My high school best friend’s hand shimmered in the sun.
“Why are you wearing an engagement ring?,” I asked her. She told me her father had given her what she called a purity ring. Basically, it was a daily reminder to her to “stay pure” until marriage.
“Oh, okay,” I probably said. This was back when we were around fifteen years old, so my memory about that exchange isn’t the best. But I do remember thinking: Why would you want to broadcast that you still have your v card? Your sex life is nobody else’s business.
That’s why I stayed silent when she became sexually active later on in high school. Looking back, it’s something I really regret. I should have spoken up, even if I thought what was happening was consensual.
She started dating this guy who’d she’d had a crush on since grade school. They seemed really cute together. He was nice, easy going, smart and had his own game room in a mansion that was twice the size of my house. Needless to say, he seemed like a catch.
We didn’t go to the same school, so I only saw my friend on and off. I remember the next time we hung out, some of her friends asked her between laughs “When are you going to stop wearing that ring?”
She kind of rolled her eyes and blushed, but went along with their teasing. It became clear to me that her relationship with her boyfriend had become sexual. And her new friends were encouraging it.
At the time, I don’t remember saying anything even though it seemed super out of character for her. Why? I didn’t think it was a good idea, especially at our age, but I didn’t know how to explain to her why. I also didn’t see any evidence that the relationship was anything but consensual. When I did ask her about it later on, she suggested just as much.
Pretty soon after that, we stopped hanging out as much. We were in different groups, and it seemed like our lives were going in different directions. Recently, though, our paths crossed again. Like a couple of retirees, we caught up on old times and what had happened to all those people we knew in high school. That included her exes.
“What happened to that one guy,” I asked her. And she recounted what happened.
She told me that he had pressured her into getting physical. She would tell him “no,” then he would guilt her into it. He’d say stuff like: “Well, everyone else is doing it” (I can assure you, the things he said he wanted to do to her, everyone else was definitely not doing), or “What else are we going to do together?” She said it wasn’t fun and it wasn’t what she wanted. But she cared about him and thought he cared about her.
When she refused to have full-blown sex with him because she wanted to save that for marriage, he dumped her. I was shocked at what she told me. “Him? He seemed so nice.” My mind was reeling with guilt and I apologized for not being there for her.
As she continued, it became clear just how traumatic this experience really had been. She said it was a huge blow to her already low self-esteem, which led to her settling for a series of guys who treated her just as badly (if not worse) because she didn’t think she deserved anything better. I realized that what had happened impacted almost every relationship she had afterwards.
She ended up marrying a great guy who respects and loves her, but I know not everyone’s story ends up so happily. She learned a lot through her journey, but it didn’t have to be such a bumpy ride. Some experiences aren’t good, even if we find meaning from them.
Would her life have been different if I had spoken up? I’m not sure. It can be hard to tell if someone will listen or if they will pull away, making it that much more difficult to reach them. How I went about it would have depended on the relationship I had with her, but the important thing is that I said something. Because if I had, she might have had the peer support to break away from a really unhealthy relationship that began a cycle of trauma.
I had stayed silent because I thought it was her choice. But it really wasn’t. Her entire friend group had isolated her into thinking she was a freak for not wanting to have sex. Even if it had been her choice, I had an obligation to share my concerns with her. As her friend, I should have spoken up about sex because looking out for what was in her best interest was my business.
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