When things become stale, I have a tendency to reinvent myself. As a creative director, my job is to construct a relatable, meaningful experience for other people through design, even when the product is not-so-great. Ever hear the (truly beautiful) saying you can't polish a turd? My job is to do exactly that. And I'm pretty good at it because I've created "brands" out of myself my whole life; at various points in my life I have been totally different people because it felt right or fixed whatever shitty situation I found myself in. I have notebooks from high school and college that are full of ideas on what to wear, how to act, things to say, even how to change my handwriting to reflect a different personality. I'm reinventing again, but it's different now that I'm married — it's not fair to Pepijn to pull a U-turn and suddenly become a different person, so I just have to redesign smaller things. I redecorate, listen to different music, buy books about Hinduism and levels of consciousness. I focus on facets of myself that need attention. For example, talking with my therapist has finally shown me just how wrong my idea of an ideal healthy relationship was my whole life. How could I have known if I had nothing healthy to use as an example? Until I began dating my husband, I never experienced a truly respectful sexual or romantic relationship, and I'm definitely not alone in that. God damnit you guys. I am so sick of hearing stories about women being raped and their rapists getting a slap on the wrist. I am so sick of young girls not being respected. I am so sick of children not being taught what consent is or what respect means when it comes to sex, and then ruining people's lives when they grow up. I am so sick of all these basic assholes who never change, never grow, never want to better themselves if it means doing the hard work of unlearning their harmful behavior that they shrug off as "just how the world works." I am so tired of it that I'm starting to find myself having problems trusting all men, which is incorrect behavior, but I know many women feel the same, and can you blame us?
To Shaian, who grabbed me by the throat and squeezed HARD while we were in bed—so hard that I couldn't breathe—and kept doing it again no matter how many times I pushed his hand away and told him to stop it (Noteworthy: he is not the only one who did this. He just had the tightest grip.)
To Doogie (whatever the fuck his real name was), who walked me home "like a gentleman" when I couldn't stand up by myself after possibly being roofied my senior year of college. I woke up the next morning with him naked in bed next to me and zero recollection of the night. But it's OK, you guys, he texted me the next day to see how I was doing, because after all, he was a gentleman.
To Justin, who bent me over a bathroom sink as his phone rang repeatedly. I soon learned it was his wife calling him, and his ringtone was the sound of their children laughing. He left me a note in the morning that said, "Sorry for taking off early, you know how it is." (I didn't.)
To Zach, who went through about 10 condoms in 10 minutes because he kept taking them off 5 seconds after I made him put one on. Afterwards, he immediately fell asleep, so I collected my clothes in total darkness and walked to a friend's apartment by myself at 3am.
To Brady, who never spent more than 10 minutes trying to get me off because it "made him tired", and then told me something was wrong with me for not wanting to fuck him. This one isn't painful to recall, but it IS a shining example of the bizarre sexual entitlement that we so often experience from male partners. It's an example of where that entitlement starts. Sexual entitlement exists on a spectrum; at one end are situations like this that seem harmless and isolated. At the opposite end, it's extremely dangerous.
To Josh, who told me I had "cock-sucking lips" when I was 11. I had no idea what he meant.
This is ALL very personal, and I'm sure plenty of people think it should stay private, but I'm pretty uninterested in other people's thoughts on how I should live my own life and what I should say to the world. These men did damage to my mental health, to my self-respect, and to my understanding of what a good relationship is. I am just now understanding that and addressing it at nearly 30 years old. No one will ever punish them for being total pieces of shit, but I've continually punished myself by not seeing them for who they were, by having hope for them, by dating the same types of people, by not learning from these mistakes. For polishing turds, if you will. And no matter how badly I was treated, I always told myself I deserved it. But I didn't. And sometimes you just have to let the world know when people suck, so there you have it.
And the worst part, of course, is that I feel lucky. I feel lucky that I wasn't violently assaulted, that I wasn't choked so hard I passed out, that I never got pregnant from idiots ripping off condoms because their 5 seconds of of pleasure were 100% more important to them than my ENTIRE BODY. I feel lucky because I know so many women who have experienced all of these things and more. Do you understand how fucked up that is?
So this time, my reinvention will be focused on my well-being — taking past hurt and misunderstood definitions and forgiving them, letting them go, and channeling the bad into love for myself and love for my patient, understanding, sweet, brilliant husband. He is a healthy reason to feel lucky, and for the first time in my life I am allowing myself to remember that I deserve respect.
Bonus content: A fantastic article on Brock Turner's case, and why it affects all the "I-would-never-do-that" guys out there.