Monday, August 31, 2020

My Life Is Not a Lifetime Movie

A few years ago, when I was still teaching at a college in Small Town, one of my students asked me out. I was coming out of my office on campus and was on my way to the library, when one of my students approached me. "Hey, Professor, could I ask you something?" he asked. 

"Is it about the grades?" I asked. "I told everyone that I'll post the grades online later this month." 

"Uh no, actually, my friends are having a party, and I was wondering if you'd like to go with me." 

Startled, I said, "No, I can't do that. Sorry, but I have to go." And then I turned and hurried off to the library, moving so rapidly that I might have left a trail of dust behind me.

This happened on the last day of the semester, so I didn't see the student again after that. That's probably why he waited until then to ask. 

If this were a Lifetime movie, I would have said yes, and then, in typical Lifetime movie fashion, either he would have turned out to be a menacing stalker, or I would have.

But my life is not a Lifetime movie. Was I tempted to say yes? NO, not even a little bit. I don't view the guys in my class as people I could date. I just think of them as students, who, along with my female students, are the reason that my hair is turning white. (I have to get it dyed every few months.)

Even though I instantly knew that I had no interest in dating the student who asked me out (or ANY of the students at the colleges that have employed me, for that matter), I tried to picture myself at the college party he invited me to. What if some of my other students were there? What would I even say to them? "Oh, yes, I'm here with your classmate. We're dating now. And by the way, let me know if you have any questions about your final grades. Okay, everybody DRINK!"

There have been other instances. used to have a chili pepper rating, where students could "award" their professors with a chili pepper if they thought the professors were hot. I was one of the faculty who was rated in that way. The chili pepper rating was eventually removed after a female professor (not me) complained that it was offensive and degrading. 

Another student at one of the other colleges where I used to teach had a crush on me. He never asked me out, but I could tell because he often lingered after class. He'd say things like, "Do you want me to erase the chalkboard for you, Professor? Do you need any other help with anything?" I always said no, but one time, I turned around after packing up my bag and he was literally right there behind me, which freaked me out. He said, "I just wanted to tell you that you did a really good job teaching today." 

I said, "Um, thanks, gotta go." And then I took off, leaving a trail of dust behind me.

I did tell my program director about the student who made me uncomfortable, but there wasn't anything the director could do at that point because technically, nothing he had done was against the rules, even though it was weird and seriously creeped me out. But the director did tell me to let her know if the student tried to go any further than that.

And I've never been inappropriate with any of my students. I never flirted with them or anything like that, so I don't know why they thought it was okay to make advances towards me, because it WASN'T. I thought maybe it was partly because I am a woman; it's often harder for women in academia to get respect from students than it is from men. For example, now that I have my doctorate, I use the title of "Doctor" in class. But every year, there are always a few students who disregard the title I earned and call me Miss ____, and I correct them every time. Almost every time, the students who disregard my title are guys. My male colleagues have not reported having this problem, but several of my female colleagues have.

Most colleges, including the one I currently work for, have strict rules against faculty dating students. A lot of colleges don't allow faculty to date students at all, at least not until after the students graduate. Others do allow it, but only if the student is not currently enrolled in the professor's class. 

Some schools won't even allow graduate students who work as teaching assistants to date the undergrads, even though technically, the T.A.s are still students. They say that it's a conflict of interest. For example, what if you were dating someone who is doing poorly in your class? Would you be able to remain objective and still give that student the grade he or she earned? 

Despite the strict rules that prohibit faculty from dating students, that obviously hasn't stopped some professors at colleges everywhere from dating them anyway, and I personally know a few of the ones who have. Most of them are middle-aged men pursuing students young enough to be their granddaughters. They typically get away with it because they either keep it a secret, or they are A-list scholars who bring in tons of money and recognition to their departments, so they get away with a lot of stuff that the rest of us academic plebeians would get fired for.

But I also know a female professor in Small Town who was several years younger than me who dated one of her students; she said that they didn't start dating until he was no longer in her class, but he was still enrolled in the college as a senior. They eventually broke up after a few months, and she started dating someone (not a student) who was significantly older than her.

Those young people often think that the professors are so smart, sensitive and romantic because they can do things like quote Shakespeare and poetry, but hello, all English professors can do that. It's like Puck said in A Midsummer Night's Dream: "Lord, what fools these mortals be."

Some people might argue that as long as the student is of a legal age to consent, then both the student and the professor are consenting adults. Others might say that there are professors and students who ended up getting married after the students graduated, and the relationships lasted. And ultimately, it's true that it's their choice whether or not to date, not mine.

But in my opinion, professors who date students while the latter is still enrolled at the college, even if the students are no longer in the professors' classes, are taking a huge risk. I heard about a professor (not in College Town) who hooked up with one of his students, and then he moved on to another student. The first student reported him to the university, and he was fired. (The playwright William Congreve wrote, "Heav'n has no rage, like love to hatred turn'd, nor hell a fury, like a woman scorn'd.") He successfully sued his department and was reinstated in his job, but even the judge admonished him for his behavior. 

