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Reflections on various theories – The recovered memory debate, part II

Posted in health, mental health, personal, science, Uncategorized with tags , , , on July 13, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher

Like I promised, I´ll try to clarify my own position in the memory wars. Let me first say that I don´t have a definite opinion. All that I have to evaluate the different positions floating around out there – are my own experiences. And the stuff I read for my paper. There are many different opinions and positions, and I cannot deal with all of them. So what I will do first is look at the two extremes.

Two extreme positions

Extreme No. 1) It is impossible to recover any accurate memories of traumatic events, repression doesn´t exists, dissociative disorders are iatrogenic. There are no hidden memories secretly influencing us.

Extreme No. 2) All our memories are still somewhere there in our unconscious, but they might not be accessible due to repression or dissociation. If you feel like you might have been abused as a kid (and repressed the memories) it is probably true. Every image that comes up is taken at face value.

I feel that my experiences contradict both extremes. It is very obviously possible to develop false memories (and even worse: They don´t necessarily have to be iatrogenically induced!) – but it is also possible to forget about bad experiences only to suddenly remember them years later.

Adherents of Extreme No. 1 might argue that me not thinking about my experience for years was nothing more than ordinary forgetfulness. We cannot be conscious of all our memories all the time, after all. It seems to make a difference to me, though, if you don´t think about the fact that you liked chocolate ice cream in fifth grade for years, or if you think nostalgically about your childhood friend without being remotely aware that, aside from being your best friend, she was also quite a bully. I was thinking of her, I hadn´t forgotten her, but my image of her was remarkably distorted or at least very one-sided. Now that I have my memory back, I don´t think about the incident every day. I rarely think about it at all. But when I think about Chasey, my memory of the incident plays a crucial part in how I think of her. There is a difference between not thinking about something and not being aware that it ever happened.

Another thing is that even while I was still idolizing her, the lessons I had learned from the incident I had forgotten were influencing me. A while before I remembered it I was sitting in a park with some friends. I had taken off my shoes because it was a hot day. A guy our age started to yell insults at us, then came over. I immediately grabbed my shoes – in order to protect them. I didn´t question my action, it was just something I did. I felt a rush of anxiety when he approached us and my reaction was: “Don´t let him take your shoes, or you cannot insult him back anymore.” The fear that he could take something that belonged to me as a “hostage”, thus leaving me at his mercy, seems to be very much in line with my experience of being blackmailed into saying stuff.

So, judging by my experiences, both extreme opinions are not tenable. Our memories are not all hidden somewhere in our unconscious, crystal clear and complete. They can easily be conflated with false memories. Some memories can be entirely false. But we can be unaware of ugly past experiences and still be influenced by them while having a completely distorted picture of the people involved in these events; and we can regain memories of those experiences.

How memories might be “forgotten”

So how are memories of bad events forgotten? There are basically two theories: 1) Repression. 2) Dissociation.

Both concepts are frequently conflated, which is unfortunate, because from what I´ve read I conclude that they are actually quite different things. My thoughts about this are based on Henri Ellenberger´s The Discovery of the Unconscious and German psychologist Lydia Hantke´s essay Trauma und Dissoziation (Trauma and Dissociation). Hantke traces back the theory of dissociation to Pierre Janet, a contemporary of Freud.

From what I have gleaned through these works, Janet believed that we are constantly busy integrating everything that happens to us (also emotions) into our consciousness. Sometimes, though, certain emotions like intense fear might overwhelm our capacities of integration.

Now, there are two slightly different options again. As far as I understood Janet, he thinks that our memories of the event that overwhelmed us are split off, meaning that our future consciousness is narrowed. Dissociation, in his view, means that the parts split off develop an ability to integrate experiences as well.

Another theory I frequently encounter is that in a state in which we are overwhelmed, we can no longer process all the information; which means that much of the information about the overwhelming situation never enters our consciousness. In this theory, this process is what is called “dissociation”.  The result is that we have no explicit memory of the event. We do, however, pick up information unconsciously which is stored as implicit memory. The implicit memory, however, is not a little piece of consciousness. It simply isn´t conscious.

