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The Other Side of the Story: Having an Affair with My 8th Grade Teacher
December 7, 2013 4:07 PM   Subscribe

"I once believed that that flutter came from the flapping of butterflies’ wings, but I have since learned that it came from a grown man fanning the flames of a young girl’s vulnerability...they engulfed trust and then incinerated innocence. They left scar tissue on my memory and cinders of my late childhood...I could gather those remains just as I once gathered lies in a jar, and I have learned to spread the ashes along wherever I go, so that I won’t have to rummage through debris."
posted by rcraniac (62 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Came across this on Longform.org. What a read. And then I stayed for the comments. Ugh. I prefer the comments here.
posted by nostrada at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


I feel incredibly ill after reading that.
posted by discopolo at 4:19 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


And having had a normal run of crushes on male teachers as a high school girl, I'm glad I wasn't the unfortunate girl in my class who went through this kind of thing. The most popular history teacher in school, who had kids in 8th grade when their dad, the high school history teacher, started fooling around with a beautiful, sweet, and brilliant freshman girl who had very little idea on how to appropriately handle what should be harmless feelings.

He got his ass fired and is a registered sex offender in Missouri. He was 40 plus years old. Yet people blamed the girl for sharing interesting articles with him after class. I can't imagine why he thought it wasn't wrong.

Dude even put up a self defense website at one point. People like him can be really sick.
posted by discopolo at 4:29 PM on December 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Also, when I think back to the male teachers I had crushes on, now that I'm the same age they were when I was 14-15, I just can't help but think the crushes were probably there because they were the only men around who we saw on a daily basis. Because they weren't attractive.
posted by discopolo at 4:34 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Couldn't read the whole thing, just the first part was too much of a reminder of those years. I still argue with my male friends wether our biology teacher was a sex-offender, but actually this reminds me how a lot of the teachers went beyond all boundaries. I pushed away the science teacher, so he went for my friend instead. The arts teacher ended up marrying a guy from the class above us, when he graduated. The history teacher was obsessed with "other" forms of sex, and felt it was his duty to inform us about those during sex-ed (in history class? don't ask, I have no idea. Maybe I'm right that the biology teacher was a sex offender, so he didn't get to have sex-ed - but still wasn't fired)

Generally, I feel we must support teachers, who take on the most important job in society, and are not rewarded at all for their efforts. But all teachers need to learn to control the power they have in regard to the students.
posted by mumimor at 4:45 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


What a complex article. I am fascinated by the way the author asserts control over the experience by accepting that it was a shared event, even though she admits that at the time it was not. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I'm glad that she is okay.

I am also horrified by the way her parents made her tell people about the experience. I don't want to say they also victimized her by doing so, because she seems so very averse to the terminology, but I'm at a loss on how else to describe it.
posted by winna at 4:45 PM on December 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


The most popular history teacher in school, who had kids in 8th grade when their dad, the high school history teacher, started fooling around with a beautiful, sweet, and brilliant freshman girl who had very little idea on how to appropriately handle what should be harmless feelings.

Wait; what?
posted by clockzero at 4:46 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


My first reaction to this was "oh my god, I need more honesty like this in stories about teenage sexuality. I need it, personally, and I think we all need it as a society."

My second thought is that there are moments where this seems incredibly honest but is actually dancing maddeningly around honesty.

Or maybe it just demonstrates that honesty cannot be a one-sided thing, because truth is never so simple.
posted by gusandrews at 4:47 PM on December 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


winna, I also see victimization in what other adults did -- not just her parents, but the legal system and the medical/therapeutic system. I may be projecting. It took me years to figure out that the reason I was utterly reticent and hostile in therapy when I had to go after my parents' divorce was that I was thinking to myself "why are you telling me *my* head is messed up? *You're* the ones getting a divorce!"
posted by gusandrews at 4:52 PM on December 7, 2013 [9 favorites]


wait what

Sorry, what I meant to say was that the history teacher who had kids practically out own age started fooling around with my friend. My classmate had a crush on him and these were new feelings for her, but he really shouldn't have pursued her. She was really inexperienced and young.
posted by discopolo at 4:58 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


winna, I also see victimization in what other adults did -- not just her parents, but the legal system and the medical/therapeutic system.

Yes, I'm thinking how she focuses almost as much on how her parents and the system affected her as on how what the teacher did affected her.

