Single In The Suburbs, Installment 17

In this installment our writer summons her courage and confronts her new guy about the ugly rumors…

By Sara Susannah Katz

To read the entire series of articles from the beginning, click here.

ur writer was heading out to meet with her new beau Leo when her ex dropped a bombshell: Leo had been accused of sexual harassment by more than one of his students. Our columnist decides she has to confront Leo with this knowledge during their picnic-in-the-park date.

Sunday, 9:32 p.m.
Here goes.

“Leo,” I begin, feeling my face immediately
Is his one negative quality enough to zero out all his positives?
flush, “you know this is a small town.”

“Yes, it is,” he says. Right away his face turns serious. That sweet, open smile of his has disappeared. Oh no.

“It’s so small, it’s crazy sometimes, you know? Like, I was once at a four-way stop and I realized I knew the other three drivers. I’m not kidding. Or I’ll go to Kroger in pajama pants and wouldn’t you know that’s the day I run into my son’s rugby coach. Oh, that was typical.” I am babbling now, and we both know it. “I mean, I love living here, don’t get me wrong. Great place to raise kids, beautiful parks, culture, diversity…” Oh God, would someone please shoot me? I feel like I am having an out-of-body experience, watching myself prattle on like a lunatic. I stop. I take a deep breath. I grip one hand with the other and start again.

“I’m sorry. This is awkward.”

“It’s OK. I think I know what this is about.”

“You do? So why don’t you tell me?”

Leo is no idiot. Why would he voluntarily confess his misdeeds to me? “Um, why don’t you just keep talking. It’s OK, Sara. You can ask me anything. I feel completely comfortable with you. Go ahead.”

“OK. Look. Leo. My ex-husband, he knows you. From martial arts. And, well, he told me that you had some trouble in the past. With...” One more deep breath. Say it, Sara. “…charges of sexual harassment. On campus. From students. Oh. I’m so sorry. This is so awkward. I’m sorry.”

He just looks at me, chin propped on his hands. I send up a quick prayer: Lord, let him tell me that Craig misunderstood. Let him tell me that he has never sexually harassed anyone in his life and wouldn’t even consider it.

“It’s true.”

Damn it. I feel so deflated I could cry. OK, Sherry. You were right. There is always a catch.

“It happened a few years ago. I was lonely, and I struck up a very friendly and very candid email correspondence with one of my undergraduate students. She was from Argentina. She missed her family and friends at home. We were both lonely and we were both reaching out. The emails became increasingly romantic, then sexual. I’m not proud of it.”

I sit there and wait to hear the rest.

“She was your student?”

“Yes. But I never abused my authority. I mean, I didn’t bribe her with the promise of good grades. She was a superb student.”

“She was an undergraduate?”

Leo drops his eyes. “She was a little older than most of the American students, but yes, Sara,
I was an idiot. I realize that.
she was an undergrad. I’m not proud of that either.”

Craig had said that there were a couple of charges. I wonder if he plans to tell me the rest.

“There was another incident, another student, a graduate student. Early 30s. Nice woman. But I went too far with her, too. I don’t know how to explain it, Sara. At the time I guess I was just so lonely, it clouded my judgment, you know? The boundaries, they became so fuzzy. And I honestly thought that the feelings were reciprocal.”

“You were their professor, Leo. At least one was practically a kid. How could you?”

Leo puts his head in his hands and shakes it. “I was an idiot. I realize that. I could have lost my job. I begged the chairman of my department to give me another chance. I got into counseling. Heavy-duty private therapy and group work. Twice a week for a year. I’m a different person today, Sara.”

I search Leo’s face for clues that he might be deceiving me or deluding himself. All I saw was a deeply repentant man in tremendous pain.

“Do you hate me now?”

“I don’t hate you,” I say.

“Do you still like me?” A shy smile curled the corners of his lips, and I’m thinking he really is a sweet guy and it absolutely sucks that he has this creepy skeleton in his otherwise rather attractive closet.

“Yes, I still like you.” I can’t say I’m wildly attracted to him at the moment however.

Sunday, 10:45 p.m.
Back home, preparing for bed and rehashing my conversation with Leo. In the plus column, he is:
1. Single
2. Intelligent
3. Good-looking
4. Employed
5. Affectionate
6. Doesn’t have a drinking or drug problem
7. Likes kids and pets, both of which I happen to have

On the debit side, he was charged with sexual harassment—twice.

In the complex and sometimes depressing calculus of dating after 40, is that one negative enough to zero out all his positive qualities? I know what Sherry would say. I know what Craig would say. And I know what my mother would say if she weren’t dying of Alzheimer’s disease. Anyone who cares about me would tell me to run the other way.

But something compels me to give this guy a chance. Am I crazy?

Sara Susannah Katz is a writer in the Midwest.

Read Single In The Suburbs, Part 18

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