Should I tell him?
July 23, 2010 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I was sexually assaulted a year ago, and I never told my long-distance boyfriend what happened. Am I morally obligated to talk to him about it?

(quick background info: I'm 22, female, just graduated from college in May. Boyfriend attends grad school in another state, and I'll be moving to his city soon.)

Last July, I was raped by an acquaintance who offered to drive me home after I had too much to drink at a dinner party. I felt pretty awful/depressed for a few weeks, and spent a lot of time discussing the assault with my best friend and my therapist. They helped me see that I wasn't responsible for what happened, and after I came to the realization that it wasn't my fault, I pretty much stopped thinking about it entirely. I feel that how I deal with the aftermath of my assault isn't really anyone's business but my own -- there's no "right" way to heal, and for me, the best way to cope was by trying to move on and rehashing it as little as possible.

I never mentioned the assault to my boyfriend of two years. At first, it was because I felt so guilty and stupid for putting myself in that situation. I felt almost like I had cheated, even though the encounter was violent and absolutely not consensual. After I got over blaming myself, I still didn't tell my SO, because I just didn't want to revisit it.

I didn't think about my assault for months -- I haven't seen the perpetrator, I cut off all contact with our mutual friends, etc -- until yesterday, when I was looking at my calendar and realized that it happened exactly a year ago. I'm now rethinking my decision not to inform my boyfriend.

We just decided to move in together, and on the one hand, I feel like the right thing to do would be to tell him what happened before we start cohabitating. While the event no longer weighs heavily on my mind, I feel like it's something he would want to know.

On the other hand, I know it will upset him a great deal. He's very protective of me, and even contemplating the idea of me having sexual contact with anyone else turns his stomach and ruins his day, if not his week. I don't know if it's worth it to cause him so much distress over something that no longer affects my life on a day-to-day basis (I genuinely don't think that the weight of the secret will eat away at me and poison our relationship, or anything like that). Even though I've never given him a reason to doubt my commitment to the relationship, I worry that he'll question whether the encounter was actually consensual. I feel like "confessing" and giving a blow-by-blow account of what happened, including the fact that I was inebriated, will put me on the defensive and get me back into a mindset where I blame myself for what happened. And I worry that the mere fact that I kept a secret from him for a year will have him thinking that I'm capable of cheating on him and then covering it up.

I really, really don't want to tell him, but I feel like a "good person" would discuss this openly with his/her SO before embarking on a life together. Advice on how to handle this would be much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (44 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The most important thing to stress here is, whether you do or do not tell him, you are a good person. You've been assaulted, you've been injured, both mentally and physically, and any hesitance to tell your boyfriend is completely understandable.

That said, I would tell him. It will be hard for both of you, but personally, I feel this is something one's significant other should know about. Had it not occurred during your relationship, I might think differently.

In your second-to-last paragraph it sounds like you are downplaying the incident. Don't do that. It's a significant and serious thing that happened to you, and if your boyfriend is incapable of understanding that... then he is being selfish. Don't allow yourself to feel guilty. Of course he will be upset: he cares about you, he cares about your relationship, and yes, he will probably be hurt you didn't tell him sooner. But if he is a good boyfriend and one worth moving in with, he'll also understand that you needed to work through this in your own way.
posted by good day merlock at 4:06 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were in your shoes, I would not tell him. You're implying that he'll be more distressed about you having sexual contact with someone else, rather than the fact of you being assaulted. You don't need to put yourself through his hypothetical reaction, which will likely leave you feeling bad. And not telling him, I cannot stress this enough, does not nor will not make you a bad person.
posted by Ruki at 4:07 PM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure the morality of this is all that important. I think most of us would understand either choice. If I were your boyfriend, I would feel hurt if you didn't tell me, but I think I would understand. What matters most, I think, is how telling him or not telling him will affect your relationship with him. My advice is to do what's best for yourself and the relationship. Only you can make that decision, I think.
posted by smorange at 4:08 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't think you're morally obligated to tell him, but I think it might be a good idea anyway.

A boyfriend who would make you feel bad about a sexual assault is not a boyfriend worth having.
posted by meta_eli at 4:10 PM on July 23, 2010 [60 favorites]

It is profoundly your business, and your business alone. Tell him if you wish to, or do not. Neither one is the correct or incorrect choice.

But: do not make this choice for the wrong reasons. If you want to tell him but are resisting doing so because you fear he will be anything but totally supportive of you, you need to take a good, hard look at your relationship.

Do not let anybody -- yourself included -- perpetuate your trauma. Don't let your imagination eat you alive here.
posted by thejoshu at 4:14 PM on July 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

This is coming from a male who has a very small amount of experience talking with victims of assault - one friend and one fellow traveler in a depression support group: It depends on whether you've been tested for STDs. Your post didn't mention whether this had happened; if not I would strongly urge you to get this done. If there are any things that can affect your SO's health then I feel it's necessary to tell him about it. I'll leave the 'how to' part for others with more experience.

