Dating as a Divorced Sexual Assault Survivor

Dating as a Divorced Sexual Assault Survivor
Dena Landon

By Dena Landon | Feb 26th, 2019

Dating after divorce is tough. There are the creeps online, or the men who think Instagram is for flirting. The men who don’t want to date a woman with a kid, or the men who only want to have “fun.” And there’s an added complication for me – I’m a rape survivor.

While I will claim the title openly and without shame, I don’t often talk or write about the details. Unfortunately, during my marriage, my past became something that was used against me. If I didn’t want sex, I was frigid. Shied away from being touched after a bad day of being yelled at over a burned dinner? Broken and damaged. No man would ever love me, or put up with my sexual dysfunction.

The attacks on my self-esteem were near-constant, and for a while after divorce, I didn’t even want to have sex again. I’ve had a mix of sexual experiences since then, from the extremely good to the laughably bad – what in the world are you doing, dude? But this past November I had one of my worst dates in recent memory.

I’d established my boundaries beforehand, and bent my own rules because I knew I needed touch. The date ended in sexual assault, though I, fortunately, fought him off. The evening was a bad reminder of what had happened in my twenties and brought up memories of that night that I’d long buried.

If you, like me, are a rape or sexual assault survivor, I know that those old feelings of shame or inadequacy can come up again. After years in therapy, the sexual assault still triggered me, and I bumped my appointments to weekly instead of bi-weekly. But I’m stronger now. Even though I had a panic attack the next day that left me shaking and unable to cope, I immediately rejected the old thoughts. Thoughts like:

You deserved it; you were stupid. You shouldn’t have had a drink. How naïve are you? Men are only going to want you for your body.

Sound familiar? An attack on our bodies ends, but the attacks on our self-esteem and self-worth continue. Women’s bodies and sexuality are policed from a young age, and this can lead to feelings of shame and fear around our sex lives.

In a country where one in three women experiences sexual violence in her lifetime, I wish we as a society would reconsider what we teach about sex and self-worth. As someone raised in a strictly Christian household, the messages I’d been taught made it that much harder to heal after my rape. But the work I did to heal at that point in my life has stood me in good stead these past few months.

After the sexual assault, I took a break from dating. I spent time with my dog, my friends, and my kid, getting solid again. Dating as a sexual assault survivor after divorce isn’t easy. It adds a layer of complexity to the experience – when do I tell him? Should I tell him? What if he does something in bed that triggers me? – but it doesn’t make any of us less worthy of love.

In January, I started dating again. After eight dates in a month, I’m confident in my ability to handle myself around men. I set a timer and meditate for five minutes in my car before walking into the coffee shop, I repeat my mantra of “I am worthy of love,” and I go in and show them my charming, funny self.

And I always get asked on a second date.

You’re not broken because of something someone else did to you. And your self-worth isn’t defined by a man’s inability to understand consent. Any man you date is lucky to have you, and you’re not obligated to settle for crumbs due to past trauma. No matter what an ex may have told you.

One of my favorite quotes comes from a song by Leonard Cohen – There’s a crack in everything/that’s how the light gets in. Life may have bruised us, and we may be a little cracked, but instead of focusing on the pain, focus on the beauty that flows through those cracks. Any man who can’t see that beauty isn’t worth a moment’s thought.

When it comes to dating as a divorced sexual assault survivor, I only have one piece of advice.

Shine bright, baby.

Dena Landon

Dena Landon

Dena Landon's bylines have appeared in The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Salon and more. The proud mom of a boy, she specializes in parenting and divorce.


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