Dating my professor
I said, “He had this great apartment overstuffed with books, and brilliant writer friends, and smart editors publishing his work …”Amid debates of older men harassing, seducing, and manipulating female students and subordinates, it was tempting to see myself as the innocent prey and injured party, another young, impressionable protégée manipulated by a powerful man.
Yet as easy as that narrative would be on my ego, it wouldn’t be psychologically accurate.
But tonight she’d rushed over — still in a minidress, high heels, heavy eyeliner, and lipstick — upset about a bad experience she’d just had with a famous older novelist now teaching at my alma mater, whom she’d befriended on Facebook. “He wanted me to be his date for this fancy award ceremony tonight. Because I was a female professor and outspoken women’s-rights advocate who’d championed Debbie’s work, I knew she wanted me to be angry on her behalf, toe the conventional feminist line, take her side, see her as an innocent victim, and call the guy a harasser — or worse. Although my conservative parents didn’t know what a master’s in creative writing was, they’d reluctantly let me sell my orange Cutlass to help fund three terms in the big city.
I said no way.” All the harassment, sexual-assault, roofie, and rape cases in colleges across the country were not distant news.
I wasn’t sure if the spark I felt between us was my imagination.
I might have even apologized, not sure if I’d been immature back then or just a typically self-involved single player in my 20s.
Released from the confines of academia, my former professor took me to dinner. It was awkward and scary, but switching from protégée to girlfriend made me feel special. Friends my age were a little skeptical, perhaps because I’d disappeared into his much more intellectually stimulating world. Hearing him kvetch about his lower-back pain and receding hair was a turnoff.
At a local Chinese dive, he told me how beautiful I was. He didn’t like that the job he’d found me became my priority.
It was a trade-off I’d chosen, a barter that launched me, benefitting me most in the long-run.
Seeing him at a crowded soirée not long ago, our eyes met. He pretended not to remember who I was, turning away as I approached. Then I wondered if he’d intentionally shunned me because he was still angry.Now, after two decades in a happy union, I’ve learned I can be a feminist who loves men and marriage.