My personal take is that there are some things that even "good people" aren't ready to share with their SO. And as long as there aren't other health reasons to do so, I don't feel anyone should be compelled to go through the pain of talking about things they're not ready to reveal. There will be a time for it down the road.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 4:15 PM on July 23, 2010

(This turned into a treatise... sorry about the length)

I had a Very Bad Thing happen to me once -- not sexual assault, but it was bad. I had PTSD afterwards, therapy, all that, and am now over it and fine. I don't have the luxury of keeping it from people because it was a big news story at the time and I have a unique name, so anyone who googles me finds out about it immediately (though they have a lot of the details wrong because the news is apparently terrible).

It makes telling people a little bit more awkward, because I'm not sure if they already know or not, and all that. This is something you don't have to deal with. Basically I say all this to make clear that our situations don't match, and tell you where I'm coming from.

I sometimes hate that my significant other [this has applied to exes also] knows about it. It's none of his business, and he will sometimes assume that I am feeling a certain way because of residual feelings about what happened, and worries that something like it will happen again. Regardless of whether it's true at that moment, it pisses me off that he feels like he can assume it's true.

But he needs to know. He needs to know because it's part of me, it's part of my past, it's part of who I am. And sometimes I do think about it. I said above that I am now over it and fine, and that's true, but I still think about it, it is still very much a part of how I became who I am. I think possibly that's more true now than it was a year or two after it happened, when thinking about it was still much more of a shock. Now, 10 years later, it's just still there.

That being said, I don't think you need to worry about being a "good person" in terms of whether or not you tell him. But I do think that significant life events -- and whether you are affected day to day or not, this was a significant life events -- should be shared as part of an open, trusting relationship. I also think it will be good for you and for him. There is also the possibility of someone telling him at some point -- you say you have cut off contact with all mutual friends and whatnot, but trust me, these people have a tendency to pop up and say completely inappropriate things in public. They really do.

I would recommend though, that when you tell him, preface it first by explaining that you are telling him something that happened to you, and you need him to not get upset about it in front of you. That it would hurt you for him to react in that way. I think it's ok for you to say that. Tell him he can process it on his own, but that anger about it will be bad for you, and not fair to you. I also think you can say that you didn't know how to bring it up, and that's why you're telling him so late. I do not think he will equate this to you cheating on him -- AT ALL. If therapy is something you're comfortable with, you can offer to go to a few therapy sessions with him to talk about it together in that environment. If you're very worried, ask him to come with you to one before you tell him why in order to tell him in that environment. You may have to ask him to give you a little bit of trust on why you're not telling him why you're taking him to therapy, but I think he will understand afterwards.

I hope some of this was helpful and can apply to you. I know every trauma is different and everyone handles trauma differently, so I can only give you my perspective on the issue. But the basic point is that yes, I think you should tell him. Even though it's hard, even though it seems like it could go badly. I have never had anyone who cared about me respond in a way that I was not ok with. People I didn't know very well have occasionally asked surprisingly callous questions about it, but hopefully people that care about you can... act like it.
posted by brainmouse at 4:15 PM on July 23, 2010 [9 favorites]

as background: i was molested for years by my brother, i was date raped my junior year, date/drunk raped my senior year, and i got my drink drugged by a good and close friend in my early to mid 20s.

i'm usually of the opinion of openness is the straightest path to healing - not that it's the only way, but keeping secrets is one of the major enemies of surviving. i also refuse counseling so i understand that everyone finds their road to recovery on their own.

having said all that: if you tell him, tell him because you want to, because you want your long term partner to really know you and understand all your quirks and reactions. tell him because you want to unburden yourself. these are all great reasons to tell a significant other and anyone that would see this as evidence that you've cheated or could cheat is either immature or an asshole and you deserve better.

but - if you want to tell him for him, because you think it's ethical, because you're worried about being a "good person" - those, to me, aren't compelling reasons. those to me sound like your brain struggling to find a way to still blame you. our brains are fucked up things once something like this happens - they work against our best interest and self esteem, they tell us we're not worthy of love, of intimacy. they tell us that those who love us are secretly monsters. browbeating yourself about ethics and being a good person is entirely unnecessary. anything you do to survive, cope, and move on - short of actively hurting someone else - is ethical.

to wrap it all up, i have told my long term partners everything (you know, i say that, but i honestly don't remember if one of my exes knew about the drink drugging because he was pretty judgmental about me having male friends already) - and i told them because i wanted a partner who could be strong enough to know that and to not see me as a victim or helpless. to me, that's very important.
posted by nadawi at 4:15 PM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

