So tonight I went out with my friend S., who is just the best. S. is technically a former student, but we’re about the same age and we’re kindred spirits, so. (Note: I have a fairly high proportion of former student friends, which is somewhat strange, I think, if I think about the relative dearth of former student friends that my colleague friends have. It doesn’t turn out to be weird in the execution – I don’t count current students as friends, no matter how much I like them. But I’ve accumulated a steady stream of former student friends, with the younger amongst them being sort of like younger cousins or nieces and nephews or something, and the older amongst them being more like awesome ladies who remind me of my closest friends from other points in my life – and who are, significantly, not people with whom I work. I wonder sometimes if I have befriended all of these former students because I’m not married, so I have room in my life for them? Who knows. My point here is that I’m generally comfortable with former students who’ve grown after a significant gap into friends.)
So S. and I went out, and we had dinner at a Thai place, and then we had a beer at a bar just next door, and then it was lame so we went to another bar near my house where a band was playing. And at that bar, I saw this guy. And I was like, I know him from someplace. My first thought was, “did I go on a date with that guy?” And then I was like, “no, he’s the right age, but no… but I know I know him…” and then I remembered: blue baseball cap, back middle of the room, night section of the survey. I didn’t remember his name, but yep, I had taught this guy. Because S. is the sort of person who does this sort of thing, she was all, “Hey, did my friend teach you in a class?” And yes, indeed, he knew exactly who I was. And then he HUGGED me, and proceeded to sit down with us and he attempted to impress me with all the things that he remembered from my course.
On the one hand, I felt a surge of pride that he could quote back Wordsworth at me, and that he talked at length about “Ode on a Grecian Urn” and my love of Keats and talked about an episode of Breaking Bad that alluded to “Ozymandias” and waxed poetic about his hatred of Waiting for Godot. I mean, dude, this dude retained shit from my class. On the other hand, as S. noted, he was totally a Creeper who was hitting on me by talking about all the shit I taught him. Except he was also at this bar with this 21-year-old he was dating. That’s right: 21. And he was all, “I need to stop dating 21-year-olds. They are crazy.” And I was all, “Well, that’s a little young….” And then S. and I were like, “let’s get out of here,” and then he HUGGED ME GOODBYE, which was only slightly less uncomfortable than the initial hug, but DUDE WITH THE HUGGING.
Look, I’m not a hugger even with people who are not people I taught. I don’t hug as a rule. I hug a very specific subset of people, including family, BEST friends, and people with whom I’ve had the sex. That’s it. (Aside: once I ran into a senior colleague from another department whom I know from committee work at the grocery store, in front of the cheese, and I was all gross from working out, and he hugged me, and WOW was that the worst hugging experience I’ve ever had.) Point is, why do people think that they can hug indiscriminately? And this is especially confusing to me when there are odd power dynamics in play!
But so here’s the thing: I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable over my ten years on the tenure track about running into former students, and about the fact that I’m a strange non-famous public figure, and that often former students have a connection to me that I don’t myself necessarily recognize. But there is something PROFOUNDLY unsettling, still, about a former student, whose NAME I didn’t even remember (I had to ask him, and it was like I was meeting him for the first time because I still couldn’t tell you his last name), TOUCHING ME, LET ALONE HUGGING ME.
This, my friends, is why I mostly socialize in private homes. I mean, seriously.