CN: Mentions of sexual assault.

I don’t really know how to start this.

It’s been maybe a month since we stopped speaking to each other. You’ve been the closest friend I’ve had since I arrived at this university. I don’t know what I liked so much about you when we met for the first time, but there was something magnetic about the way you spoke that just made me feel all warm, like I knew I just had to be friends with you. I don’t even know how much time we’ve spent together since then, but the days and the evenings we’ve hung out, just the two of us, will always be the thing I remember about my three years at uni more than anything.

About a month ago you told me that you had been accused of sexual assault by someone, something that happened a little while before we met with a girl who trusted you and whose trust you violated. That broke me for a while. You tried to convince me that it happened but that you don’t remember it that way and that you would never do anything non-consensual: I think that’s the point when I freaked out and couldn’t process it anymore. It’s taken me some time and some thought to work through it, and I guess this letter is my way of putting all of that together in one place and understanding it.

I think what scared me most at first was that there was never any doubt in my mind that what this other person was saying was true. There’s really no reason for her to lie about her experiences, and when I listen to your side of the story, there always feels like some kind of cognitive disconnect, as if you really don’t believe yourself what you did. I started to worry that all this time I had been enabling you and that there had been some monster hiding in plain sight that I had refused to see. Maybe I still do feel like I enabled you a little. I’m still not sure.

I told my mum about what happened the other day. I don’t think I really wanted to talk to her about it, but she knew how close we were and she was always asking after you, so eventually I couldn’t keep fobbing her off. When we talked about it I remembered why I hadn’t wanted to say anything before: the response was what I expected, about how young people these days think they’re invincible and that they can get drunk whenever they like, about how you may have done something bad this time but you’re not a bad person, about how you’ve always been a good friend to me and she would hate to see me throw someone like that away because they don’t come along that often.

My mum was wrong, I know she was. I don’t think what she said came out of any vindictiveness towards victims or some eagerness to overlook it when guys do shitty things. I think she’s just lived the significant part of her life in a time when less was expected of men, when they could ‘screw up’ like this and still be good guys.

I think that’s the way you think about yourself too. I think you believe that you can screw up or hurt someone, but then you can apologise and go to a couple counselling sessions and in 3 months it’ll all be over. You have the luxury of not being defined by what happened. The person you hurt doesn’t have that. She can process that trauma, deal with it, move past it, but it will never have not happened to her.

I was so caught up in worrying about whether you were a bad guy or not, and I failed to see that you’re not a good guy or a bad guy. You’re just a guy, and the fact that you really did care about me and that you were honestly there for me isn’t incompatible with the fact that you did something awful.

I’ve done a lot of thinking about whether there’s a way back for us, about whether we can still be on speaking terms again even if we can’t stay best friends. I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t feel like there’s any way I can let you back into my life or offer you redemption without letting myself be a part of that same culture that lets you do something like this and then learn and grow like nothing happened.

I think what made me most able to believe in what you did is that you seem to have a habit of entering relationships with women where you can be in some way dominant. The girl who’s visiting from somewhere that you can show around town, the girl who’s new to your society that you can mentor, the girl who’s emotionally vulnerable that you can comfort. I don’t think you know that you have this pattern but you do, and I can never not think about that when I think about you anymore. These other people do define you for me now in a way I don’t think you want to be defined. So I don’t think there’s any forgiveness that’s going to come from me. I don’t think there’s any road back.

I miss you and I hope you’re doing alright.

Image: leniux, Flickr.