If you don't want to tell him don't tell him. I don't think you're morally obligated and it doesn't make you a bad person. It sounds like you've weighed the consequences of telling him with the consequences of not telling, and have dealt with this in the best way for you. But one thing comes to mind is from a practical standpoint your best friend knows and other friends may know that you've cut off mutual friends. Not that I think your best friend would deliberately spill the beans but perhaps there's a chance that a comment could slip or maybe someone asks "Why aren't you friends with so and so anymore?" which if ever happened in front of your boyfriend might need explaining anyway. Obviously I have no idea if that's a significant risk or not, just that it could be a possibility.
posted by 6550 at 4:16 PM on July 23, 2010

The only way you could possibly be "morally obligated" is if there is some chance that he might be at risk for a sexually transmitted infection. If you know that no such risk exists, your own psychological health and sense of what's best for yourself certainly outweigh any interest he might have.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:18 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm in favor of telling, because part of being in a relationship where you live together is to share your lives. Yes, it would freak any (decent) man out, and maybe he'll need therapy to deal with it, but that's the tragedy of rape--the victim isn't the only person who's been violated.

That said, if you think your boyfriend is the kind of guy who will confuse rape with infidelity, do you really want to move in with him? I mean, is he really like that, or are you just afraid he's like that? Because you should find out before you tie yourself down to him.

So bring it up now, before you move in together. If he freaks out in a bad way, you still have time to extricate yourself from this relationship before you get financially roped in as well.
posted by thinkingwoman at 4:18 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

seconding thejoshu.
posted by ms.jones at 4:19 PM on July 23, 2010

There are many reasons why or why not to tell in different categories but I'd say from a sexual perspective you may have to bring it up. If the assault affects your sex life with your BF, especially because he is long distance and you might not have sex all that much, you may want to disclose what happened if there is a major change in your sex life. Sexual assault can change sexual and emotional responses to consensual sex and sometimes partners can benefit from knowing what happened. It doesn't happen to everyone but I think it's worth a mention in the thread. YMMV. I'm glad you got the support you need ed at the time. Good luck.
posted by ShadePlant at 4:19 PM on July 23, 2010

This is something that belongs to you, and only you, and you're not 'obligated' to let anyone else have it.

That said, even if you think you're over it now, you might find that somewhere down the line something someone says or does -- or something he says or does -- might trigger difficult memories. Those difficult memories can result in the same depression you felt the first time around. It would be easier for the two of you to work through that hypothetical depression if he knew what it was about, and it would be harder to tell him later, probably, that it would be to tell him as a preventative measure now(ish).

There's no moral or ethical obligation here. But you do need to think about how not telling him might affect the relationship later. Not because he'd be upset with you, but because this stuff doesn't really ever go totally away.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:20 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good for you for working through such an awful event. You have moved from being a victim to a survivor.
Personally, I don't think you can make a wrong decision. If you think through something, I mean really process it, how can you go back and say you made the wrong decision? You did the best you could with what you knew at that time. Take comfort in knowing that whatever you decide, it was the best choice you could have made.
FWIW- I would wait until the relationship was serious enough that you were thinking of a lifelong commitment (if that's your ultimate goal). It's really only his business if you decide to share. Seeing his reaction to something like this will be a good indicator of his ability to be a supportive partner and maturity level. If he can't see past wanting revenge and ignores being sensitive to your feelings, how is he going to handle things in the future?
posted by WhiteWhale at 4:23 PM on July 23, 2010

How much of this incident do you let identify you? Are you this incident? Yes, it happened to you, but I am sure there are many, many other bad, and good, things that have happened to you in your life that you will not share with him.

I can imagine it would take an amazing amount of strength and courage to tell someone something so monumental.
posted by TheBones at 4:30 PM on July 23, 2010

First of all, I'm sorry that this happened to you. I know how hard it is to feel like you've moved past it, only to have something put you right back into it.

Second of all, I agree that you are obligated to tell your boyfriend if it's possible that he might be exposed to an STD. Absent that, it's absolutely your decision.

I waited almost a year before I told my partner about my experience with sexual assault. I'm glad that I did share it, if only because I wanted my partner to know me, present and past, bad and good.

It might also help if your partner is aware of this so that he can avoid anything that might be a trigger. For me, being grabbed from behind absolutely terrifies me-- when people cover my eyes and play "Guess Who?" or even being hugged from behind. If there is anything like this that triggers an emotional response from you, it might be beneficial for him to know that.

Again, I'm sorry that you're having to go through this. Whichever decision you make, I hope that it brings you peace of mind in your relationship.
posted by karminai at 4:31 PM on July 23, 2010

OK, people are probably going to "call out" this comment, but you're asking for my honest opinion, so here it is: I think you're morally obligated to tell your long-term boyfriend about something this important. It's a lie by omission if you act like this traumatic thing didn't happen to you when it did.

