Warning: This post contains mentions of sexual assault, rape, drug use, abuse, and domestic violence.
Whether through family, friends, or media, girls learn that their self-worth correlates to male attention. While that's harmful in more than one way, it especially lends itself to giving predatory older men the power to "date" impressionable, vulnerable teenage girls.
1. "I was 14 and in a play at the local theatre. Our stage manager was 25, and I had the biggest crush on him. He was married but started paying a lot of attention to me. We started sneaking to the intermission bar and stealing wine coolers. Our last night of the show, he hugged and kissed me. I was completely smitten. For the next theatre production, he made a bee line for me on the first day of rehearsals and told me how much he he was thinking of me and couldn’t concentrate on anything else. One of the mothers in the theatre production reported it, and he hardly spoke to me again. Nothing happened though, and I was heartbroken."
2. "Last year, when I was 17, a man added me on Snapchat. We started talking, and he seemed nice but was hesitant to give me his age. When I started asking more aggressively, he told me he was 26. The age difference felt a bit off, but he seemed sweet so I went along with it. One day, he called me and said he was lying to me, he was actually 30. This was the first red flag, but I ignored it. Soon, he started texting and calling me throughout the day — even when he knew I was at school. When I told him I didn’t like that, he said I was being selfish, and he was scared I was talking to other guys. After a while, I couldn’t take it, and I blocked him. He started calling me from unmarked numbers and having his friends harass and guilt trip me into unblocking him. He would always say that I was different and that he never really clicked with women his age. No wonder."
3. "I was newly 18 and fresh out of high school when I met a man 12 years my senior who owned a local art shop. He complimented me, told me how I was smart, mature, and 'not like other girls,' and I believed him. When we slept together two days after we met, I thought it was true love. I ignored the red flags. Two months later, I was pregnant. I was excited, he was excited, his family was excited — mine was mortified. He manipulated me into thinking my family was jealous of our relationship and turned me against them. He said my friends — who were concerned — weren’t true friends and didn’t understand what a true artistic genius he was, so I cut them out of my life, too. Eventually, I was alone. The abuse evolved into physical, mental, financial, and emotional abuse. After a few years, he was arrested after spending all day beating me. I got sole custody of my son and eventually met a wonderful man who adopted him as his own."
4. "I was 14 when a 22-year-old guy — who worked at the arcade in the mall that my friends frequented — started grooming me. All my friends thought he was so cool, so I wanted to be accepted by him as well. He initially gave me attention, making me feel like part of the group. He then retracted it and started making comments about what he thought was cool. I began to do those things to feel included, and not only did he begin including me again, but he also started showing 'interest' in me. As an outcast and the black sheep of my family and at school, this was a big deal to me. Eventually, he began pressuring me romantically and then sexually. He is currently in jail for grooming and sexually assaulting two other girls my age — at the same time he was doing it to me."
5. "I was a 19-year-old college student, and he was a 31-year-old local politician. The big red flag for me was that he didn't have any friends his own age and only dated college students. I should've recognized that he was intimidated and threatened by women his own age. He started taking me to jewelry stores for engagement rings before I left town for a summer internship. Some distance from him over the summer made me see the warning signs more clearly, so I broke up with him. He drove to the city where I was doing my internship and held me against my will in a hotel room for a weekend. He presented me with lingerie and kept trying to get me to have sex with him. He wouldn't let me out of his sight to contact anyone — there were no cell phones back then. When the weekend ended, he begrudgingly dropped me back off at my intern lodging. I should've called the police, but I hadn't been raped or hurt, and I just wanted to be done with him."
6. "The oldest guy I dated was 27 or so, and I was 16. Multiple other factors made this an unhealthy relationship, but a few years ago, I realized the trauma I carry most with me is from that time in my life. Not only did he continually state how he wanted me to have his children, but he also tried to pimp me out multiple times. He would manipulatively tell me I didn’t do anything for him. I didn’t work, and so I didn’t bring him money. Because I didn’t bring him money, I wasn’t enough anymore. He tried to push me into it. I resisted and laughed it off. He would parade me around in front of his friends and cousins. Some of who were already in the life. Gauging interest or something? The crazy part is that I never tried to stop any of it. I didn’t come to my senses and leave. I just moved on to another guy because I was tired of him cheating. My self-worth still hasn’t recovered."