As a workaholic who has sacrificed almost everything else in my life that mattered for my work, I can't imagine risking everything I've worked for and everything I'm still working for. I may never get tenure, but there are still a lot of things that I want to do. At the very least, I want my contract to be renewed at the college I am currently teaching at, and a relationship with a student might negatively affect my chances of renewal. There are also opportunities for promotion at this school, or if I eventually have enough publications and awards, I could possibly move on to a more prestigious school in the future. I'm also interested in teaching at a military college (they occasionally hire civilians to teach the core subjects like English, math, and science) because the pay and benefits are typically better than at civilian schools. I want to publish scholarly books that are related to the research I did for my dissertation and master's thesis. I want to do so many things that would be very difficult (or in some cases, impossible) to do if I were to do just one thing, which is date a student.

One's professional reputation is very important in any workplace, but it's especially important in academia where almost any time a full-time college teaching job becomes available, even if it's not on the tenure track, there are literally hundreds of people applying for it. I want to have a reputation where I'm known for being a good scholar, teacher, and writer. I don't want to be known as the professor who hooks up with her students, which is why I have never done it and will never do it.

There's also the fact that I am a lot older than my students. Many people have told me that I look young for my age, but that doesn't change the fact that at 39, I am an entire drinking age older than most of my students, which makes ME want to drink. That's why even if those guys weren't my students, I still wouldn't want to date any of them. Legally, they may be adults, but in every other sense of the word, most of them still have a lot of growing up to do. I don't mean that as an insult. I still had a lot of growing up to do when I was that age. When I was eighteen, I scheduled my college classes around episodes of All My Children, and I wanted to marry Ricky Martin (insert facepalm here).

When I first started teaching, I was still in my twenties, and several of my students were older than me. One of them invited me to go out for drinks, but I said no back then, too. If one of my older students were to ask me out today, I would still say no. 

The men I know who date younger women claim that they want women who can have kids more easily than middle-aged women can. That may be true, but I think they also want women whose bodies have not yet been affected by giving birth. 

I'm not totally opposed to May-December relationships. I think there are some instances where it can work, and it can lead to lasting, loving connections. But I think that when one person is a student and the other person is a teacher, it blurs the lines that are supposed to be in place between the faculty and the students. The teacher is in a position of authority, and in my opinion, he or she should remain professional and adhere to ethical standards.

What about you? What do you think of teachers who date their students? What is your opinion of May-December relationships?

Friday, August 21, 2020

What I Learned from Matthew Hussey

Last year, I found out that Matthew Hussey, a well-known relationship and lifestyle coach, was visiting major cities across the U.S. and giving women advice about dating. He and his brother Stephen wrote a book called How to Get the Guy.

The nearest major city where Matthew was giving a talk was an hours-long train ride away from College Town, but I made the trip anyway because I was still hurting after seeing the Model profess his love for his girlfriend on social media just a few days after he hooked up with me last summer.

Tickets to Matthew's talk only cost about thirty dollars, but he also promoted a biannual, week-long retreat that he and his team host in Florida where they provide in-depth coaching. I couldn't afford the retreat, but I was seriously tempted to dip into my savings to sign up for it because by the end of his talk, I thought, Wow, this guy really knows what he's talking about. I kind of want to give him all my money now.

My reaction to him was similar to the initial reaction that I imagine cult members may have to their "leader". Matthew Hussey is handsome and charismatic and knows exactly what to say to get people to agree with him. Except unlike cult leaders, Matthew is not trying to scam or hurt anyone; he genuinely wants to help people make genuine, loving connections. He provides an insightful, frank perspective on the dating life.

Here is an example of what he teaches women about unrequited love:

At the end of his talk, he did a Q&A where he answered questions from a few people that he picked from the audience. I was one of the people he chose. I briefly described what happened with the Model, and then I asked, "How do I let go of all this anger and pain over what he did? How do I resist the desire to publicly expose him for what he did? How do I let go of my feelings for him?"

Matthew answered, "You're hurting right now, but you deserve better. Why are you letting him star in the story of your life, when it's ultimately your story and he's really just a chapter in it?"

He also said, "The most important thing a man can give a woman is security, the feeling that he will always be there for her. Good men don't leave women feeling insecure, uncertain, and anxious all the time." 

Although being with the Model was thrilling and fun, I was in a constant state of anxiety and uncertainty because I was never sure when or if I would see him again. He snapped his fingers, and I came running.

I wish I could say that I took Matthew's advice and didn't contact the Model ever again. But as I admitted in a recent post, I did contact the Model again, several months later (last spring), and he texted back. For about three months, we texted back and forth several days a week, sometimes all day long. I always felt a rush every time I received a notification on my phone and saw that it was a message from him. 

