My Rapist Friended My Dad On Facebook

I was 19 years old, fresh out of a high school relationship that lasted through my freshman year of college, and utterly lost, when I got a Facebook friend request from a childhood acquaintance who I faintly remembered. A message popped up after I approved his friend request. "Hey, I remember you."

He was four years older than me, and he oozed cool. He didn't have a great reputation around my hometown, and I liked that. We met for dinner, and I quickly became smitten. I was careful, though — I didn't want things to move too fast. Many people around our small town knew both of us, and I didn't want my business plastered all over town. I knew that our relationship was going to become news quickly, and we would forever be peripherally connected in people's minds, talked about at parties or over casual lunches ("Hey, remember when they dated?") for a long time. I was also very religious at the time and involved in ministry at my college, and I didn't want our relationship to turn sexual before I was ready.

He lived with his grandparents, not far from my grandparents' house. We were young and low on cash, so our "dates" frequently consisted of us driving to the city and him talking bouncers he knew into letting me into bars, even though I was underaged. Other times, we hung out in his room and watched Netflix. He was refreshing, funny, had a physical, hard-labor job and was a volunteer firefighter — a change of pace from the boy I'd dated for years. In my eyes, he was a man.

In the beginning, it was just fun — we'd just drive around, trying to find some trouble to get into. He met my family, who knew his family well. Back then, he never made me uncomfortable. I didn't think ours would become a long-term, committed relationship, but I hoped it would. I thought it would be embarrassing to unentangle our lives, since they were already so intertwined.

One night, just weeks after we reconnected, we were in his room watching TV. In the weeks we had been together, he had tried several times to have sex with me. I kept telling him no, it's too early, you're still essentially a stranger to me and I'm not ready to become involved in this way. That night, he tried again. I told him no. He kept kissing me and touching me. I told him no. He didn't acknowledge that I was even speaking to him and began unbuttoning my jeans, pushing up my shirt, touching my skin. I told him no and grabbed his shoulders. I distinctly remember this being the only way I physically resisted him, because later I wished I would have done more.

His grandparents were in the next room, and we were on the bedroom floor, since his bed was too small for both of us. The door to his bedroom was open — anything more than a gentle push and a whispered "no" would have alerted the house. I was afraid of embarrassing myself in front of his older brother and elderly grandparents (his sweet grandmother was not in good health, so the thought of waking her was doubly painful). He did not stop, and I gave up. I remember thinking, "Well, it was probably going to happen eventually, I guess, so just let it happen." And in my silence, it did.

I went home immediately afterward, feeling disgusting and guilty. I wept. I hadn't wanted to sleep with him, not this soon, not like that — yet I hadn't stopped it. I thought, I should have pushed him away. I thought, I should have made it more clear that I didn't want to. I thought, it's my fault.

I'm not sure why I continued to see him. I was still head over heels for him, though in hindsight I can't really say why. I think it was a combination of not wanting to be alone after years of being with with my high school sweetheart, and feeling flattered by the attention from an older, cooler man. Emotions, I've learned, are always messy and almost never clear or logical.

Time passed, and I questioned his allegiances frequently, mainly because I was sure he was lying to me about not seeing other girls — because I saw them post on his Facebook page, the same place where things began for us. I heard he was involved with drugs. He would disappear for days at a time and wouldn't respond to my texts or requests to hang out. I felt crazy and desperate. He kept wanting to have sex, even though I never wanted to. We did anyway. He was totally in control of my life — even after I had returned to college, an hour away from where he lived.

About two months after we met, he disappeared completely. We mostly communicated via text, and suddenly, one Wednesday afternoon that fall, I sent a text that went unanswered. Days passed, then weeks, and he didn't respond. I never heard from him again. I unfriended him on Facebook. I wiped him from my life.

Years passed, and I kind of forgot about what happened between us. Instead of feeling angry or hurt toward him for ghosting on me, I felt embarrassed that I had let myself fall for his many dirty tricks. I felt caught in a constant cycle of feeling angry at him for manipulating me that way, and for his complete disregard of another human being's emotions; then, I'd feel angry at myself for getting duped by such an obvious con artist. I was more hurt by those emotional assaults than the physical assault, which I had come to think of as a bad decision I'd made, rather than something that actually wasn't my decision at all. Everyone has at least one relationship where they look back and wonder what they were thinking — and he was always that for me. It took a long time for me to see our relationship for what it actually was: not just an assault on my mind, but on my body, as well.

