I was 17 when I first had sex with my then boyfriend. I didn’t want it, but I said yes anyway to please him. It took me a long time to admit to myself that what happened was not okay.
It took me even longer to realise I was lacking self-worth.
That was a painful time in my life, but it thought me an important lesson: You must love yourself before you’re ready to love another.
We were childhood friends—and then we weren’t.
He was a childhood friend I used to go for tuition with. We were strangers at first, but eventually, we became close friends.
We made it a habit to spend 10 to 15 minutes talking under the desk, so no one would bother us. At some point, I was sure that our fondness for each other had transcended friendship, but whether it reached ‘like-like’, I didn’t know.
SPM came and went, and so did our secret chats under that desk. Still, I wasn’t about to let it slip past my fingers.
One day I sent a simple “Hey! What are you up to?” on Facebook, which turned into regular late-night chats. We made plans for dates. Each time we said goodnight to each other, I was sure the feeling was mutual.
And it was. We got together. To say I was elated would have been an understatement. He was the popular sort, back when I thought it mattered, while I was the girl no one really liked. It felt like a victory. Finally! I’m doing something right!
Then there was the sex.
We started out like any relationship does—the honeymoon phase. The heat rising through our cheeks, the sweaty hands, the hammering hearts. I had rose-tinted glasses on. I was always excited to see him, even if just for drinks at the mamak stall.
We were teenagers who were curious and high on hormones. We’d graduated high school, and we were adults right? Sex was inevitable.
It started slow. Foreplay, fondling, getting naked – everything short of penetration. Clothes were strewn across the floor every time we got together.
It was fun until it wasn’t.
Once, we were in his house alone. I was worried about my college plans and wanted to discuss it with him. I was hoping he’d see my anxiety and maybe help calm me down.
Instead, he noticed my low-cut shirt.
“You know what will happen if you wear that kind of shirt around me, right?” He said quietly.
There was no hello, no “how was your week?” – just his hands, suddenly all over me. They felt rough and violating. There were no jokes to ease the anxiety, no cute teasing to relieve the tension.
In his mind, I wore a low-cut top, so I must have been asking for it. That was enough for him.
I told him I wanted to talk first because it was important. He told me to wait until he was done.
It was the first time I hated being touched. I wanted nothing more to have it over and done with.
After, the rationalisations came flooding in. This was normal, right? Couples have sex. It made him happy, and I didn’t want him to leave me. Who else would love me like he did?
So I swallowed it, and let it go. It was a one-off thing – it won’t happen again, right?
We stopped going out. No movies, no walks through the park, no going out with friends. When I did try to make plans, his answer was always no. We stuck to being alone in our rooms, with only one thing left to do.
Eventually, the relationship became all about him. It didn’t matter if I finished, as long as he did. If I didn’t want to do something, he’d ask me,
“My ex would do it for me. Why can’t you? Don’t you love me? I love you so much, and you can’t even do it for me?”
He’d sulk, and give me the silent treatment. Sometimes, he’d leave if I told him I wasn’t in the mood, saying that there was no point to see me if I was going to upset him. He wouldn’t talk to me unless I apologised profusely, and made me promise not to do it again.
There was always the fear of losing him. My body had long waged a war on me. It would scream, and I hated myself more. Still, I craved his acceptance. A part of me knew it wasn’t right, but what choice did I have?
The breaking point
Eventually, he realised I was distancing myself from him, and he fought to win me over again. He wanted to go back to the time when I was head-over-heels for him.
He’d whisper sweet nothings to me, putting his hands all over me in hopes that I would get into the mood. I said okay, even if I didn’t mean it.
When he said he didn’t want to wear a condom, and I said okay.
He said if I got pregnant, he wasn’t going to take responsibility. And still, I said okay.
But that was the final straw. Shortly after, I broke up with him through text. I didn’t know if I could stomach seeing him. All I knew is that I never wanted this to happen again.
Even now, I can hardly remember how it felt, and whether it was good, but what I did remember was feeling horrified. That was the problem with rose-tinted glasses – you just can’t see the red flags.
I didn’t want to be touched by anyone again. I didn’t know if I could be. How would I know this wouldn’t happen again?
Still, I had to pick myself up. I was broken, but even broken pieces can be glued together.
Each day, I looked myself in the mirror and thought of three things I liked about myself.
I started to tone down the loud, obnoxious girl who would bend over backwards just to be liked. I kept telling myself that it was okay to be selfish, and that I wasn’t defined by what people thought of me.
I dated myself. I discovered what I liked and what I didn’t. I focused on my studies, and looked my best. I’d go out shopping for new clothes and pretended I was beautiful, until one day I didn’t have to pretend anymore.
Hobbies became fun and interesting again. I tried painting, calligraphy, brush lettering, and even the violin. I kept a journal, making it a habit to write my thoughts, just so I could communicate with myself better.
I focused on writing, a passion I’ve had since I was a kid. I joined NaNoWriMo – and won. I got published, twice.
And I feel like I’m just getting started.
Eventually, I dated again, a year after my ex. This time, I made sure to establish boundaries to prevent myself from making the same mistakes. I’d waited until I was comfortable to have sex, and I made sure he respected my choice.
He does. Every time we have sex, it was because I want it as much as he does.
Recovering isn’t a race. Throwing myself into my studies and passions helped for me, but healing is something each person does differently.
If it’s spending the night getting wasted with friends and shit-talking your ex, or throwing yourself into work until you don’t have the energy to think about it—do that. Do whatever that works for you, and take it one step at a time.
Manipulation isn’t new, nor is it rare, although I wish it was. It may not happen exactly the way mine did, but you’ll know because it always feels shitty after.
My advice would be to tell yourself that this can never happen again and make sure that it doesn’t. Be in touch with your thoughts, and what your body is trying to tell you. It’s okay to be selfish. It doesn’t make you a bad person – you’re just being careful.
It’s almost embarrassing how long it took for me to learn this. Still, I’m proud of how far I’ve come. My only regret is that it didn’t come sooner – then perhaps I wouldn’t have to suffer this whole ordeal.
But I know it’s made me a better person today.