Dear Amy: My parents divorced when I was seven, after my mother had an affair with one of my father’s employees.
He was much younger and a registered sex offender, but my mother moved him into our house immediately.
He started commenting on my breasts at a very early age.
When I was 14 he offered to give me lessons on sex. At age 16 he was relentlessly commenting on my body, and when I finally had enough and yelled at him to stop, my mother grounded me for being disrespectful.
At age 17 he exposed himself and performed a sex act in front of me.
I left home at age 17. I told my mother that I was very hurt that she never told him to stop the sexual abuse.
She screamed at me and said that I am “too sensitive,” and that I was never sexually abused because her boyfriend (now husband) never actually touched me.
I’m 50 years old now, and I have had difficulty with intimacy my whole adult life.
My mother blames me for turning her life upside down because I tried to hurt myself when I was 10 because I felt so terrible and dirty.
I attempted suicide at age 16 because I felt like I was destined to be her husband’s toy.
My family claims that this was not abuse because he didn’t rape me.
I have been to therapy and I have done a lot of work on myself.
Amy, I have felt useless and dirty since I was 10 years old.
Was I abused, or am I just not able to have an intimate relationship because of my own bad behavior?
— Still Wondering
Dear Wondering: You have a lingering and necessary desire for validation; this is a direct result of your family’s choice to continuously deny the traumatic experiences you were subjected to throughout your childhood.
Yes, you were abused. Your mother’s husband attempted to groom you throughout your childhood. Exposing himself and performing a sex act in front of you is a crime.
Read some of the harrowing accounts of (adult) women traumatized by Harvey Weinstein doing what this man did to you, and you will see the long-term and devastating impact of this kind of sexual misconduct and abuse. (Weinstein is currently on trial for rape; his criminal behavior also included exposing himself and performing a sex act in front of women).
You were a child. No one protected you at the time, and they are not protecting you now.
Your abuser robbed you of your self-esteem. Survivors of sexual abuse often struggle with trust and intimacy. This response is a natural reaction of you continuing to protect yourself, the way you had to do all during childhood.
I hope you will continue with therapy.
RAINN.org offers many valuable services to abuse survivors, including a 24/7 online “chat” line where you can contact a counselor. The “Survivor Stories” featured on their site include stories much like yours, told by stalwart survivors who report many of the feelings and reactions you are also experiencing.
It is important that you understand that you are NOT alone.
Dear Amy: I am a 62-year-old man. I am seeking a new relationship with a woman. What is age-appropriate for me when I’m looking for a new partner?
— Aged Out
Dear Aged Out: You and I are the same age, roughly described as: “I’m anyone-who-will-have-me-years-old.”
Age is less important than maturity, and in that regard, life experience, work ethic, responsibility and reliability are all core values to consider, regardless of the other person’s age.
Dear Amy: My husband and I just about rolled off our seats laughing at the letter from “Wondering,” the wife/mom who felt their daughters should know about the dad’s previous long-ago, short-lived first marriage.
This was exactly the same situation that we faced!
We weren’t sure when to let our teenage daughters in on “the family secret,” but the perfect circumstance revealed itself.
One day while out for breakfast, we overheard a woman talking about her daughter in college getting married.
Our older daughter asked what we would say if she decided to get married so young. We looked at each other and smiled, knowing this was the right time. After we finished describing my husband’s youthful marriage, we continued to eat.
Our daughters sat there with their forks frozen halfway to their mouths!
It has become a funny family story.
— Second Wife
Dear Wife: It always comes as a shock to learn that your parents have a past.
(You can email Amy Dickinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.)
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