In 2004, when I was a freshman in college, the chair of the arts program I was attending made a pass at me.
It didn’t matter that he was more than 30 years older than me or that he was responsible for grading my work or even that he was married. I was hooked, and for four years — the entirety of my college education — I told no one that the most charming, beloved man at my school came to my apartment every week for a couple of hours, where we would have sex, drink crappy beer, and gossip about people we both knew.
Very quickly, the relationship began to tear me apart and left me in a depression that took 10 years to work my way out of.
In March 2015, seven years since I had last seen him, I realized that the only way to move on was to tell the college administration and to ask them to follow through on whatever policy this fell under. It ultimately resulted in his resignation.
There are many things I wish I could take back or do differently, much more than I can cover here. But this is a start.
1. Choices you make at 18 do matter.
The self-destructive choices you make now will follow you through your adult life. You won’t be this young for very long and you aren’t going to want to carry around the aftermath of these reckless decisions for the rest of your life. You are going to get out of this and you are going to get through this.
But the effects are going to linger. The things that he convinces you of, the things you will come to believe are good and true and worthy, will always be there. And while you’ll know later that the sex you had wasn’t kind, and the way he treated you wasn’t fair, his voice will always be there, telling you that you are not enough.
2. Yes, you pursued the relationship, yes you wanted to be with him, but it doesn’t negate the fact that he abused his power over you.
In fact, it just further illustrates how powerful his influence really is. You’ll think that because you pursue the relationship, because you live for his attention, it’s your fault.
That’s the thing about abuses of power — you can consent to be in an unequal relationship, but that consent doesn’t matter. The 30+ year age difference, his position at the college, his authority over your education, all make your consent invalid.
It will feel like you are freely choosing to be with him, and you won’t want to admit that you are being manipulated. But this doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t make it your fault.
3. It is not your ship that will sink.
He’ll tell you “loose lips sink ships,” an expression you’ve never heard before and you’ll think to yourself “The ship is ours, something we built and care for together.”
After 10 years, after therapy and telling the college, and his resignation, you’ll finally realize that it’s not your ship to sink. His career, his marriage, his reputation. You have things on the line, sure — friends, family, your education — real and valid concerns. But don’t for one second allow yourself to believe that you have nearly as much to lose as he does. It’s not your ship that will sink.
4. Anyone who knows that being with you is hurting you, but encourages it anyway, doesn’t really care about you.
A year-and-a-half in, he tells you he loves you. You’ll wish he hadn’t. You won’t know if you love him, and you won’t know if you believe him.
But over time you’ll start to see yourself as someone who doesn’t deserve to be loved by anyone more than him. Remember this — loving relationships don’t tear you apart, and people who love you don’t consistently put their wants and desires above your wellbeing.
Your loyalty and devotion to him, even when he tells you that you can’t see boys your age or live near your friends, is a testament to you and the love you are capable of. Your devotion to him is not a testament to his worth.
5. He isn’t going to change.
When he leaves your tiny apartment, the one he calls a sugar cube, you’ll watch him through the peephole as he heads down the hall to the staircase hoping not to be seen. As you watch, you’ll will him to turn around, to pause for a second, to look back at your closed door.
If he’d look back, it might be OK. If he’d look back, you might believe that he loves you. Or that it’s worth it. Or that he isn’t ignoring all of the signs that you are just not OK.
Every week you will watch as he leaves and every week he will fail your test; he will never pause, he will never look back.
6. He isn’t coming to your wedding.
That image you have in your head — the one where years later he continues to be your mentor and there for you long after the sex has stopped — that image isn’t real. You aren’t going to end this on good terms.
You will get out, you will leave Montreal, but he will keep calling, dragging you back. A year after you’ve left, you will ask him, finally and firmly, to stop calling and that will be it. You will know you can never speak to him again, or go back to the college, and that even being in the same city will make you uncomfortable.
If you want him in your life — to actually be a mentor, to learn from him — don’t have sex with him.
7. Telling the college, even seven years after you’ve graduated, will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
One day, two years into the relationship, you will be lying in bed together and you’ll ask him if he ever worries about you telling someone. He’ll say simply, “No, you’re too nice to do that.”
You’ll believe him and you’ll believe that it would make you a not-nice person if you did tell the college, despite the damage being with him is causing you.
For years afterward, you’ll continue to care more about what he thinks of you than you care what you think of yourself. After sending a detailed, lawyer-reviewed letter to the college’s head of HR, you’ll question how you could hurt him like this.
In a moment of weakness, you will leave a message on his voicemail, explaining that you wish you could have continued to keep the secret but didn’t know what else to do.
Telling the college will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it will also be the first time in 10 years that you have regained your power in the situation, and that you are enough.
Check out the following resources if you want to know more about tutor/student relationships
- “Professionalism in the Professoriate” from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) which provides guidance on maintaining appropriate boundaries between faculty and students.
- “Sexual Misconduct and Title IX” from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, which provides information on prohibited conduct and how to report it.
- “Student-Faculty Dating” from the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) which offers guidance on institutional policies and procedures related to such relationships.
- “Faculty-Student Consensual Relationships” from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) which provides information on the potential conflicts of interest and power imbalances that can occur in such relationships.
- “Responsibilities of Faculty Members” from the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) which sets guidelines for faculty conduct, including maintaining appropriate boundaries with students.
It’s worth noting that these resources are meant to be informative, it’s always a good idea to seek help from a professional if you’re feeling overwhelmed or need additional support. Also, it’s important to check with your institution’s policy and guidelines on such matters.
Our Anonymous account is for our readers to share their stories with us without having to make their names public.