It's a hard article for me to unpack.
posted by winna at 4:59 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm reminded of what I heard from a friend who recently tried to adopt a twelve-year-old out of the foster system in New York City, but failed when it turned out the kid was seeking guys her age for sexual activity: girls in the foster system are regularly checked to see if they have been sexually active. I'm not sure how this isn't abuse in and of itself. I keep hoping she's wrong about this.
posted by gusandrews at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I went to High School a pretty long time ago, and there was a music teacher who was known (at least by some students) to have "affairs" with students. He was young-ish, and not unattractive. I had a deep sense that this was wrong, that he was taking advantage of his position, but I was only 14 myself and never said anything. One day, someone else must have and he was at another school in another state, with just whispers remaining in his stead. I didn't really understand the implications of his "affairs" until much later but always felt a sense of guilt for not mentioning what I had heard/seen.
posted by cell divide at 5:10 PM on December 7, 2013


What a read. And then I stayed for the comments. Ugh.

Never read the comments. Metafilter is the only exception to that rule in the entire universe.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:17 PM on December 7, 2013 [41 favorites]


I think the author makes some excellent points about how teen-age girls feel as if they encourage the attention, and I'm sure some of them are actually quite blatant about it. However, that final line, "He was the best teacher that I've ever had," makes me think that she's really still in denial about what exactly happened. Now perhaps she means "best" in the sense of "I've learned more about life from this experience that from anything else", but that's not how it sounds.

It's quite clear he made the first move, and totally deserved to be tossed in jail. And those life lessons, Ms. Kutner? You'd have learned many of them in a far less painful way, though over a longer period of time, through romantic encounters with people your own age.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:21 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


I know two high school phys ed teachers from my school who had affairs with female students. In fact, one replaced the other. In both cases, they ended up marrying. One couple divorced eventually and the other is still married 30+ years later. Weird.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:22 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


This was really powerful.

It brought up a lot of remembered crushes that I'm so sure I made so obvious. I have to wonder what would have been if any one of my teacher/mentor crushes hadn't been a good person. I imagine my story would have been very very similar. It was so much fun staying after class to talk about cool articles, to feel like an equal, to feel special, for a few seconds because the teacher liked you the most.

I still totally remember that giddy feeling of walking by where my student teacher worked in the evening, hoping to see him so I could have an excuse to talk to him, hoping that ONE OF THESE TIMES DAMNIT, HE WAS GONNA FALL IN LOVE WITH ME. I'm pretty sure I was 15, and he was 20-something and I thought for sure it was possible. And right and wonderful and I was an intellectual vixen.


But I keep getting hung up on middle schoolers?!?!? with cellphones?!?
posted by Grandysaur at 5:22 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


CheeseDigestsAll, what if she's not in denial? What if she's trying to tell a story about teenage girls having agency?
posted by gusandrews at 5:25 PM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Never read the comments.

Holy crow, let's amend that to never even GLANCE at the comments.
posted by nevercalm at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Don't stand so close to me.
posted by localroger at 5:26 PM on December 7, 2013 [11 favorites]


Canadian girl, I eventually worked out one replaced the other as PE teacher.
posted by biffa at 5:28 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


A girl I dated in high school ended up in some kind of relationship with our history teacher, which may have started while we were dating. I remember that this teacher was always weirdly aggressive towards me and seemed to particularly dislike me, despite the fact that I was a good student and well-liked by the other teachers. I just figured I was doing something wrong, but everyone else knew something was up by the way he treated her. As far as I know, he got away with it and nothing ever came out of it -- it just lives on in the apocrypha of my small hometown.
posted by thermopoetics at 5:29 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's always male teachers, isn't it? (Except on Fark, where the "hot female teacher and lucky boy" thing probably still exists).

At least one of the girls in my year hooked up with a teacher after we left school, and it probably started before that, but we just greeted that with a shrug.
On the other hand, one of the younger male teachers started up a "Christian" group with a gaggle of 13-year-old girls when my sister started school, and they all had a crush on him.

I think the parents of the girls put a pretty swift stop to any discussion meetings at his house, for which I remain eternally pleased about, because that could have turned into this, and this made my skin crawl.

I am also old enough to be in the teacher age bracket, to be creeped out at the idea of finding 14yos sexually attractive, but I imagine if the age gap isn't that huge, and you're surrounded by 14yo girls all the time, at some point some people are probably going to start down that slippery slope, because apparently they lack self control.

Part of me is now curious to hear the other, other side of the story. But only a small part.
posted by Mezentian at 5:36 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Not just on Fark; there have been many nationally reported stories of female teachers preying on male students (there's a mention of one upthread). Sometimes the boys were as young as 12/13 when they started being approached/groomed.

Until recently, we just didn't take it as seriously as male teachers/female students, probably because boys can't get pregnant/aren't seen as having to protect their virginity (and plain old sexist double standards). But it is still abuse.

The maddening thing is, kids really need adults who aren't their parents in their lives. But this kind of thing has made it hard for parents not to be paranoid about other adults.
posted by emjaybee at 5:42 PM on December 7, 2013 [21 favorites]


I kept thinking of Paul Marshall, the rapist in Atonement (played in the film with creepy oiliness by Benedict Cumberbatch [Adele/film mashup]), who ends up marrying his victim Lola Quincey -- at least in part to conceal his crime via spousal immunity. Jezebel found this couple more interesting than the conventional couple (James MacAvoy and Keira Knightley) with which the story is ostensibly concerned.

