When you hold a student loan large enough to cancel out third-world debt and regularly wear second-hand clothes, it’s not unusual to dream up ways to improve your financial lot. Some women fantasize about a rich Prince Charming sweeping them off their feet, but I’ve never been one to imagine romance as a means to financial success. Women who use sex to lure the wealthy have always seemed to me like swindlers who disgrace the female gender and kill the spirit of love.
Then along came a man who said those four little words every woman supposedly wants to hear.
“Can I keep you?”
I met the Professor, a political science scholar and ‘60s era activist, years ago at an academic conference. He was a lanky man with bulbous eyes, a silver mane of oddball-academic hair and a slobbery old guy mouth he kept dabbing with a handkerchief. Not exactly Robert Redford in a tux.
My hunch said the Professor harbored a crush, but considering that age-wise, there were five presidential administrations and one world war separating us, I assumed he’d be content with friendship. Over time, we shared sporadic emails about the plight of the world’s oppressed people, and the occasional dinner when he was in town.
Then one night, he popped the question. We were eating at a restaurant at the Sheraton where he was staying for the weekend. Two minutes after we’d finished a debate about whether feminism is a legitimate political movement (he didn’t think so) the Prof said, “I invited you out tonight because I have a proposition. I want a relationship with you. Yes, there’s an age difference, and I know you’re hoping to have a meaningful relationship with a man your age, but I wouldn’t place any restrictions on you. When I’m in town, I’d simply like someone to spend time with, someone to sleep with. I may be old, but I still know how to please a woman.”
My first instinct was to hurl and make a run for it, but the Prof was staring back at me with wet, lonely eyes. Being the bleeding heart I am, I stayed and tried not to hurt his feelings.
“Oh,” I said. “How nice of you.”
“One way to describe it.”
“Well,” he chuckled. “You don’t think men ask you to dinner because they want to eat, do you?”
“Actually,” I told him, starting to feel peeved. “I do. And I certainly don’t expect them to ask me to become their kept woman. Why would I want that for myself?”
“You’re a starving artist,” he answered. “You stay in hostels when you travel and can’t afford expensive dinners. Stick with me and you get the Sheraton and prime rib.”
The Sheraton, I thought. What a gyp. Still, I wondered. What if all the things I’ve sacrificed to live this artsy, not-for-profit life – good wine, exotic travel destinations, clothes that don’t come off the sale rack – were suddenly provided by a sexy rich dude who just happened to be older than the hills? What if the Prof really did look like Robert Redford? What if he paid off my debt and offered up a better hotel? Would I have considered his indecent proposal?
Anyway, the point was moot as I wasn’t sitting across from the Sundance Kid. I was sitting across from the Slobbery Grandfather taunting me with a pervy grin. Here was a guy who spent a lifetime defending the world’s political underdogs and fighting the powers that be. Yet, he couldn’t see how asking a young woman for a roll in the hay in exchange for a good cut of meat might be a tad dehumanizing.
Even more maddening was the recognition of how often these scenarios occur. One of my girlfriends had a married father of two begging her to become his piece on the side. A guy that refused to give my female colleague the relationship she wanted, still expected her to be available for late-night trysts. Most men are decent human beings who bow out upon realizing they can’t provide what a woman needs, but there are still those who want what they want and don’t consider what’s in it for the other person. Obviously, women do, too, though they don’t usually ask anyone to give up love and real companionship in order to become some chump’s sex toy.
El Profesor played it cool when I turned down his offer and our friendship gradually petered out. Since then, whenever I make my way to the back of department stores toward the discount racks, or skip an appetizer I can’t afford, I pride myself on being the kind of gal who’d never go for the Prof’s kind of proposal.
Though truth be told, if I’m still paying off this dag-blasted student loan in ten years, he may just get a call.