[TW: Allusions to sexual assault and mention of mental illness]
Some boys had me pretending. They never had me, but I pretended.
As they talked at me about politics, opinions, sex, whatever, my attention wandered. I pretended to listen and agree. Maybe it was their tone or their demeanour, but I never really thought my input was asked for. Maybe it was because of a culture where women’s voices are devalued that I rarely sought to raise my own.
So I said nothing, and I floated through dates and hook ups without finding anyone interesting enough not to pretend with. I pretended I was okay with things I was not okay with. I pretended it was good enough to be with someone than to be alone. I pretended loneliness was the worst thing in the world, even though I felt alone right then.
I pretended and believed that the boy talking about politics knew better than me. Maybe it was that I have never been great at geography or that I was afraid of talking about politics because I might make a mistake or five. I didn't want to seem uneducated or be made fun of. He talked – I pretended to listen. He was passionate – I was bored. His passion felt rehearsed to impress, it sounded boastful and it was irritating.
A few months later, another boy I knew for a while came to me at a party.
“You’re so cool,” he said. “You’ve become so cool lately.”
This discovery of his came from my knowledge of a Beatles’ B-side. Never mind that I have been obsessed with the Beatles all my life and could have told you about this B-side (and others) since I was about 11 years old - the only thing that changed is that I learned how to style my hair and put on makeup. I half-heartedly pretended to care about his opinion of me.
“I think women victimize themselves way too much,” the same boy said. I said nothing and pretended.
Another night, another date. In my dorm room, I said stop, and he did.
“You know, a lot of boys in this dorm wouldn’t stop,” he informed me. I pretended to be thankful to him for not raping me.
My first panic attack: I sobbed and my chest hurt. It was before a party, I had social anxiety and being in a crowded room, limbs everywhere, hidden corners – it all made me fall into despair. It triggered me, took me back to another night when I had been groped from crotch to butt. My chest hurt but I made me go to this crowded party - I spent the next day in bed, crying. I was tired of pretending these aggressions upon my person and my body were acceptable.
I had been pretending to please and to seem soft and easy. But I am not soft and I am not easy, and I no longer seek to please.
Was it growing pains that made me spiral into depression? Was it realizing that I wasn’t soft or easy that broke me for a while? When men raised their voices and spoke in absolute terms, why didn’t I object? Did suppressing this passionate side of me finally catch up with me?
I don’t pretend anymore.
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