Anyway, closest story I have is from when I was already in my 20s and the daughter of our pastor got involved with her track coach. There was also, years later, same church, a prominent fellow married to a seminarian in the church who was active with the youth group -- and especially active with one girl in particular. She was more like 17, as well, but in this case got pregnant and kept the baby.

It's always male teachers, isn't it?

Well, statistically, only about (probably up to) 5% of sexual offenders are female, but that doesn't seem to be the ratio you find in media coverage. The psychological dynamics seem to be generally different. Anyway, there's this going on right now, so not always.
posted by dhartung at 5:51 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Not just on Fark. My (ordinarily attractive fortysomething) junior high school English teacher apparently had a relationship with a somewhat boneheaded but prematurely muscular wrestler in her eighth grade class.

He never said anything about it until she started to harass his girlfriend a few years later. The tragedy in that one was mostly all about her children--her oldest daughter was in my class, and was two years older than the kid she had an affair with. It was quite a little emotional explosion in our very small town school when it came out in the rumour mill, split general opinion, and girls were flying at each other in the hallway swinging fists in tears about it.
posted by LucretiusJones at 5:55 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I just can't help but think the crushes were probably there because they were the only men around who we saw on a daily basis. Because they weren't attractive.
"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

Henry Kissinger
posted by XMLicious at 5:57 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


At least one of the girls in my year hooked up with a teacher after we left school, and it probably started before that, but we just greeted that with a shrug.

Someone I know was, at 24, a contract-employee at the local high school, basically supervising the theater tech (lights, soundboard, etc.) He started a relationship with a senior, who was 18 when they met.

He was eventually fired, and did jail time, despite the fact that not even the girl's parents wanted him prosecuted. The jail time was a result of him being accused of "taking advantage of a student under his supervision" - at the time he noted that, had he been her manager at McDonald's, nobody would have batted an eye. They're still together, now both in their late 30's/early 40's. Her parents still like him a great deal. She's developed MS, and he is a devoted caregiver for her. Whatever the dubious ethics of how their relationship started, they are clearly deeply in love, even all these years later.

I note this, not to defend him or what happened, but because I honestly wonder how this guy ends up doing jail time, but much older teachers taking actual advantage of very young students continue to go unpunished.

It's always male teachers, isn't it?

Pamela Smart
Christine McCallum
Mary Kay Letourneau
posted by anastasiav at 6:12 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


Seems like every high school has a story like this, yes? Ours did; a teacher I didn't know was having some sort of sexual relationship with a girl in our class. Everybody knew somehow (one day the police came into our geography class looking to talk to her, which is totally not subtle at all), and he ended up getting arrested, at which point it came out that this was something he had done before, to the point that he had lost his certification. Total cluster. We all thought we were so grown-up back then. Now I meet high school students and they look so little!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:25 PM on December 7, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not just on Fark; there have been many nationally reported stories of female teachers preying on male students (there's a mention of one upthread). Sometimes the boys were as young as 12/13 when they started being approached/groomed.

Yeah, these female teachers are really psychologically disturbed. I doubt anyone would defend them the way people blame girls for "acting seductively" and defend male teachers.

I know Letourneau married her student. It's weird how some ppl think the marriage part makes it right or less disturbing. It's still weird and wrong.
posted by discopolo at 6:26 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]



"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

—Henry Kissinger


Well thank god we grew out of that. I don't know though. Wouldn't we have wanted the principal then?
posted by discopolo at 6:28 PM on December 7, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wouldn't we have wanted the principal then?

If you were letting Kissinger bone you, it's likely because you couldn't get Nixon's phone number.
posted by localroger at 6:36 PM on December 7, 2013 [13 favorites]


"Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac."

For some reason that statement has always indicated to me that people think women have no subjectivity-- that of course it's power that turns them on instead of curiosity or mystery. I have a feeling (and my own experience) that it's much more the latter when it comes to older men-- I tried to eroticize power for myself when I was younger thinking it was the properly cheeky way to do things and I just couldn't get myself going that way. On the other hand, I was always deeply curious about older men's lives and would half let myself be used (that was the "price," that was the enchanting factor, it was awful but you thought it was inevitable) while I'd kind of mine them for my own self-education and leave abruptly and "cruelly" as young people do when it was no longer interesting.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:36 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


I tried to eroticize power for myself when I was younger thinking it was the properly cheeky way to do things and I just couldn't get myself going that way.

