You Won't Believe This Story
This is one of those legendary college fuck ups that still haunts me to this day.
I don’t like to write about stuff I haven’t fully unpacked myself. After all, I’m not working my shit out live – I’ve had years and years of therapy and look forward to years and years more. (Wheeee! 🤪) But today feels a little different. Today there’s a story from my past that I’ve only ever thought of as the bitchiest, shittiest thing I’ve ever done. But it’s asking to be reframed… I need it to be reframed because I’m in danger of making the same mistake twice in my current dating life. Let’s see if we can save me from myself. Here we are, live at the scene, trying to work my shit out.
But first, a flashback. Freshman year, Columbia University. KDR fraternity party.
“P” was a tall, graceful basketball player, also a freshman. He was standoff-ish at the party, only talking to his fraternity brothers...which was…and still is the equivalent of catnip to me. But I had a tool that worked for that: My body. Back then, I had no shame about using it. How I dressed. How I moved. How I positioned myself for maximum impact. I was wrong about “P” though. What I interpreted as arrogance was actually something altogether different: He just wasn’t seeking external validation like I was. “P” was raised well and with ample love by a strong, capital M, single Mother. In hindsight, I recognize that “P” already felt whole – he wasn’t seeking wholeness from anybody else. But “P” was a mere mortal, and you know what girls who use their bodies are like. They can break the most noble of men. I broke this most noble man.
“P” and I started seeing each other. But his groundedness remained intact. Like, I remember the first time he took me back to his dorm room. He turned off the lights. I, of course, knew what that meant…it was game time. Imagine my surprise when he took out his beloved laser light show machine. We laid on our backs and watched it illuminate his ceiling. “P” was mesmerized. He was really watching that light show. I was so confused. I just didn’t know what to make of it. You want to watch the light show? When I’m lying right next to you? He just wasn’t in any rush. And the lack of immediate and aggressive physical input left me short-circuiting. Today, I can see how a childhood of being physically attacked colored what I expected out of my relationships. For sure that confusion played a role in what happened next.
“P” and I were doing great. The pace was different for me, but the guy was terrific. So, of course, I asked him to be my date to my sorority’s spring formal. It was the natural progression of things and he was excited to go. All good, right? Come on…it’s me. Nothing is that simple.
Fast-forward about a month later.
A few of us came back to campus a day early from spring break and met up at our local bar. It was pretty dead, but about an hour in, a group of senior football players joined our table. And one of them was “J” – you’ve heard me reference him before. I didn’t know “J.” But like everyone else, I knew of him. He was a two-sport athlete on campus, but he was legendary for his wild fearlessness. Like, once he was arrested for throwing a trash can at an NYC police car. I mean…we were at an Ivy League school. This was not the norm. He cut an imposing figure and he was only interested in his friends. He wasn’t one of those seniors that chats up the younger girls. Can you smell the Atoosa cat nip in the air? Yeah…so did I. By the end of the evening, I was wearing his sweatshirt and he was wearing me on his lap. We spent all night talking and making out in the lounge in my dorm. Unlike the respectful “P,” “J” tried every line known to mankind to get me to sleep with him that first night, including “I’m in love with you.” Despite my wonky internal compass, I held my ground, sexually, and didn’t give in.
Hanging out until the sun came up had a magical quality…it was a first for me. His sexual aggressiveness, his physical strength, his unpredictability…fed right into every single one of my woundings. I fell hard for this guy. But to be clear, “J” was a senior. I was a freshman. He was not pursuing me. But…that didn’t stop me from pursuing him. I’d go out every Thursday, Friday, Saturday night with my friends scanning our local bars for him. Within a week, I knew his routine and it was easy to synch up to it. My friends and I would just walk around whatever bar or party he was at until he made eye contact with me, and then we’d have our few moments of flirting. (Yes, I’m aware of how stalkery this sounds. What am I going to do? I’m supposed to be honest here! 🤷🏻♀️) In one of these exchanges, I went out on a limb and asked him to be my date for my sorority formal. To my complete surprise, he said yes. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement. I was elated. I was obsessed with this guy.
Now you might be wondering how “P” factors into all of this, right? Sweet, sweet “P”: Super cute, super fun…but also super respectful, of me…and himself. “P” who would never say “I love you” just to get in a girl’s pants. “P” who was happy lying next to me on his bed holding my hand as we watched his laser light show. Yeah, well…I honestly didn’t think too much about “P.” It’s easy to disappear into a study wormhole in college. He didn’t know I was actually in a “J”-stalking wormhole every night. I am intimately familiar with how we can be very aware of a fact (“I have two dates for the formal”) but be in complete denial at the same time (“Eh…It will work itself out.”). It’s amazing how we can carry something uncomfortable inside us, pretend it’s not there and yet the psychic burden is so real. All those years of keeping incest a secret developed well-honed tactics for distracting myself from my inner life: Food (round the clock cheese fries!), partying, and in this case, the single-minded focus on “J.”
But the day of the formal, I couldn’t distract myself any longer.
I called “P.” I told him I was sick and wouldn’t be going to the formal. It’s amazing how smart people can be so fucking stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking. His fraternity brothers would be there! Of course, he would find out the truth. I can only tell you that it seemed like a good idea at the time, and I desperately needed a good idea. He was disappointed but understanding. I mean…what else would you expect from a prince like this. And as for me? The moment I hung up the phone, I was thrilled. With the “P” burden lifted, I could (at last!) fully lean into this night I had been waiting so long for. A real date with my dream guy. Yesssssss! I was floating for that hour or two before the event and until I heard “J” knock on my door.