Now for repression. The way Ellenberger and Hantke describe it, Freud seems to have seen shame as the driving force behind repression. We push events or feelings out of our consciousness when we feel ashamed of them or cannot accept them as part of our self-image.

So where is the big difference?

The big difference is that in the two dissociation theories the ugly event/feeling never fully entered our consciousness. The splitting off happened during the event. In the case of repression, however, we are fully aware of the event until we decide to repress the memory of it. At least in the second dissociation theory, a memory is never even formed

So what do those theories imply for recovered memories?

In the case of repression, an explicit memory of the event has been formed at some point, though, according to repression theory, it is inaccessible due to resistance. This theory is compatible with the idea that one might recover an explicit memory, that is, a narrative.

In the second case of dissociation, no explicit memory has ever been formed, which suggests that any narrative or memory suddenly popping up would be false. I´m cautious to judge that, though, because we do not know terribly much about how the brain works. Which is also why I´m stunned at the militance found in the memory debate.

So, how about Janet´s version of dissociation theory? It seems to be a bit different from the theory that says that our consciousness gets cut off from information during trauma. Janet is talking about a splitting of consciousness during overwhelming events. The result of this is that our normal consciousness is narrowed, and the memory, or the information collected during the event, carries a little bit of consciousness of its own.  So – is this memory, too, merely an implicit one, or is there an explicit memory stored somewhere that never entered our consciousness? This model does differ from the repression theory, since in the case of repression, the memory has originally been part of our consciousness, and it is not split off, but it is stored away into a different entity, the unconscious. I guess in the case of repression, our consciousness is not narrowed, but that is just me trying to distinguish the two theories. So, basically repression means to actively push away an uncomfortable memory, and dissociation by Janet´s definition means that your consciousness is shattered and that you develop, if not a multiplicity of selves, then at least a more than one consciousness, though there is still one main consciousness and one or more fragments.

I hope I have correctly depicted the respective theories. I´m merely an interested layman with some personal involvement.

I believe some of the recovered memory skeptics hold the opinion that repression and splitting of consciousness does not exist while believing that there can be a blockade of information during trauma, leading to memories never being formed. I wonder if, under circumstances like these, it would be possible to not know the trauma has ever taken place. They might argue that while a person might have amnesia for certain parts or even all of her car accident, she would always know she´d been in one. It would be part of the narrative, the plot of her life, just the way I knew I had somehow walked from my home to Chasey´s place even though I don´t remember how (which is quite normal because it is probably fairly insignificant)? Would she wake up in hospital and be aware that she has had a car accident even though she doesn´t remember any of it?

That type of knowledge is possible, I believe. I remember having an alcohol blackout three years ago. I only remember bits and pieces, obviously, but I was never unconscious. I lost the plot several times throughout the blackout, but whenever I came to, I knew exactly where I was and what was going on, even though I had no memories of the immediate past.

But what, though, if the person woke up in hospital knowing nothing? She will be told she has been in an accident, she´ll be shown the car wreck, but for all she knows she might as well have been abducted by aliens. Nothing about the story feels familiar to her. Still, though, that way she´d always know something has happened to her. She would wake up in hospital knowing something is wrong, and she would later remember that moment, it would be part of her personal history. How about it, though, if the trauma had never been acknowledged or noticed for whatever reason? If we´re talking about a kid, aren´t there possibilities that the disorientation, the confusion, the fear could somehow be excluded from the personal narrative? Exist as some confused, strange fragments of memory that sometimes, rarely come up and somehow just don´t seem to fit the picture?

I have no idea. Basically, I´m just trying to sort out the various thoughts I have about this subject. I might go on at some other point, I feel I´m getting stuck here at the moment.


Stuff that upsets me

Posted in college, health, mental health, personal, Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 6, 2012 by theweirdphilosopher


While writing my account about my time with Dr. Stoneface, I realized how much it helped me sort out my thoughts – and also, it helped me realize how that time influences me until today. I think it might be a good idea to look into my past in general and write about stuff that affected me in a bad way. Since I sort of relived one of these experiences recently, I will start with that one.