As the gay to straight folks have found the hard way, you cannot change your sexual orientation. What you eroticize tends to get programmed by imprinting events when you're not aware it's happening, and once formed those associations can't be changed. So even if you think S&M is the coolest fashion thing ever, actually getting off on it is not really a thing you can make yourself do.

To this day I'm not sure how self-aware that Kissinger pull quote is. I'm an actual sadist but he was a person of actual power who could cause the deaths of millions of people as a matter of policy. I tend to think Kissinger was a person who thought he was a Sadist but who actually missed Sade's most salient point. There really isn't any joy in pushing a button or giving an order that results in a hundred thousand deaths you won't even witness. The riding crop is much more fulfilling, and a victim whose kink is compatible will come back to you for more play later.
posted by localroger at 6:47 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


localroger: "As the gay to straight folks have found the hard way, you cannot change your sexual orientation."

This is a quandary for me; I'm not sure it's entirely true. I believe it's very hard to change one's sexual predilections; and I could probably say without much hesitation that I don't think I'll ever be able to change my sexual predilections. But it seems clear that sexual predilections do change. People find something sexually stimulating, and then years later they're bored or repulsed by it. Usually this stuff seems to calcify around the time when we become mature adults and doesn't change much after that, but before that it seems to be somewhat in flux; and there are people for whom that rule doesn't entirely hold. It seems clear that people hardly ever have the extreme self-control it requires to change their own orientation, but I wouldn't say it never changes.
posted by koeselitz at 7:16 PM on December 7, 2013 [4 favorites]


We all thought we were so grown-up back then. Now I meet high school students and they look so little!

That's the thing that kills me. I live next to a high school, and they all look so very, very young. I can't imaging *wanting* to sleep with them. And teachers have *such power* over them at that time in their lives- especially the kind of kid who admires their teachers. Any adult abusing kids is awful, but somehow there's something especially despicable to me when it's a teacher.
posted by insufficient data at 7:17 PM on December 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


Not to be all "What about the menz" but there has been a good deal written recently of the unreported natural of female-on-male sexual abuse of children and the effect it has on men later. Most of the stuff I've read has been with regards to hip-hop artists and the culture of misogyny in hip-hop, and how that intertwines with revelations that a few prominent male hip-hop artists (e.g. Lil Wayne, Chris Brown) were effectively raped as children (11 and 8, respectively), but are encouraged to tout it as consensual as proof of their sexual prowess.

I think it is hard to generalize this as solely a male teacher problem until our culture sees the abuse of male children by female adults as an issue.
posted by schroedinger at 7:30 PM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


But it seems clear that sexual predilections do change.

I have probably given this a lot more thought than you have, koeselitz. I think the variability you notice is very limited.

When you are kinky you notice that sexual preferences tend to be multiple. For example, there are lots of S&M poeple who are bi; many S&M people also "switch" which means they are equally cool with being dominant or submissive. I am very strongly heteronormative and top. I can get off on written stories of gay and submissive guys but IRL that is outside of the zone that pushes my buttons.

This was not always necessarily the case. I think one of the major imprinting events occurs around puberty, and in my case before that point I was drifting toward what might have been masochism. But in what is probably an unusual case I remember the exact stimulus that changed that.

I think that once your trigger stimuli are programmed you can shut them down and choose to be asexual, or as some people probably do pretend to be sexual in a different way even though you're being asexual inside. I do not believe you can change your trigger stimuli though once they are set.

The only exception to this is that according to some anecdotal evidence it may be possible to be seduced into masochism by the powerful sensations which slow externally controlled masturbation creates. This is, however, a physiological thing apart from the imprinting mechanism that makes one for example gay or fond of redheads.

There is no means by which this seduction mechanism could create a person fond of redheads or even a sadist if that didn't happen via the natural imprinting pathway. Based on my reading (and a lot of it is anecdotal because it's so poorly studied by actual scientists) there are for humans two windows, a coarse window around age 18 months and a sharpening event just before puberty. Some of us are aware of the second window opening, but most of us aren't.

Anyway this seems a bit off-topic but maybe not so much so, considering that the kids in these situations are sometimes in that imprinting window. That might explain a few otherwise totally HUMANS WTF things.
posted by localroger at 7:57 PM on December 7, 2013


I don't know if it's power so much as what she said in the article, which is that, in summation, teenage boys are more or less awful and here's this slightly older man that's not making terrible jokes and being a ridiculous teenage boy and he makes you feel special and intelligent when most of the guys surrounding you are morons.

We had one in my school as well and he finally got caught and everyone from outside the school was really surprised, but no one that had actually been in his classroom and saw the way he looked at the girls and acted was.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:10 PM on December 7, 2013 [8 favorites]


Never read the comments.

Holy crow, let's amend that to never even GLANCE at the comments.


