How My Best Friend Sexually Assaulted and Emotionally Manipulated Me for A Year
“Just so you know, we need to use condoms going forward,” I told my best friend after we fucked for the first time in July 2016. Let’s call him Alex, after Alexander “Xander” Harris from Buffy the Vampire Slayer a.k.a. The Original Fuckboy.
“Sorry, I got excited,” Alex replied, lighting one of our unfinished joints from earlier in the night.
My vision blurred for a moment, a deafening silence in my head, the dull heaviness in my gut spreading to and numbing the sharp pain in my heart.
That was when I realized we didn’t have sex.
He sexually assaulted me.
Being my best friend and all, Alex was one of the first people I told the details of my first rape when it happened in 2015. Even if he hadn’t been, I was already a vocal feminist writer by the time we became romantically involved. I wasn’t shy about the fact that what started as consensual sex turned into rape when a colleague from my new office removed the condom, and forced penetration on me despite my multiple, clearly enunciated NOs.
Unprotected sex is emotionally and physically intimate and intense for me, and I only engage in it when I know I can trust my partner. My consent was contingent on there being a condom — my rapist chose to disrespect this important personal boundary of mine, prioritizing his pleasure over my safety and right to my own body. People often inaccurately refer to that as “grey rape” — rape is defined as any non-consensual sexual contact. I said no. He didn’t listen. That’s rape.
Alex and I started spending more time together last year, and to my surprise, my affection for him intensified. We’d been good friends for 5 years, and even knowing that he’d had feelings for me for forever, pursuing anything romantic with him had never crossed my mind. Having just come out of a breakup and sexual trauma, traditional monogamous relationships had lost their appeal to me. But I decided to lean into the butterflies anyway, thinking that Alex knew and accepted me for who I was, and that I could trust that my heart and body were in good, safe hands.
Being physically and emotionally vulnerable with someone new is nerve-wracking as it is, but post-multiple-personal-tragedies, it was a nightmare. Alex and I would spend hours in his bed just holding each other and kissing. Despite the pure and blissful breathlessness of those moments, trauma was undiscerning about when it would ensnare me without warning. I’d stiffen beneath him, hyperventilating whatever air I could manage through my heavy chest, my mind struggling to discern between my wonderful present and my terrible trauma.
Feeling his arms wrap around me, stroking my hair, kissing my forehead, whispering reassurances in my ear helped me reconnect with my body, grounding me in the present. It was moments like this where I would fall deeper in love with him, feeling it in my core that he genuinely loved and cared about me. The warmth and compassion between us was slowly healing the psychological wounds left in the wake of my first rape.
And that’s why our first time was so jarring — one second we were making out, the next he was inside of me without a condom. It was like one of my many mid-makeout nightmare flashbacks, only instead of only imagining my rapist on top of me, another rapist was on top of me. I froze beneath him, unable to reconcile what was happening with how our relationship had been until just moments ago. I loved him far too much to bring myself to say stop or no, I couldn’t even bear to call it sexual assault let alone rape, and I have never hated myself more for anything else.
That morning, we left for Montreal with my other best friends. I couldn’t deal with being 500 kilometres (300 miles) away from home and having to talk to Alex about how he had just made me relive almost the exact context of my rape. It just took a lot of strength and courage that I didn’t have — I kept silent for the weekend, my anger and disgust at his betrayal festering, chipping away at my resolve to reserve any emotional confrontation for a better time. I didn’t wanna cause drama, after all.
He would hold my hand or put his arm around my waist while we were watching Lana Del Rey, and my skin, bones, flesh, soul recoiled at his touch. By the end of the trip, I could barely look at him. I refused to say a word to him at all on our 9 hour drive home, and by the seventh hour, I was vomiting bile at a rest stop. I texted him once my friends dropped me off at home, saying that what he did wasn’t okay, and asked for space while I tried to process the fact that he sexually assaulted me.
“I had a feeling it was that. I’m so sorry, you’re completely right, I was selfish as hell,” he replied. He knew all weekend that what he did could not have been sitting right with me at all. Cool.
After total radio silence from him on all fronts for a day — our friend’s messages to him on WhatsApp weren’t going through, he wasn’t even checking my Snapchat stories — I started to get worried. While I was busy shrieking and sobbing through my pain to Ariana Grande songs, Alex apparently thought it would be a good idea to pull up his Tumblr for some good ol’ emotional manipulation.
“I’ve ruined everything and I’ve lost her. Nothing matters anymore. Goodbye world.”
Imagine having to worry about your best friend taking his own life because you needed space after he sexually assaulted you. Of course he hadn’t actually died by suicide — it was an abusive tactic to get me to reach out to him, and unfortunately it worked. I replied in the comments of his post, mind you, in a much angrier tone, “Grow up and deal with your issues instead of running away. I’m suffering, and you’re making it all about you.”
“I just wanted somewhere private to write these very new feelings for me down,” Alex replied on his very public Tumblr, confirming he wasn’t dead, “I’m not trying to make it about me at all. I’m so scared to lose you. I want to fight for this. I’ve always cared about you! I love you and I need to learn to trust myself with again, and I need to earn your respect back.”
