(Doctor’s Note: one of the letters for this column involves the description of a sexual assault.)
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have a strange situation, Doc, but I’m sure you’ve heard it all.
I live in a house with three other people. Two of the people are married, and the other is recently divorced and is 33 and the niece of the woman in the married relationship. I have been friends with the 33 year old for about 12 years. I am 20 years older than her, and when are friendship first started we would mostly go hiking and see movies (we didn’t live in the same house then either). We were both attracted to each other and the friendship remained platonic, but something was always there. We always had a tacit agreement that the age difference was too great.
She met a guy and got married and I was really happy for her. It worked out that I bought a house with her aunt an husband, and they rented a room from us. This worked out fine until the marriage started getting rough, and she would ask me questions like “you still love me, right?”. The marriage ended about nine months ago and it has been strange living in the house across the hall from someone I have feelings for, and having her aunt there complicates things more. I still get comments from her like “what would I do without you” and “if we were the same age”.
I can’t stay in this situation a lot longer, my thoughts are:
A) Tell her yes, I do love her and age is just a number let’s give this a try.
B) Asking her to move out because the living situation is no longer healthy (this may wreck the relationship with people I own the house with).
C) Deciding it is time to sell the house and move on to the next phase of my life.
Any advice on how to proceed?
-Landlords In Love
DEAR LANDLORDS IN LOVE: Before I answer your question, LIL, let me ask you something: Did you two actually discuss your attraction to one another? As in, has she actually said “I want to date you and totally would if you weren’t older than me?” Or are you rounding a close, maybe even flirty friendship up to attraction? Because, frankly, phrases like “you still love me, right?” don’t suggest romance, they suggest friendship or even quasi-familial love.
I see a lot of people who have that kind of close, even intimate friendship and someone assumes that the emotional intimacy there also translates to actual, romantic attraction. And when they find out that no, it really is just friendship – even friends that say “what would I do without you” or ask “You still love me, right” – they’re devastated because they’ve built this into something it’s not.
I mean, if I were going to turn someone down as gently as I could, “the age difference is so great” would probably be one my first go-tos. Nothing to be done about it, nobody’s fault, oh well, who wants Chinese?
You’re going to need to be the one to answer that, LIL, because I’m not there. And if this is friendship that you’ve been reading too much into and one that you’ve been holding a torch for… well, that’s going to cause some unnecessary heartbreak.
And that’s without the very-bad-no-for-real-this-is-a-horrible-idea complications that come with this scenario. Even if we assume that there is an actual romantic and sexual connection there… there are issues like the fact that you at least partially own the building she lives in. That ain’t the most equitable start to a relationship, to be perfectly honest. I mean, if you have the power to evict her (subject to tenant/landlord laws in your city and state) that’s a big club to be wielding over someone when you’re asking them out on a date.
And then there’s the fact it’s only been nine months since the marriage ended. You don’t mention how long they were married for but something tells me she’s still working on processing being single again. Hell, she may well not want to be dating anyone for a while.
My advice is that you’re better off letting this be and pursuing other relationships, with people who don’t live in a building you own. And when you meet one of those people who doesn’t live in your building, don’t assume that she’s interested in you romantically and leap in with both feet. Start with a date – an unequivocable date – and work from there.
But seriously. Don’t try to date someone you have that sort of economic leverage over. Ever.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I need your help. My wife was on business trip and had to stay over weekend. I encouraged her to go out and enjoy drinks with friends. She didn’t really want to because she is an introvert, but after we talked she agreed to try to make new friends.
A male co-worker met her at a restaurant and from there he drove her to a few night spots where they met up with several more new people. She isn’t much of a drinker, but her coworker continue to give her drinks. He told her that she could really drink well. It was just about closing when he left her and brought back one last drink. Minutes after sipping on this drink she felt extremely drunk. He suggested they get some food. She was surprised the restaurant was part of his apartment and he got the food to go.
She was now nervous as they got on elevator to his place. After they ate, she asked to go but he insisted that they talked and he then made a move on her. She said “NO…I want to go…If you don’t take me I will find another way”. He said “It’s late just stay and sleep nothing will happen. I am tired.”
He then left and went to his room leaving her alone. She sat there 30 minutes and finally walked to his room and again asked to be taken back to her hotel. He pulled her down on bed and again started things but this time she said “I passively consented. I knew I wasn’t getting out of there”. He started the intercourse and she told him “Stop… I am married… you have ruined my marriage.” He stopped but didn’t seem particularly sorry and drove her back.
This has affected both of us deeply. We have a beautiful Christ centered marriage and now we are left to figure out how and why this happened. She certainly blames herself and I am hurt as well.
Do you have any advice for me on how to view this and help her.
DEAR TRAUMATIZED: I’m not going to mince words Traumatized: your wife was raped. Her co-worker got her drunk, took her back to his place and assaulted her. She didn’t “passively consent”, she was forced into a situation where not only could she not give consent, but where she couldn’t leave and almost certainly felt that trying to do anything else might have ended up with her being hurt or even killed.
I want to be abundantly clear here: this is not her fault. Let me repeat that for emphasis: This. Was. Not. Her. Fault. This happened because a co-worker abused her trust, plied her with alcohol to make her compliant, trapped her at his apartment and raped her.
Once again: this was not her fault. She is not to blame here. The only person to be blamed is the rapist.
What you need to do now is focus on your wife’s healing. She’s been through a traumatic experience and, frankly, she’s likely going to need help processing what happened and accepting that this was not her fault. One thing I would suggest is that she call RAINN (The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.4673. It’s open 24 hours and completely confidential. They have support specialists who can help her find therapy, give her tips for effective self-care after her trauma and advice on what she may want to do next – whether it’s to talk to the police and press charges or not.
I would also suggest checking out their resources for recovering from sexual violence for both victims of rape and sexual assault and their loved ones. This can give you a number of options on how to heal, how to move forward and how to avoid triggering any emotional aftershocks, as well as give you resources on how best to talk with her and to help and support her.
One thing I would strongly suggest she do is to tell her manager and the HR department at work. Not only should she not have to keep working with a predator, but the odds are good that he’s done this before, to other women. Telling management and the HR department can help her feel safer and more secure, as well as bring some measure of punishment down on this guy.
I’m so sorry this has happened to her, Traumatized, and I want to reiterate this one more time: THIS IS NOT HER FAULT. She’s going to need love and support right now, so be the man she can depend on for love, for security and for compassion.
Dr. Nerdlove is not a real doctor. Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)