Writers of personal essays--even a stiff upper lip like Orwell--have always put themselves on the firing line for character assassination. But this has become a whole new animal (and that's an insult to animals) with the advent of the fast, dirty, anonymous drive-by attacks made possible by the internet. (Those same folks who will take 20 seconds to write something shitty under a fake name and a profile picture of a cat holding a beer might not have bothered to even purchase a postage stamp).

I wonder if it's become more or less customary for authors to avoid comments on their own essays, as the signal-to-noise ratio is getting unbearable even on the more "literary" sites. (I feel like anyone who writes for salon.com right now is just about throwing themselves--and their life experiences--to a stinking crowd of barbarians waiting for their next 2-minute hate, in between work emails or picking up the kids from school.)
posted by blue suede stockings at 8:31 PM on December 7, 2013


I was in a similar relationship at that age, though not with a teacher. I have not ever been able to label it as the abuse that it probably was. There's probably a lot more to say, but I don't know how to put it. I'm glad that this woman found words for her experience.
posted by gentian at 8:55 PM on December 7, 2013 [5 favorites]


One of the things that as a society I think we miss is that it isn't necessary for victims of rape and abusive relationships to feel scarred by it forever. It's okay if you don't. It's okay if you didn't mind. You weren't the one responsible for it happening. It's like firing a loaded gun with your eyes closed at another person--sometimes it misses, sometimes it does extraordinary amounts of damage. We made the laws against these things on the basis of how much damage it can do, because there's no way the perpetrator can know ahead of time that it won't, and they're presumed to be responsible adults who can resist impulses like that. Drunk driving is still wrong even if you don't hit anybody this time.
posted by Sequence at 9:14 PM on December 7, 2013 [39 favorites]


Maybe it's similar to how in bullying cases, the teachers are often found to be complicit. Maybe the way we structure school has a tendency to make some teachers over-identify with their students and emulate their lack of control/empathy? Or people who tend this way seek out teaching as a way to have immature relationships (not necessarily sexual ones)?

Possibly it's as simple as the amount of power teachers have over students leading to inevitable abuses. I don't know what the dynamics are; I'm not at all sure how to prevent it.

And you do hear positive stories now and then about student/teacher romances ending in happy marriages, which is possible, but still seems icky, and has no bearing anyway on whether it's ok while the kid is still a minor and/or student.
posted by emjaybee at 9:19 PM on December 7, 2013 [2 favorites]


CheeseDigestsAll, what if she's not in denial? What if she's trying to tell a story about teenage girls having agency?

I get that. I just think it's both.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 9:36 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


My father was a child psychiatrist in the 50's through the 80's. He was always a maverick: he was the only psychiatrist in his class not to go through psychoanalysis. Back then, they were all Freudians. (Now they are pharmaceutical peddlers, but that's a different story.) He was a behaviorist, a Skinnerian. In arguments with him, I can't count the thousands of times he said "Studies show..."

He was a contrarian in so many ways...but one theory would definitely not fly today. He believed that adult/teen sexual encounters did not necessarily damage the youngster.

Of course, many college professors said the same thing in the 60's to justify taking advantage of their students.

But my father was not guilty of this sort of thing: he was just evaluating the studies he had read. I haven't done the research; but then neither has the public or the press. I know that taking advantage of a position of power to have sex with a youngster is wrong, period. But the assumption that the child is always forever damaged...this narrative is seldom challenged, because to challenge it would seem to give the sex offender less punishment/rehabilitation than he (and it is usually a he) deserves. Nevertheless, my father may have had a point, one which this article touches on.
posted by kozad at 9:49 PM on December 7, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can remember having serious crushes on a few of my male teachers. All of them were good men who did not to my knowledge take advantage of those crushes.

Basically teenaged boys can be really annoying. They have no idea how to deal with girls, because they are young and still learning.

They also are mostly not at their physical best until say about age17, when they are starting to grow up.

It's really inconvenient that kids hit biological readiness for sex a long time before they hit social readiness.
Males kind of mature more slowly than females, so you have all these girls vulnerable for grooming.

Then you throw in some young guy who perhaps did not do well with 14 year old girls at the time he was 14 or 15, and this sort of thing happens.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:08 PM on December 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad I read the article. I'm sorry I read the comments.
posted by cherrybounce at 10:42 PM on December 7, 2013


Thanks for posting this. I have a similar story. I was sixteen, he was ten years older, and we met at church, where he was a youth pastor. We were going to get married, had names for our kids and everything. I'm grateful that my parents had the wisdom to handle it in a way that didn't involve law enforcement and prosecution. Once they broke up the relationship, I went through some counseling. I was quite embarrassed about what I'd done and all the trouble I'd caused, so I wanted to get past it all as quickly as possible and move on. I had no right to be the one getting help from anyone because I was a terrible person for lying to my parents. I remember my therapist talking a lot about compartmentalizing things, but I was able to convince her and my parents that I was okay and what I thought I needed was to just never speak of it again and pretend it never happened. As teenagers do, I found other boyfriends and moved on and managed to have what I thought was a normal last couple of years of high school.