At first I didn´t even realize I was reliving an old experience. I just felt horribly upset and didn´t understand where it was coming from. Thing is, I am currently attending a class about forensic psychology. I am interested in crime, I am interested in serial killers – that class was an obvious choice. Most of the time, however, it is extremely boring, because all we are ever told is what kind of tests are used by forensic psychologists in order to determine if a criminal can be held accountable, or if he will commit crimes in the future. In part, those tests are ridiculously naive (a child could see through them), in part, they are borderline unconstitutional. I didn´t know yet that opinions on welfare policy can predict criminal behavior. I hope I just misunderstood that part of the test, seriously.

That is really not what I wanted to talk about, though. Now for the part I want to talk about.

All students have to give presentations in that class. I, too, signed up for one. I don´t study psychology, but I have read so much psychological material that I was fairly confident I could make it (and I was right). My presentation dealt with secondary victimization. There were two presentations each session (basically meaning that the class was held by students and there was no time for discussion). I was giving the second presentation. The girl who was giving the first presentation was talking about victimology in general, but particularly about victim behavior and its influence on the perpetrator. I´ve read a book by a German police office who studies serial killers that dealt just with that: victim behavior; and that book had been extremely fascinating – and sensitive. The question what role the victim´s own behavior has played in his/her victimization is a touchy one, after all. Asking that question can easily turn into victim blaming. And that was just where the girl´s presentation was headed.

It started when she introduced an out-of-date model of victim categorization. One category was “innocent victims”, including kids, or people who were sleeping, mentally challenged…you get my drift. Even the name of that category was preposterous – it suggests, after all, that all other victims were not innocent. Indeed, the categories were defined by how much the victim had made him-/herself available and vulnerable to the crime, up to the category “provocative victims”. When asked to provide an example for that, the girl said: “Well, like, a woman who goes through the park at night alone.” “Yes,” our lecturer chimed in, “and best of all in a mini-skirt!”

Our lecturer, by the way, is an extremely pretty, soft-looking woman in her early thirties. You´d think that in her own interest she´d be careful with statements like that, if nothing else. What I mean by “if nothing else”? Well, she is a GOD DAMN PSYCHOLOGIST!!! She should know that “lonely woman wearing short skirt in dark part at night” is not the typical rape victim!!! And neither is “complete stranger with evil motives” the typical rapist. So what exactly was that woman thinking?!

Most of the attendants of the class were female, so there was some general discomfort about that statement. Our lecturer brushed it off, though. “Of course this is not about victim blaming. It is about a scientific investigation of what happens between victim and perpetrator. And it is a fact that there is no perpetrator without a victim. Perpetrators stalk the streets many nights, but only if they find someone, a crime is committed. So, yes, the availability of a victim is an important element!”

Now that I write it down I realize how crazily she has turned things around here. Let me take this apart step by step.

1) Her assertion that she has no intention to blame the victim is perfectly meaningless. It is, in fact, what she does.

2) Bringing science into it makes it sound as if those who are upset with the statement are somehow anti-science; feminist fanatics who “don´t want to see the truth”. Which is not the case. In fact, science suggests that the mini-skirt cliché is very far from the reality of rape. In the study I read, for example, it became very clear that no matter what motives the respective killers had, the victim´s clothing never played a role.

3) It is not true that there is no perpetrator without a victim. It is exactly the other way round. A girl walking through a park is not a victim. It is the perpetrator who victimizes her.

Some girl asked the lecturer if people who boarded a plane were “provocative victims” too; they made themselves vulnerable to terrorists, after all. I think this statement brilliantly brought out the absurdity of the lecturer´s argument. “Yeah,” I said, trying to sound as if I was merely joking, “poor terrorists just couldn´t help themselves!” In fact, I was so upset my voice was shaking. I was considering to just leave.

“No”, the lecturer said coolly, “those are random victims who are victimized because they are in the wrong place at the wrong time without their fault.”

And how does that not apply to people who are assaulted while walking through a park? Walking through a park is no more of a risk-taking behavior than traveling by plane. Or driving a car, for that matter.