He still lives in the town where I grew up, and my dad, who was good friends with his dad in high school, frequently sees him at the neighborhood bar. They chat — small town small talk, whatever a mid-20s burnout and an old hippie have to talk about. Sometimes, when I'm back at home visiting, Dad will mention seeing him there. "He was in there with some girl," he always says. "He'd had a few too many," he always says. My dad always likes to see the good in people.

My dad and I are extremely close, but he never knew the extent of our relationship. I never told my dad what he was like as a person and as a quasi-boyfriend, and even now, he'll joke about it as a stupid decision I'd made to date someone who wasn't right for me, which doesn't really hurt or upset me, it just feels off, like putting my shoes on the wrong feet.

Recently, I saw that he and my dad had become Facebook friends. I didn't realize, at first, why it made me feel so uncomfortable. My dad is Facebook friends with most people who live in my hometown — it's that sort of place. Everyone knows everyone. But unlike those harmless connections, seeing my rapist friend my dad felt like another assault. Though connections with exes families online can always be awkward, this felt different. It felt like a way for him to weasel his way back into my life, to reopen a chapter that had long since closed. I wasn't ready for that to happen.

He even friend requested me, a few days later, after my dad tagged me in some photos for my 24th birthday. I wondered if he thought about me turning 24, thought about sneaking 19-year-old me into bars and shoving cold cups of Ace Pear Cider into my willing hands. I wondered if he thought about the night I ran into him at a concert a few days before he stopped speaking to me, with another girl, who he told me was his cousin (he had a lot of "cousins").

I wondered if he thought about me at all, what we'd had, what I'd thought we'd had, or if I was another notch in his belt. I wondered how many girls he had done the same thing to. I considered asking my dad to unfriend him, because I didn't want him to worm his way back into my life, but I didn't feel like I had a good reason — at least, not one I felt comfortable telling my dad.

But I then realized I kind of liked that he had a window into my life. Maybe through my Facebook-oversharer dad posting about me and the good life I'm living, he could see that I'm okay, that I'm thriving, that I carried on despite what he did to me. I stared at the friend request in my notifications for a few days, and then hit "delete." I hoped he wouldn't notice and send me a message wondering why I'd ignored the request. I actually still worry about that — deleting the request didn't make me feel much better, just like I was putting off the inevitable, whether that's him sending me a message or running into him somewhere in my hometown, which I know will happen eventually. But I'm better equipped to handle it now. I don't think I'll ever be disconnected from him — our lives are intertwined, you see, and they always have been, and I've made my peace with that.

It took me these last five years to come to terms with what actually happened between us, and I can't say there was one moment of realization that stopped me in my tracks. It came through a process of self-discovery, of reading articles and watching television programs about sexual assault. I still feel wrong calling what happened to me rape, and I can't even bring myself to say the word aloud, because I still feel as though there are things I could have done to stop it, and I feel as though I need to legitimize it to myself and to others. I feel wrong aligning myself with victims of violent and brutal assaults. I know, on a rational level, that all of these feelings are incorrect, but I also know that there is no incorrect way to feel about being a victim. I feel lucky that my story is not brutal or violent, but I am still having difficulty accepting it as my story. I imagine that will come with time.

I have told several friends and, as of writing this, I haven't yet told my partner. I don't plan to come out with my story with my name attached, not right now anyway. Close friends will recognize the anecdotes, and some peripherally involved may speculate, but I don't want to reveal my identity, or his identity —not to protect him, but because of the ripple effect it will create in our hometown for our families, who are good people and who do not deserve to be hurt by this.

In small towns like ours, word travels fast, and I would rather not open the floodgates on a story that would have the whole town talking. Additionally, in a conservative small town, I believe the blame would be put on my shoulders, and though I'm far removed from the place physically and could care less about the repercussions to my reputation, I don't want nastiness floating around about my family. I don't want to make any enemies for them. I fear the truth could lead those in town to vilify people I love, and I won't be the reason that happens.

I write this not to prosecute him, but to encourage other women who have experienced what I did to come to terms with your story and to accept your reality — it was not your fault. It is never our fault. For a long time, I felt at fault for making a "bad decision," but the moment I realized it was more than that, it lifted the guilt off my shoulders. I also write this because I'm still coming to terms with what happened, and I think I always will be. And I think that's okay.

Image: Giuseppe Milo/Flickr; Pexels