To the Man Who Told Me I Was 'Too Damaged' to Be Loved
I was 19 when we were introduced. It was my first year of university and you were perhaps the nicest man I’d ever met. I felt safe with you because, unlike every man I’d ever known, you never pushed me into anything that made me feel uncomfortable. At 35, you were almost twice my age, but it never once showed. You allowed me to live out the childhood no one ever had and together we shared laughter, love and light.
It made sense to me that if there were one person I could trust with my burdens, it would be you. You, who had been there to pick me up from the ground and treat my wounds when I fell off my bike. You, who brought me out of my shell and taught me how to dance salsa. You, who introduced me to your family with such pride and untamed joy. You were the man I thought I loved.
Your devotion to God and the church intimidated me somewhat, but I was willing to try to believe. I was willing to go to church with you, to pray with you. I would have followed you anywhere.
At the time, I didn’t fully understand the nature of my depression, nor did I truly appreciate the depths of my trauma. As my father taught me, “Crying is for the weak and pathetic.” So, I never allowed you to witness my “weakness.” I couldn’t bear another person viewing me as weak and I definitely did not want you to pity me. I made a pact with myself to only ever show you my happiness and you ate that up. You swallowed it whole and always came back for more.
And then I crashed into a wall, fell to the ground faster and harder than ever before. Only this time you weren’t there to pick me up. You weren’t there to heal my wounds or share my darkness. When you stopped by my dorm for basketball practice and I told you I wasn’t well, you asked me if I needed medicine. I tried to explain it wasn’t physical, that instead, I felt an immense sadness inside of me. I told you I didn’t think I could make it through another day with so many dark thoughts consuming my mind. To my surprise, you just scoffed and told me to stop being so dramatic. I watched you walk away and after I let out all of my screams, I crawled back into bed and cursed you for being so damn ignorant.
Days went by without a word. Texts went ignored. Calls went unanswered. I left you message after message, told you I needed you, but my darkness wasn’t something you had signed up for. Long gone was the vibrant, joyful me. Long gone was the laughter, love and light.
After a few more days, I managed to force myself out of bed, across campus and to your dorm. I knocked and you asked who it was. Too afraid to reply, I remained silent as I listened to the scraping of your chair against the wooden floor. I still remember the look in your eyes when you saw me — hair unwashed, my face blotchy from days of crying. Seeing you there in front of me, all of my anger and hurt faded away. I didn’t want to know why you had abandoned me — I just wanted you to hold me and tell me you’d always be there for me.
Wanting some air, I suggested we go for a walk around the lakes. It was late summer and the campus was mostly empty. I remember enjoying summer’s soft glow as it shimmered across my skin. I needed this. I needed out of my bed. We wandered around until, eventually, we came to a stop. Silence. No explanations or hugs and even though I thought I didn’t need to know, I did ask you why you had ignored my calls and messages. You were taken back by my forwardness — something I always struggled to show — and told me you were “too preoccupied with work,” that things were getting to be “too much between us.”
I should have walked away in that moment. I should have told you how disgusting it was of you to abandon me when I needed you the most. Instead, I opened my heart to you further, telling you about the sexual abuse I lived through as a child, how my father was an alcoholic who physically and emotionally tortured me for years. I couldn’t bring myself to look at you until all of the words had run dry, until the sobbing stopped. I took a deep breath and turned to face you. Your eyes were hard then and I saw a darkness in you that was never there before. You looked hurt. You looked hurt… and then you spoke.
“You should have told me. I invested so much time in you, but you’re too damaged for me to love. You’re tainted.”
I hadn’t ever spoken so deeply about my history before, so I never knew what reaction to expect, but it wasn’t that. I did not expect to be judged so harshly for the cruelties I had been dealt. I never asked for any of it, but you made me see myself as responsible, as someone who wanted terrible things to happen to her. You made me hate myself more than I already did. You made me believe I was unlovable. When I asked you to clarify what you meant, you told me that you, as a man of God, could not be with someone who had already been sexually active.
How I wish I had spoken up to you in that moment, to have made you feel as small as you made me. To call a child who was abused “sexually active” is in itself disgusting. Thirteen years later, those words still haunt me. They creep in sometimes when my partner tells me he loves me or when people say I’m strong. You’re weak and damaged and tainted, your voice echoes. Then there are times like today, when I am able to see the lies in your words, when I am able and willing to write about it, to connect with other survivors because I never want them to feel how you made me feel.
I am not too broken or too damaged to be loved. I am not tainted because of my past. I am able to give and receive love every day despite my past and I consider that to be a great victory. Any survivor who is able to trust and love and hope after abuse deserves your utmost respect.
Getty Images photo via Archv