When I was 20 years old I met a man. He was seven years older than me and he changed me forever. For years after I questioned how I let it happen, how I got to that place, and what that meant about me.
When we met I was working as a charity fundraiser – you know, one of those people you avoid when you’re out shopping and just for the record we did not even earn the minimum wage. Anyway, I was working for an agency that would send us all over the country where we would be put up in various forms of accommodation in teams of about 5. Everyone was about the same age and certainly not older than 30. You would have a team leader, a driver (me) and the rest of the team would just be basic fundraisers. When you’re 20 this is actually a pretty fun job to have. The day to day work wasn’t great and you had to deal with a lot of rejection and aggression from the public but when someone did sign up it was amazing and travelling with a team of 20 somethings was just like a party. Eventually I joined a team where I met the man who changed me. We’re going to call him Shane. He was my team leader, he was older than me, he was 6 foot tall with a six pack and he was from Australia. For someone like me, he was totally and completely out of league. After a week or two of working together we found ourselves sat together on the sofa chatting for hours. There was in fact someone else in the group who I clicked with a lot more but he had gone to bed. So there we were, chatting, laughing, he was drinking and then he kissed me. This was a huge shock. At sixth form college boys had never looked at me twice, I was geeky, mousy and completely incompetent with anything that might have made me remotely ‘cool’ and attractive. I didn’t wear make-up (still don’t), my clothes could never be described as sexy (still can’t) and I hated going to parties and getting drunk (still do), but here I was getting kissed by the ‘cool’ guy. So I reciprocated.
After that Shane and I dated, although as we were travelling in a team together it was less like dating and more like living together. He was kind enough, he genuinely seemed interested in me and I was definitely flattered by his attention. We didn’t have a lot in common though. Although I wouldn’t have described it that way at the time, he was not my intellectual equal. That is by no means suggesting that I’m some sort of Descartes or Einstein but even if we’re agreeing that I am of average intelligence, he was below that. As an example he thought the phrase ‘this afternoon’ was one word that you would spell like this: ‘disafternoon’. The way these fundraising jobs work is that you tend to do five weeks working and then get two weeks off. You don’t really get weekends off so this is how they compensate you. At the end of our five weeks I invited Shane to come and stay with me because as an Australian he had no fixed address in the UK. I still lived with my parents at that time so inviting him to mine was also inviting him to meet my parents. He came to stay for one of the weeks and then went to visit a friend of his for a week. During that week I decided I really didn’t want to do the job anymore. It was taking a lot out of me and I just couldn’t face another 5 weeks so when he went back out on the road I got myself a job at Marks and Spencer Simply Food. We kept in quite close contact while he was away and he continued to suggest that he was falling in love with me and although I could tell I didn’t feel that strongly for him, I was drawn to him. Very much like a moth to a flame.
Before meeting Shane I was pretty sexually inexperienced. I wasn’t a virgin, but I hadn’t had a lot of sex nor had I experimented much. I had just sort of done the deed, not ever really enjoyed it but it had kept guys from nagging me about it. Shane was really ‘into’ sex. He was much more experienced than me and spent a great deal of time trying to ‘encourage’ me into trying new things, positions, blow jobs and all manner of things that I was not ready for. At the time he would just nag me about it every now and then, but I was usually able to just say no and we’d have ‘vanilla’ sex.
Eventually Shane finished fundraising and as his European visa was coming to an end he decided he wanted to go to France to train as a ski instructor. I had nothing much going on in the UK and again felt flattered that he wanted me to go with him. So I booked our flights, rented an apartment, helped him sign up for a course and off we went.
I don’t speak French, I did it for 3 years at high school so can muddle my way through, but I am by no stretch of the imagination fluent. But there I was, staying in a small apartment with a man who was out on the slopes all day, everyday, with nothing much to do except wait for him to come home. I would go for walks in the town, went skiing occasionally but I don’t really like skiing so I wasn’t on the slopes regularly and played housewife to a man who was becoming increasingly controlling. At this point in my life I weighed the least I have ever weighed and yet he would constantly telling me that I looked fat or wobbly. He was used to dating girls who wore tight dresses, high heels and took an hour to get ready. I have always been a trainers and jeans girl who can be ready in 5 minutes. While in France he began to encourage me wearing shorter and tighter dresses. I stopped being me and became this other ‘thing’ sort of like a fembot. I just did whatever he suggested. Even at the time I knew I wasn’t happy, that he was not the man for me but there was something in me that wanted to please him and something in him that was magnetic. When he was nice he was really nice and loving but those moments were becoming more and more infrequent.
One night we had a big fight and I stormed out of the flat. I went for a walk to calm down and just get some space. In my rush to leave I left my keys behind. When I returned the outer door was locked, something that happened every night at 10pm for security, this meant I couldn’t just knock on the door of the flat. So I walked round to the back of the building and started throwing snowballs at the window to get his attention. After trying that for a while I walked to the nearest hotel and asked to use their phone. I thought if I called my mobile (which I had also left) he’d answer in his anxiety and concern about where I was. However he did not answer. Eventually I made my way into the centre of town and charmed my way into getting a room in a hotel for the night. I had no money on me but I think they took pity on me and thank god they did. The next morning I returned to our building and the outer door was now unlocked. I walked up the stairs and knocked on our door. Shane had spent the night sleeping soundly. He hadn’t come looking for me, he hadn’t tried to call me, he hadn’t cared where I was. That day I decided to leave. I got a flight home and cried the whole way home.