"I dated multiple adult men during high school. Older men always expressed interest in me in pubic, but the boys my age didn’t. I wasn’t a skinny teen and had lots of curves early on. I never felt beautiful, attractive, or wanted by anyone my age. When I received it from older men, it was affirming. It felt like I was finally recognized.
It's sad to realize my self-worth was so connected to male approval. I'm just now coming to terms with the fact that most of my relationships have been with abusers and basically pedophiles." —Anonymous, Washington
7. "He was my assistant basketball coach. I met him when I was 15. It wasn’t until my senior year — I was 17, he was 23 — that we worked together consistently enough to develop a relationship. It started near the end of basketball season. I kept it a total secret. We would meet up in parking lots to make out. I confided in a close teammate who was very close with our coach, and she got so angry with me that she cried. She accused me of ruining her future coaching relationship with him and told our entire team. The season had ended by then, but it blew up my senior year. Everyone hated me except my closest friends who were on my side. I lost long-term friendships, and even our head coach — who was best friends with our assistant — told me to apologize to my teammates. I realized then that I was not in the wrong and that my coach was the one who bore responsibility for what happened. It had a massive impact on who I am as a person in my adulthood."
8. "I was working for a restaurant in a mall at 17. He worked in a record shop, did delivery for a florist, and was in a band. He was also 27. He looked so cool to me with his rolled-up t-shirt sleeves, his tattoos, and smoking unfiltered cigarettes. I was flattered when I heard he was asking about me and said I was cute. We went on a couple of actual dates. He would give me stolen flowers from his deliveries, and I went to see his band play. He always told me I was beautiful and looked younger than my age. Then, it turned into no more dates and just sex. I stopped seeing him after one awful night when I found out he was doing heroin, his roommate tried to rape me, and I found out he was seeing other girls my age and younger."
9. "I literally don't know a girl who hasn't experienced at least unwanted attention from an older man. For me, it was Gavin, who worked in our local bowling alley. He was at least 18 to be working there and paid me and my girlfriends (14 to 15) a lot of attention, which we all vied for. Turned out, he liked me — much to the disgust of my friend who actually stopped talking to me for two weeks over it, but we're still very good friends now, don't worry! He asked me out, and by out, I mean to his flat that he rented with his girlfriend. She was at work, so he put on some soft porn. I was not at all comfortable, and he encouraged me to give him a blow job. I remember stopping halfway through, saying I didn't like it, but he persisted, and I continued. It was horrible. I wish I could go back and stop myself. He was actually 21 and knew I was 15. I saw him and his girlfriend years later, and I hid like I was the guilty party. It just makes me so sad."
10. "I was 17, he was 50. I met him at work — a night job — so he'd offer to walk me to my car to make sure I got there safely. He was a friendly, nice guy that everyone liked, so no one thought it was weird that he was offering to look after me. He asked for my number so I could text him when I got home. Then, he started texting me all the time. He'd bring me food at work and offer me jackets when it was cold to make me feel like I owed it to him to keep talking to him. I continued having conversations with this 'nice' man who was my parents' age. Eventually, I ended up at his apartment, and we started hooking up. I remember him saying something like, 'Whoa, I am just trying to be your friend and definitely didn’t have any motives like this, but if you want to have sex, I’m down.' I thought I was mature, and it was fine because we got along well and he was nice, until one day, my friend confronted me and made me realize that I was being manipulated."
11. "In high school, I dated an assistant teacher. I was 17. He was 27. At first, I felt cool, and my classmates were jealous. He took me to parties where he and his friends would openly do coke. Several times, they pressured me to do drugs and have threesomes. I felt really uncomfortable, but I couldn't tell my mom, and my friends thought I was super lucky to get 'access' to that world. He began openly talking about our sex life to his colleagues at my school. I felt exposed and embarrassed. He also became clingy, and I couldn't spend time with my friends — and he hit on them every chance he got — or family. He finally got fired for dating a student, and he blamed everything on me and started acting like a baby, requiring 24/7 attention and care. I finally found the courage to end things, and he and his colleagues made me really uncomfortable — shaming me for the whole situation like I was obligated to stay with him since he was fired 'because of me.'"