Then I went to college. Curiously, my Freshman year of college, he decided to go back to school as well. Sometimes in the morning, on my way to class, I'd see him on his way to his class and I'd duck out the other way, I figured it was just an unfortunate coincidence that our schedules resulted in us crossing paths. I figured that he had just as much of a right to be on campus as I did, so I just figured out ways to avoid him. It didn't occur to me until just as I type these words that maybe his intention was to get some type of reaction out of me, that maybe he was going to class hoping to run into to me.

He'd have mutual friends call, begging me to call him and speak to him. When I did, and tried to get him to understand I was no longer interested, that I wanted him to leave me alone and that I wanted to move on, but he'd argue that it wasn't me really saying such hurtful things to him, that it was my parents who'd brainwashed me. I felt terrible being so mean. Eventually, he gave up, and I never saw or heard from him again.

That was about twenty years ago. Ancient history. Occasionally through the years, I'd wonder what happened to him, and hoped he'd moved on and married or something, because if so, I could let go of any guilt I had about being so awful to him. So a couple of years ago, I searched county court records, but instead of a record of a marriage, I found a probate. The records didn't say how he died, I just know it was an untimely death. My first emotion? Well, my first gut reaction was relief. It was relief that I'd didn't have to worry about him every trying to contact me again, even though there really wasn't any reason to worry about that since I hadn't heard from him in twenty years. My brain was trying to tell me that I had very good reasons for feeling that way, but when the words "victim" crossed my brain, I talked myself out of it because I did not believe that was a fair description of my experience because I had, after all, been in a "consensual" relationship. Hadn't I hurt him, too? So then I felt bad about feeling relief. And I still did until I read this article. I hesitate to call myself a victim, because I do not feel I have any right to that label, because...well...part of the lessons I've had to learn is the importance of accepting responsibility for my actions. But the problem, is that just like 16 year old me never thought of myself as a child, I still have problems thinking of my 16 year old self as a child. But of course, I was, wasn't I?
posted by Kwisock Haderach at 12:47 AM on December 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


I'm confused by the don't read the comments posts. I've read about half of them and it scrolls down oldest to youngest; it seems anything controversial stems from a single poster, Jeff Silva and then the responses to him? Or is my timing off and there was something more?
posted by kigpig at 1:58 AM on December 8, 2013


I've noticed that people who work any kind of customer service type job, and are thus contractually obliged to be pleasant and friendly, have a kind of occupational hazard that customers will regularly mistake their working demeanor for actual friendship or more than that.

Seems that if you put thousands of teenagers with raging hormones into a school where the teachers are sometimes the only decent adults they know, and the teachers are actively trying to help the kids and teach them and connect with them, it's only to be expected that large proportions of the students will form an emotional bond with a teacher and start testing out their flirting skills.

To me it seems like a credit to the basic decency of teachers that more of them don't end up taking advantage of a ready supply of teenagers who are desperate to try out this whole "being an adult" thing in ways they don't fully understand.

One might imagine that less demonising of the kind of fooling around that teenagers get up to with one another would help provide more outlets for teenage hormones that don't have quite such a power imbalance.
posted by emilyw at 4:43 AM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


He believed that adult/teen sexual encounters did not necessarily damage the youngster.

And maybe sometimes it even helped, but that's not the point. That it should be prevented/avoided is a heuristic, not a deterministic concept. There's no good way of knowing in advance how it will turn out and the point of view of the adult is biased.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:37 AM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


This reads as eerily familiar to me. One of my exes had an affair with my 23-year-old band teacher when she was 15. She came out of it with more damage than the author here seems to have; in retrospect, she was going through a lot of the motions of heartbreak and betrayal and all that stuff you go through when it turns out that somebody saw a lot less in you than you were seeing in them.

Regardless, I went into my job as a summer camp counselor with a whole lot of anxiety and nervousness (I was 18, barely older than some of my campers, and this was less than a year after that ex and I had broken up). I think it's wrong to suggest that power's not a part of the reason why this kind of situation is messed up; I was only a year or two older than some of my campers, but that didn't change the fact that I was an adult in this given situation, and they were kids. People react differently to people who are supposed to be in charge: there's a trust and a willingness to say/do things towards an authority figure that you don't have with your peers, as there probably should be. The age discrepancy makes things worse, because youth and immaturity can be exploited horribly easily, but authority alone is enough to make that sort of situation weird and not-at-all fair to both parties concerned.