The lecturer got further into the subject and explained that rapists are punished according to their individual guiltiness. You´d think that rape is always rape, but in fact, rapists who break into houses and attack sleeping people are seen as more guilty than those who rape someone who has kissed them before. “This is something you really have to teach young girls, because many of them don´t realize it!”, she said. “If you make out with someone or agree to go home with him, then you are signaling your readiness to have sex with him. If then you suddenly change your mind, you will get some reaction, and sometimes that reaction unfortunately is rape.”

At this point I was so upset that my hands were actually shaking. I couldn´t look at anyone because I feared they would see how angry I was and think: “Oh, apparently she has been raped because she was stupid enough to go with someone and change her mind.” I was scared that if someone saw I was upset they would start to challenge me, or start arguing with me and not let go of it until they had somehow broken me down. If you wonder where that´s coming from: Family. I will talk about that at some other point.

I felt like I ought to do something dramatic, like jumping up, leaving the room and slamming the door behind me. As the discussion went on, I sometimes muttered sarcastic remarks under my breath and at the same time I hated myself for it. It´s not like I have any friends in my class. I was a bit like the lonely old man with the strange beard who sits in the corner and talks to himself. And yet I couldn´t help it. I felt like I was being judged, blamed, scrutinized. I felt like I was told that I would deserve to be raped. Or at least that if it was only logical if I was raped. That the men I had encountered had just been merciful. I felt like I was helpless, defenseless, at the mercy of anyone with a y-chromosome. I thought, what the hell is wrong with me? Why am I reacting like that? It´s not like I have ever BEEN raped, after all! Why am I being such a drama queen, why do I take this so personal? And sometimes, somewhere in between, I wondered: How am I ever going to give that presentation, in the shape I´m in?

The dreadful discussion ended at some point and there was a little break before my presentation. I went to the restrooms to calm down a bit. When I returned, the lecturer demanded to know why I hadn´t prepared a Power Point presentation. I mumbled an excuse about how PP didn´t work on my computer and she asked why I hadn´t used one of the computers in the library. I simply stared onto the desk in front of me until she gave up. I guess it says a lot about my mental state that I resorted to playing dead in order to make the conflict just go away.

I felt under an immense pressure to give a good presentation, now that she had bitched at me about not having a stupid PP thing running behind me while I was talking. It turned out I actually succeeded. Not only did I manage to give my presentation in half an hour, meaning that we finished on time; afterwards suddenly everybody came to me and told me how great my presentation I had been, and that it had actually been possible to listen to me, and that I had such a pleasant voice; and the lecturer told me how much she approved my list of references. It was a very strange feeling, given that until a few minutes ago I had seen everybody in that room as an enemy. I felt disoriented and overwhelmed and I just wanted to be alone. A boy walked with me to the underground station, waffling about how it might not so much be the rape itself that harms women, but the reaction, the being seen as a victim, the fuss that´s being made about them, and I thought, boy, I don´t know and I don´t care what your agenda is, but I don´t want to be part of it! When he wanted my opinion on this, I just said: “Well, thankfully I wouldn´t know!” And thankfully he finally left.

I went down to the platform and I saw I´d have to wait for 10 minutes. Normally, that´s just annoying, but right now I felt I couldn´t take it. I couldn´t stand being around people, even if they were strangers. I felt incredibly awkward, like everybody was staring at me. I intensely and uncomfortably felt my body, felt like certain parts, such as my butt, were sticking out obscenely. I could as well have been naked.

I more or less fled the underground station and ended up walking half the way home before I finally caught a train a few stations to the north. I simply had to keep moving, running almost. I couldn´t look anybody in the face. It was like a sudden, extreme attack of social anxiety. And then the coin finally dropped. I remembered a time when I had felt like that before. It was almost ten years ago, shortly after an experience with a person I hesitate to call my second boyfriend.

I had just turned 15, he was 21. I had met him during a one-week work experience. My best friend at the time, Lola, was doing her work experience at the same place, and we both found him attractive. He decided to go on a date with me, though. It might have been the first and only time that a guy chose me over my best friend, whoever the best friend in question was. We exchanged phone numbers and he suggested that we should go to some lake outside the city.