12. "When I was growing up, we had some family friends from church. I grew up with this family since I was seven years old. When I turned 14, he — six and a half years older than me — at 21, confessed his love for me. We dated until I was 16. Everyone was okay with it. Looking back, not only was he predatory but so was my family for allowing this."
"I come from a very male-dominated family where what they say goes, and that is that. It took years to unlearn this behavior. That is not okay." —Anonymous, Arizona
13. "In high school, I'd spend time at a coffee shop. The majority of patrons were men over 30. My peers and I 'befriended' them. It made me feel cool and validated my sense of being misunderstood by the 'regular' people in my life. It made me feel desired. I felt I was cautious enough to keep these men at arm's length, but I put myself in situations where things could go horribly wrong. One night, I slept over at one guy's house. Two men were there with two of my girlfriends, but my girlfriends left early. One guy seemed a little torn but eventually asked if I wanted to sleep in his bed. I said no. To flirt with the idea is one thing but to actually do it is another, and that made me nervous. Another man stayed in the living room with me, and as I was falling asleep, he began rubbing my back and moving his hands where I didn’t want them. I pushed him away several times and, eventually, he left without further assault."
14. "I met him a week before my 21st birthday. He was about to be 38, never married, and had no kids. Mentally, I was still a child. I'd never been in a relationship before. I didn't know how to ask for what I wanted. He knew this and used this against me, manipulating my words. We never talked about our future. He'd shoot me down when I'd bring it up. I knew at year two, and I stayed. I knew at year four, and I stayed. At year six, after he cost me $9K trying to save his ass, I finally left. He moved in with me and my parents and couldn't even be bothered to ask them; he made me do it. I bought a car because he refused to fix his. I pawned my jewelry for him, and he didn't help me get it back. Since this was my first relationship, I didn't know how to end it. I began cheating on him, knowing that he knew. I wanted to break him, and I did. He turned me into this person whom I hated. But why would he leave? I was pulling money out of my ass for him."
15. "I was 12 when I got my first boyfriend. He had, had a very complicated life and was only in ninth grade despite being 19. It's not that rare where we're from, so it never weirded me out. He was nice. A friend of my older sister's dated a classmate of mine, so I didn't see any problem in dating him. He ended up convincing me to hang at his place once. He touched me and rubbed himself against me. I thought nothing of it because I was not raped per se. I hadn't felt forced, and I didn't understand the meaning of what had happened. I remember him finishing in his pants, and I asked him what it was because I didn't understand what ejaculation actually meant."
"It took six years and the Me Too movement for me to realize that I was sexually abused." —Anonymous, Unknown
16. "I was 16 years old on summer holiday with my family. I took surfing lessons, and there I met a 27-year-old Dutch man. We became close, and we spent the night in a bed together at a friend's place. I was a virgin and not comfortable with anything other than kissing. He tried to force my hand on his genitals, but I resisted and excused it as a miscommunication issue. I’m so thankful that my friends were in another room that shared a wall with mine — meaning they could hear everything, and I could go see them easily. Back home, we stayed in touch. I felt weird about it, but I was happy to be getting attention from a guy. When he wanted me to send sexual images, I stopped communicating with him and eventually blocked him. Looking back — I am 23 now — this is very disturbing considering he knew how old I was."
17. "I dated a 29-year-old man at 18. I had a huge crush on him at work but had never thought it was a real possibility because of the age difference. I didn't even realize our first date was a date until he kissed me out of the blue. After that, he told me it would be fun to keep it a secret, and that this would be a good experience for me to learn about casual dating. He told me I was so mature for my age that he understood me. I was a kid with deep trauma and abandonment issues, and he made me feel special — like he cared — in a way that I felt nobody had in a long long while. He would always get me high at the beginning of all our dates because he said it would help me relax. He then would become upset when I wasn't comfortable moving past making out and would stop contacting me for weeks until, I assume, he would get lonely or bored again."
