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Why Dating Apps Are a Disaster Zone After My Sexual Trauma

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Editor's Note

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse or assault, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact The National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Boys on “Bumble” wearing sunglasses automatically garner a swipe left from me. My “About Me” section is my dealbreakers; I won’t date someone who has kids or someone who smokes or takes drugs harder than vitamins. “Nothing personal,” I conclude, so I don’t appear picky or discriminatory.

But it is personal.

It’s taken hours of dating apps and phone therapy to actualize that I have visual and olfactory triggers. And I still have a difficult time calling them “triggers.”

I have “reactions”. Reactions like my gut tensing, my heart hammers, my shoulders stiffening, my legs wanting to run, my arms wanting to punch.

And I react strongly against guys with square jawlines who wear sunglasses.

When I smell vape clouds, I feel anxious. The smell reminds me of helping make up excuses so he could dip away from dinner for a hit. It reminds me of us lying in his bed and him falling asleep with the cartridge in his hand. It reminds me that I never, not once, could relax enough to fall asleep around him. I feel like it’s hard to breathe.

I don’t know if I or my therapist would say that I have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am post-trauma. Being with him was trauma. It was toxic. I have reactive stress to that trauma. But to say that I have PTSD sounds ridiculous. I don’t have PTSD – I have Stockholm syndrome. I had sex without consent and two more months of unprotected drunken sex with him . The summer of 2019 was a shitty summer.

It wasn’t until this February, when I went through an evaluation for an inpatient/outpatient program, that I could call it what it was: Rape. Because that’s what the evaluator called it. I don’t even remember the wording of the question, I just remember pausing and pondering and asking, “Well, if he did X and Y, but then he stopped, and he also apologized, and I’d consented to Z earlier on in the night…”

I’ve been using poetry to process. The writing allows me to talk on endlessly. I think that if I ever tell my mom what my ex did to me, it’ll start with her reading one of these poems.

I’ve spent this past year as a cicada shell of myself. I avoided conflict. My people-pleasing was in full bloom. I broke my backbone when I broke up with him. It’s taken me a year to learn to be brave again. I have to practice bravery daily.

Like, who would’ve thought that scrolling through dating profiles was brave? I prescribed myself exposure therapy via cute single men. I sit in that fight-or-flight when I look at sunglasses. I stare. I still swipe left. He says he likes to travel. Ugh. Eye roll.

Photo by Daniel Spase on Unsplash

Originally published: June 18, 2020
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