I never thought I was one of those girls who uses sex to get love. When I slept around, it was because I was being a sexually liberated woman, asserting my agency over my desires and my body. I spent two years in a relationship where I was told how to dress and act, who to speak to and who to avoid at all costs. In the bedroom, I was allowed to do only a small number of things my partner deemed acceptable, and if I expressed desires of my own, I was shamed for them.
“Why are you so sexual?” he’d ask time after time. In response, I’d always cry and feel like a damaged human being for having preferences and needs.
After that relationship ended, I went out into the world on shaky legs, determined to reassert control over my body. I was going to act how men acted—doing whatever I damn well pleased with whoever I wanted without regrets or feeling the need to conceal my activities. It wasn’t born of any need for love or acceptance, even after I got my feelings bruised again and again when, despite my efforts to be the flavor of the week’s dream girl, the person in question ghosted on me. I didn’t get it–I was charming, easy to talk to, funny, pretty. Good in bed. They all said so…why wasn’t it working? Why couldn’t I hold onto anyone?
Years later, D. told me he wished I’d treat my body as more sacred. The turn of phrase seemed unusual, given that we’re both atheists.
“I’m not saying you’re easy,” he said gently, stroking my back as I cried. “But maybe you need to look at your motivations.”
He was right. Every damn time, all I wanted was to be somebody’s baby, to have someone care about me. Thankfully, my relationship with D. (which started as a hookup) panned out and he decided, for whatever reason, that I was worth keeping around. I got spooked, naturally, but his sweetness, the way he looked at me, was different. I decided it was my only chance at happiness with another human being, so I stayed. Over time, desperation and fear turned to love.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about how I relate to others, the types of people I typically become attached to (and then have trouble letting go of). It seems to come down to a lack of affection when I was very young—my family is not cold at all, but it was impossible for them, for anyone, to give enough love to cancel out all the bullshit I was getting from other sources. Bullying and outright harassment about my family situation at school, emotional manipulation from my mother’s end. And then, the abusive relationship in my teens. I gravitated toward that particular person because he was handsome and funny, and by the time I realized what a mess I was in, I was too terrified of being alone to let go. But I finally realized I deserved better and found the strength to leave…only to repeat my patterns of self-objectification over and over and over.
You can’t really harass or pressure a girl who’s willing to sleep with you right away, after all. It always started with attraction, naturally—”So and so is good-looking, so why not?” But then, inevitably, I became attached to the person I’d allowed to use my body and got my poor little heart trampled when I was inevitably cast aside within a few weeks.
I can’t say I really blame any of them. I know I’m sometimes difficult to be around, and I have enough emotional baggage to fill an airplane’s cargo hold by myself. (Side note: Does anyone else hate the word “baggage”?) And I realize that not everyone is equipped to deal with that. To this day, I can’t figure out how D. does it…deals with my moods, my depressions, the threat of my extinction. But he does, and I’m so grateful for that unconditional love.
I’m not completely healed yet. I haven’t really dealt with any of the abuse in therapy, and I’m still working on correcting my belief that because of my emotional problems, my body is compensation—the only thing of worth I have to offer anyone. However, the first step, as they say, is realizing you have a problem, and now that I’ve identified the unhealthy thought patterns that lead to the unhealthy behaviors, I can work on correcting them and dealing with the issues that got me here in the first place.