His name was Patrick, but everyone referred to him as “the 17-year-old.” That was how his number was saved in my phone. I met the 17-year-old while visiting my 17-year-old cousin in the burbs. I was 22. The cousin brought me to a high school party. Patrick was in the corner, tall and spidery with olive skin.
After a few shared cigarettes, I found myself making out with him on the hood of my car, our bodies causing the metal to cave where we lay.
“Leave the suburbs and come live in the city,” I said, the moon looming above us.
This was a bad habit I had. When hooking up younger boys, I thought it was important to leave them with a nice, albeit unrealistic, thought of our future together. I told Patrick we could go to parties, sleep in the same bed and smoke cigarettes together all the time.
“You shouldn’t have done that” my cousin said, shaking her head on the drive home.
Two weeks later, I got a phone-call. The 17-year-old had run away from home. He was at the train station, asking for my address. About an hour later, he showed up on my doorstep. We sat on my mattress, which was in the middle of the living room floor, for a serious chat. I was going to have to deal with this.
Patrick wasn’t the first younger guy who’d fallen for me. All summer long, I had woken up in a number of strange dorm rooms next to boys with fake IDs. Younger men were easy to impress, because they were in awe of me for simply being older. And I loved it. These romances, if you can call them that, were flings that, for the duration of the evening, I treated like serious relationships. The more I sensed a boy’s awe, the longer I lingered, listening to stories about his childhood, transforming myself into the perfect female fantasy for him to idealize forever. But sometimes I took it too far.
“What do you want to do tonight?” I asked the 17-year-old, not having the heart to send him back home right away.
He didn’t have a fake ID or any money, but he was still cute. I took him to a party at a friend’s house. It was a small get together with an amateur DJ and guests sprawled on couches. At first, we stuck together, holding hands and making out in the kitchen. But soon, I settled into the party. I found myself sucked into conversation with my friends.
If I thought about it, I had been dating younger guys since the beginning. I was a late bloomer. Everyone else had boyfriends as early as fourth grade, but not me. When I asked boys to dances, they said no. Finally, in eighth grade, I had the brilliant idea to ask a seventh grade boy to the dance. And it worked.
I kept it going in high school. Bobby fell for me when he was 15 and I was 17. We spent hours on the phone, talking about his unrequited love for me. As years passed, Bobby went from an overweight goth in eyeliner to a buff 18-year-old with a sleeve tattoo. His senior year, Bobby talked me into going to prom with him. I was 20, smiling in his prom photos. I remember the buzz I got from Bobby feeling so cool for bringing me as his date — completely unaware that I should feel uncool for the very same reason.
I realized, still talking to my friends, that I had totally abandoned Patrick. I found him in the kitchen. He was holding a bottle of vodka, taking long swigs.
“Hey, are you OK?” I asked.
He grabbed my face and kissed me. I kissed back and he flung his body into some cabinets.
“I hate you,” he said, throwing his fists into my chest. “Why don’t you love me? I fucking love you! I hate you!”
A wave of guilt hit me. His mother left a series of frantic voicemails on my phone earlier.
“I don’t know what you’ve told him or what you made him think, but Patrick needs to come home!” she pled.
The next morning, I knew I would send him home to his mother. And that I would turn over a new leaf. No more playing with younger boys’ hearts. I took the bottle out of Patrick’s hand and tried to calm him down. And still, it was still hard not to be seduced by the wondrous way the 17-year-old looked at me.
Rachel Rabbit White is a journalist and blogger who lives in New York City and writes about sex and gender. She hates the brag-y part of bios, but feels equally unsure about the quirky part where she tells you she loves lip-syncing alone in her apartment and avocado and sea salt on toast. Also, Twitter.
Editor’s Note: The author does not at any point write that she, as a legal adult, had sexual intercourse with anyone underage. Feel free to disagree/disapprove of her tone/actions, but describing those actions as “statutory rape” is not accurate.