coupe of midwesterners). Never from people in Southern California.
    So, I don’t know if parts of America have different views on what relationships are, or how men treat women, or what. But in SoCal – or at least in my circles – we didn’t expect the men to be like that, and nobody even insinuated that if only I’d “put him in his place,” or “put my foot down,” or “reigned him in” or whatever that he would’ve stopped abusing me.)

  • 3) This is one I don’t think I’ve talked about a whole lot. But one thing that felt really really hard was the frustration my friends would express along the lines of “You’re Aurora! You’re not gonna just melt down because of a guy! That’s not you! Stop it. Why are you being like this?! I’ve known you for [some people can fill in this blank in with a long time, like even a decade for some]. And I’ve never seen you act like this! Get over it! Snap out of it!”And it’s like, “Okay, if this is the first time you’ve seen my act like this in a decade, then maybe instead of being annoyed, take that to mean something is really (really!) wrong, and let’s figure out what to do about that. If you need a break from me, okay. But telling me how frustrated you isn’t helping. Don’t you understand I’m frustrated too, and that if I could “snap out of it,” I would? (This one feels like maybe the hardest one to deal with, for me (though they all were).)

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Stories of good friendship:

Some people got it so right – which is how I know it can be done. So, here are some stories of my friends who got it right

  • 1) Stand firm in your position. For me, I was making a billion excuses for my rapist all the time. “Maybe he didn’t mean to.” (Even after he point-blank told me he meant it, I still questioned that!) “Oh, maybe I misheard him.” (Even though every piece of evidence I have about his character leads me to think I didn’t mishear him – or that even if somehow I did mishear him that one time, he still assaulted me, so what would that matter?).
    So, when I would sort of re-litigate all that with my friends, it was the ones who stood really firm in their position that “it was sexual assault, he overstepped your clear boundaries” who were the most helpful.Now, that’s a tough thing to do, right? Stand really firm in your position while also listening to your friend. They never shut me down. They never were like, “stop thinking this or that, or saying this or that! That’s dumb!” No. They’d usually soften it with some kind of joke. [*super sarcastically*] Oh sure, the man who just completely ignores you when you’re crying and climbs on top of you, and laughs at you when you say you’re uncomfortable, and tells you that you’re obviously not uncomfortable (when the words just came out of your mouth) [etc. etc.] that definitely sounds like a super normal sexual experience to me. That exact thing must’ve happened to you a million times before, since that’s what normal sex is, right? Everybody cries during sex, right? Just like he says?”

    (I mean, I don’t think I do that sarcasm bit as well as my friends did. But it was the one example of sarcasm (which I so often hate) that I always welcomed haha.)

    I love the friends who wanted to listen to me, wanted to hear me out, wanted to give me space of being able to explore “huh, maybe he didn’t really understand.” Of course it’s sweet to have listeners. But you cannot go on that journey with me. I’m already undercutting myself all the time. So, I need you to not help me in hurting myself – to not jump on any little piece I pick out of “but he seemed like a good guy!”
    Sure, yes. He seemed like one. But it’s not our job to take a tiny kernel of niceness and extrapolate it to cover up all the bad things he did. And I need you to stand firm.

    (Random side note: It was usually (not always, but usually) my male friends who were the super-stand-firmers and my female friends who’d go down the “weeeeeeeeell, maybe he’s not bad. Maybe he was just confused” rabbit hole with me. I have no idea what that means. Just a weird observation.)

  • 2) Know when you don’t know the answers.I had one friend who, when he felt the thing I mentioned above, the “I’ve known you for so long, but never seen you act quite like this over anything, no matter how upsetting” (and of course, he’d seen me pretty upset before), he didn’t get frustrated with me or huff and puff and leave. He sat me down and asked if we could really talk about it.
    I ended in so many tears I could hardly speak. And he was no more equipped than that.  He was kind and a good listener. But once he knew I’d been assaulted – (And here’s a side note, I didn’t even use the the words “assault” or “rape” or anything like that with him. I just explained in detail what happened and he was like “okay, that’s sexual assault. Anyway…) He didn’t know precisely what to do or how to support someone with who’d been through this. This was a new frontier for him as well as me.
    So, he encouraged me to call the RAINN hotline, which I did, which got the ball rolling toward therapy and me getting better and everything.
    He knew something was really wrong. He knew enough to ask. And he knew enough to send me to somewhere else for answers, because he knew he didn’t have them. Those were all the right things to do.

    And I don’t know that I would’ve known enough to do those things. I say that I really wish more people would’ve been like that for me. But I kind of imagine if a great friend of mine seemed really edgy or something, I’m not positive that my first impulse would be “they really need help.”

    I could totally imagine thinking, “she seems off, but if something were really wrong, she’d tell me.” Or, “she can take care of herself. I’m not her parent. I don’t want to overstep bounds. She’ll ask if she needs help,” or “okay, give her some space. You know this person. You know she’s a reasonable adult. If something’s bothering her this much, maybe don’t freakout and smother her. Just kind of keep a quiet eye on the situation. Give her space and proceed cautiously, or any other number of things that results in me not being actually helpful.

    And I might be good intentioned at heart – as I’m nearly certain probably every one of my friends were. But the friend who saw something was off and asked to talk about it, and set me on the path toward help… He’s the one I remember the most as being the most helpful. Where would I be without him? I dunno. Help. Be helpful. Think to help. Never hurts to ask.

  • 3) “How Are You Feeling/Dealing With This?” (etc.) is the question that comes first, full stop.

    Or, at least, that’s what I think, in my opinion – that’s what felt best.

    I never knew how much I wanted someone to ask this, until someone did.

    I haven’t been shy about the details. I’ve blogged them for the world to see. It’s not secret. So, it’s fine when someone asks me about them. I’ve answered the questions (publicly and privately) of if I went to the police (yes), if I went to a lawyer (yes), if I went back to school (yes, finally), what exactly happened the night of the assault (e.g. what was I wearing? (a black dress I loved) Had I been drinking? (no), what did he do and say? (There’s a whole post on it.)). So, I don’t necessarily mind answering all those questions that come up. And especially at the beginning, when I was still processing everything, I even wanted to walk through the details sometimes (like I thought that would help for some reason).

    But of all the many times that I have told someone in a one-on-one conversation what was happening/what happened in my life (and why I was struggling at that moment), one that really stuck out to me was the person whose first question was, “How are you doing? Are you okay?” in a sea of people asking, “Did you report him? What exactly happened?” and on and on.
    (Just because I’m comfortable sharing my details doesn’t mean everyone is. And even of those who are, not everyone wants to share them/relive them at a moment’s notice.)

    I mean, it’s awesome that people want to take an interest in what happened to me. It’s awesome that they want me to get “justice,” and for him to see consequences. But it was so much more awesome, under the weight of a million questions that I’d been dealing with, to have someone ask about me. Yes, the perpetrator should get the shame, but the survivor should get the support. And that felt very supportive and nice. So, my best advice would be to ask about the survivor – how are they doing? What do they need?

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This post is long. So, I’m gonna sort of do a much smaller version of it tomorrow with the conclusion, but if you stuck through the long version, well there you go. You reached the end of this post, my friend! Thank you!

2 thoughts on “The Strains On My Friendships”

  1. Not much to add besides this is an excellent post and worthy of a widely-read article, as it’s very instructive on how to be a friend to a survivor. Well done!

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