An Inappropriate Union
I was 16-years-old and on a Hawaii trip with the Senior class from my high school. We had very few chaperones, and they’re busy doing their own thing. The main chaperone told us at the meeting prior to leaving, just be careful because, “I don’t want nobody’s mama showing up at my doorstep 9 months later talking about their daughter’s pregnant.” That was that. The party was on.
Going to Hawaii with a bunch of other high school students was great. We drank plenty of alcohol, ate plenty of good food and partied, we had a good time. That’s when I met him.
I remember a few of us were laying on one bed talking, and he was laying on the other. I saw him looking at me. Next thing I knew we were “dating.” I was 16, he was 23, and had a professional affiliation with my high school. Of course we kept things “secret” at first, but eventually people knew. Probably because we spent a great deal of time together.
I lied to my family and told them he was 18. He clearly did not look 18. I was just happy that this man “loved” me. He was technically my first. Technically requires another article. Let’s just say it’s a common problem among young girls who older men target.
I heard people talk about age differences before, and that they really did not matter when it came to “love.” Though I agree in general, I wasn’t the first girl he dated from the high school. His girlfriend prior to me was 14-years-old when they dated. Also, his “best friend” was a 15-year-old girl from our high school.
I was a lonely teenager. People knew of me because I was a cheerleader and my “best friend” was one of the prettiest girls in the school. Everyone knew and loved her, I was just around. I smiled a lot, but was really depressed. I also had a drinking problem. It was easy for teenage girls to get alcohol back then. A few of us hung around plenty of adult males.
Older folks told me I was an “Old Soul.” In reality, I did get along better with adults. Perhaps it was because I spent a lot of time with my Elders as a child. Therefore, I didn’t see “dating” an adult male as a problem. All of his childhood friends didn’t seem to think it was a problem, as far as I knew anyway. We spent a lot of time with his friends from high school, all adult males and their wives/girlfriends. No one said anything, at least not to me.
I believe in love. People do fall in love. There was a point in time where it was perfectly normal for a man in his early 20’s to fall in love with a girl in her late teens, date her, and then marry her. One of my high school teachers had been married to his wife for years, and they were the same age difference as my “boyfriend,” and I. That’s how I justified an older man “dating” me.
I left him after 7 years when I realized he was not going to marry me. Besides, there was the lying and cheating. He cheated on me with his previous teenage girlfriend, the 14-year-old. She may have been 15 or 16 when he cheated.
After I left, one of his male best friends told me that I should consider taking back his friend. “Nobody’s gonna love you like … did.” My response was, “Oh yeah?” My thoughts however, “Yup, damn right!!! I deserve better that that kind of love.”
I was in my late 20’s when a relative who found out his real age said, “Somebody needed to kick… ass!” I didn’t see it at first, but I felt comforted by her sentiment.
Fast forward several years later as a social worker with Child Protective Services, I had the opportunity to speak with other teenage girls who told me about their “boyfriends.” These were 13 and 14-year-old girls who talked about their 40-year-old “boyfriends.” Men who actually fell under the category of a different name. I was able to have empathy for these young ladies who fell “in love” with grown men who made promises to them about a life better than the one from which they came.
During my 30’s I was blessed to have birthed a beautiful son. I remember the day I looked at him and declared that he would have a healthier life than I. I also reflected on a couple of abusive relationships I had prior to giving birth. I began some intense healing over my past history of childhood sexual abuse and abusive boyfriends. I remember the day I angrily thought about my “relationship” with this older man. I angrily thought, “YES! Somebody should’ve kicked his ass.” Although I do not advocate for violence, during this time of my process, I longed for the idea of someone jumping in and defending my honor. He had no business dating 14 and 16-year- old girls, while having a 15-year-old female “best friend.”
Though I went through my spiritual phase that included non-judgment and having compassion for “hurt people who hurt people,” I shook it off. This was wrong and he needed consequences.
Upon reflection I remembered a conversation that stuck out to me. In high school as I was joking with one of the football players, I laughed when he did something. I jokingly said, “I’m gonna tell your …on you.” He said, “Don’t nobody give a f*ck about… Don’t nobody respect him.” Something felt off, but I didn’t get it then. After 30 years, I do now.
As I’ve been on my healing journey, I’ve gone through the process of experiencing feeling sick to my stomach over this situation. Me, a teenage girl having sex with this grown man, who also had sex with other teenage girls younger than I.
I’ve thought about the years of process in my healing. I thought about the times when I felt triggered every single time I saw the company logo from his job. Or even the times when I’d be listening to the radio, I’d hear a song from my teenage years and would just change the channel. I would have this sick feeling even though it was a song that I loved as a teen. Upon reflection I realized that those were just triggers from an extremely toxic “relationship” that was damaging to me as a teenager.
Recently as I was driving, I reflected on this article and several songs from my high school years came on the radio station. For the first time I didn’t change the station. Instead I listened, I teared up and I grieved.
I grieved for that little girl in me, that little girl who felt she needed to hide; hide in alcohol, hide in a fake smile, and hide in the arms of a grown man who needed to know better.
I grieved the teenager who didn’t go get to go to her prom because of her adult boyfriend and his professional affiliation with the school. I grieved the teenager who didn’t get to have her full teenage experience because she was too busy trying to be grown up.
While I grieved, I cried and I let that teenager, that little girl transform and merge into the woman that I’ve become. I held her, I loved her up and I let her know that she is as beautiful as she is powerful, and that she is worthy because I am worthy.
Now that I’ve re-entered the dating world, I’ve decided to attract an amazing person who’s going to be a great man to me and a great role model to my son. I’ve done my best to keep myself aligned with men who value women and as adults, only date/have relations with other adults. I have an amazing 12-year-old son and I realized that I had been cautious about dating thinking that because of my history I might have attracted someone who would hurt him, or me. Fortunately, I’ve healed that and have opened up to having a healthy relationship.
Thirty years have gone by since I’d been in that “relationship,” and I actually feel no resentment. I can stand back and say it was an experience and I’ve healed. It would’ve been nice had a caring adult intervened. Realistically however, I know that as a teenage girl, nothing would’ve stopped me. Catch 22.
Thank you for reading!