I ended up having a couple of campers admit to crushes on me, all after the program had ended, and my response was uniformly to talk to them about that stuff and generally discuss both their feelings and the reasons why imbalanced power dynamics like that lead frequently to ugly stuff. Maybe the latter part wasn't necessary, but having just dated a girl whose crush on a teacher led to a lot of damage, I didn't want to just brush those crushes away until they found some new older figure to cling to.

One other guy in my program, an RA who was five years older than me, was approached by a crush and ended up smoking her up and then sleeping with her. At the time, that made me even more nervous about my responsibility the following year, but in retrospect I'm pretty outraged that a guy could overlook the feelings and fucked-up shit that his ward was going through enough to pretend that something like that was okay. Maybe it's that being 23 isn't old enough to be completely empathetic towards the crap that other people are dealing with, but I can't imagine genuinely feeling affectionate towards another person and not give lots of damns about making sure they were happy and unharmed and generally not messed up because of my own actions.

So I'm incapable of seeing situations like this and thinking of the older party as anything other than self-consciously, knowingly predatory. Warning lights start going off in my head when I'm interacting with younger people WAY before anything remotely unharmless occurs, simply because I know there's such a potential for exploitation and wrongdoing inherent in the imbalance. Is it that some people don't have those warning lights? Or do they just ignore them as they happen? Maybe it's unsympathetic of me, but I'm inclined to feel like it's the latter, and every time I've heard an account of this from the older person's perspective, it always runs along the lines of "I knew there was something wrong about it, BUT [list of romanticized, self-pitying excuses]", and there's something kind of horrendous about those BUTs. As soon as the "I knew something was wrong" strikes you, that's when you STOP, because clearly you are going to be prejudiced in all the rest of your analyses. Ugh ugh and ugh.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:48 AM on December 8, 2013 [14 favorites]


So I'm incapable of seeing situations like this and thinking of the older party as anything other than self-consciously, knowingly predatory

People in general seem to be bad at saying "No" to anyone they find reasonably attractive who is hitting on them. They are also good at denying their own agency and rationalising their actions afterwards - how many times have you heard people who are having affairs saying "Oh, it just happened" or "I couldn't help it"? like, your clothes just fell off? really?

There are reasons that people pre-contraception lived by this strange moral code that mainly involved keeping men and women separate unless chaperoned.

I think that teacher training everywhere should provide actual scripts for dealing with inappropriate assumptions of friendship/closeness/romance by pupils. Along with sex education giving everyone everywhere better scripts for saying "no" and better tools for deciding whether they want or need to say "no".
posted by emilyw at 7:47 AM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't think fourteen is necessarily too young to be fooling around, since I was fourteen when I started fooling around. However - I was fooling around with other teenagers. We grew up with really good sex ed because I think they figured we were going to be doing it anyway so why not push condoms? My point is that teenagers should be fooling around with teenagers if at all, because then you don't have that awful power differential where one person is so much older and has more of a capability to ruin the other's life. Of course when I was fourteen I would have loved for a teacher to take special notice of me sexually, but now at the age of 29 I'm grateful that that never happened.
posted by pony707 at 8:06 AM on December 8, 2013


I also think that sometimes the reason people in authority situations do the things they do is as simple as this: it's hot to have sex you're not supposed to be having. I've transgressed by cheating or having sex publicly and found that it turns my crank, especially because it's not supposed to. Of course now I wouldn't do those things because I've developed a sense of morality. So you take someone with little morality and present a taboo situation and that's what happens. Not trying to excuse it by any means.
posted by pony707 at 8:10 AM on December 8, 2013


I've had this experience. I was 14, and he was my 24 yr old track coach. He was also a very popular middle school teacher at the small religious school I attended. Why was he popular? Because he acted like a kid, and did "cool" things like give eighth grade kids access to beer.

At the time, I was a very uncool kid with a heavy load of crappy homelife brought on by a mentally ill mother. Of *course* I had a crush on the cool teacher. All the girls did. But when he came on to me, I was special. He was the first person to tell me I was beautiful *in my whole life.* No 14 yr old can resist that. And of course he knew it.

Even when it was happening, I can remember feeling betrayed by his lack of control. I knew it was okay for me to be "in love" with him, but I knew he was crossing a boundary he wasn't supposed to. I knew there was something wrong with him, and spent the entirety of our relationship struggling between trying to understand why I was in love with someone who was so fucked up, and the selfish disregard of that fact. It *felt so good* to be cared for by someone, that I couldn't resist it.

At that age, you want so badly to see yourself as having full agency over your life, and you resist with every fiber of your being the idea that you can be manipulated by someone you don't see as even being particularly smart. Not only that, if you are aware that they are somehow helpless over their impulses, then you start to feel like *you're* the powerful one, and see yourself as the one in control.

