Dating After Sexual Abuse: Who Was I Attracting?

Sep 25th, 2011 | By | Category: All Posts, Bethany's Blog

by Bethany Ruck

I grew up watching Disney movies, dreaming that one day I could be the heroine of the story or wed a handsome prince. I yearned to live out an epic romance, where I would be swept off my feet by a loving man. I wanted a guy to see me and think, “Wow! That’s the type of woman I’ve been searching for my entire life.” And I thought I knew just the way to achieve that.

I have naturally curly hair—the kind of curls that go “boing” when you pull them. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been flooded with compliments from people who were jealous of my spiral, blonde locks. But for just as long, I’ve despised my hair. I was different from the other kids, and always found myself wanting smooth and sleek hair. I spent the majority of my life angry at genetics, wondering why I had to be born with this curly mess of a head.

I thought of curly hair as something that should be reserved for little girls, like Shirley Temple, Little Orphan Annie, or Curly Sue. To me, a little girl was someone who couldn’t protect herself—a victim. As a little girl, I had no control over the sexual abuse I experienced. It was terrifying to know that I never had a choice in what was done to me. I was powerless to stop my abuser, because I was a defenseless little girl.

I didn’t want to be that little girl anymore. I thought that if I could shed that image, I would have the control I craved. I wanted to become a woman—in control of my life and my sexuality. I saw beautiful woman with their perfect Victoria’s Secret-esque blowouts and wanted what they had. With their smooth hair and every lock in its place, they seemed like women who had it all.

By the time I was in junior high, I began experimenting with different straightening methods. My efforts only resulted in having a slightly less curly ball of frizz—not the look I was going for. Until my senior year of high school, I was still attempting to tame the curls I was born with, but with no luck. My battle with nature always left me defeated and frizzy. I finally retreated with my tail between my legs. I wasn’t happy to have curly hair, but I decided I would no longer make attempts to fight it on a monthly basis.

When I was twenty-one, I finally happened upon a blow dryer that made all of my hair dreams come true. Sure, it took me an hour, but I could get silky-smooth hair with a simple blow out. I’ve been concealing my curly hair ever since.

Everything seemed to change for me after that. For the first time in my life I felt sexy. I would walk into a room with the song, “Man-Eater” playing in my head. I no longer saw myself as a cute girl, but as beautiful woman, the object of desire, someone in control.

I’ve been taking a look at my dating life with a magnifying glass lately—or rather, my lack of a dating life. The type of men who approached me were the charmers, the players—guys who were just looking for a one night stand. I could see right through them, but I couldn’t understand why I kept attracting that type of guy.

The illusion of control didn’t actually give me control. I wasn’t any less vulnerable just because I changed my appearance.

My hair dreams came true, but my romantic dreams didn’t. Then, I had an aha moment. For five years, I’ve had the bombshell hair I once coveted, but what I failed to realize was that those girls were lusted after, not pined after. Straightening my hair was a method of concealing my former self and hiding the vulnerable little girl inside. I thought that if I could look different, I could be someone else. But the someone else I became was neither good, nor fitting. The illusion of control didn’t actually give me control. I wasn’t any less vulnerable just because I changed my appearance.

The person I really am is a fun, quirky girl who is wholesome. The image I was trying to put on contradicted that. I was attracting men based on my false identity. I was walking around with the image of a femme fatale because I pictured that as someone who was in control, and that’s what guys were picking up on. My hair changed my perception of myself, but it also changed others perceptions of me. Until I changed the image I had of myself, all I would get was men attracted to me for the wrong reasons. There was nothing wrong with a beautifully blown-out hairdo. There was something wrong with the false identity I put on. 

I didn’t want a casual affair; I wanted a romance. I began seeing myself for the woman I had become, despite what my hair looked like. I’m no longer a little girl. I’m strong and outspoken. I came to my own defense when I reported my father for sexually abusing me. I stood up to my family. I protected myself. Those actions require a confident, independent woman–which I had become. As I changed my perception of myself, my perception of curly hair began to change. I no longer saw it as the mark of a victim. Curly hair doesn’t mean I’m out of control. Regardless of what my hair looks like, I’m not defenseless. I’m empowered to do something about my life.