Once I was home I started getting calls and messages from Shane all day long. He apologised, he begged for forgiveness, he said he loved me, he promised to change and he begged me to come back. Despite everything I knew about him I eventually agreed to return. Even now I have no idea how he managed to convince me. Who had I become? How had I become this person? When I think back to it now, she’s a stranger to me.
When I first arrived back in France, things were different. He was drinking less, he help with the cooking and the cleaning and he was much more loving towards me but slowly old habits came back. Shane’s course was not going well. He injured his foot just before the start of the course and he was struggling to ski on it. I think he was also struggling to learn everything because as I said before, he was not smart. He would come home from a day on the slopes and be in a foul mood. I increasingly spent my time locked in the bathroom. By now I had managed to get myself a job as a childminder so at least I was getting the chance to chat with other people, be out of the house and earn my own money. One baby I looked after had a tummy bug and of course that meant that I then got a tummy bug. Shane’s first comment was ‘don’t give it to me.’ I was on my own in a foreign country and the one person who was supposed to care for me left me to lie on the bathroom floor on my own for days. Eventually I ended up in hospital with a drip in my arm because I had become so dehydrated. I took myself to the doctor’s and got myself home too. Shane never got involved.
It was around this time that Shane began drinking more and more. He could get through 12 cans of beer a night and he started buying vodka as well. One night we went out with his fellow course friends and he got so drunk that they had to drive us home and help me carry him up the stairs to our flat. The looks they gave me were ones of pity and they haunted me for a long time.
Our sex life hadn’t improved much either. He was very controlling and was losing his patience with my inexperience and for lack of a better description ‘prudishness’. Then the life changing night occurred.
Shane was drunk, not a new occurrence or even a rare one but he was very drunk. He was also frustrated with his course. It was then that he gave me the ‘look’. The look which meant, I want sex, I want it now and we’re going to have it. Needless to say I was not feeling very sexy nor very attracted to him. He began kissing me and moving his hands over my body. This foreplay didn’t last long though, Shane quickly began removing my clothes. First he tugged at my t-shirt but then focused on undoing my trousers. I started explaining that I was not in the mood, and could we save it for another time. He didn’t respond verbally but he did continue to remove my clothes. I kept trying to dissuade him, to distract him – he continued to kiss and caress me. Once my clothes were off, he was on me. He was then very quickly inside me. I was in no way ready for this so it hurt, a lot. I asked him to stop one last time, he did not. All I remember then is quietly crying while he used me to vent his frustrations. This night was not loud, it was not violent and it wasn’t dramatic. It was quiet, it was sad and it was lonely.
After Shane was done he fell asleep and I lay there just thinking about what had happened. How had I got there? How had I let this happen to me? Who was I now?
For the next couple of weeks this continued to happen but if I got home first I would lock myself in the bathroom before he got home, let him drink himself to sleep and then sleep on the sofa. Our last night there we were preparing to get a shuttle to the airport at 4 in the morning. I begged him to stay sober so that he could help me with all of our things. That night he consumed a whole bottle of vodka and when the shuttle arrived he was barely able to stand. Somehow we managed to get our flight and return to the UK. He had arranged for his flight back to Australia for the same day as his visa was now at an end so we said goodbye at the airport. This was in front of my parents and the act of love and kindness he put on for them was nothing short of Oscar worthy. I have never seen or spoken to him since.
In the following years I never spoke about what happened. My mum never thought he was particularly nice but she never knew the full extent. I gave up alcohol because the mere smell of it takes me back to that night – his warm, alcohol breath on my face as he pleasured himself with no care for me. I distanced myself from the world.
I have spoken with many counsellors about this time of my life but it continues to affect me to this day. Nick has known the truth from the beginning of our relationship and has always been very supportive but I’d be lying if I said that what happened to me hadn’t had a negative impact on our relationship at times. I’m starting to get better, I don’t think I’ll ever have alcohol again but at least I can be around those that do and thanks to the work I have done I now have a better understanding of what and why it happened.
When I was 20, I was fairly inexperienced. I had low self esteem and was flattered when anyone showed me attention. I was also a people pleaser, still am in many ways and I just wanted to feel wanted. Shane made me feel that at first. As our relationship progressed he would say things like ‘well no one else would put up with this’ (in regards to our sex life), ‘if you put on any weight it’ll be a problem for you if we break up’, ‘I’m pretty in demand so you’re very lucky’. Shane was controlling, manipulative, charming and charismatic. If he was so inclined he could be a great cult leader. The combination of my personality and his is how we got to where we ended up and the shame I have felt for not stopping it all sooner stays with me to this day.
I am now 33 years old and in a healthy committed relationship with a man who loves and respects me just as I am. One day I hope I can love myself the way he loves me and that I can forgive the pains of my past.