When I told my mother about this, she first of all quizzed me about the guy. Age, occupation, family background, all kinds of stuff I didn´t know about him because, what the hell, I had only met him once. When she learned where we wanted to meet, she actually forbade me to go to a lonely lake with him (which was very reasonable). I don´t quite understand why I myself was so careless. I wasn´t dumb, normally. I was in many ways mature for my age. I was good at school, I was interested in politics, I engaged in difficult discussions about society, ethics and human nature. My behavior in this specific regard was completely out of character.

The reason was clearly not that I was blindly in love with him. I rather felt like dating him was an opportunity I couldn´t waste because it didn´t happen often that somebody picked me over someone else. It didn´t happen often that somebody picked me. When he actually kissed me, I was resigned rather than excited. So now I was in a relationship with him. I was already wondering how I was going to get out of it again. For some reason, though, saying no or breaking up never crossed my mind.

Since I was not allowed to go to the lake, we went into an extended park in the city. He had a beer, I had a coke. Then we sat down on a bench and he started kissing and groping me. It all went faster than I thought was right, but I didn´t object. He was good at what he was doing, and I didn´t want to be difficult. Next he suggested we move into a shrubbery where we would be out of sight. I thought that my mother would certainly not approve, but I didn´t know on which grounds I should object. “No, I´d rather not, I´m scared that you could rape me.” Yeah, right. I guess that is a way of getting out of a relationship.

Don´t get me wrong, I think it would have been absolutely right to object. A grown-up might have been in a much better position to object, like “I don´t do this and that on a first date” or “let´s take things slowly”. I didn´t know those phrases yet. I didn´t have my own dating ethics. I was thinking like a kid. I was thinking in terms of “am I allowed to do this”, not in terms of “do I want to do this”. I didn´t even get time to think about it, because by the time I had thought “mum won´t approve” we were already on the way. That´s the thing. He never asked, he just decided and pulled me along. I guess this is where the age difference really showed. He could manipulate me without any effort.

I, however, didn´t believe I was susceptible to manipulation. I was so far ahead in my intellectual development, after all. I was thinking about adult topics, I was talking about adult topics, I was reading about adult topics, and by “adult” I don´t mean sex, I mean politics, news, society and ethics. I didn´t see myself as a fifteen-year-old. I thought that I had skipped puberty. To put it bluntly, I simply didn´t know how young I still was.

And there was yet another thing. I had grown up in a very liberal family. A very non-religious family, too. And for all I knew, religion was the only reason not to have sex. I had been groomed to believe that everybody wanted sex, that sex was inherently good, and that being a prude was irrational and anti-feminist. I had never been told that choosing not to have sex is a valid choice. That you might want to take things slowly even if you are an atheist, which I still am. That the most important thing about sex is not whether you want to be labeled as a “religious prude” or a “healthy, emancipated woman” – but whether you feel ready for it, whether you feel comfortable with it. Even if it feels good it can be the wrong choice – and I was clearly too young for it, and he was too old for me.

So we ended up in that shrubbery and immediately he was groping me, kissing me, and I was half naked. It wasn´t unpleasant in itself, but whenever I managed to think I thought that this was too much too soon. At some point I managed to voice my objections. I said “I don´t want our relationship to only consist of this!” I felt like an idiot for saying that, like a cliché woman from a Hollywood movie. I think one reason for this is my sister Irene.

I think that Irene has a huge hatred for stereotypical women, that is, women who are emotional, like pretty things and “withhold” sex even though they enjoy it. (In her book, it is understood that sex is enjoyable and if you don´t enjoy it, go see a doctor.) Irene is tough, sexually aggressive (she hits on guys, she initiates stuff, she proceeds faster than the typical dating protocol recommends), she has short hair and doesn´t wear skirts. I think she really hates anything feminine, because, to her, it reeks of weakness, stupidity and dependence. She once told me that I didn´t have to be in love with my first boyfriend, I just had to start dating and making out at some point in my life, because the longer I waited, the more difficult it would be.

So if my feelings didn´t matter, if objecting for somewhat moral reasons was anathema – on which grounds should I have objected? I was enjoying it physically, after all.