I don't find your points about how he would be upset very convincing. Of course he'd be upset, but upsetting things happen in life -- that doesn't mean it's not important for certain people to know about them.

I find it hard to imagine him misinterpreting it as consensual. Presumably he can figure out that if it were consensual, you wouldn't lie and say it was a rape -- if you wanted to cover it up, you just wouldn't tell him about it. Also, it's not a great practice to make relationship decisions based on assuming that your SO will assume the worst about you; there should be enough trust in your relationship that you can talk with him about this and get a totally supportive, consoling response from him.

Also, shouldn't he know about the physical fact just to be informed about his own risk?

I know you believe you'd be more comfortable not telling him. But you don't really know that. Even though you say now that it's hardly going to eat away at your relationship, it's at least eating away at you enough for you to post this thread. And how do you know you won't feel it's a huge relief to talk about it with him?

Maybe I'm missing something. Maybe I just don't understand the situation because I'm not a woman and haven't been raped. If I am misunderstanding, then of course you're perfectly capable of disregarding my comment. But frankly, I don't understand the many comments that assert that you're not obligated. (I've noticed a general tendency in AskMe for people to insist that things aren't moral issues when they are moral issues.) You wanted our opinions, and my opinion is that you should -- not just could if you want to, but should -- tell him, even if it's not going to be the most fun conversation you've ever had.
posted by Jaltcoh at 4:31 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really, really don't want to tell him

Then don't. This has nothing to do with being a good person or not. It seems to me that, as with all aspects of having survived such an incident (and I much prefer thinking of you as the survivor rather than the victim) you get to control everything about the aftermath- including who you tell and when, and how. I really strongly believe that there is no objectively correct course to take- whatever decision you make is 100% correct for you.
posted by ambrosia at 4:35 PM on July 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

I worry that he'll question whether the encounter was actually consensual.

He might be hurt or confused that you didn't tell him at the time, and that's ok as long as it's temporary: he's going to have a reaction of one kind or another, and it might be one of confusion because he may not have previously been aware of anyone he cares about experiencing that type of attack, and he may think that it would be a no-brainer to tell one's boyfriend. This is naivete and, as long as he's willing to listen to you and accept that you had your own process to work through, it doesn't mean he's a bad guy. Be aware that he very likely won't understand why you didn't tell him, but expect him to defer to your need to handle the situation in the way that was best and healthiest for you.

He might also have deep feelings of anger toward your rapist. And, practically speaking, there won't be anything he can do about them. I don't think that possibility means you necessarily shouldn't tell him, but I do think you should consider that he will experience and want to talk about those feelings, and if it's important to you not to rehash the event, that's something to consider before you tell him about it. I think you owe it to yourself to heal, first and foremost, and if telling him is part of that, then tell him, but if not opening a door to his anger and frustration about your rape is part of your healing, then don't tell him. This isn't a "good person" vs. "bad person" decision, this is a wrenching, complicated, many shades of gray situation. This is a decision in which you choose which of two negative outcomes you'd rather live with. Your moral obligation is to do the best you can.

The above aside, if you decide to tell him and he questions whether the encounter was actually consensual, then he does not deserve to be in a relationship with you.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:39 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I were you, the thing I would imagine wanting to understand is how/why it is that we had been together for a year when this happened and I didn't tell him within days? And do I really want to move in with someone I can't/don't want to run to when something traumatic happens?

From the his side of the fence, were it me, I think I would be very hurt that you didn't come to me for support. Do I want to be with someone who shuts me out of parts of their life?

And then . . . nothing stays a secret forever. If you stay together for any amount of time, he's going to find out. Better it happen from you than from some other source instigating it. And if not now, when is it going to be a better time? When you're engaged? After the first child?

I, too, do not think you're morally obligated or a bad person if you don't . . . but I don't believe that keeping it from him is consistent with seeking a deeper committed relationship.
posted by MeiraV at 4:41 PM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't tell him if you don't want to. It's perfectly fine to keep secrets, I have no idea why anyone would urge you to "bring it all in the open" when there's no forseeable benefit and many downsides.
posted by fshgrl at 4:46 PM on July 23, 2010

I am not trivializing your situation, but I love this poem because keeping something close to you is not always black and white.