I loved my dress, my hair looked awesome, my date was right on time. Life was good. But as I looked through the peephole of my dorm room, I realized it wasn’t “J” at all. It was “P”. He stood there holding something I’ve blocked out. But it was something like flowers and candy. You can imagine my panic.
Ugh…this next part makes me sick.
Though you might think me a villian…or worse, a sociopath, I must hold the younger version of me close to my heart. This younger version who jumped under the covers and pulled them up tight to my neck so he couldn’t see my dress and in a weak voice called out for him to come on in. The younger version who feigned a smile with sleepy eyes as “P” told me he was so sorry for me that I was missing such a big night. The younger version who was terrified knowing that “J” would be knocking on the same door at any moment. The younger version who rushed “P” to leave because “I really should rest.” “Maybe if I feel better tonight, we can meet at the West End?” (Our college bar) I mean…that plan speaks to how my prefrontal cortex was shut down. Was it shut down because of the years of abuse? Was it shut down momentarily? I am not a neurologist. You might be. But nothing about this plan makes sense. His team members, his frat brothers, so many of them would be at the formal. My date would be with me at the bar after. Although I was escaping a deeply uncomfortable situation in the moment, I was, of course, compounding it.
“P” left minutes before “J” arrived. “J’ had been delayed a few minutes because there was a big “Take Back The Night” march on campus. “Take Back The Night,” of course, being the worldwide movement to combat sexual violence against women. How ironic is that?
Listen, I had an amazing time that night with “J.” We skipped the bar afterward and went straight to his frat house. It was the start of what would be an intense 5-year on-again, off-again relationship that got very serious in the last few years we were together. Although I wasn’t being molested anymore, my psyche was lying in wait. Fear was my vibration. Having a gigantic, tough, strong, protective boyfriend was my insurance policy. He was the man I needed to finally feel safe. “P,” for all his goodness and personal strength, didn’t feel like a bodyguard to me. I needed a bodyguard…not a compatible boyfriend. It’s amazing how our subconscious needs dictate our choices. Today, I understand that by importing my security, I was not building my own sense of safety. Back then? Yeah…no. I just wanted my own tough guy.
I had my day of reckoning the next afternoon, at brunch, in the dining hall.
I walked in to find “P” flanked by a long table of full of grim-faced basketball players. I give the younger me credit for chutzpah because I walked right up to him despite their death stares and asked if we could talk. One of the guys spoke on his behalf and said something like “He has nothing to say to you.” This is totally appropriate. But like a character out of Mean Girls, I just rolled my eyes and walked proudly back to my friends. When he was bussing his tray, I tried again privately. I knew if he looked me in the eyes, I’d be able to penetrate. He did. I did. And yes: I was a girl who would do whatever the fuck I wanted, and then cry, apologize, beg and plead to not deal with the consequences. But let me reframe it for you…for me. That was how I coped with the fact that my nervous system was so terrified from many years of being abused in my home that I needed one type of boyfriend to feel safe…but was compatible with a whole other. Had I been a less damaged girl, “P” would have been my college sweetheart. But instead, we embarked on a dysfunctional roller coaster ride where we would be super close and connected and then I would run off with “J.” I would pull him in, push him out. His friends hated me. They warned him to stay away. They warned him I would keep hurting him. And I did. I did. Today even though we’re middle-aged adults, “P” doesn’t return my messages seeking redemption. But really, who could blame him?
And honestly, this whole safety and relationships piece is still not in place for me. Powerful guys are a drug to me. Like despite all my desperation and despair about the Bear relationship ending, I put him in a similar position to “P” which is ultimately what resulted in our breakup. And I am doing the same with my more recent boyfriend whose initials are ironically “JP.” If that’s not a sign from the universe that I need to get my shit together, I don’t know what is.
I am still seeking to feel safe in the world. I still use men as bodyguards. All these years later. All this success later. Even though I provide safety to children of my own. I do not feel safe.
“JP” and I broke up yesterday. When I first started writing this letter, I knew I was reenacting the “J” and “P” drama with him. I am so deeply compatible with “JP” but he just doesn’t fit that stereotypical power guy mold that makes me feel safe. This time, instead of being deceptive or playing games, I was up front. I told him right away what I wanted to explore and with whom. It was hard for both of us, but the foundation of self-love I’ve built allowed me to be able to be totally transparent before I cheated on him. This is big for me considering my history. But no matter how the dating narratives in my life actually turn out, I know I have to put my big girl panties on and embark on the journey to being able to create the feeling of safety within myself. Until I do, it will impact all my partner choices.
So for now, I have one simple plan: To stay in my body.
When I was being molested, to survive, my soul had to leave my body. But it happened so often that not being embodied became my status quo. That’s how I got into so many of the pickles I’ve described to you. That’s how I can do what I did to “P.” If you’ve had people like me in your life – it’s probably how they were able to do whatever they did. It’s not just because they were a fucking asshole. Assholes are born out of fear. If assholes felt safe enough to be in their bodies, they would make different choices because they would actually feel the potential impact of their choices. So that is my intention: Embodiment. Although I am scared of being out in the world alone, I am committed to staying in my body. I will stay inside long enough that I can retrain my nervous system to know that I’m safe now. Well, let me rephrase that. I already know I am safe. But feeling safe is entirely different.
And perhaps that is my entire mission here at Unedited. To create safety in community. A place where we can come together with integrity. Safety is the oxygen in which integrity can grow. I know that now. I feel enough safety that I now act with integrity. But not enough safety that I am not seeking it from the outside. And so my next Earth School class begins. Where “J” and “P” become “JP.” Safety 101. Got it. ✅
Thank you for co-creating this space. It’s a space of healing for me. I am healing right alongside you. You are there for me and I am there for you, 24/7, as always, at firstname.lastname@example.org
The soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤️ :