When Paula McClain came out of a two-year relationship in 2019, she heard familiar voices "telling me that all I needed to do was try again with the next one, the right one." Instead, The Paris Wife author opted for celibacy. After "two failed marriages" and "an ocean’s worth of love drama," she realized "that I was lost, and that no love, no matter how profound, was going to help me find my way out," McClain writes in a New York Times op-ed. And so McClain focused on herself, particularly "the dark shape that is forever in the background, tracking me like my own shadow, driving me to seek what can't be found." It stems, writes McClain, from sexual abuse she suffered as a 5-year-old living with a foster family. "I would wake to a shape in the doorway, the husband's inky silhouette. And then I would disappear inside myself, barely breathing, frozen."
"There was nowhere to turn, and nothing to do but simply give up my body and hide far away, deep in the maze of my mind," writes McClain, now 55. "I went somewhere else, even in the daytime, far away from all the things I couldn't control." Years later, when she aged out of the foster system, McClain "let it all burn without looking back, making it a policy never to tell anyone in this new life how I had grown up." During sex, "sometimes I would burst into tears or flood with rage, wanting to fight back in a way I hadn't as a child." But she was unable to explain it, even to her husband. "Sex scared me, so I had more of it. Men bewildered me, so I obsessed over figuring out what they wanted and tried to become that." Now, 20 months after the vow of celibacy, McClain sees the first step to patching her soul "must be to try to love myself as I am" and "to carry what's mine to carry." And in this, "I'm hardly alone." Read the full piece here. (Read more opinion stories.)