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Awkward Moments in Dating: The Poetry Professor and My Ex-Girlfriend

July 10, 2020

The poetry professor who dated my ex-girlfriend looked just like this. (image via wikimedia)

I’m not sure if the poetry professor who ended up with my ex-girlfriend really was a professor.  He wrote poetry and taught poetry in a class I had taken my sophomore year at the State University over 30 years ago, and even though I was a lousy poet, he had encouraged my effort and had even highlighted to the class a humorous piece that I had written.  As a teacher of poetry, he was pretty good.  I give him credit for that.

But a couple years after I took his class, he dated my ex-girlfriend.

It was my senior year at the State University, and things were going my way.  I was well-liked, had some social status on campus, and that status made other students, including some attractive women, overlook my social awkwardness.  Despite this, my collegiate literary girlfriend had just broken up with me, but I was sure we’d get back together.

My ex-girlfriend was a junior, and we had been dating since the summer.  She was extroverted but liked to read, so we could talk about a bunch of stuff.  When I told her that I didn’t like Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice and I couldn’t articulate a good reason (I might have said “It just sucks.”), she broke up with me.  There were some other issues too.  I had to work a lot, I had already set up a job interview several states away, and it was autumn so I wanted to watch a lot of football and she thought that was beneath her/us.  Interview with the Vampire was the final straw.

Just a couple days later, I heard that she had been seen several times on campus holding hands in public with the poetry professor.  I was floored.  I had expected us to get back together after she’d had a few days to be mad at me.  That type of reconciliation had already happened once during our time together.  I was pretty sure it was going to happen again.  Then the poetry professor had to go and ruin it.

It wouldn’t have been so bad if the poetry professor had been a nice-looking smooth guy.  Instead, he was old, bald with a scraggly beard, and wore ratty jeans, and all my friends gave me grief about how I’d been replaced by a guy who looked like Shel Silverstein.

A couple weeks after I had heard about the poet and my ex-girlfriend, I noticed him standing next to me while we were both taking care of business in a public men’s bathroom on campus.  Since men aren’t supposed to make eye contact in that situation, I wasn’t sure it was him until I stepped back.  When you’re in the men’s room, you’re always supposed to look upward without making eye contact until after after you’re done, and that’s when I knew.

We both washed our hands at different sinks at the same time too.  Yeah, the guy had been my poetry instructor a couple years earlier, but I wasn’t sure he recognized me or if he knew I was his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend.  He avoided eye contact when he didn’t have to anymore, so he probably knew I was somebody and wasn’t sure what to say.

I wanted to ask him how he had managed to get involved with my ex-girlfriend so quickly after we had broken up.  Two days was fast.  They had to have had something going on before she broke up with me.  There was no way I could ask that, though, and I probably was better off not knowing.

On the other hand, I couldn’t walk out of there without saying something.  If he knew who I was (and I sensed that he did), then he’d tell my ex-girlfriend that we’d met face-to-face in a bathroom and I hadn’t said anything to him.  I couldn’t let that happen.

“Hey, I read your book,” I said.

I could tell that startled him.  At the end of his course, he had given all of his students a copy of his poetry collection.  He didn’t do it to brag.  He said he didn’t want any of his students to feel compelled to read it.  Since it wasn’t forced on me, I had read it when there wasn’t any football on.  It was a thin paperback, and I hadn’t understood all his poetry (I don’t think in metaphors), but a lot of it was comparing/contrasting where he was from to our campus, which was almost a completely different side of American culture.

“What did you think?” he asked after a little hesitation.

I don’t remember the exact words.  I thought about telling him that his poetry sucked, but I didn’t.  Instead, I said that his poetry wasn’t what I expected.  I told him that most people on campus who had moved there from other parts of the country bragged about where they had come from.  He could describe the shortcomings of his home and our campus without being mean or condescending.  He had never made fun of people in class, but he was good at gently mockery in his poetry.

He didn’t say anything, so I inwardly panicked.  Had I misinterpreted his book?  Was it even the right book? He was going to tell my ex-girlfriend that I was too stupid to read his poetry.

“Did I get it wrong?” I asked.  “It was two years ago.  Maybe I was thinking of a different book.”  Somehow I had made an awkward situation even more uncomfortable.  I have that talent.

“No, you’re right,” he said.  “I’m always surprised when students read my book.”

“I know I’m not the only one who’s read it,” I said, which was true, and I wasn’t even thinking about my ex-girlfriend.  I had discussed the book with another student a long time ago, and that might have been the only reason I remembered the poetry enough to mention it.

As we left the bathroom, I told the poetry professor that I was getting a job in another state after the semester and we might not run into each other again.  He wished me good luck, and we shook hands, and that was it.  Nothing dramatic.

Shortly after that, I went through a spiteful phase where I kicked myself for not telling the poetry professor that his book sucked when I’d had the chance.  That would have been perfect retribution; at least that’s what I thought at the time.

Now I’m glad that I didn’t do that.  You should never tell a poet that his or her poetry sucks.  It’s too emotionally damaging to the poet.  As retribution, it’s too harsh, even for a poet who ends up with your ex-girlfriend.


NOTE!  The original version of this story appeared on Dysfunctional Literacy on May 12, 2017.

From → Dysfunctileaks

  1. You should have told him his poetry sucked.

    • Aaaarrrgh! It was over 30 years ago. I don’t want to second-guess myself about that anymore.

      If anything, I should have mocked him for dating a college girl who was less than half his age.

  2. She was young and going through her intellectual phase and probably thought of this guy as a “renaissance man.” Good riddance. P.S. with Bukowski being the exception, doesn’t all poetry kinda suck?

    • “P.S. with Bukowski being the exception, doesn’t all poetry kinda suck?”-

      I hadn’t thought about that. That would have been an interesting topic for the poetry class. The professor was a Bukowski fan and assigned us some of his stuff for his class. He didn’t try to write like Bukowski, though.

  3. “all my friends gave me grief about how I’d been replaced by a guy who looked like Shel Silverstein” 😂

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