A Secret Life by Stephen Dunn

Why you need to have one
is not much more mysterious than
why you don't say what you think
at the birth of an ugly baby.
Or, you've just made love
and feel you'd rather have been
in a dark booth where your partner
was nodding, whispering yes, yes,
you're brilliant. The secret life
begins early, is kept alive
by all that's unpopular
in you, all that you know
a Baptist, say, or some other
accountant would object to.
It becomes what you'd most protect
if the government said you can protect
one thing, all else is ours.
When you write late at night
it's like a small fire
in a clearing, it's what
radiates and what can hurt
if you get too close to it.
It's why your silence is a kind of truth.
Even when you speak to your best friend,
the one who'll never betray you,
you always leave out one thing;
a secret life is that important.
posted by ShadePlant at 4:51 PM on July 23, 2010 [16 favorites]

If you want to spend your life with him, I think you should tell him. However I do understand your fears about his reaction.

This is what I would do. Ask your boyfriend to visit your city before you move. Make an appointment for the two of you to see your therapist. Tell your boyfriend what happened with your therapist present. This should show boyfriend that this was a real, traumatic event and not a 'cover-up' for infidelity. Also, the therapist may help in answering some of his questions: Boyfriend: "Why didn't you tell me earlier?" Therapist: "Anonymous needed time to process and work through the assault..." or something like that.

Good luck, stay strong.
posted by Kerasia at 4:57 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

well here's the thing- telling him could be the most psychologically healing thing you do for yourself. You could wake up tomorrow a new person. You just need to make sure his reaction is appropriate, so be careful how you present it to him. Warn him ahead of time that what you say will be shocking. Tell him ahead of time that you want him to react with concern and affection. Tell him that beforehand that afterwards, you want him to tell you that he still really cares about you and adores you. And then tell him, bit by bit. Start with, 'a year ago, someone hurt me. physically.....let that sink in.....and if you feel comfortable with his reaction, keep going. if you think he needs some time to digest that, tell him that you'll tell him more later, but that you need his support throughout the process of tellng him, no matter how long it takes. you don't have to spell out the incident 100% for him to understand what happened. and you don't have to do it all at once. open up at the rate at which you feel comfortable. But understand one thing- assuming he reacts appropriately YOU WILL FEEL SO MUCH BETTER ABOUT EVERYTHING. You owe yourself the potential of how wonderful that could feel. And i think there's a 95% chance that he would react appropriately and that you will feel that way. May your life be good, and may you have the love in your life to help ease any pain.
posted by saraindc at 5:10 PM on July 23, 2010

My opinion:

You are absolutely not obligated to tell him.
You should only tell him if you feel that it would help you to do so.
I think that trying to use telling him as a litmus test is a bad idea.
I don't think not-telling is at all inconsistent with a deeper relationship.
Some things can and do stay secret forever. Of the things that do not, the result of revelation changes over time, for everyone involved.
If you do decide that telling him would help you, I think Kerasia's suggestion of telling him with therapist present is probably a great idea.

The one and only objection to the above is the question of STIs/risk. I think it could be worth asking a doctor about this, if you haven't.
posted by kavasa at 5:14 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think we're all entitled to the secrets we'll take to our graves -- this is assuming that in your follow ups to this, you got tested for all sneaky STDs. You have a right to this secret, or any secret.

That said, I don't think this plan is practical because you have friends who know and the perpetrator overlaps in your social circle -- I don't think realistically, logistically, you can pull this off "forever".

While you don't have to, the smart thing to do would be to tell him now.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:29 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hi, I'm a guy and was in your boyfriend's position in a similar situation ('cept it wasn't long distance, we lived near each other and worked together). It devastated me and tore us apart. Here's why:

1. I felt that there was dishonesty, in keeping it from me. I understood logically that she had her reasons, but ultimately decided that she didn't seem to trust me enough to confide in me and if that trust wasn't there at such a crucial time, then we probably shouldn't be together.

2. I was very bothered by the fact that relationship seemed to continue on and grow closer in a way, yet this horrible thing had happened to her that she chose to keep from me. What else could she keep from me?

2a. That said, I sensed something was wrong and asked her several times about it, yet she said nothing was wrong, so I was doubly hurt when the truth finally came out. I had sensed something, had asked and said I was there for her, yet she still chose to keep it from me. Understandable in many ways from her position, but it was something I could accept in an SO.

3. I simply could not fathom why she wouldn't tell me and pretend everything was fine.

I'm mentioning all of this to show how your guy MIGHT react and that it may not be in the most wonderful way. Hopefully this may give you some insight into how he might be thinking and if you decide to stay with him, can give you a bit of understanding about where he may be coming from.

I think if you do decide to tell him, it's imperative that you give him time to cope with his own feelings, while still being aware how they might effect you. You've been through this, lived and seemed to have come to terms with it. He'll be experiencing it for the first time, so he might need time to come to terms with it also. I'd suggest deciding before you tell him if you still want the relationship and to prepare yourself for the reopening of some of your own emotional and mental wounds about it. It could be very tough for you, because you've put it behind you, only to see it brought to the forefront of your reality. Consult with your best friend and therapist if you do decide to tell him. Perhaps get a reference for a therapist for him.