Me, me, me, me, me — Alex had paragraphs already written out in anticipation of my response despite not having heard how I felt. He was putting me through Emotional Abuse 101 and I knew it — but my heart, my love for him were too loud to really see what was happening. I yelled at him for being a selfish fucking asshole, thinking that it would be enough for him to be better. We “patched things up” and I continued to be physically intimate with him for over a year.
There were a lot of red flags in our relationship going forward even aside from the ones that I had seen that weekend. I knew intellectually that I needed to leave, but I didn’t think I could emotionally afford to lose his fucked up love. I was terrified that he’d actually commit suicide if I left, or that he’d end up flunking out of school and spiralling into a deep depression. Simply speaking, I loved him too much to hurt him, and it felt like it was my responsibility to help him survive. Moreover, my heart and pride were too stubborn to end our friendship entirely or even to at least stop sleeping with him.
I was a survivor who took her first rapist through the legal and administrative justice processes, and transformed her trauma into a lifelong mission to advocate for the destruction of rape culture. I refused to believe that my best friend, the first person I let myself fall in love with post-rape was the exact kind of manipulative, abusive piece of shit fuckboy I so vehemently detested. I thought I could educate him, change him — as a feminist advocate, it seemed like my duty and responsibility to.
I tricked myself into seeing the benefits of sticking around, not caring about how much of my own dignity I was sacrificing to “keep him alive.” It was just sex after all, no romantic attachment on my end. I had an orgasm or two, he’d supply a ton of weed, and we’d binge whatever was on Netflix. The sex was pretty good as long as I discounted how I could never look him in the eye when he fucked me, and that I’d have to fight my urge to throw up as he wiped his semen off my chest when he finished.
I’d known worse things at the time, like being raped in the backseat of a car by a guy I’d only known for 3 weeks. This time, at least it was my best friend who was emotionally manipulating me into the same situation.
The bar had been set in hell, and Alex could barely lift a finger to raise it.
Whenever I tried to end our sexual relationship, which I did at least every few months, he would whine, bitch, and complain. I was the love of his life, and he would reassure me that he wanted nothing but for me to be happy. But God, would he miss the sex, my love, how happy I made him, no one had ever made him so happy, he couldn’t find it anywhere else. I didn’t realize how these words dulled my resolve to just fucking leave, thinking that I would be a bad friend if I did.
“A summer love? Is that all I really was? I feel so used and broken,” he wrote me the first time I even suggested that we stop having sex. “You were my first kiss, first everything, and literally a few fleeting months went (in which he fucking sexually assaulted me) and you’re just over me.” I burst into tears on reading his message, heavy with guilt, laying down on top of the pile of keys I was sorting at my office wishing they would pierce my skin. “I swear if you love someone, why can’t you be together?” he demanded.
There were a laundry list of strategies I tried to use to get out of our relationship. I’d remind him how much I was still in love with my ex-boyfriend and that he was the only one I would ever marry or have children with — “Why did he have to be the one who got there first?” — or I’d give him a timeline so he’d be ready when our sexual relationship came to an end.
Alex would use those timelines to guilt me whenever I tried to walk away. “It went from once a week to nothing,” he’d bitch, “you told me a couple of months ago that you weren’t making any relationship changes until the end of the year!”
I would call him out for trying to emotionally manipulate me, reminding him he had absolutely no entitlement to my body — he’d apologize, saying that it wasn’t his intent for his comments to come off like that. He wanted me to be free, happy, he loved me, but he was just hurt. He was sorry. I would eventually grow so tired of hearing his bullshit that I’d just give up on trying to make a change. Maybe next time. Rinse and repeat.
One day, I had a breakthrough and finally put my foot down.
“I don’t want to have sex with you anymore. You’re still important to me and I love you, but sex really affects me and I need to take care of myself, which I haven’t been doing since what happened last year.”
“That’s… ok. It’s just sex for me anyway, I just really like doing it with you.”
My breaking point came at the end of the summer, when I finally realized how much having sex with Alex was killing me. For the first time in my life, I’d had a sexual experience with someone new that didn’t result in my being emotionally scarred or numb — instead of feeling violated and ashamed, I felt beautiful, radiant, loved, respected, safe. Consensual, boundary-respecting sex really is a wondrous miracle.
Perhaps I was naive in confiding to Alex about my new friend and how life-changing of an experience it was for me— I figured that if he truly valued me as a person, if he was really my friend, he would understand. “I’m happy and productive, I feel amazing,” I told him.
“I felt jealous for a second, and this hurts,” he replied, “I love that you’re happy, I want nothing but that for you.” I reassured him again that I loved him, that ending our sexual relationship wasn’t necessarily the end of our friendship. My mindset was that as long as we stopped having sex, that he respected my boundaries, we could keep being friends.
“No more sex then,” he said, and in the same string of texts, “I’m also really salty we didn’t have sex 2 weeks ago now.”
“I’m not. There were multiple times we’d finish and I’d feel nauseous afterwards,” I replied. I marked that message as Red Flag #390375489764.
