Cities without landmarks
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
There is a lecturer in my faculty whom I find devastatingly attractive. I find him so attractive that I have to actively control myself in his presence. I think about him nonstop. I am a graduate student and he is a lecturer. He is probably about double my age, and I am 22. I took one of his classes a few semesters back but won’t be in any of his classes in the future.
I am sure I have made my attraction as painfully obvious as possible. Should I try to proposition him? What do you think of this sort of age gap? And how do I handle the possible (probable) rejection? I am aware of the imbalances of power, experience and maturity, as well as the conflicts of interest and possible repercussions that may ensue.
You may have thought and read about conflicts of interest and imbalances of power but are you ready to find, in the agonizing grip of an affair, a visceral unhappiness unlike anything you have ever known? Can you handle wanting to scream or grab a crowbar while also wanting to weep and beg forgiveness?
Are you ready to find yourself, as if living in a pre-feminist era, driven to a gradual, crippling compromise by your desire for some man who for all his fine words still seems to secretly enjoy unassailable privilege? Are you ready to be emptying ashtrays and making tea and realize, holy shit! You secretly expected his prestige and power to rub off on you but nothing has really changed! Are you ready to realize you allowed yourself to indulge in some 19th-century claptrap and did it with your eyes open and your finger on the page in this book right here where it says women are powerful and things have changed and you control your own destiny, which is sort of true in lots of ways except for the ones that really matter?
Except where actual privilege lives its actual life?
Actual privilege is nice and attractive. It just doesn’t have much of a heart.
I’m not saying be a good girl and never act on your impulses. And I’m not setting it up for I Told You So And Now Don’t Come Crying to Me or some such. I’m saying, do some research on him. Does he have a girlfriend? Is he married? Does he spend time with lots of students, or mainly with his peers? Watch him. Study him.
You are vulnerable here. Maybe you are capable of handling this. But maybe not. It wouldn’t be the first time someone thought she knew what she was doing.
So do some courageous self-assessment. Share your dilemma with your women friends. Don’t just walk in there with your eyes shut and open up for him. Power and privilege still break women’s hearts and psychotherapy is expensive especially if you didn’t get that tenure-track job even though he promised to go to bat for you in the committee and now that you think about it, weirdly enough, he didn’t really support you as energetically as you thought he would.
I mean, Are you ready to want what you didn’t think you wanted, and want it more strongly than you thought you could want anything, and then find out that no matter how much you want it you’re never going to get it because somebody else already took it and she wears weird eye shadow?
That is what happens when your lust is only a thin covering over a deeper, global longing that you don’t even know you have until after it’s driven you crazy.
Are you ready to realize that you’re the one who said all these empowered, knowing, independent-sounding words and now all you want is for this man to just stay right here and not go teach his next class while you embody your desire in the form of another cup of green tea and an omelet, which he consumes but does not appear to taste, and when you ask him a question about his work he waves it away as if it were not phrased properly and when you see him with other students, you notice a pretty young woman student who has this adoring look on her face that seems eerily familiar …
And if it comes to that will you be able to accept that he has another young student who finds him as irresistible as you do and he may be seeing her tonight, and he may lie to you about it or not tell you anything, or disappear for weeks at a time with no notice, or break a date with you without warning or explanation, or suddenly seem distant and petty and not at all interested in you and what you have to say, or become critical of you and your life choices or not want to meet your friends and family or find fault with your apartment, which is too small, or the color of your toenails, which is too bright, all of which makes you scream at him but you don’t because you don’t want him to see your juvenile, screamer-bitch side, which you only so recently thought you’d completely left behind.
Because you are a graduate student at a distinguished university and it wouldn’t be right … after he fails to show up yet again and you are left sitting at the bar wondering why you didn’t heed the warning signs.
You could have read about this in a book. You don’t have to actually fall off a cliff to know why it’s good to stand back from the edge.
Maybe you are very tough and self-reliant and just want an adventure. I don’t know you. But if you are so tough and self-reliant, why are you sharing this with me?
I think you know there is something dangerous about this and what you really need is for someone to say, Slow down. Examine your motives. Examine your hungers. What are you really looking for?
Niagara Falls, U.S./Canada
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