My girlfriend and I have been dating for over a year. A few months into the relationship, she told me that she had been raped repeatedly when she was younger. When she told me this, we were actually going through a tough time in our relationship, but hearing about that instantly brought me closer to her, and I realized I already loved her. It’s hard for me to console her since she’s a plane ride away right now. She says she is mostly over her past and it’s not something she thinks about every day. She talks about being thankful for the way her life has turned out because she realizes her calling in life is to help others. She’s a really motivated and strong young woman, and those are some of the qualities I admire most in her. When she told me that she was raped, I asked her if it was someone she knew or if it was a stranger, and at the time, all she would tell me is that it’s someone she knew but didn’t want to tell me who yet. I was confused, but I wasn’t going to press the issue.
Fast forward to the present, and she told me who raped her, and I am stunned. And at a point where I don’t know what to do. It was her brother, who happens to be one of my closest friends. She told me that she was trying to protect my friendship with her brother by not telling me, but knew that if we became serious like we are now, that she would have to tell me, and that she felt horrible about the situation. Now that she has told me, I wish she didn’t feel like she had to protect my friendship with her brother, because that’s not her job. On the other hand, I am disgusted and conflicted about being friends with her brother still. He’s been a friend of mine for a long time, and I don’t have a whole lot of close friends like him. When I first showed interest in her, he told me to stay away from his sister, and that he didn’t want her dating any of his friends unless it became really serious. We kept our relationship more subtle at first, but he seems to be okay with it now. My girlfriend made it perfectly clear she doesn’t care if I remain friends with him, and in fact, encourages it. She’s very close with her brother and has forgiven everyone in her past that has hurt her, because she’s said that was the only way for her to move on. But, as a guy, I have this desire to protect my girlfriend and I would never want to be friends with someone who is essentially a rapist, let alone someone who hurt my girlfriend so badly. I don’t know whether I should stay friends with her brother. Any advice or help is much appreciated. — Friends with a Rapist
Oof, this is a heavy one, and to be honest, too over my head to give you advice I feel confident in. But you’ve reached out for help and I hope that by publishing your letter, we as a community here can provide you some words of comfort that may help you move forward. First, you need to know some more details about the situation. How old was your girlfriend and her brother when the molestation took place, and how long did it go on? Are we talking about a teenage boy raping his sister, or a young kid who perhaps didn’t understand what he was doing? How much did the parents know what was happening and what was the extent of their involvement? How, and at what point, did the molestation end? Did the whole family go to therapy? Did your girlfriend? Have she and her brother spoken about what happened? Has he apologized? How was she able to get to a place of forgiveness? Having answers to all of these questions will help you to not only digest the information and offer your girlfriend support and compassion, but also figure out where to go now with your friendship with your girlfriend’s brother.
In regards to him, you need to accept that your friendship probably won’t ever be the same. You now see him in a different light and the angle of that light casts a pretty dark shadow on the relationship you once shared. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean you can’t be friends anymore, but it will take a lot of compassion on your end — compassion that can only come after gaining some more knowledge about the situation, and perhaps even speaking to a professional about your feelings. Ask your girlfriend what her thoughts are on how you can continue a friendship with her brother. After all, she somehow has managed to navigate through her experiences and emotions and maintain what you say is a “close” relationship with him, despite their terrible history. Ask her how she was able to get there and what advice she has for you. Does she see a therapist? If so, would that therapist recommend you accompany her on an appointment some time? Would her therapist be willing to see you individually? Does he or she have a referral for you?
Obviously, this is a complicated situation — one that will probably take a while to process. I would highly recommend getting the help of someone with the proper training and experience to guide you through the emotions you’re feeling and to help you figure out how to move forward both in your relationship with your girlfriend as well as in your friendship with her brother.
Readers, what advice can you add?