Morally speaking, you're not obligated to tell him unless it's possible you might have caught something and passed it on to him. Only you know if that was necessary. If it was and you didn't tell him, he's fully justified in being angry about that.

Still, since it's something that occurred during the relationship that probably affected it in some form or fashion, I think it would be good to tell him before ya'll decide to move in together. If he can't handle this sort of thing, it's better for you to know now rather than later.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
posted by new brand day at 5:50 PM on July 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Of course you are not oblidged to tell him.

But if you don't tell him, and he finds out, he will be very hurt that you did not trust him with this part of your life experiences. As it is, it will be very hard on him to find out that about it.

When someone you love has been sexually assaulted -- or hurt by another person in anyway -- it hurts you too. You feel guilty that you didnt protect them from it -- even when that was clearly impossible (I'm not saying that this is rational).

This isn't a gender thing -- I'm female, and that's how I felt after I found out that a close friend of mine was assaulted. She then didn't tell me for a long time, which hurt me deeply. It made me feel like I wasn't as important to her as she was to me, because she didn't trust me with this or to be there for her.

I would never say that you are oblidged to tell him - but if you want a good relationship with him, you will. Also, you should be prepared for him to be as upset as if it just happened, to feel guilty, and even angry at you for not telling him sooner. He may question your relationship, wondering where he fits in if you could keep something like this from him. Some people might claim that he has no right to be angry, but feelings don't follow rules.
posted by jb at 6:34 PM on July 23, 2010

He's very protective of me, and even contemplating the idea of me having sexual contact with anyone else turns his stomach and ruins his day, if not his week.

This part keeps jumping out at me; is this because you're in a long-distance relationship? Is this being protective or...? Only you can answer that.

If you really, really don't want to tell him then it sounds like you're not ready to tell him. No one should tell you when you are obligated to do so, this is your choice and it doesn't mean you care any less about him. You mentioned a therapist; this would be a good thing to talk to them about so you can voice all your pros and cons about telling him to a neutral third party. I'm sorry you have gone through and are going through this.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 6:38 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I hate to ask, but uh, have you had sex with your boyfriend since this happened?

Mostly because (a) if you have, the STD thing might ah... well, be a different issue. And (b) if you haven't yet, which I am guessing might be the case, you might very well have some kind of freakout/trigger moment during the act and I'm sorry, but at that moment he needs to know.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:59 PM on July 23, 2010

brainmouse is right here. Living together introduces a kind of intimacy which, in my view, nessesitates full disclosure of exactly these sorts of details. That being said, good luck.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:05 PM on July 23, 2010

The fact that you feel like you CAN'T tell your boyfriend without him freaking out and possibly blaming you is a huge red flag that maybe he's not such a good boyfriend. You should be able to talk about these sorts of things with your S.O. -- if you feel like you can't, then there's something wrong with him or the relationship.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:36 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

You are a good person. There is no "moral" imperative to report this to him. You can tell him, ideally with the help of your therapist, if it is the right thing for you to do for yourself.

You say you've been to therapy, but why not revisit to get through this time? It is clearly hard on you regardless of the effect disclosure will have on your boyfriend. I can't tell if you've seen your boyfriend in the last year, but close quarters and sexual intimacy may create the need for a little extra help.

On the other hand, if you got screened for STIs and there will be no consequences for him, then I can see why you would feel like it's your business and that there is no "need" to tell him.

Best of luck.
posted by motsque at 8:56 PM on July 23, 2010

OP, are you more willing to live with the reaction he actually has (good, bad, indifferent, angry, whatever) when you tell him, or with the worry about how he might react if/when you do tell him? I have kept secrets - continue to keep them because, y'know, human - but try to do it less often because I found I was wasting ridiculous amounts of time fantasizing about other people's reactions to what happened to me in the past, including sexual violence.

I second motsque's suggestion. This might be a good thing to bring to your therapist, especially since you are also in a transitional life stage that is enhancing your worries about whether you should tell him.
posted by catlet at 9:48 PM on July 23, 2010

Yeah, strictly from the guy's perspective, I don't think you have a moral obligation to tell him, but the fact that you didn't tell him would be a gigantic red flag about the relationship, and moving in with this person you couldn't tell this to sounds like it could be a bad idea.

Leaving that aside, just focusing strictly on the practical side of things -- is he ever going to find out if you don't tell him? Because if he finds out about it from someone else first, that is going to be really bad, because you'll have no control whatsoever over how it gets related to him.
posted by empath at 9:54 PM on July 23, 2010

Telling or not telling isn't about some cultural idea about what's "right" in a relationship. It's about what's right for you and what's "right," as in healthy/productive for your relationship.