Although he had moved out West two years ago, he was now living in a small Midwestern town. He said that the next time he was in College Town, he would come and see me. But his Instagram posts (he unblocked me once we started talking again) showed that he kept going to the city where the woman he claimed was no longer his girlfriend lived, and that city was much farther away from where he lived than College Town was. He was going out of his way to be with her.  His posts also showed a few pictures of himself in College Town. When I asked him to stop by and see me, he always had an excuse for why he couldn't. That was when I finally stopped texting him.

When the gyms closed down because of the pandemic, I took long walks around a local park instead. I took my iPod and listened to the Love Life with Matthew Hussey podcast that was run by Matthew and Stephen. One of the episodes was called "Why Men 'Love Bomb' and What You Can Do about It". "Love bombing" means that the guy lavishes a woman with a lot of attention for a while, pulls a disappearing act, and will then pop up again weeks or months later. 

Matthew said, "Men do this because they're insecure and need the validation." They get validation from knowing that the women are still interested. This describes the Model to a T. For more than two years, he love bombed me again and again, and I let him get away with it because I thought that the worst thing was a life without him. But I finally realized that the worst thing is a life where I continue to let him push me around while I cling to the vain hope that eventually he will feel as strongly about me as I do about him. 

Recently, he texted me out of the blue, after months of no contact. He claimed that he'd been busy with his work, but I didn't feel that same thrill when I heard from him. Instead, I felt irritated and angry that he thought it was okay to do this.

I responded, "Well, I figured you hadn't texted or come to see me because you were back with your girlfriend."

When we started texting each other again last spring, I avoided mentioning her because I was afraid that he would tell me what I already knew: that she was back in his life. As long as I avoided it, I could cling to this hopeless fantasy that I would get to be with him again. I told myself that since he had his own place in a town far away from where she lived, then that meant that what he told me last summer about how they were no longer dating was true. Also, I was afraid before that if I mentioned her, he would get mad at me and ghost me again. I was angry at him for lying to me, but I had been lying to him too. I'd pretended to be okay with our "casual situationship" this whole time, even though I really wanted more. But at that point, I was done pretending.

He didn't admit the truth at first. He said, "I haven't come to College Town because I rarely go there in the first place." He accused me of overreacting and over-analyzing the situation.

He finally admitted that he and his girlfriend were in an open relationship for years and were now very "close". I wanted to ask him, Why didn't you just SAY that before? I once went on a date with a guy who was also in an open relationship, although he specifically stated in his dating profile that he was polyamorous.

But before I could ask, the Model stated that who he dated was his business, and who I dated was my business. "I don't want drama," he said. 

I told him, "I don't want drama either, which is why I want you to promise that you won't follow through on your threats." 

He said he only said that because I threatened him. But I didn't. Two years ago, after I found out that he took her to Mexico for her birthday two weeks after he spent the night with me (I didn't know about her back then, and I only found out after I got suspicious and started digging around on social media), I told him how much he hurt me because I was still hurting. The Model responded not with an apology but with threats. The Hussey brothers said on their podcast that toxic people see any kind of criticism or questions about their behavior as threatening, and they respond with personal attacks. 

The Model said that he didn't want to talk about it anymore, and then he changed the subject. He continued texting me after that, but I kept thinking, Even after all this time, he still thinks he didn't do anything wrong. He will never change. And whether they're "close friends" or still together, it doesn't change the fact that he treats her better than he ever treated me.

On the one hand, we were never exclusive. But it's one thing if he's hooking up with random women that he doesn't care about. When he's in a loving relationship with someone that he treats like a queen, and then treats me like crap while also stringing me along with just enough "affection" to keep me around, it's something else altogether. She can tolerate his on-again, off-again behavior because he treats her much better, and by that I mean he's treated her to not one but ten lavish vacations in two years, based on what I've seen from her Instagram page. But unlike her, I never cared about his money. I just wanted to be with him. But like I said in my previous post, I just can't do this anymore. 

Do I still have feelings for the Model? Yes. Will it be hard for me to say no to him if he moves back to College Town (he said he might move back here soon) and says he wants to see me again? Yes. But do I want to be free of his control, and do I fantasize about trapping him and his hard-partying, gold-digging girlfriend in a haunted castle with all of the worst villains from Game of Thrones? Also yes.

I didn't block him because if I do, I might run into him in College Town and he'll confront me to ask why. Instead I changed his name in my phone to "DON'T TEXT HIM BACK". Anyone who's been reading this blog since I met him will know that my posts about him over the past three years could basically be summed up like this: "I'm head over heels for him!" to "He left, and now I'm sad," to "I'm moving on with my life, and I'm over him," to "Now he's back, and I'm so happy" to "OK, this time, I'm TOTALLY over him." 

But Matthew and Stephen Hussey have definitely helped me realize that sometimes, it's not just about finding the right guy. It's about letting go of the wrong one.