When I was about 16, I “dated” (I use that term loosely) a 27-year-old man.
The shocking part isn’t that it happened or that it wasn’t appropriate, is that years later, and while I know it was both illegal and taboo, my statutory rape, has had no affect on my life whatsoever. Until recently.
I met Eric* when he was working at a local store in New York, not far from where I grew up. I went to a small all-girls private school, so any male attention was kind of a big deal. We flirted for a little bit and he asked if I wanted to be on the store’s mailing list, but I knew what that really meant. In hindsight, he might not have immediately realized that I was in high school. After all, I was in the store by myself and had a credit card. I looked young, but I was almost detrimentally precocious.
The truth is that in high school, I hung out with my fair share of adults. I had several friends, who were probably 8 years older than I was, that I went clubbing with most weekends. I met them when I was out with a girlfriend and they knew how old we were but that didn’t matter; we were probably more mature and had more life experience than people twice our age. Several of those friends are still in my life today. I understand the entire situation probably sounds odd and predatory to most people, but isn’t uncommon for kids who grew up in Manhattan.
At some point, I told Eric I was still in high school, but it didn’t make a difference to him and we began hooking up at his place, a fifth floor walkup (or at least it felt that way in high heels) studio apartment not far from the store. The place was so tiny he only had room for a bed, a desk and a grand piano. He had a cat named Tori (yes, for Tori Amos), so of course that made him more sensitive. We would make out and listen to music that most high school kids weren’t cool enough to appreciate.
In addition to working at the store, Eric was a musician and still in school. Hot, right? He told me that before he had his current job, he was a DJ at an infamous strip club, but was fired. I still wonder if that was true or not, but sadly that was super attractive to me at the time. Who wouldn’t want to date a former strip club DJ? Eric could have been hanging out with hot strippers, but he chose me.
Eric and I never had actual intercourse, but we did just about everything else. I was a virgin and had no intention of giving it up to some rando who wasn’t my boyfriend. I might have been a party girl, but really wanted my first time to be with someone better than him. Besides, he was awesome at oral (it was his specialty) and loved to do it, so that was enough for me. Despite my boundaries, I was sexually curious and willing, so why he didn’t try to violate them is something I will never find out. Maybe he was afraid that intercourse would make our relationship more taboo than just oral sex would. Either way, it seemed our relationship wasn’t going anywhere. No harm, no foul.
* * *
I don’t know why, but I recently Googled him. I checked out the requisite Facebook page with pictures of his wife and son. His life had turned out nicely. He moved to another state where he was a teacher.
But, I also found something more disturbing.
I discovered an indictment against him for sexually harassing an underage girl—one of his students. When I read the document (which in truth I can no longer find so it seems he must have deleted it somehow), it was all too clear what had happened. Every memory of how we met and the time we spent together came flooding back to me.
All the descriptions of his behavior and harassment were eerily familiar—I think he might have said the same exact things to me. I wondered how he could do that to a student and how he thought he could get away with it . . . but it only took me a minute to realize he did the same thing to me.
While I always conceived of what happened between Eric and I as taboo, I never thought of it as criminal, unlike his sexual pursuit of his student. While I did, and do, consider my situation one of sexual consent, *Eric's subsequent harassment with this girl was an egregious violation of student-teacher power dynamics and perhaps even pedophilic.
I’m sure what happened will haunt her for life and for that I feel waves of latent guilt. While *Eric and I had a large age discrepancy we met and cavorted as peers. At the end of the day, our exchange—even when analyzed from each and every angle—emotionally doesn't feel any different from every other casual hookup I had in high school.
In truth, I don't know how to reconcile these two feelings, these two truths—wondering if I unknowingly perpetuated his proclivity for young girl's, enabling him to believe his pursuits were acceptable.
*Name has been changed.