I can't speak for you, I can only extrapolate from what I know, but my thinking is this: It's been a year. That's a fair amount of time to digest. I'm going to suggest that the urge to speak is a sign that you are at a new place in terms of your internal processing of what happened and how you feel about it.

It sounds like you are in a place where you feel like you can, and maybe even want to, share this story, but that you are not sure that he is in a place where he can hear it. I don't know what to say to that. I'm not there, and I don't know him. But I don't think you should put yourself on a time-table on this matter. Tying it to moving in...I think that's a mistake; a logic error. Move in or don't move in, tell or don't tell...two *completely* unrelated issues. The only thing they have in common is that they are things that are done when YOU are READY. And each, I believe, is irrelevant to the timing of the other.

So let's take the move out of the equation.

My overall opinion is that I think that these things should be shared with significant people. At the right time. There are so many non-obvious ways where life experiences like this impact how you act and react to others. Seemingly inconsequential things, like not liking to be touched in a certain ways, or bigger things like walking around feeling like someone doesn't truly understand you because they're not in possession of relevant facts...disclosure really can help both people. It's like shining a light in a darkened room: Suddenly the other person knows what it is they've been tripping over. Plus you get to walk around a little better understood by someone important to you.

As to the right time...that's such an ideosyncratic thing. It can be a carefully choreographed, moderated event, or it can be a moment in a personal conversation that just...seems right. It can be something you feel out ahead of time, or something you lead up to carefully over the course of days. Hopefully it won't come to light as something screamed in a fight, that's just not the greatest way to explore the issue, but Hell, it's worked for some people.

At some point, if you decide you do want to disclose, you're going to have to trust him. I'm not saying there won't be tears or recriminations or terrible things said, because hearing this horrible thing given life in will be traumatic for him in its own way. But the trust is that his heart and his feelings for you will see him past the pain of what is being taken away from him --the sense that he can protect you, the sense that you are and have been his and his alone, the security that he knows you well, the confidence that you share important things with HURTS, even when it shouldn't; even when you're supposed to be dealing with the other person's pain. The trust that his heart and his feeling for you will help him deal with the facts set forth so that you both can together put this completely behind you.

As for not disclosing: I don't believe that makes you a "bad" person to not tell someone something they theoretically would 'want' to know. Despite what the media would have you believe NOBODY, not your mother, not your boyfriend, not your prospective mother-in-law, not even Katie Couric, is entitled to the personal, private details of your life. But since it's not really my position, I'm sure somebody else can/has/will say it better.

I wish you all the best. If it were me, I'd be sounding out all my friends on the issue --or at least the ones who knew. Not because I wanted them to decide for me, but because talking about these things helps me understand my own wants and needs better.
posted by Ys at 12:07 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am very sorry that you went through this, and that there are points in your life that remind you of the assault. You are a survivor, which is cause for congratulations and celebrations.

Just as you said, everyone heals differently. It sounds like you did what you needed to, good on you. Telling your boyfriend would be detrimental to your healing, it was a personal choice to not tell him. If it will be detrimental now, you do not need to tell him. No moral obligations, no. This is unlike anything else that you could have experienced, so there is no way to categorize as a red flag, orange flag, striped flag.

If you choose to tell him, it must be because you are ready to share and to support each other through a next phase of healing. If he learns, he is likely to be the next victim of this crime. Sexual assault can hurt partners, especially when they identify themselves as protective. He may feel like he failed to protect you, left you alone, failed to support you through your healing, and so on.

You do not owe him an explanation of how you healed. If you choose to share, here are two links you may find helpful for him to read (with you, if you prefer):
Sexual assault myths
How to support a rape victim-short version

Good luck!
posted by copperbleu at 1:49 AM on July 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

Ys: My overall opinion is that I think that these things should be shared with significant people. At the right time. There are so many non-obvious ways where life experiences like this impact how you act and react to others. Seemingly inconsequential things, like not liking to be touched in a certain ways, or bigger things like walking around feeling like someone doesn't truly understand you because they're not in possession of relevant facts...disclosure really can help both people. It's like shining a light in a darkened room: Suddenly the other person knows what it is they've been tripping over. Plus you get to walk around a little better understood by someone important to you.


I was raped by one of my husband's best friends (at the time) about 12 months before my husband and I got together. He knew I'd been raped (or something like that) before we got together and as we grew closer he would find out more. I never told him who though - I felt like that would make a difference to his reaction. A few weeks before we got married I sat down and told him who it was - the rapist was no longer part of our circle and they were no longer close (for somewhat related reasons but not about me). It did affect things because there's no way it couldn't. Same goes for another one of our mutual friends (who was a casual partner of mine around the same time).