We saw each other once more after that conversation — I crashed at his place for a night of binge re-watching Jessica Jones (the irony), and trying to roll a rose blunt. As we were trying to sleep, Alex curled up behind me, spooning me, wrapping his arm around my stomach, pulling himself in close. He started to kiss my neck sensually, his breath, saliva hot against my skin — I turned around, swatted at his head, and told him to chill. I started feeling nauseous and suffocated. “Too tight,” I muttered, lifting his arm away from my waist before falling asleep.
I dropped him off at work the next morning and went about my day, seeing my friend’s new apartment, and treating myself to copious amounts of sweets. In the evening, he texted me:
Alex: I know it’s none of my business, so you can answer or not, but can I ask who/how you know this new guy you’re with?
The red of every single red flag in our relationship spread across my vision, a year’s worth of rage bubbling in the pit of my stomach, the straw effectively breaking the camel’s back.
Me: Why do you care? Why does it matter?
A: I shouldn’t, I know, but I’m curious and it’s been bothering me. I want to know who’s making you happier because I failed. Never mind, it’s childish, it doesn’t matter.
Me: You’re so fucking childish.
A: I’m sorry, I’m trying to deal with this new situation, it just hurts. You’re happy, that’s what matters. I don’t have anyone to talk to about this, but okay, I’ll just be quiet. I’m sorry.
Me: It is not my goddamn fucking problem or responsibility to soothe you and reassure you.
A: That’s not what I’m looking for, I’m looking for answers. I’m just taken aback by how sudden your emotions changed. You even said you saw no reason to stop sleeping with me a couple of weeks ago, so I’m just a little confused.
Me: That was over a month ago. Jesus Christ.
A: A month is not a long time?
Me: Are you saying that I shouldn’t be telling you that I don’t want you to fuck me anymore because I told you over a month ago that I didn’t see a reason to stop? Do you know who I am, what I do, what I stand for? No, you don’t, because if you did, you never would have done what you did to me if you did, you wouldn’t be making feel this shitty for saying no.
A: This is not about you saying no. I respect that. I’m not trying to push for anything, I’m sorry if I came across that way. But I’ve been doing nothing but cry since you told me that, and I just feel so fucking lost. I’d like closure on my end, if you can give me that.
Me: You don’t deserve anything from me. I don’t deserve your bullshit.
A: I agree. I’m sorry then, I’ll deal with it.
A couple of hours later:
A: I wanted to say thank you for everything this past year. Thank you for letting me be a part of your love, even though I have done you wrong so many times. I’ve learned a lot from you on what it really means to love someone. I’ve been wanting to say this to you for a couple of months now, trying to formulate the right words, and when you told me you wanted to stop, I knew it was the right time to say something. I don’t know where our friendship goes from here, but I do know I love you.
Me: You have a really selfish and fucked up way of expressing your love. You tell me you love me, yet you perpetrated the exact context of my rape, and threatened to kill yourself so I would hear you out when I was trying to process how I felt. That you got this caught up over me telling you that I didn’t want to have sex with you anymore speaks volumes to me. I can never trust your word. Ever.
A: My definition of love was never clear, I knew that, and I told you. I’m sorry Roslyn, but what do you feel when the love of your life tells you they’ve been with someone else? (He knew that I identified as polyam, btw) Wouldn’t you feel jealous too? Hurt? Angry? From the start, you told me you’d have to stop being physical with me one day, and I’ve been trying to slowly accept that. But my feelings for you never wavered, and I accept that I’m going to love you, and it doesn’t matter who you’re with. When you say you’re happy, it makes me happy too. I am unhappy about the fact that we have to stop having sex with each other. I’ve said before that sex is just another way of expressing one’s love. I will miss the physical intimacy.
After this “conversation,” I removed Alex from my social media accounts. I blocked his number. I wrote “TO THE RAPIST ON THE FIRST FLOOR” on a garbage bag with his Lana Del Rey vinyls in them, and left it on his front porch for his neighbours and roommate to see. Those last messages were the final nails in the coffin that was our relationship, his presence in my life.
I always thought that an emotionally abusive relationship was one where the abuser breaks their partner, gaslighting them into believing that their partner would be nothing without their love. Never did I imagine that the opposite could happen.
Alex preyed on my superhuman capacity for love and compassion; he wielded my love for him as a weapon against me, against my autonomy. I realized that he had been leveraging his never being in a relationship before to guilt me into giving him another chance every time he fucked up. He’d play up just how pathetic and emotionally immature he was so that I would feel sorry for him and stay.
Instead of making me believe that I would be nothing without him, Alex made believe me that he could not survive without me. He made me feel like I had a duty as his best friend and as his first lover to love him unconditionally and tolerate his bullshit. It took me a year to finally realize that I was not responsible for his choices, that I had no obligation to stay with him if he was hurting me.
“If he loved you, he wouldn’t have raped you. If he really didn’t know it was wrong and was so guilty, he wouldn’t have threatened to kill himself. If he was really just overly emotional at that point, then he would not have slept with you again after that. If he really understood, he wouldn’t have reacted like he did when it broke off. But he didn’t do any of that because he’s a selfish sociopath.”