Washington - "Sounds like your picker is broken," my friend said after I told her the story.
This is a terrible thing to say to someone who's just left an abusive partner. It implies survivors are doomed to an abusive fate, something I refuse to believe.
When I met my ex in 2014, I knew he'd be a terrible person to date. A fun hookup, perhaps, but nothing more. He was too young, too unsettled. He smoked too much pot and was super-insecure.
A walking red flag.
By the time I realised my mistake, I was caught in a web of codependency, love, fear and self-delusion. The first time I tried to break up with him, he threatened to throw himself off a bridge. The fourth time, he violently raped me. And yet I still worried about him more than myself.
Before I finally got out, he had tried to drive us both off a cliff, "Thelma and Louis" style, minus the hand-holding and inspirational music.
I never doubted that I needed to leave, but I kept putting it off - partly because I was addicted to him but mostly because leaving is when women in abusive relationships are most likely to get killed. Thank God for my friends who packed up my truck up themselves.
Once I left him, I was terrified of men, especially anyone who looked like him - who wore plaid shirts or had hand tattoos or overgrown beards.
My friend was wrong. My picker wasn't broken. It had warned me; I'd just willfully ignored it.
I'm not victim-blaming, nor am I saying I deserved this. Or that this is everyone's experience. But I believe I can protect myself, so long as I trust my intuition.
I went on dates regularly. Great ones! For the first time in my life, I let men I was genuinely interested in take me to dinner without feeling obligated to give them anything in return. But I told them the deal instead of putting us both in that awkward position.
Relationships are built on trust, and it was going to take me longer than the usual woman to build, I told them. If they truly liked me, they would have to be Ookay be with waiting. Shockingly, they appreciated my candor.
This body belonged to me and me alone. My job was to protect it at all costs. During those two years of dating, I slept with a lot of good men. They made me laugh and feel safe. They showed me that my ex was the exception, not the rule. And they slowly erased the image of my ex's face and the details of my rape that I used to associate with sex.