Dating up or down

By the time I was a graduate student, the idea that woman was man’s equal was regarded with hostility by the general population but as a mandate for change in universities. By the time I was 35, I was a professor who’d published two books but still hadn’t dated anyone who wasn’t a guy in a local band (he liked Alka-Seltzer with corn flakes for breakfast, hangover remedy); a small-time drug dealer (more than one of these, in fact); or a carpenter ready to knock off early if I’d just turned in a big project.

So I was part of that shift of women trickling into what had been, until then, a mostly male profession. I didn’t get it that a few years of feminism wouldn’t undo centuries of convention about mating and dating, including the idea that men can date or marry women with less status, but when a woman does it’s a scandal, a secret. For years I lived with a rift between my days and nights, between my work self and what I thought was my real self.

I grew up in a town known for hunting, fishing, bars, strip joints—even a house of ill repute, until it burned to the ground when, according to town gossip, a prostitute tried to make a grilled sandwich on a steam iron.

It was like the setting for “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” only not suspenseful.

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In retrospect, I now understand what she meant when, right before the first time we slept together, she whispered in my ear "Please don't fall in love with me." She was wiser and more pragmatic than I; she knew, better than I did at the time, the ephemeral nature of our doomed fling.

During that period, I commanded a low five-digit net worth, and no status to speak of. She told me afterward that she gave me her number because she was amused by the fact that I clearly didn't recognize her; in Hong Kong, the only strangers who approach her are autograph-seekers and those who want to pose with her for a photo and I was utterly oblivious to her stature when I was flirting with her.

It is also helpful to note that during this time, I was at still in first blush of youth - a few years out of college, filled with brazen and unrealistic cocky ambition of what I can accomplish, arrogant to the point of delusion, and impervious to feedback/advice.

yet she refused their attentions; I was the one she invited to her bed when she craved the touch of a man, in her most vulnerable moments.

Dating far above my station gave me a glimpse of the life that exists at a completely different strata of society.

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