Thursday 29 September 2016

Dear Mary: I was sexually assaulted, and then I discovered my boyfriend cheated

Mary O'Connor

Published 14/03/2016 | 02:30

Illustration: Tom Halliday.
Illustration: Tom Halliday.

I want some advice about how to deal with the break-up of a bad relationship. Last year, I moved abroad and I started seeing a guy out here. It was going great at first; he really made me feel special, and having someone around helped me settle into living in a new country. He was very affectionate with me, but sometimes he wouldn't answer my messages for a long period, or occasionally wouldn't answer at all. He also could be very vague about his weekend plans when I questioned him about meeting up. I started getting suspicious that there was something going on between him and a good girl friend of his. She had a boyfriend, but she had a reputation for being promiscuous. I confronted him about it, and he swore there was nothing between them and that he would never go for her so I dropped it.

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However, over Christmas time something terrible happened to me - I was sexually assaulted. I reported it to the police, but unfortunately the case has recently been dropped because of a lack of evidence. Shortly after my assault, I found out that he and this girl were sleeping together. When I confronted him he immediately dumped me, saying it was best that I focused on myself since I was going through such a difficult time.

He has not been nice to me going through this process and has said that he has no more friends left because of me, even though I only told a few of my friends about the incident. He has asked me not to tell anyone his business and has sent some crude texts to me since this has happened, trying to obtain naked photos of me. He has also blamed me for putting undue pressure on him in the relationship and being jealous and suspicious, though obviously my fears were well founded.

When I told him about the sex assault again in more detail in our post-break up meeting, he asked really strange and specific questions, like what clothes I was wearing. He asked me specifically was I wearing his favourite dress of mine, and he seemed to me even to get excited when he was asking for details of the assault, like he was taking pleasure out of my pain; he was even smiling when he asked!

I feel so awful now after all of this; we have broken off contact but I still feel heartbroken. This girl and he are still friends and I'm terrified they will get together again. If they do, I feel like they are rubbing my nose in the dirt and shaming me even further.

I have tried my best to move on from this. I have confided in a few friends I have out here, who have been really good to me. I have talked to my mother and I have tried to keep myself as socially busy as possible. I have even gone on a few dates. But I still feel heartbroken. I have had a long battle with depression in the past, with issues such as self-harming and suicide, and I thought, naively, I had put that all behind me. I have tried so hard throughout; I got my college degree at all odds, I have lived and travelled abroad before despite my troubles. I have never been in a long-term relationship and I thought with this guy things could be good, and I could finally be treated well.

I feel that my vulnerability has been taken advantage of, and not only will my ex and this girl receive no justice for the terrible way their behaviour has impacted on me and her own boyfriend, but my assailant will walk free. I feel that there is no justice in the world. I have been treated by my assailant and my ex as a piece of meat to use and abandon at their wish. I have been told to get over all this, but I feel I won't, I feel that one night I will succumb to despair and I won't be able to control myself. I also feel that life now is, on the whole, pointless for me. I'm sorry if I come off as melodramatic, but I'm just being honest and trying to present to you the facts in a clear light.

Mary replies: A lot has happened to you since you went abroad and not all of it good. Try to separate out the different events and deal with them individually. At the moment you seem to be blaming your ex and this girl for everything, whereas what they did to you was to cheat and lie. In itself that is horrible, but neither of them sexually assaulted you. It was another person entirely who perpetrated this horrible crime and it is really unfortunate that he was not prosecuted. So you are left with no closure. If you were in Ireland I would recommend that you contact the Rape Crisis Centre for some counselling but as you are in another country this is not possible. You should contact the Irish Embassy in your city and ascertain if there a counselling service in English that you could avail of. Your friends are a wonderful source of support but you need some professional help as well.

It is only natural that at times of stress you sink back into your feelings of despair. You know that feeling of old, and in the same way that somebody who is off cigarettes reaches for one when they are stressed, or an alcoholic may fall off the wagon when times are hard, your tendency is to get back in touch with those feelings.

On the other hand, you have come an awfully long way - you succeeded in getting your degree, you are now working after your years of study. You are trying to get on with living and have even tried dating again. Well done for everything that you have achieved. I'm sorry that the guy you had the relationship with turned out to be such a letdown - you didn't deserve to be treated that way. Neither he nor the girl sound particularly nice people if they were prepared to cheat on their respective partners instead of having the courage to end their relationships, and the fact that he seemed to get a vicarious pleasure from your misfortune seems, at the very least, extremely callous. But if you are to give in to all of this then they will have won, and you will have lost and you don't want that to happen. Life does deal us lots of blows but every so often we are sprinkled with gold dust and I hope that happens to you very soon.

One last thought - there is no shame attached to having been sexually assaulted, and try to get the word out of your vocabulary with regard to the assault. You were not to blame in any way - the fault all lies with your assailant.

I am happily married, but I still think about my ex

Why, 40 years on, do I still think about an old ex despite being happily married to a good woman?

Mary replies: I think this might fall into the 'What If' category. You probably had a good time with the ex, and have some very happy memories. Or perhaps she was your first big love but for some reason it didn't work out. So just as we look back on our lives and ask ourselves 'what if I had taken another path on the road of life' it is only natural to ask what would have happened if we had ended up with another partner.

There is possibly also a little nostalgia at what might have been. This is in no way disrespectful of your wife and for all you know she may also harbour fond thoughts about some of her old boyfriends. May you continue to be happily married for many years to come.

You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting www.dearmary.ie or email her at dearmary@independent.ie or write c/o 27-32 Talbot Street, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence. Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately.

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