I finally gave up trying to be something I’m not and embraced my curls. I own my curly hair. Instead of feeling like a victim of genetics, I feel like the heroine of a Jane Austen novel, written just for me. I now see my curly hair as romantic, something that adds to my beauty. For the first time in a long time, I feel like myself. I’m comfortable in my skin (and in my hair). I have hair that matches my spunky personality. Instead of seeing myself as different like it’s a bad thing, I see myself as set apart. Others are seeing me that way too. Since changing my perception of myself, I’ve changed the men I’ve been attracting. Now that I’m presenting my real self, I’m ready for a real relationship.

Related Posts:
Dating After Sexual Abuse: Is This Love?
Me and My Shadow
How Can I be Myself if I Don’t Know Who That is?

Bethany Ruck is cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print.

[read Bethany's story here]

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27 comments
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  1. Bethany,
    You’re so beautiful–inside and out. I’m so glad you’re embracing your true self, however you choose to wear your hair. It’s been so wonderful to see you grow into a strong woman. I’m amazed by all the changes in the past couple of years. I’m so proud of you!
    Love, Mom

  2. Thanks mom! I’m excited about where this new insight will take me. :)

  3. Bethany,

    Thank you for sharing this. It was life changing when I started to accept the real me and remove the masks that I wore. My biggest fault, in my eyes, was when my family would call me Patty. Patty was the weak child and when I was called that, I could feel myself disappear like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. Just melt down to nothing-ness. It wasn’t until after much healing, and taking off the masks that I wore, that I have been able to use Patty, boldly, and proudly. This is me. Not a weak child, but a strong adult. It’s not the name, it’s who I am inside. Call me anything you want, I know who I am.

    Thank you for sharing a great blog. Patty

  4. Patty, I remember you sharing that a while back. It’s amazing what small, unrelated things we associate with being a victim. I’m glad you’re “Patty” now. It’s sweet, it’s free! It fits you. :)

  5. Bethany and Patty

    I can so relate to what your writting and I guess I need to site down and do a lot of thinking. People used to tell me “girl your bright” and I always related that to my abuser who is really bright and knows how to use it to his advantage which has had some unpleasnt consequences for me. Today I understand that just because people say im bright, doesnt mean that im anything like him. All it means is that I can chose to use my head and do the right things. I changes my name 10y ago or rather I added the name im using now, I still have my original name too, but I get so angry when people use it. I dont know if I could do like you Patty grow to a point where my original name becomes mine, but maybe its okay that I cant do that. With my new name I feel much more like me. But I think I need to think about why I cant use my original name and why I get so angry when other people use it.
    Great blog Bethany

  6. Willow, I’m glad you enjoyed the blog. It’s very easy to associate little things like that with the abuse. I really had to think, my hair is my own. I’m not letting anyone take that away from me. Your name is your own!

  7. Bethany
    I can’t even begin to tell you how much I relate to this post. I even had the same song running through MY head! (and I am WAY older then you, but that song is pretty old…) What struck me profoundly is that I embraced my curly hair ~ I had long straight hair till puberty and then wham there was frizz and all that, so I cut it short at age 14 and when I grew it out again that was when I became all the things you were with straight hair. My hair was my identity. And sexuality was all that mattered and I came to the SAME conclusions as you did in the end. My hair was all about sending a message. It was my false identity ~ how I hid, how I survived, how I played the game I had learned to play and where I believed my true value was based. (in my looks and appeal to men) I had so much false identity around my looks/body and hair to sort through in the process.
    Great article… I could write a lot more about my reactions… wow!
    Hugs, Darlene

  8. I relate to you I had Brown Curly hair and I hated my hair I wanted to be blond and straight hair. Funny how we dont like what we have. When I accepted me as I am then my life started to change. Today I wear my hair curly as it is and brown with some grey. I dont even dye my hair as it falls out when I do so I just am who I am. It feels good. I am older then you are. I felt like I hated myself until my 30s then I started to accept myself as I am. Now in my 40s I love myself and I am who I am at any given moment. Thanks for this writing. Very good. You should be so proud of yourself.

