“I feel I’ve reached breaking point and cannot go on. I’m 18 and, over the summer, became embroiled in an affair with a much older man, who was once my teacher.
We developed a close friendship at school, but it was strictly platonic. Afterwards, we met as friends but, after a few meetings, became lovers.
I’d had a mad crush on him at school, and so at first could not quite believe that he was finally ‘mine’. Now pain has overtaken pleasure, leaving me feeling confused and lonely.
He has a wife and child. I’m not a horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills, but I couldn’t control how I felt about him.
I’m racked by guilt because of his child – but not his wife, wrong as that may be. I despise her because she has him and there is nothing I can do about it. I love this wonderful man, too – when I’m with him I feel so complete.
However, the affair is ruining my life. I’d planned to go to university, but decided not to bother because I felt too depressed and unstable to contemplate study.
I hope to go next year, but I worry that I’ve consigned myself to yet another year with him and will feel worse and worse. I find it hard to concentrate on anything but him.
I’ve watched my friends move away to uni, and they have made new friends and are having the time of their lives.
Meanwhile, I am hurting badly. My parents are angry because I am often out for hours – meeting up with him (saying I’m with friends), when I should be looking for a job.
My heart aches; I can’t see any future for myself that does not involve him.
He says we have to give things time until his son is a little older and then – if we are still in love – see what happens.
He says we should just appreciate what an amazing relationship we have.
However, I feel as though my life’s on hold – while he’s had his youth and fun, and is now settled. I’m desperate for commitment, but I can’t walk away because I love him too much.
The thought of life without him is unbearable. I don’t blame him because it was me who instigated the affair, and it’s obviously had adverse effects on his life as well. But I feel my youth has been taken away from me.
He gets upset and jealous if I mention other boys, although he says he knows he can’t stop me from seeing someone else.
But I’m not interested and find myself longing to have his child, though I know this would only make things 1,000 times worse.
I have no one to talk to. No one would understand. They’d accuse me of having a sleazy fling, whereas our relationship is built on love.
I’m not eating or sleeping and I’m considering making an appointment to see my doctor for depression if things do not get better. Please help.”
This letter first appeared in the Daily Mirror.
It’s easy to plough in here with a diagnosis of unresolved Oedipus Complex – you have succeeded in seducing father away from mother but have inevitably ended up feeling at once guilty and abused. Part of you, I think, knows this. You have said you are at ‘breaking point’ and ‘cannot go on’. You end by wondering about seeking help for depression and clearly you do feel completely helpless, as if you have started something you do not understand.
You say ‘embroiled’ as though it was some sort of an accident. ‘Strictly platonic’ makes it obvious this was never platonic – you may not have had a physical relationship at school but you say you had a ‘mad crush’ on him, so your intentions, if not his, were clear. What does seem to have shocked you though is that it actually happened.
While Oedipal desires are a normal part of development, the disturbance around the desires being acted out is overwhelming, as with incest. You are 18, so nothing illegal is going on, but abuse is happening nonetheless. The father figure you desired decided to have sex with you and the reality of this has made you very depressed and frightened. It has made you feel completely worthless – you’ve lost education, friends and career and made this man the centre of your world, though he is married and has a child with someone else (a mother figure).
It’s possible to speculate about your parents’ relationship with each other and with you – perhaps you are closer to your dad and feel punished by your mum. This might explain why you feel no guilt towards the wife. You do, however, identify with the child who may lose a father. Perhaps your dad left for someone else and you would prefer to act out being the someone else than face the painful reality of being one of the ones left behind?
You don’t say these things, so I’m guessing, but it is clear that you hoped for fulfillment in this affair and have found emptiness, like a child who desires closeness with a parent but is petrified and ruined when met with abuse, perhaps disguised as love.
You say you are not a ‘horrible home-wrecker after cheap thrills’ as though you imagine other women might be – did your father have a girlfriend you perceived in this way? That might have been an easy way of blaming someone other than your father for whatever it is he may have done. (Speculation, obviously).
In the case of this teacher, you do explicitly say ‘I don’t blame him’ because you claim started the affair. Alone? With no invitation? Yet you say your youth has been taken away from you. By whom? The way you blame yourself entirely and yet feel buffeted by fate at the same time is interesting here. Anything, apparently, rather than blame your cowardly abuser.
This unwillingness to blame him is classic behaviour for someone in an abusive relationship – it’s easier to imagine things are your fault or that the fates are conspiring against you than it is to see that the person who is supposed to love you is manipulative, domineering and abusive. If this man was as wonderful as you try to persuade us he is, he would have insisted you go to university and end the relationship with him. Or, if it is what you and he both want as an adult couple, he would leave his wife and start a new family with you.
However, I don’t think that is what you want. You sound horrified, in fact, that the relationship has taken the shape that it has, that the secrecy and lies, consfusion, shame and guilt (again, typical in survivors of childhood sexual abuse) has made you wholly reliant on him, isolated and old before your time.
This is a confusing letter because it is tempting to treat you as an adult, persuade you of your own autonomy, that denying it is an infantile defence and that you need to take responsibility for your actions and see through the fantasy of helplessness. However, if you were three years younger it would be a police case and all your symptoms – depression, not eating (on the self-harm spectrum), insomnia, confusion, guilt, worthlessness, shame, desperate reliance on your aggressor – would be seen as symptoms of childhood sexual abuse.
Despite the adult nature of your letter, your symptoms and your efforts to excuse the appalling behaviour of this man who should probably not be a teacher, suggest to me that you are more in need of the kind of help an abused child might need.
Certainly, it’s obvious that you need to end this relationship, tell your parents and friends about it, get a place at university and move on with your life away from this man who would like to dominate you entirely. I’m sure the newspaper columnist you wrote to said the same. However, as always, this is far easier said than done. If you felt powerful enough to act you would have done so. It has taken all the courage you have to write for help and that is as much as you can manage at the moment.
The desire to have the teacher’s baby (have your father’s baby once you have seduced him away from your mother – a toddler’s fantasy) is a fantasy based in early childhood desire. A fantasy it would be disastrous to act out. Indeed the whole relationship is a disastrous acting out of early Oedipal desires, one in which this older man should not have colluded.
It would not be a bad idea to go to the doctor, but for some therapy and counseling rather than anti-depressants which might further pathologise you when the problem is the abuse you are suffering. This is a subtly abusive relationship from which you need to free yourself and you will have to look closely at what you really wanted from this relationship in the first place in order to get free. Probably your father’s love.
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