To the man who stood me up, thank you!
R. Kelly and the problematic mindset of ‘consenting’ teens dating older men
I put on my favorite hip-hugging dress and four-inch heels. I made sure all the curls and feathering in my haircut were neatly in place. And off I walked to the Metra train station, ready to meet my date downtown. Then came the waiting game. Ten minutes. Twenty minutes. Thirty minutes. After an hour, I got back on the train.
When I got home, I paged him (yes, this was the pager days) several times. No response. A couple of days went by, and I was annoyed. I’d worked with this guy for several months at an after-school job downtown. But by this time, he’d quit that job and decided he wanted to do his own thing. I, on the other hand, was still working there, saving up for prom and eating plenty of Harold’s Chicken meals for lunch.
On my way home from work one day, it hit me that he would not recognize a pay phone number and I could call him there. And so I did. He called back less than a few minutes later. As soon as the pay phone rang, I picked it up. His voice came in loud and clear.
Me: “Why did you stand me up?”
Him: “Who is this?”
Me: “Who do you think it is?”
Him: “Oh. Let me call you back.”
Me: “Remember the time you got shot in the leg?”
Me: “I hope you get shot in the heart so you know how I feel right now.”
And I slammed down the phone, deciding I never wanted to speak to him again for the rest of my life. I mentioned that story to a few high school friends who all laughed about it, saying they were going to start using this line too. “Remember when you fell off that bike? I hope you fall off again so you know how I feel.” We snickered and went about our day.
The “survival” lesson I learned from watching “Surviving R. Kelly”
I thought about that guy while watching the “Surviving R. Kelly” series. This was the first time that I wondered if the guy from my after-school job realized he was breaking the law. At the time we were hanging out — and did nothing more than kissing — I was 16 and he was 23. I was an old soul who thought boys my age were mainly immature and boring as hell to talk to. My older brother was seven years older than me, and I got along with all of his friends who seemed more my speed. So it made sense to me to date someone who was a maximum of seven years older than me, too.
But when you’re 16 years old, you don’t think of how dangerous this can be — especially for a more manipulative older man. My parents didn’t know I was dating this guy. How could they? In their minds, I was just going to work to work. I didn’t really bring up his age to any of my friends; they just knew he wasn’t high school anymore. I did write about him once during a creative writing class, but oddly, my creative writing teacher just breezed right past it and made sure the class was actually journaling as opposed to reading our content.
I wasn’t someone who would be considered “loose” or “fast.” I’d just always hung out with people who were older than me. My idea of a good time was spending hours on end with my parents’ landlord’s wife, who chain-smoked and taught me how to play Solitaire. Or, I’d hang out with my grandfather, who taught me how to play Tonk and Poker and Blackjack, when he wasn’t persistent about me learning Roman Numerals and teaching him how email works (in later years). But dating wise? I just thought boys my age were clowns and wanted nothing to do with them — minus one, my first boyfriend who was 16. We were short-lived and he was too undisciplined for my taste.
So when I see why these girls were so immediately attracted to someone such as the Chicago R&B artist who seemed to have it together, it makes sense on the surface. Keeping their “relationship” from their parents? I get that, too. However, I was fortunate enough to never be sexually intimate with this guy. I didn’t lose my virginity until I was 20 years old, regardless of how much I preferred older men. And my “first” was my exact age. But I have no idea what choices I would have made had he shown up for that date in downtown Chicago.
Why it took some people so long to be anti-R. Kelly
People ridicule late-comers for shaming R. Kelly now instead of then. Watching the documentary and actually hearing from these women adds a much more personal view than just reading a few clips in the paper and seeing a foggy video. Anytime you put a “face” on a trial, there’s an extra layer that helps you understand where these people are coming from. So while I was watching the documentary, I realized it took me entirely too long to fully understand all the harm that R. Kelly caused long before this documentary and long before the first trial in 2008.
I knew girls my age who saw R. Kelly hanging out at Kenwood Academy and Rock n’ Roll McDonald’s. While I thought it was corny, I’d always separated the R. Kellys of the world from the older guys I was into. To me, R. Kelly was old-old (15 years older than me), but seven years was no big deal. However, the vulnerability of these girls who wanted to please this singer so badly is what made me realize I could have been them. By making this older guy “my little secret” and being pretty low-key around co-workers, we could’ve continued to “date” while I was at that job.
In my mind, I was judging these girls as though they were me as a teen — someone who felt like she was in complete control around older men. I was one of those delusional Chicagoans who defended R. Kelly and thought these were “two consenting people” in an “intimate” relationship. I was the girl who shrugged at the marriage of him and Aaliyah and thought it was just two folks who changed their minds. It never occurred to me to think that she was completely in over her head, too, until I listened to all of the decisions these girls made.
And at 16, I may have thought some of my own guy’s antics were perfectly normal, too. By no means am I comparing him to R. Kelly’s abusive actions or behavior, but dating a girl before she reached the age of consent is not something that can be denied. Even through the eyes of 38-year-old me, my “old soul” wasn’t nearly as “old” as people told me it was. Clearly I was still naive in certain areas.
By the time I finished watching the series, not only had my opinion drastically changed about R. Kelly’s horrific past with these girls. It also made me wipe my forehead in relief. I have never been so happy to have been stood up. He may have done it to save himself from breaking the law. Or, he may have just lost interest after he no longer worked at that job. Either way it goes, his initial poor decision saved me from what could have been a problematic future and some life-altering decisions. He may have been wrong in dating me initially, but he damn sure made the right decision by leaving 16-year-old me alone.
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