Eventually, the man's recklessness caused us to be outed. He wasn't fired immediately (it was the Seventies, and though there was a lot of making out, there was no full-on sexual contact), but rather his contract was not renewed the next year. Also, somehow my mother made the school principal promise that the facts would not get out, which led to a star teacher at the school to leave in protest of his being let go. The guilt I felt over this was overwhelming--I thought I had destroyed my school. Also, he'd let fly what was probably an idle phrase: "I'll come for you when you're of age." To me, this phrase became blown up into a crazy idea that this "psycho" was coming to kidnap me when I turned 18 or maybe even 21. Both birthdays were completely ruined for me. I realize it was a kid being dramatic, now, but then it felt possible.

It was extremely traumatizing, and the sense of betrayal was made fully complete when my mother blamed me. She shamed me, never told my father (because he would kill the guy, she said) and never took me to therapy. She never mentioned it again, until when I was in my early 20s and dated a guy 12 years my senior. She then drunkenly accused me of having a "thing" for older men.

Years later, I found out that I wasn't the only one--that the man had been grooming several of the girls at the school, always eighth graders. And this is where I fully realized my own obliviousness to the man's manipulative tactics. I might have thought I was the powerful one, but he was working it for all he was worth. Just because I was the "sane" one in the relationship, doesn't mean that I had the power I thought I had. He groomed a few, and took advantage where he could.

What went on in his head? I've always had the strong sense that it was about power and control over another--something he'd never had the opportunity to express before. And once he got a taste of it, he couldn't stop himself, nor did he want to.
posted by RedEmma at 8:33 AM on December 8, 2013 [21 favorites]


I should add that I went on to be a high school teacher myself (for a time, anyway), and I've always been extremely sensitive to this issue. It's normal for kids to have crushes on teachers. It might even be normal for teachers to have occasional crushes on teenagers who are particularly charismatic or interesting. (Especially kids who are nearly adults when you're in your early 20s yourself.) However, the teacher's duty in those circumstances is to channel those impulses into inspired teaching and a relationship that might direct that sexual energy into something excellent. You must never use it for your personal gratification. And crossing the line is always the wrong thing to do, even if they're 18 and about to graduate.
posted by RedEmma at 8:40 AM on December 8, 2013 [8 favorites]


I am always grateful when people are willing to write about complex feeling and events that don't necessarily fit into approved narratives. Because things are complex and writing about them can be vulnerable and hard.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:47 AM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


Or maybe it just demonstrates that honesty cannot be a one-sided thing, because truth is never so simple.

The simple truth in a relationship like this is that the teacher is wrong and behaving in an evil way. Natural perhaps, I won't argue on that point. But still wrong and evil to impose his power on a young person. Period.

What if she's trying to tell a story about teenage girls having agency? Teen girls/boys should have agency to say yes to their peers and no to someone in power.
There isn't true agency to consent when the power imbalance is that great.

It *felt so good* to be cared for by someone, that I couldn't resist it.

Oh god, this. My first sexual relationship (with a peer) was about being held as much as having sex. Later I was told that girls just want to be held; boys want sex. not that I agree with that statement, because boys can want to have that human contact and holding just as much as girls do. Male or female, when the hormones are there, sex is a pretty strong urge, but how many teens in the US get hugs from their parents after they start to mature? Kids in a shitty relationship with their parents, even borderline abusive, desperately need affection and to have sheltering arms around them--even if a 16-17 year old can't realistically provide much shelter.
posted by BlueHorse at 12:39 PM on December 8, 2013 [4 favorites]


I just can't help but think the crushes were probably there because they were the only men around who we saw on a daily basis. Because they weren't attractive.

I 100% had a crush on my piano teacher when I was in 5th grade due to this phenomenon, because in retrospect, he was kinda weird looking.

You know, I just remembered now that I told my babysitter about my crush! She giggled with me and teased me light-heartedly, and all that. It was a nice outlet for my feelings I think, and I appreciated that she took me seriously while realizing that it wasn't serious at all.

My heart goes out to the author of this piece. It's a lot to unpack.
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:02 PM on December 8, 2013 [2 favorites]


I read Boy Toy by Barry Lyga and it is such a powerful novel about a boy who was molested by his eighth grade teacher and him dealing with her being released from jail as a senior in highschool. Basically when he finally confronts her about what he saw as him coming on to her, she tells him that it was all her. She groomed him and encouraged his crush.

Teenagers are only seeing their side. They might think they are more powerful than they are but we should know it is the adults that always have the power. No 14 year old is truly seducing an adult, it is always the other way around.
posted by amapolaroja at 5:18 PM on December 8, 2013 [1 favorite]


At my high school the principal was sleeping with a 17-year-old student. And they were fairly open about it -- she and her friends were hanging out in his office almost every day. It took the district six months to fire him.
posted by miyabo at 5:26 AM on December 9, 2013


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