Without a word that guy went behind some bushes and did whatever. I wasn´t sure back then if he was taking a piss or if he was wanking himself off, I guess it was the latter. Isn´t it weird that a kid from a liberal intellectual family knows so little about guys and sex? You should think that such a family would have taken better care to educate their children on sex. But actually I am still horribly naive, at least when it comes to guys. Innocent, almost. This is one of the weird contradictions I keep on noticing in my family history lately.

When he returned, we tried to talk, but almost straight away he was at it again. He asked me what I liked, I answered insecurely that I liked it when he touched my breasts. I was awfully embarrassed. It dawns on me now that this might not have been the answer he expected. He might have wanted to hear what type of stimulation would make me come. He fondled my breasts a bit, then he started to pull down my pants. I protested half-heartedly and he said, “I just want to do something good for you, show you something nice!” He went down on me and it did, in fact, feel good, which makes it all much worse in retrospect. Worse for me, I mean. “Here I go, playing the victim, when he was in fact being that generous! What am I even complaining about?”

Well, what I´m complaining about is the fact that I felt unable to object even though it felt wrong, and the fact that he overrode my weak protests. I think my upbringing might be more at fault for the entire experience than his behavior, but I´m only beginning to understand how much of a role the age difference really played. You don´t know how young and naive you are at age 15 until you´re almost 25. I will try to evaluate in the end whether he was an immature hormone-driven post-teen or if he was scheming and manipulative, but I think it is safe to say he took advantage of my inexperience.

The situation was abruptly ended, however – by my phone ringing. It was my mother.

I know I´m going to sound paranoid, but I feel like she did it on purpose. Not out of worry, but… I don´t know. In order to control me. Or in order to ruin what could have been my first orgasm. (It sickens me writing this now.) There was no way she could possibly have known, and yet I wouldn´t be surprised if somehow she had. She told me to come home, since it was dinner time. I reluctantly agreed, and pulled up my pants. Still, that guy was groping me. We said goodbye at the station, and when I was on my way home, I felt extremely uncomfortable. I felt guilty and ashamed, as if I had something to hide (and indeed I didn´t want my mother to know anything), and I also felt trapped. Ripped out of my old life. Out of my old self.

I didn´t see him for several weeks after that. He didn´t have time. And then, one time I called him, he was only giving short answers and didn´t sound very friendly at all. “What´s wrong?” I asked. “Is this a bad time?” And then, jokingly: “Are you with your girlfriend?”

“Well, actually, yes!” he replied.

I was fairly baffled. I´d had no idea he had a girlfriend. As I learned from him, he wasn´t cheating on me, he was cheating with me on her. “But…that is really not okay…” I said hesitantly. “You should make up your mind.”

“But I don´t know yet if I prefer you or her.” he said nonchalantly. “Why don´t we give ourselves some time to find out?”

An inability to make a clear decision, just like an inability to break up a relationship, was something I could very well empathize with. Also, I wasn´t sure if maybe cheating was normal. Something that inevitably happened at some point. My father, after all, had been cheating on my mother, which was why she had eventually asked him to leave. Nonetheless he was still coming over for family dinner every other day and my parents were going hiking together, so it couldn´t be that bad. I didn´t want to be one of those jealous girlfriends who demanded that their boyfriends never even talked to other girls. I thought that I could be tolerant and liberal. I wanted to handle this like a grown-up, mature person who was above the limitations of the monogamous relationship model.

Now I can clearly see how manipulative his statement was. He was saying: “Hey, you´re not the only girl in my life, there is a test you have to pass! Show me how good of a girlfriend you can be, then we´ll see about a relationship!” How about MY right to see how good of a boyfriend he was, though? I didn´t even consider that I could make the decision that he wasn´t a good boyfriend. I felt like it was not acceptable to turn someone down who was generous enough to be with me. Other people feel like it would be hubris to quit their jobs. I felt like that about the relationship.

I had several rows with my parents about him. They thought he was too old for me (they were right), they wanted to know more about him, even get to know him. I knew that this was not going to happen. Also, I couldn´t give them much information. I didn´t know anything about him. We had hardly talked. Towards my parents, I displayed the opinion that it was none of their business what job he had or where he lived. Fact was, I simply didn´t know it myself. I knew that our “relationship” was far from ideal, but I wasn´t going to admit that to my parents.

