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The Aftermath of Unwanted Sexual Advances

Couple intimidation

A few years ago, after dating a man, Russ, for a few weeks, he wanted us to become sexually active. We were exclusive and he thought it was a normal part of a dating relationship; I wanted to wait until I was married to share myself that way.

As we continued dating, he started to push my physical boundaries. One of the ways was, sometimes while hugging me, he’d move his hands inside my shorts to grab my butt. It was always at one of our houses, never in public. I’d stand there for a few seconds trying to be comfortable with it but wasn’t.

Feeling uneasy, I’d pull his hands away and step back from the hug. I expressed I didn’t want him to touch me that way and he would usually respond with, “I’m just so attracted to you, I can’t help myself.” It was nice to know he was attracted to me, but everyone can control themselves and I should have felt safe in the relationship. It didn’t feel good when he said this and I realized later rather than listening to me and respecting my boundaries, he was dismissing how I felt. (For more on feeling safe, see my previous post, What is a Safe Relationship.) Eventually, I broke up with him.

After we broke up, I found that wearing shorts was a trigger for me. While wearing shorts to walk my dog, I would feel exposed. Feeling uncomfortable, I’d put my hand on the backside of my thigh to make sure my bottom was covered. I’ve never worn “bootie” shorts, but after dating this man, I started to worry that maybe my shorts were too short. I wondered if in some way I had invited the unwanted touches.

Note: If someone touches you in any way, it should always be consensual. Just because you’re wearing shorts or anything else, it does not give the other person permission to touch you on a part of your body or in a way that you don’t want to be touched.

I’d always been comfortable in my shorts, but now I was anxious when I wore them.  I work from home and walk my dog four times a day in 90 to 100-plus-degree temps during the summer. I felt it was appropriate to wear shorts. I decided to buy longer shorts.

I felt awkward as I tried on shorts of various lengths. I felt frumpy and old in the shorts that were the longest. The shorts in the middle were different than what I was used to, but I felt better about the longer length, and I bought two pairs. When I wore them to walk my dog, I relaxed.

I’ve never paid attention to what length of shorts my friends wear, but now I scroll through social media, looking at pictures of friends and acquaintances to see how long their shorts are and if mine are similar.

It wasn’t in my budget to replace all my shorts, so when I needed to wear one of my original shorts, I still worried. I asked a friend if my shorts were appropriate and if they were long enough. She was frustrated that the way Russ treated me led to me doubting myself and questioning the clothes I wore. She reassured me I dressed fine, but I still worried.  

I wear my new shorts to Bible study. I’m getting used to them but feel better. Before I broke up with Russ, I confided to a woman in Bible study about how he touched me and how it made me feel. As I walk near her to take a seat, she mentions to another woman that she is having trouble finding the shorts that go to your knees. I felt like the comment was meant for me. I worry that my new shorts aren’t long enough. I feel judged and worry that she thinks poorly of me.

I like to run and walk for exercise and I wear the longer version of running shorts, but they’re still on the short side. They’re comfortable for running and until this experience, I’ve never felt uncomfortable in them. When I met a friend to walk, I found myself tugging at the bottom of my shorts to pull them a little longer. Worried they were too short, I asked her about the length, if my shorts were long enough, did they cover me, and if were they appropriate. Like my other friend, she was frustrated Russ’s actions made me uncomfortable and assured me I was dressed fine.

Fall comes and I’m grateful to put on jeans.

The next spring as the weather starts to warm up, I go back to the store where I bought the longer shorts so I can buy another pair or two. I notice they fit snugger in the back and try the next size up. They’re baggy and unflattering. Discouraged, I leave the store. Eventually, I find another pair of shorts to buy…

As summer temperatures start to drop, some friends are visiting from out of town and many are wearing athletic skorts. I like the look and length. Excited, later I purchase one. It’s comfortable. I like the longer length and built-in bike type short. I like walking my dog in the skort, but don’t have many tops I like to wear with it. It’s hard to match a shirt for work calls on Zoom with the skort. And I know once the temperatures are in the 100’s the built-in bike short will feel uncomfortable. I wear it and feel good in it, but I know I’ll need another option come summer.