"Eventually, he stopped calling, and I was left with even more trauma and abandonment issues than when he found me." —Anonymous, Nevada
18. “We had family friends whose youngest son was four years older than me. We hung out a lot, and our parents thought nothing of it. His mom called me the little sister he never had. By the time I was 14 (he was 18), he'd kiss, grope, and do sexual things with me whenever we were alone. He'd always talk about having a future with me; getting married, having kids, and arguing about where to live. Yet, he never seemed to want to be with me. We were never officially a couple. I always knew without him having to tell me that I wasn't to tell our families. When I was about to turn 18 (he was 22 and had finished university) I met a guy my age, and it was all just so simple: I liked him, he liked me. I didn't feel confused by his behavior, and I didn't feel pressured into anything. It then hit me how much I'd gone along that I hadn't wanted to do but that he'd pressured me into doing gently, subtly, and over a long period of time."
19. "It took me 15 years and therapy to realize it was not okay. It was easy for older men to get me into the multiple relationships I had with them from the ages of 15 to 18. I wanted attention, and I was praised for being so mature. I was the cool friend for being able to get us alcohol and so much fun and not like other girls my age. I so desperately wanted to be loved that I would accept it anywhere I could get it. I did things that I thought were my choice but I now know were not. It's hard, even today, to accept the fact that I was not responsible for their actions. 'Making myself available' is not an excuse for someone who very much knew it was wrong it take advantage of me."
"Growing up in an abusive family is like a one-way street to being taken advantage of as a teenager." —Anonymous, California
20. "I got kicked out of school my senior year and was going through it. I coped by sleeping with much older dudes. (Obviously, I would never recommend that as a coping method.) Long story short, it stopped when I went on a date with a 31-year-old. I was 19. He planned something outside, but it was starting to rain, so we just went back to his place. He gave me two drinks. At the end of the second one, I was completely blacked out. I only remember flashes, but one of them was just him saying, 'I was 12 when you were born, isn't that sexy?' while choking me. When I could walk enough to leave, he got mad that I wouldn't stay and for was 'acting as if he hurt me.' He put me on a bus into the city and blocked my number. I had no idea where I was, couldn’t reach anyone, and, honestly, it's a miracle I got home."
21. "I was 15, and he was 28. He was a student-teacher. After he completed student teaching, we ran into each other at a resort in Kaui. I was there with my family. He was there with his band. I thought it was a sign that we were staying at the same resort. We ended up exchanging numbers and texting. The texts turned into talking, and we soon began hanging out. We couldn’t actually date, according to him, because it would ruin his life. He would never be able to teach, so we had to have a secret relationship. I couldn’t have a regular teenage life. I didn’t go to junior prom, prom, or hang out with friends. He made me feel like it could only be me and him. At the time, I didn’t realize that this was toxic and wrong. How could I? I was a child. I think back and realize how his behavior was predatory. He bought me expensive things, made me lie to everyone I love, and made me feel like I could ruin his life. Now, he’s a teacher and married with kids."
22. "I was 17 and working at a drive-thru for a fast-food chain. The dishwasher was a Brazilian immigrant who barely spoke English. I liked languages a lot and started learning Portuguese from him and some other employees. The dishwasher started learning English from me, and we had some chemistry. Rather, he paid me a lot of attention, and I thought he was attractive. One night, he forced a kiss on me after following me around at closing when everyone was gone. I was flattered to get attention from an older man. My hormones and ignorance paved the way for him to keep grooming me into a sexual partner. I cheated on my boyfriend with him. Then one night, he refused to put a condom on when I insisted. He was extremely physically fit and had me pinned. I made the survival decision to not fight him or cry for help. It took me over a decade and a lot of therapy to admit to myself, let alone anyone else, that I was raped. I said 'no,' and I said 'stop,' but he didn’t."
"I still don’t know how old he was, but anywhere from mid-twenties to mid-thirties is my guess. I wish I could say that was the only time an older man took advantage of me, but I have other stories.
I was taught — not by my parents, but by magazines, TV, peers, etc. — that male attention was so highly desirable that questioning it was just never a priority for me. To sacrifice male attention was such a foreign idea.
To those who love to speculate about one's family background with stuff like this: I was never abused as a child and have a very healthy relationship with both parents. The toxic tendrils of the patriarchy run deep nonetheless." —Anonymous, Massachusetts