I delayed telling my partner because I was unsure of his reaction. But I never doubted he loved me or believed me - I just didn't want to fuck up that part of his life and tell him that one of his best friends was a rapist. It's a hard thing to bear. I hated doing it but the alternative was worse.

The comment about him not supporting you well is something I understand completely - it's why I waited until I was in a place that how he reacted wasn't something I needed to be a certain way. I was prepared for violence and anger and threats but I got understanding and love and an understated level of anger. I also got him owning his part of the story - me as a rape survivor isn't the whole of it. The other anachronism is the partner of a survivor and he was also a friend of a rapist. That's hard for him sometimes, same with our mutual friend. I'm glad I waited until I was at a reasonably stable level of healing to talk to them about it because their reaction didn't completely destroy me BUT I never thought they'd doubt me. I never thought they'd question my choices. They did react very differently (the other anachronism was very understated and subtly angry where our other friend was much more vocal and wanted to know the story to much greater detail).

I don't think you owe your boyfriend the information but I think it would be very hard to build a relationship if he doesn't know and cannot know anything about it.
posted by geek anachronism at 5:17 AM on July 24, 2010

This is a very tough situation; there are good arguments on both sides. The main thing to be clear about is that you don't owe your boyfriend anything—your first duty is to your own self, your health, your ability to confront life in a secure fashion. If you don't feel ready to tell him, don't tell him. And if you never feel ready and never tell him, that's OK too; you can have a fine, fulfilling relationship without his knowing that piece of the puzzle. Nobody ever knows everything about anyone else, no matter how close they are. As A Terrible Llama wrote:

> I think we're all entitled to the secrets we'll take to our graves ... You have a right to this secret, or any secret.

For what it's worth, I've occasionally had people confide in me (a relative stranger) things that they've never told their loved ones. In each case I could completely understand why they didn't feel they could share the secret, and I didn't feel there was anything missing in those relationships.

> assuming he reacts appropriately YOU WILL FEEL SO MUCH BETTER ABOUT EVERYTHING. ... And i think there's a 95% chance that he would react appropriately

That's nice that you think "there's a 95% chance." I think the chances are a great deal lower. But neither of us has the faintest idea, and it would be pretty dumb for the poster to share a potentially devastating secret based on your optimistic assurances. If the boyfriend does not "react appropriately," she will definitely not feel better.
posted by languagehat at 7:54 AM on July 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know that there's a clear moral obligation, but I would tell him, in person when you can have a calm conversation and give each other time and space, and I'd pitch it as "Something awful happened to me last year and I need to tell you about it". I understand the insecurities that come with long-distance, but I think that if you're pursuing a serious relationship with him and it's got a future, this is important and he needs to know that sexual assault is something you've experienced.

Just reiterating, but your experience doesn't in any way make you a bad person, and being drunk (and entrusting your safety to someone in letting them bring you home) does not lessen your right to consent. You know this, of course, but I hope you believe it.

I think I'd be clear in explaining that the shame about it happening while drunk, and trying to cope with it without upsetting him, is why you haven't told him. (Extrapolating, not trying to put words in your mouth.) It's going to be really fucking difficult to tell him, and it might be very difficult for him to hear and might make you feel worse too at that time, so ultimately you'll have to decide how much truth you need in your relationship. You do have a moral obligation to get an STD test, though, and if you've had sex with your boyfriend without being tested, then yeah, there's no question that you have to tell him.

For context: I had a really shitty thing happen to me, and while I'm over it and rarely think about it now, it's something a serious partner needs to know about because it's a well-hidden, though mostly healed, sore spot. It's easier in that it doesn't involve them, but it's very hard to tell and timing it right is horrible. I expect the same disclosure from a partner and try to be sensitive and cool-headed when I'm getting it.
posted by carbide at 10:05 AM on July 24, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Thank you all so much for the thoughtful and compassionate answers. A few comments really struck a chord with me, particularly one that suggested that maybe my urge to tell my boyfriend about this incident was a sign that I've reached a level of healing where I'm ready to share this part of myself with the people who are important to me. Also, I liked what catlet said -- that perhaps it would be better to tell him and deal with his reaction, positive or negative, rather than spending the rest of my life picturing a worst-case scenario of how badly he might react.

I went ahead and told him today, and while he feels very upset/frustrated that he couldn't protect me or help me through the aftermath, he was understanding of my decision to keep the secret until now. I know it will take him more time to process it fully, but I think I made the right choice in telling him
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:24 AM on July 26, 2010

That's very good to hear. Thanks for telling us; it sounds like you made the right decision.
posted by languagehat at 7:26 AM on July 26, 2010

Seconding languagehat. It sounds like your SO is a good person, too.
posted by smorange at 11:27 AM on July 26, 2010

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