  9. Thanks, Darlene. I had a dream a few weeks ago about my hair falling out and I decided to look up what it that usually symbolizes. Here is one of the things it said, “To see hair in your dream signifies sexual virility, seduction, sensuality, vanity, and health. It is indicative of your attitudes.” I thought it was so true. Women attach so much value and identity to their hair. The better I thought my hair looked, the more seductive I became.

    Angela, doesn’t it feel good to embrace it… No matter how long we tried to fight it. :)

  10. So true bethany it feels wonderful to walk through the struggles. Today I can walk with my head up high and be proud of who I am today. I am ok and like who I am and I am comfortable in my own skin today.
    Hugs Angela

  11. Thanx for sharing such sorrow of life ,It was shocking for me to hear abuse by your own. Here parents can never do such thing .

  12. Jarnail, I’m assuming that you might be Indian from your name. Are you trying to say that parents in India can never abuse their kids?! Being Indian myself, it outrages me when I hear people say “It doesn’t happen in our culture”. Indian parents do sexually abuse their kids, but their kids keep quiet to protect family honor and avoid societal shame. Sexual abuse is one of Indian society’s worst kept secrets.

  13. BTW, Jarnail-You can check out my blog. There’s plenty of examples of “parents here doing such thing”. The problem is that if an Indian speaks out about abuse, most people will not believe her/him. Their immediate thought is “It’s not possible for Indian parents to do that.”

    I’m sorry if I’m going off-topic, but people need to be aware. Sexual abuse and incest just isn’t some American occurrence.

  14. Absolutely, abuse is not just an American issue. It happens all over the world.

  15. Wow; I read Jane Eyre and got such a lot from that book. I also have curly hair; my parents would call me little orphan Annie. (and I totally was.) I slept in different peoples houses all the time; and I was usually in dirty clothes. From my teen years much more so. I attracted a drug dealer, a man I married and found out he was cheating straight afterwards.
    I have slept with people I didn’t know and taken antipsychotics when I thought I was losing my mind.
    I have run off down the country and had to be brought back sedated.
    I was so fucking angry! And I had no clue it was all because My 32 year old stepbrother sexually exploited me when I was 15. My parents let it happen. They only said something when it became painfully obvious that he was having sex with me.
    I took the blame, and have had problems ever since.

  16. Bethany,-It’s going to take a really long time to help people in India realize that incest/sexual abuse just not an American problem. I’m shocked at what some of my friends go through when they try to spread awareness about sexual abuse. They are laughed at , called attention whores, sluts, etc. If that’s the attitude, you can’t blame why so many victims keep quiet and pretend that there’s nothing wrong.

  17. Kelly, I’m so sorry your parents didn’t protect you. What your brother did to you was not your fault.

    Nolongeraslave, I agree. It’s going to take a lot of change. I don’t think it’s quite as bad here in America, but I still think it’s pretty bad. The abusive system is set up to blame the victim and protect the abuser. As long as people continue to have that thinking it’s going to be a slow process.

  18. nolongeraslave hat still happens in America too, trust me- but it must really suck to be in a country where that attitude is in the majority and there are a lot less resources to find help.

    Bethany thanks for writing this. I’ve read a lot of experiences where people were afraid of puberty or growing up so I’m glad I’m not the only one who was glad to try to leave behind the childhood victim. I got my period when I was 9 and was a B cup by 6th grade and at first I was happy… I also have hair issues because I’m black and have typical black, kinky hair and my grandmother made me wear it in braids so now I always get relaxers but now I do it to make it easier to maintain, not to try to fit in or avoid ridicule.

    I didn’t pull off the femme fatale thing convincingly at all. I’m not dating right now because all I attracted were people that wanted to use me as a one night stand or abusive moochers.

  19. Glad this helped. :)

  20. Hi Its Clare Manley
    I didnt think that I would of found any one after I got Abused because thats how I thought it would be like the disney films but I must of might my man sweept me off of my feet. Its taken me a While to adjust to things but still getting stuck on some issiues like Sex it all seems scary to me. People keep telling me it will take time but to me people dont understand Im trying my hardest to make appoint about what happened but they dont want to know. thats why Im finding this website good because you can actuley talk to people that have been in the same situation as me.