It’s now two years since I dated Russ and he put his hands inside my shorts. It’s warm enough to wear shorts again. I start to put on a pair of my old shorts. I’m not comfortable with the length, but otherwise they fit me well without being tight and don’t get wrinkled easily. I try to wear them but find that I’m uncomfortable, so I opt for the longer shorts. They’re snugger in the bottom, which makes me uncomfortable, and get wrinkled. I go back to my old shorts and tell myself I’m okay while walking my dog.

But I also go online looking for new, longer shorts. I check the store where I bought my old shorts to see if they sell a longer version. They don’t. I look on other sites. I look for dresses and skirts that may be longer than shorts. I don’t find much or the prices are too high. Discouraged I close my laptop.

I’m fine for a few days. Then as I’m getting dressed on a day that I have Bible study, I wonder about wearing shorts. I don’t want to wear one thing for the morning, change for Bible study, and then change again when I get home. But I worry about what the other woman will think. I try on several things and eventually opt to wear the longer pair of shorts to class. I tell myself I’m okay; my shorts aren’t too short. I remind myself they’re appropriate for my day. But I’m uneasy. Later, I go back online and buy a pair of longer shorts. They’ll arrive in 5-7 days.

The next week, I have a neighborhood meeting in the evening. When I get dressed that morning, I opt for a nice blouse and shorts. I work from home, walk the dog, and go to the meeting, in the back of my mind I wonder if I’m dressed appropriately. When I walk into the meeting several people comment on how pretty the color of my blouse is. I worry about my shorts and quickly slide into a seat at the table where my legs won’t show. When I get home, I look online again. As I open the site for one store, then another, and another, I realize I’ve already visited these stores and they don’t have anything new. I try a new store. They have some longer shorts on sale. I buy two pairs. They’ll be here in 3-5 days.

During the day, I notice I have less energy. I become irritable. I try to work out but lack energy.

The next day I have a dentist appointment. When getting dressed, I worry about what to wear. Should I wear jeans to lay in the dental chair? It’s hot, so if I decide to wear jeans, I’ll have to change clothes at least twice during the day. Should I wear a dress? I’ve gained a few pounds and don’t like how my longer dresses fit and I don’t feel comfortable wearing a knee-length dress to lay in the dental chair. I opt for the longer shorts, but still worry about wearing shorts to the dentist.

After working a few hours, I leave to go to the dentist. I notice I’m sad and feel like crying. This is unusual for me. I don’t know why and wonder if my morning was stressful. When the dentist comes into the room, she comments that I look summery. I worry if I’m dressed appropriately.

After the appointment, I return home and try to get back to work. I can feel anxiety rising. I’m stressed. I know it’s from worrying about how to dress each day. In desperation, I text seven friends and ask what length of shorts they wear.

Recognizing my stress level, I try to pause and think about what I can do to feel better. Exercise always helps, and I consider going for a walk. But I don’t have time during the day, and later I have another meeting, need to buy groceries, and wrap up a project. I won’t have time for a walk, so instead, after everything is done, I opt for a glass of wine to try and relax. I know it’s not really what I need or what will help, but worn out, I don’t know what else to do.

As I wrap up the work day, the questions about my clothes cycle through my mind. I know it’s increasing my anxiety and stress level. So, I turn on a TV show to play in the background and distract my thoughts from continuing to roll. It’s a drama show and I find it’s not really helpful. I turn off the show and reach for my phone to find a podcast. After several attempts, I find one by Proverbs 31, “When You’re Weary and Worn Down”. As I listen, I’m reminded of the goodness of God. That He loves me. Matthew 11:28-30 comes to mind: Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

I’m sharing the details above because for those that have been in a harmful or abusive relationship, I want you to know that you’re not alone. Your feelings are natural and normal. With time, you will heal. You’re going to be okay.

And for friends and family. From the outside, it’s hard to know or understand the struggle someone goes through after being in a harmful relationship. We’re grateful it’s over. We want it behind them and for our friend or family member to move on. We don’t realize the turmoil they feel or the healing that needs to take place. The survivor may heal and something weeks, months, or even years later will trigger a memory.

Two things to note:

Above, I list my hardest moments. Some weeks I struggle like the days in the example above, but other times I can go weeks without thinking about it. The same is true for most survivors and their experiences. Healing is a process and some weeks or months are better than others.

A week that already has challenges – more going on at work, school, or with family or friends can make a trigger harder to manage. When the survivor is lower on sleep, feeling stressed, or life is busy, they may be more vulnerable to memories and their emotions may be intensified.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll share more on healing and how to support a loved one as they heal.


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