How do I start to come to terms with this?
September 23, 2018 5:45 AM   Subscribe

A teacher, years ago when I was 14/15, was in an inappropriate relationship with me. Physical boundaries were crossed but not necessarily legal ones. I don't know what to call it.

It was consensual (although I know that, as a minor under the law, it does not matter for e.g. sex); it wasn't that bad - we never went very far and I was told that it was not an immediate criminal charge.

I told a mandatory reporter yesterday and she is bringing it to the school's head and maybe the department of education. I don't know what to feel or hope for. This isn't really a single question anymore, but I'm starting with: what do I even call this?

I'm also trying to triangulate it, I guess, through the lens of other people's experiences. I have Wendy Ortiz's Excavation but haven't read it yet; other suggestions for reading about this specific kind of relationship are welcome.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky to Human Relations (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I haven't seen this movie, but I read about it; seems like it's the sort of thing you're struggling with.
posted by rikschell at 6:21 AM on September 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

It was consensual (although I know that, as a minor under the law, it does not matter for e.g. sex); it wasn't that bad - we never went very far and I was told that it was not an immediate criminal charge.

You seem to be using the legal / social consensus view as a way of gauging how you should personally feel. In my experience feelings don’t work that way. You feel how you feel: good, bad, or indifferent. For you it could be a tiny issue or a huge one, but you are literally the only one person capable of making that call.

I would use that as a starting point for (surprise!) some short term therapy to help you sort out your feelings.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:39 AM on September 23, 2018 [27 favorites]

Tell Me No Lies is getting at something that I was having trouble finding a way to articulate. It seems to me that for the purposes of you personally coming to terms with this, you need to be guided primarily by your own emotions. Consensuality and legality, while important, are less relevant here than how you personally feel about the incident. It would be totally valid for you to feel anything from deeply violated all the way up to pleasantly nostalgic about this experience, and no amount of external labeling will change that.

I would suggest that you avoid looking for a label until you've explored how you actually feel, first. Labels can be useful, but they also can constrain the way we think about things. They're only helpful when they fit the shape of something that's already there, rather than when they try to tell us what shape it should be. You have to identify your feelings first.

Maybe therapy is what you need in order to do that, or maybe this is work that you feel comfortable doing on your own without guidance. That's for you to determine. But I think that the place to start is just to explore your emotions and learn how you feel, now, about this episode from your adolescence. Let your eventual actions be guided by that.

Somewhat separately, it sounds from your question like this former teacher is still teaching—is that correct? Regardless of whether or not your relationship with this person was harmful to you personally, it does sound like they really should not be teaching children. Even if your specific instance turned out to be harmless (which maybe it wasn't—not trying to tell you how to feel, just speaking in hypotheticals) it was still super duper inappropriate on the teacher's part and there's no way they didn't know that. They may have done similar things with other kids that turned out to be very harmful indeed. This is not a person who should be working with children, and it's possible (depending on what else they've done) that this is not even a person who should be living outside of a prison, so good on you for reporting.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:59 AM on September 23, 2018 [7 favorites]

Seems like therapy could be helpful here (assuming the mandated reporter you mentioned is not your therapist). Take the time to find a therapist you trust and feel comfortable with.

I'm sorry you are dealing with this. Good luck.
posted by bunderful at 7:02 AM on September 23, 2018

You asked for suggestions for further reading - the journalist Lynn Barber wrote a memoir called An Education about her at-the-time consensual teenage relationship with an older man. You can read an extract from it here. Her story was later made into a film starring Carey Mulligan.
posted by rd45 at 7:59 AM on September 23, 2018

"It was consensual (although I know that, as a minor under the law, it does not matter for e.g. sex); it wasn't that bad - we never went very far and I was told that it was not an immediate criminal charge. "

In my country, it isn't possible for a student to consent to the overtures of a high school teacher; the power differential makes it abusive and coercive in all contexts, even once the student is of legal age.

(More and more colleges are adopting this rule as well; even if both parties are consenting adults, the power differential between professor and student makes it inherently abusive and coercive.)

There is a further abuse in that teachers KNOW students get inappropriate crushes on them all the time and/or have immature ideas about relationships and boundaries and so on, and a limited ability to understand wrong from right in relationships. Your teacher saw you were willing and used that to abuse you instead of gently and appropriately deflecting your interest/willingness and helping you set an appropriate boundary. The fact that it was consensual doesn't make it less abusive, but differently abusive, since he turned your consent against you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2018 [10 favorites]

I want to second The Tale on HBO. The writer/director was interviewed on Fresh Air: Her perspective was interesting.
posted by zebrabananafish at 12:24 PM on September 23, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was an 8th grader/US when this happened to me with a shop teacher at my school. No sex, but hugging and kissing. Because I felt overlooked in general at that time and not particularly lovable, I thought it was exciting and that it made me special. I called it vaguely 'getting a ride home from Mister X'. Now I call it an inappropriate affair with an under-aged girl. The only reason it ended is that I moved to a new city in a different state. Later, ashamed, I never reported it, thinking surely I did something to cause it and I never said 'stop'.

Back then, he carved out little wooden figures in the shop and gave them to me as gifts. I initially kept them as fondness tokens. I still have them 40+ years later and I now keep them as a cautionary tale and tangible reminder that I wasn't making it up. I doubt he is still teaching, possibly living, and I still feel sheepish talking about it.

Doubtful my teacher is currently working in education, he is probably no longer alive - I would guess he was in his 40s when I was a student. I will not pursue finding him at this late date, but I started therapy and hope to address this residual yuck. Like you, I'm interested in finding resources to deal with laying those ghosts to rest, and I wish you all the best at doing the same, in whatever form that takes.
posted by mcbeth at 6:36 AM on September 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

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