Advice

Miss Information

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Men catcall me everywhere I go. How can I learn to trust anyone?

by Cait Robinson

Have a question? Email missinfo@nerve.com. Letters may be edited for length, content, and clarity.

Dear Miss Information,

I have an ongoing problem that's difficult to talk with about friends. I am in my early twenties and have been blessed (or cursed) with physical dimensions usually found on porn stars. I am quite aware that most people find me to be sexy and beautiful, but while this is my greatest weapon, it's also the weapon used most frequently against me. 

I started developing a womanly body when I was quite young, and because of this I started getting sexually harassed by adult men starting at the young age of eleven. This escalated as I came into my teen years and led to a traumatizing date rape before I had even had a real boyfriend. When I went to friends for advice, they explained to me that I was "too pretty," as if I'd somehow deserved it. Since then I've endured sexual harassment from many men, including my parents' (former) close friend who had watched me grow up. It's all starting to weigh down on me. 

Even though I dress far more conservatively than most girls my own age, I encounter extreme sexual harassment everywhere I go. It's hard for me to be vulnerable in relationships with potential boyfriends, because I'm so incredibly ashamed of how I've been treated. Among all the people I've dated, I feel I've only had one "nice" boyfriend, and I suspect that more than one of them were just using me to impress their friends. I've come a long way since the night I was raped — I actually enjoy and crave sex — but I don't know how to escape the constant attention I receive at work, walking down the street, outside my apartment complex, at a bar, at school, or anywhere else. 

I come from a nice family and have many wonderful friends, and I know that I deserve good things, but I can't seem to eliminate this cloud of shame that seems to follow me everywhere I go. I've been told not to "let it get to me" by most people, including my parents, and while that worked for a few years, it's no longer working. How can I heal from this?

— Bombshell

Dear Bombshell,

This situation sucks, profoundly. The worst part is that you draw a line between your own body and your sexual assault, effectively internalizing the "she was asking for it" lie. I know you don't see yourself as to blame per se, but you seem to see your build as part of the catalyst, which effectively pits you (smart, together, respectable) against your body ("asking for it").

Let's be clear on something: men can control themselves. Even if you're walking down the street naked, pouring Gatorade over your head and slowly shaking it off, "no" still means "no." Men respect this. Rapists do not. The problem is that it's hard to tell the wolves from the sheep. 

Seek therapy to work through your assault and trust issues with men, if you haven't already. These kinds of scars run deep. It should help to have someone outside of a romantic relationship to process things with.

Meanwhile, when you meet a man, how can you get a better sense of his character? You share an equal-and-opposite problem with the plain girls out there. Some of us may not be head-turning, so we cultivate other attributes: wit. Cooking ability. Clowning skills. We may not snare a vast number of men, but when one laughs at our "I am stuck in a wind tunnel!" mime routine, we know we've found a winner.

I suggest you do the same. A guy who's in it for the arm candy won't stick around for your impassioned twenty-minute speech on the sound design in Lilo and Stitch. If he isn't meeting you on intellectual and emotional levels, don't bother with him. If he pushes for sex or won't respect your boundaries or timetables, don't bother with him. If you're worried all of these standards will be impossible to clear, don't be. The boys will get tripped up, but the men will do just fine. 

I don't suggest you play games, but I do suggest you be highly discriminating. Your problems may be different, but ultimately you have to learn the same thing the rest of us have to: how to catch the losers early and hold tight to the worthwhile ones.

Dear Miss Information,

I've been out of my last (and only) relationship for three years now, and I'm still having trouble getting back in "the game." In the past three years I've been kissed once and been with a woman zero times. Unfortunately, I'm having those "special nights to myself" all too often.

For a while, I blamed it on my lack of confidence. I was stuck in a dead-end job, making minimal money. I wasn't happy with my weight and general attractiveness, and I will admit I still wasn't over my ex. Recently, things have changed for me. I've landed a job that I really like and am making good money; I've gotten back into my workout routine and have shed some weight; and I've gotten over my ex. My confidence is on the rise — I'm finally trying to get myself back out there. But I always seem to get stuck in the "friend zone." 

I have several female friends. Girls like me; I just don't know how to get them to like me in a relationship sort of way. I've even asked my female friends to put in a good word with some of their friends, but it doesn't matter where I meet these girls — the end result is still the same. I hang out with these girls, have a great time, and become friends with them while watching them fall for someone else.

Maybe I'm looking in the wrong places? Maybe I'm taking the wrong approach with every girl I've recently met?

— Gal Pal

Dear Gal Pal,

If one line in your letter can tip off where you're stumbling, it's this: "I've even asked my female friends to put a good word with some of their friends." If you're employing your friends as half-hearted cupids, you've already lost the battle. 

I'm assuming that even though you're recently confident, cute, and outgoing (well done on the big life changes, by the way!), you've still got the mental framework of the frump-ball. How could you not? If you spent three years in a less-than-ideal place, it'll take time to really own your new, better self. And that's fine. But don't keep the same meek attitude — and with it, the assumed readiness for rejection — that you may have had before. It will get you nowhere.

"Putting in a good word" is a passive, timid strategy. It makes you come across as a wet blanket, rather than a cool guy who could have any girl in here but just happens to choose you, you're welcome, girl. If you like a girl, don't be afraid to show it. Talk to her specifically all night. Ask if she'd like a refill on her drink. Laugh at her jokes and touch her arm. These are all universally recognized but low-stakes flirting signals; be confident enough to use them.

In short, believe in your own charm. Ladies don't want the guy passing them a note that says, "Do you like me? Circle Y/N." They want the guy who lets a mischievous smile ask the question.