To the man who stood me up, thank you!
R. Kelly and the problematic mindset of ‘consenting’ teens dating older men
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Medium’s “We Need to Talk” on January 23, 2020.
I put on my favorite hip-hugging dress and four-inch heels. I made sure all the curls and feathering in my haircut were neatly in place. And off I walked to the Metra train station, ready to meet my date downtown. Then came the waiting game. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. After an hour, I got back on the train.
When I got home, I paged him (yes, this was the pager days) several times. No response. A couple of days went by, and I was annoyed. I’d worked with this guy for several months at an after-school job downtown. But by this time, he’d quit that job and decided he wanted to do his own thing. I, on the other hand, was still working there, saving up for prom and eating plenty of Harold’s Chicken meals for lunch.
On my way home from work one day, it hit me that he would not recognize a pay phone number and I could call him there. And so I did. He called back less than a few minutes later. As soon as the pay phone rang, I picked it up. His voice came in loud and clear.
Me: “Why did you stand me up?”
Him: “Who is this?”
Me: “Who do you think it is?”
Him: “Oh. Let me call you back.”
Me: “Remember the time you got shot in the leg?”
Me: “I hope you get shot in the heart so you know how I feel right now.”
And I slammed down the phone, deciding I never wanted to speak to him again for the rest of my life. I mentioned that story to a few high school friends who all laughed about it, saying they were going to start using this line too. “Remember when you fell off that bike? I hope you fall off again so you know how I feel.” We snickered and went about our day.
The “survival” lesson I learned from watching “Surviving R. Kelly”
I thought about that guy while watching the “Surviving R. Kelly” series. This was the first time that I wondered if the guy from my after-school job realized he was breaking the law. At the time we were hanging out — and did nothing more than kissing — I was 16 and he was 23. I was an old soul who thought boys my age were mainly immature and boring as hell to talk to. My older brother was seven years older than me, and I got along with all of his friends who seemed more my speed. So it made sense to me to date someone who was a maximum of seven years older than me, too.
But when you’re 16 years old, you don’t think of how dangerous this can be — especially for a more manipulative older man. My parents didn’t know I was dating this guy. How could they? In their minds, I was just going to work to work. I didn’t really bring up his age to any of my friends; they just knew he wasn’t high school anymore. I did write about him once during a creative writing class, but oddly, my creative writing teacher just breezed right past it and made sure the class was actually journaling as opposed to reading our content.
I wasn’t someone who would be considered “loose” or “fast.” I’d just always hung out with people who were older than me. My idea of a good time was spending hours on end with my parents’ landlord’s wife, who chain-smoked and taught me how to play Solitaire. Or, I’d hang out with my grandfather, who taught me how to play Tonk and Poker and Blackjack, when he wasn’t persistent about me learning Roman Numerals and teaching him how email works (in later years). But dating wise? I just thought boys my age were clowns and wanted nothing to do with them — minus one, my first boyfriend who was 16. We were short-lived and he was too undisciplined for my taste.