Some time during those weeks I had to go to hospital because I had strange cramps in my abdomen. It turned out to be harmless, but I had to stay for the night. I was extremely worried that he might try to call me, and, if he didn´t reach me, just leave me. When I look at it rationally, I understand that nobody who truly likes you would leave you for not answering the phone, but I still have those fears. When I went home again and called him, however, it turned out he hadn´t even tried to call. Nonetheless, we agreed to go on another date. The second date, finally, after three weeks.

The days between my release from hospital and the date were fairly miserable. I didn´t trust my body, I was scared the cramps would return. Also, I felt lonely and lost, as if the world was falling apart. It was summer break, so I didn´t have the fixed structure school provided to hold on to. I was alone at home because my sister had moved out and my mother was working. I was having anxiety attacks, felt like I would never feel at home in the world again. I don´t know if this had anything to do with the guy I was seeing, but it will be important in order to understand what happened at our second date.

We met at some metro station and went into yet another park. It was clear that the purpose of this date was to make out. This time, I was kind of excited about it; I wanted to know what was going to happen, thought it was a good thing. Somehow, though, I failed to get into it. I started talking to him about my anxiety attacks and how bad I had felt the last few days. He replied with some nothings about how I should do more things, have hobbies, have structure. The kind of stuff my parents would say as well. I could take it from him much more easily, though.

Next, we sat down behind some bushes and started making out. Eventually I put my hand into his pants, thinking I was being fairly brave. I didn´t want to be selfish, after all. His penis felt like a weird mixture of soft and hard, and it was oddly slim. It was somewhat disgusting, and very different from what I had expected, even though I didn´t know what exactly I had been expecting. I moved my hand a little, thinking that he surely had to be glad I was doing this without hesitating or being difficult. He, however, started to command me, like “move that way”, “do this”, “do that”. It was starting to disturb me. I felt myself slowly falling out of the trance-like state of consciousness I had been in. He impatiently grabbed my hand and tried to move it the way he wanted me to. I was feeling so embarrassed and distraught that I couldn´t move or say anything. It was like a wall of glass had shattered around me and I was suddenly 15 again. A kid. Not up to this. I started to cry silently, hoping and fearing that he would see it. Eventually I muttered “I´m sorry…I can´t do this” and withdrew my hand. He cursed, jumped up and disappeared behind the bushes to finish himself off.

When he returned, I was still crying silently. I hoped for a consoling word, or for us to talk about this in a friendly manner, but instead he started an argument with me. I switched to angry, started to defend my not going any further. I angrily asked him what he wanted out of this relationship, did he expect me to see him once a week and be his whore? He replied in a sneering tone what I expected, did I think he was going to be my weekly therapy session?

That one hit me an awful lot. It meant that I was – horribile dictu – a complicated, emotional “girl with issues”.  The epitome of undesirable, both in terms of “what boys want” and in terms of what Irene had unwittingly taught me. It meant that I was selfish; that I demanded from him attention and care and him to listen to my boring problems while I refused to pay him back. Pay him back with sex, not with listening. He was not the kind of impolite, ruthless person who bothered others with his personal problems. Talking about your problems to someone, as I had learned from my father and other sources, is a privilege that has to be earned, something that people will bear only if you are a real good friend or a family member. It is not interesting. It does nothing for interpersonal bonding. It is just a burden. Listening to me is a burden. I mean, this here is my own personal blog and nobody is forced to read it – and still I apologize for my long entries, or stop myself from writing on and on, or justify my telling this story.

I next told him that if we didn´t even know each other and if there was no emotional component in this, it meant that I was completely exchangeable. Upon which he told me: “Of course you are exchangeable.” We got into a heated argument, during which he said nice things like: “I myself can get myself better off than you!” There were more things he said, but I don´t remember them. The bad thing about this is that they probably still influence me, and I can´t even resolve it.