    From Clare Manley

  21. Clare, I’m glad the site has been a help to you.

  22. Wow… Thank you so much for sharing Bethany! I am married to a man who does completely love me, but I still attract the married man looking for a casual fling. I hate it. I see what I am doing now… In my professional life, I put on a thick exterior wall of no emotions. In my personal life I am more open and emotional. All these years, (I am 39) and I never could figure it out. Thank you so much!

  23. Yeah, it resonates. Yesterday, I was pondering how I spent so many years trying to choke down that deep breath with cigarettes. People always assumed that I smoked because I thought it looked cool, but it was a “slow suicide” really. I kind of think that a lot of the unhealthy actions of alcohol, smoking, drugs are not just numbing, but also to literally bring a kind of balance to the picture of who we see, after the abuse. I too was that curly haired girl. One day I took those curls and decked them out, slapped a skin tight dress on the curves and proceeded to “take control”. I kept saying that if I was going to be in bad situations, at least I’d know what was coming, and that would somehow give me control. Of course, now, after many years of retrospect and a little therapy, I realize the control I lost, was never mine, and there was never anything to regain. I was a total contradiction for many years, and its left me out of sorts for a while, but with much wisdom to share. Some days I tame my “shame” and strut with an air of sophistication. Other days I rock my locks and love ‘em. I look forward to showing my daughter how to rock hers one day , if she wants to. ;) !

  24. Hi Its Clare
    I am so struggerling with the next move which is Sex I am so Scared but it feels as if no one is Understanding me I thought that my Fianca understood what happened to me but seems to keep pushing me My Social worker says that perhaps I should see a Sexuall Councerler but have been there and it didnt work. I tried to talk to my Fianca on holiday but he got really cross and blamed me so much for being understanding he keeps buying me gifts which I cant aford to keep buying him gifts please help me.

    From Clare

  25. I too am a child sexual abuse survivor and as far back as I can remember I wanted to change my physical appearance. I can remember being in second grade and wanting to change my hazel eyes to blue. I think that’s the nature of the beast, unfortunately. I too, also attract really charming people who don’t have a desire to form a real, authentic connection. Thank you for posting this was very helpful.

  26. That’s nuts. My mom never let me cut my hair. She was my abuser and dictated every outfit and every hair style for years. She decided to start perming my hair when I was 8 and had it done for years. She decided I needed blond streaks, none of these choices were ever mine even though I bought into her reasons for changing my hair. She always told me I’d look horrible and that I don’t have the right face shape for cutting my hair short. After I cut ties and married an amazing, healthy man, I got the courage and chopped it off. It’s funny be cause I too always related my long hair to being treated like a little girl or someone not to be taken seriously. Differently from your story, I felt like I found my “look” when I cut off my hair. I feel like I was just chopping away the ropes that were holding me down.

    Thank you so much for sharing. Keep it up!

  27. You look a lot younger than I was when I realized I had the illusion of control but not really control. As far as your hair, yea it looks beautiful—and actually not at all like the curls of a little girl. I myself used to had my curly locks when I was a kid. My hair is less curly now–more wavy than curly. But the one thing I always hated the most and still hate is my freckles.

    If I could get rid of them I would. It’s my freckles that most make me feel like such a little girl and for a long time people always thought I was younger than I really was and thus always treated me like a child. I’m almost 40 years old and I feel like I have to stand up for my rights all the time and say, “I’m not a little girl anymore! I’m a woman!”

    Even at my age I have that problem. One other thing I can share: I felt on top of the world in my 20s when I lost over 30 pounds. I was for once at my ideal weight for my body size. Still, it didn’t make any difference in the kind of men I attracted. I at one point also had to realize it was an “inside thing” not anything on the outside. I could kick myself for all the times I overlooked the nice guys to fall in love with the player type, too. It’s not entirely our fault though.

    I think people who’ve been through what we’ve been through–being constantly told lies by a dad who abused us–that we just get used to hearing what we want to hear versus what is really being said. I’m not entirely sure how to connect the “illusion of being in control” with the fact that I always attracted the wrong kind of guys, though.

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