Q. To Tell or Not to Tell?: Six years ago I was sexually assaulted. It did not lead to rape because I screamed loudly enough that I was heard by others, which gave me time to run away—but the assault itself was traumatic enough that it took some good therapy before sex could be fun, not painful and terrifying. I was still in college and the man who eventually became my boyfriend after that incident was, thankfully, understanding of my slow healing process. But I always felt that a part of our relationship was built on his "taking care of me" at that time. We broke up amicably post-college and I am now, at 25, seeing someone with whom I am deeply in love and can see building a life with. We've been together just under a year and I am wondering if I should tell him about the assault. It is a permanent part of my past and informed who I became, but I am totally over the trauma and I enjoy sex with my current partner more than I ever thought possible. On the one hand, perhaps this is something one should share with one's potential life partner? On the other hand, I don't want him to start seeing me as a victim, or for this knowledge to somehow change his willingness to experiment sexually with me (i.e. I don't want this to cloud what he is comfortable trying—I'm so proud of how far I've come sexually). Should I tell him? If so, how?
A: Good for you for getting help and healing. It's really important for other victims to hear this. What you just told me, you should tell him. He knows you as a sexually confident, expressive woman, so there's no reason that should change. You are presenting this story as something significant that happened to you, but not as the central thing to have happened to you. There will be no lack of opportunities for this to come up, a story in the news, for example, that prompts you to say, "When I was in college, I was sexually assaulted ..." You will be telling your boyfriend something a partner should know about you, but you will also be doing it after having established a free and open sexual relationship. I think letting him know will lift off you a burden of secrecy you shouldn't have to carry.
Q. Re: For "Divorce": PLEASE don't force a relationship with her father if she doesn't want one! My father is a criminal, but I was raised by my mom who not only wanted me to keep up a relationship with him, she rationalized that he was "caught up" in bad things and portrayed him as a victim (which I think she needed to do to justify why she married such a bad guy, even though she had the good sense to divorce him). I spent years being made to spend time with someone who not only didn't love me, but whom I didn't love back. It wasn't until my mid-20s that I finally sought out therapy for the first time and realized forcing this relationship did more harm than good. I wish my mom had had the insight you did. Be strong! Your daughter is lucky to have you.
A: Thanks for this. Too often I get letters about one parent demonizing another. But when a parent really is a toxic, dangerous person, it is no favor to pretend he's just a misunderstood guy.
Q. Neighbors: I am a happily married father of three. Last summer we moved to a new town and neighbor kids started coming over to play with our two oldest children. (Our previous neighborhood had no kids our children's age.) My two oldest (boys aged 6 and 3) have made a lot of new friends. "Katie" a 6-year-old from two houses over has taken to calling me "Dad." She lives with her mother and grandmother and almost never sees her actual father. My wife has spoken to Katie's mom briefly once, but I have never met her or Katie's grandmother. How should I respond to Katie calling me "Dad?" Katie is a very sweet girl and I would feel bad telling her not to call me that especially since she doesn't have a father figure in her life. On the other hand, I wouldn't want my children calling another adult dad or mom. Also, I'm worried it might be hurtful to my own children to let someone else call me that. What should I do?
A: This is such a sad story. I agree that as much as Katie might want you for a father, she has to understand she can have fun with you, and look up to you, but that calling you "Dad" won't make it so. Next time she does it, when you get a chance to unobtrusively pull her aside, you can say you are so glad she spends time at your house and you enjoy being with her, but that the neighborhood kids call you Mr. Williams, or Ron, or however it is done at your house or on your block. Since you are in a neighborhood of young families, you should start getting to know them. Some weekend when Katie is playing at your house, invite her mother to stay for a cup of coffee. Or have the whole family over for spaghetti some Sunday night. This will help you understand their family dynamic better. And if you feel Katie is too clingy or needy, the connection will give you an opening to discuss your concerns.
Q. Re: Cold feet: My now husband and I met several years ago during similar circumstances to your encounter with Josh. He was engaged but couldn't deny the instant, strong connection we had that he had honestly never felt before. Leaving that weekend, neither one of us knew whether a relationship between us would work out long term, but he had a big decision to make; he could stay in a relationship that was safe but that he knew was not hitting on all cylinders, or he could take a chance that someone (me or another woman) out there would be a better fit for him. He made his decision not based on the idea that the two of us would be perfect for each other, but because he knew that it would be wrong to cheat himself and his fiancé out of the chance to marry someone without any doubts as they walked down the aisle. Best of luck—it's a scary and tough decision!
A: Thanks for your story. And I wish I could also offer one—because there are many—from someone who was tempted, stayed with the original partner, and is forever grateful about that decision.
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