We tried to end the argument on a friendly note, him saying: “You silly girl, I don´t want to deflower you! What are you scared of, me or yourself?”, suggesting that I was scared of my own sexuality. For some reason that statement disgusts me to no end.  He was talking down to me, he was entirely missing my point (it was not about certain practices, it was about having a relationship purely based on sex and him not being interested in me as a person), and he was suggesting I was a naive, prude little girl who had to be shown all the “nice”  adult things. I didn´t see myself that way. I saw myself as a person with the mental age of about 32. I saw myself as a liberal person, not a prude. And nonetheless I replied with a horrible, basically misogynist saying that amounts to: “If a girl just puts out, the guy will never get into a serious relationship because he can get for free what otherwise he´d have to pay for.” Rendering the relationship and the emotional connection something he pays to the girl in exchange for sex.

I don´t think relationships should be like that. But somehow this is what I must have learned. I don´t know where and how. I think many women who are taught similar things learn that sex is something bad, that they have to demand a high symbolic prize, in the most extreme case: marriage. What I learned, however, is that sex is good and emotions and talking about your issues is bad. And until I finally realized this today, I have always felt most ashamed for giving such a “stupid”, “conservative” argument.

We eventually agreed that if I wanted to continue our liaison, I should call him when I was back from my holidays. During the holidays, I was fairly sure I was going to call him. I talked to two girls I met there, though, and they insisted I should drop him. Eventually, I didn´t call him back. I didn´t miss him, either.

In the following months I developed the social anxiety I described above. I wrapped myself in a long black coat, I was terrified of people looking at me, I got angry easily. I also started to feel depressed, which will be the issue of a different post. My parents didn´t know what had happened. My mum just made sour, suspicious remarks, like: “Are you sure you are not pregnant?” She apparently never believed me when I said I hadn´t slept with him. My best friend Lola, who knew part of the story, thought I was exaggerating, overreacting. She didn´t understand that suddenly I was not at all interested in dating anymore. I even had trouble fantasizing. I felt like such a loser in bed that any fantasies seemed completely unrealistic to me. When I got into a reverie, it wouldn´t be long until I heard a scornful voice in my head. I started to feel scared of sex, thinking I might not enjoy it and then either be trapped in it or risk another reaction like that. The easiest way I could still fantasize was by seeing myself as a recovering rape victim who had to be treated with extreme care.

Now for how I interpret his behavior: It is obvious that he was not in love with me. It is obvious that he wanted nothing but sexual adventure. It is obvious that he wasn´t dumb (it might not be so obvious in this post, but his vocabulary indicated that he had had some education). It is obvious and it must have been obvious to him that I was a naive 15-year-old with naive ideas about romance and relationships. What can I say? He was a complete asshole? Not just cheating on his girlfriend, but cheating on his girlfriend with half a kid?

Now how does it make me feel when I hear statements like my lecturer´s?  Like I can be glad and grateful that he didn´t rape me because I damn sure gave him a good reason? I´m not even sure if it is the rape issue itself that upsets me in this context, even though her statements clearly were preposterous. It is that her statements somehow confirm that if you go out with a guy and kiss him, he has a right to your sexual availability. Really, where are you supposed to draw the line? If you talk to a guy and tell him all your worries but then don´t kiss him you are leading him on. If you kiss him but don´t make out, you are leading him on. If you make out with him but don´t sleep with him, you are leading him on. I wonder if you are still leading him on if you sleep with him but refuse to play with handcuffs, dildos and whips. No, if he wants that he is an evil weirdo. But seriously – you either have to sleep with a guy if you´ve talked to him about something personal, or you are guilty of leading him on, as if listening to you was such a burden. Well, and leading him on is provocative. The other option is to turn him down as soon as he even tries to some smalltalk. That, however, is rejection, and rejection is provocative, too. It seems you can´t get it right, huh? If a guy wants to be a whiny, sulky,  butthurt rapist, he will always find a reason. If she exists and hasn´t slept with him, then she has done something to deserve it.

This whole dilemma, the walking-on-eggshells between rejecting and leading on his also why I´m dead scared when guys approach me.  I seriously shock-freeze and cannot think clearly anymore. I feel like the situation is not under my control, like I have to please him somehow. I know that all women face this dilemma, and I think I´m reacting more extremely to this than others, which is certainly worth investigating. Nonetheless, though, it is basically this dilemma which makes me so uncomfortable when guys other than my nerd pals approach me.