To Sir with lust on September 21, 1998…
Dear Breakup Girl,
Congratulations on your site. I have a small academic problem for you. I am a graduate student who is perpetually falling for academics/professors — of both genders. I am quite comfortable with the gender part of it, but the academic part causes potential ethical problems, and in my experience, the need to constantly attempt to bridge unwieldy generational boundaries. I am 24, and the objects of my admiration tend to be at least around 35 or over with Captivating Intellects/Teaching Styles. Oh yes, and most already have partners…I am not attracted to people my own age at all, as we generally do not have the same mindset or priorities. Am I Mad? Just Unusual? Destined to spend the rest of my days a lonely young spinster prowling the corridors of the academy? This situation has already caused some emotional strains for me.
Thanking you in anticipation of a reply with footnotes,
– Girl Gradstudent
You are neither as Mad nor as Unusual as you might like to (1) think. For one thing, you seem to have good taste. Captivating intellect? Charisma? Good call! You’re off to a better start than the folks who write, “Dear Breakup Girl, The objects of my admiration are all dull as a box of rocks.” For another, you are, um, hardly the first young woman to fall for — or at least be attracted to — sharp, charismatic, Older men (women) who are ultimately unattainable (2). That’s why I think my response to you will apply to everyone out there who has considered — or entered into — an “Inappropriate Relationship.”(3)
See, Breakup Belleruth (4) comments: “Seems to me you sexualize clout. I wonder whether, if you worked in a corporation, you’d “have the hots only for the senior managers.” (5) Granted, the “intellectual” thing is, in a way, an animal of its own: witness the recent spate of tell-alls by women tortured by tortured geniuses. When you shack up with an Academic / Intellectual, you can at least tell (kid) yourself, “Well, clearly it’s not for his money….”.
But. Money, clout: same thing.Yes, indeedy, there’s something about power, isn’t there? Granted, Chair of the Renaissance Cartography Department is nothing compared to, I don’t know, Leader of the Free World — but within its own context, it’s the same. And while I’m on the subject, that’s why the power of the Powerful Person in the “couple” cannot always be considered directly or one-way-streetly coercive. When someone powerful invites us to the picture show, it is not always against our will (nor for reasons of actual compatibility) that we say, “Well, okay, just this once.” Or “Oh, there’s a sequel? Okay, just this twice.”(6) Power, whether that of a Committee Chair or Commander in Chief, or a superhero, is intoxicating (7).
Anyway. The difference in your case (8) is that you don’t just “admire” them, which would amount to enjoying the buzz, but having the presence of brain to look elsewhere for actual sustenance. Instead, you — as you said yourself — actually fall for them. As we’ve discussed above, at some level, it’s easy to understand why. But I will ask you what I always ask writers-in in similar predicaments: what doesn’t appeal to you about people who are actually appropriate/available? What turns you off so much that “emotional strain” is better? I do believe that maybe you haven’t met anyone “your age” who in particular exercises your brain and fires up your loins. I DO NOT believe that you are otherwise somehow “above” your peers in terms of “mindset” or “priorities.” I know tons of brilliant people who are involved with brilliant equals. So what is it? Generic “fear of commitment?” A dearth of (forgive this flabby term) “self-esteem” that drives you to search out of your league rather than have to compete directly? You tell me. All sources properly cited, of course.
In the meantime, yeah, quit prowling the Ivory Tower West Wing. If you’re attracted to brains and charisma, fine; just don’t work your mack by offering to help out at the department’s Family Picnic. Go where the single ones are — seek out the hot young prodigies, the funky grad-student lounge social events, etc. Either that, or do the opposite, just to jar your world. Get non-academic friends to bring you along to their karaoke nights with lawyers and journalists and electricians and artists. Trust that there’s someone out there who’ll be captivated by your intellect. Let these affairs of the heart and mind remain as dangerous/delightful footnotes to a brilliant life-in-progress.
(1) I say “like to,” because going around wearing a “Mad” or “Unusual” badge gets you access — that is, a nice, laminated excuse — to go places you really shouldn’t. Repeatedly. Ad infinitum. Or, at least 37 times.
(2) You really don’t need me to footnote this reference, but I hadn’t had one in a few sentences. Oh, also, there was another such woman (“Professor Rebound!”).
(3) originally, a technical term/legalese signifying “dumbass roll-in-the-Oval.”
(4) Belleruth Naparstek, psychotherapist, author, BG.com civilian-with-credentials
(5) E-mail correspondence dated September 17, 1998
(6) It goes both ways, you realize. There are also men who are turned into [thong-wearing] puppies by badass women. For a variation on this one, see below.
(7) People intoxicatable by power are the opposite of all the Florence Nightingales in Shining Armor — those who go around rescuing/rescucitating the ne’er-do/date-wells of the world — who have been reprimanded in these pages. Well, actually: two sides, same coin. You siphon power (identity) from “above,” or you derive it from its absence “below.” Hey, this is heady stuff!
(8) And in that of someone else whose love life has been addressed in a heavily footnoted document. (If I may say so for the record, if said document were a porn movie script, the Whitewater case — its originally intended focus — would be … the plot.)