I have recently heard two very similar stories from two very different sources. One was my friend Belle, the one I’ve managed to keep in touch with in the US. She told me about a girl I met once – let’s call her Michigan. Belle’s drama teacher vanished last year under mysterious circumstances; it turns out that Michigan disappeared at just about the same time. She stopped answering Belle’s phone calls and emails and, apparently, moved. Many months later, it came out that the drama teacher had been caught having relations with a former student of his. Even later, the school administration – allegedly – let slip to some students who this former student had been, which is how Belle found out. She reminds me that this is no more than hearsay, and the next part is merely speculation, but apparently Michigan has been living with this teacher in a different city since then. Belle still hasn’t spoken to Michigan, but she also says that she just wouldn’t know what to say to her.
I never knew Michigan very well. In seventh grade I had a class with a few of her friends, and I ended up hanging out with them a lot because they were different and interesting and didn’t seem to mind me. Actually, they were tons of fun to be around, but I don’t remember my time with them very well. I don’t know why.
Well, I was properly scandalized when I heard about this, and blown away when I heard it was Michigan. An eighteen-year-old who has an affair with her (ex-)drama teacher has usually not thought things through. This is a classic example of a tragic teen tale, and you’re not supposed to spare it a second thought. But if you do . . . If you do, that thought should be “Why?” And, immediately after, “Was she happy?”
I’m not saying that a teenager living with a mature adult isn’t usually a terrible idea. I’m not condoning that kind of thing. I really, really hope that Michigan wasn’t doing anything against her will and that the teacher wasn’t using and/or abusing her in any way at all. I pray that this might be so. Thing is, if I get what I pray for, that means she chose this. And that means that she wanted to be with him. If I’m really optimistic, it means she was in love.
It’s pointless for me to try to discuss whether it’s “possible” for this kind of relationship to exist. I’m eighteen and I’ve never been in love; what do I know? What I wonder about is something else: how should I feel about it? If I meet someone who’s in a similar situation – a relationship with someone much older than they – should I judge harshly? Should I care? Should it matter to our friendship? Should I immediately try to do something about it, or should I wait until I know more?
Should I talk to her about it? Ask why, maybe? Should I pretend nothing was happening? If she asked me to cover for her with our mutual friends, should I? What should be my standard for judging whether it’s right or wrong? Will it make a difference if my friend is a boy, not a girl? Why should it? Why shouldn’t it?
There are too many questions, and I don’t know any of the answers. Still, I’m finding it interesting to contemplate them. There’s nothing better for your own maturity than carefully considering, with as little bias as possible, how you’d react to a new and difficult situation. Maybe you can’t keep strong emotions from affecting your judgment, but you ought to know how they’re affecting you, so that you are guided by them and not controlled by them.