On March 3, 2019, The Forum published an article titled “I’m Dating My FYG, and that’s OK.” I question how much the rest of our community can learn from this example. While I cannot speak to the dynamics of the author’s relationship—only she knows her own truth—it would be a disservice to the community not to acknowledge the other side of the story: power-imbalanced relationships that have made my peers’ and my experience at CMC worse. The author’s relationship is the exception, not the rule. Readers who became more sympathetic to power-imbalanced relationships after reading the article should consider other examples. While those provided below are not FYG-FYGlet relationships, the author’s concession that “FYGs truthfully do hold a certain amount of power over their FYGlets” indicates a need to explore the dynamics of power-imbalanced relationships more broadly.
During her freshman fall, my friend was secretly involved with a senior. He was a leader of a club she had joined. Her experiences, and our discussions about them, have informed my understanding of this issue. Having begun the relationship the day the club began to meet, she felt she could not bond with any other members for fear of them discovering their secret. Even when the relationship ended, she felt uncomfortable and isolated in the club. She considered quitting even though she wanted to stay for every other reason. Every time he made a decision that affected her she wondered whether it was targeted. She could never be sure that he was or wasn’t abusing his power over her. She could not go to other club leaders. She could not ask that decisions about her role in the club be made without his input; asking for assurance of fair treatment would require an explanation of such an inappropriate relationship. She feared the reaction of people who had the power to fire her, not knowing whether they actually would be malicious enough to do so.
Even if my friend’s former partner “never held his position [...] over” her, as the author says of her boyfriend, the mere threat that he could was paralyzing. Power-imbalanced relationships do not require villains in order to harm those lacking power. She was hurt by a power imbalance that could be used against her even if it wasn’t. She is not the only one.
I was also involved with a senior in my freshman year. She held influential positions in multiple on-campus organizations that I was and am a part of, and she even hired me to a club she founded within the same week we started dating. Despite the obvious age and professional imbalances in our relationship, no one thought twice about it. No one wondered whether the assumed, cute image of getting to know each other over long nights at club meetings might have actually meant using power to hasten a flirtatious attraction into a long-term relationship. No one wondered whether my excitement to work under her at these organizations was motivated by my fear of her simultaneous control over my professional and romantic life. Few asked why I started to see my other friends less; fewer still reached out about whether I was OK; none found out that she was verbally and emotionally abusing me.
Every time I have told another CMCer about my ex-girlfriend, I have noticed myself couching my language in external validation: “A psychologist said she was abusive.” This statement, while factually true, should not be necessary. Her actions were wrong because of how they affected me, not because of how an expert described them. Yet, I know that in our community, an organization leader dating an inferior is considered par for the course, a mindset that a title such as “I’m Dating My FYG, and That’s OK” reinforces. And so, when I express that I was in a similar relationship that was anything but OK, I always implicitly pled, “believe me, not because our community tends to believe people in my position, but because a psychologist said my feelings were real.”
These stories—our stories—are not told as often or as publicly as ones about cute relationships. But that does not make them less important. Normalizing power-imbalanced relationships is dangerous to those who someday might be in one.
Editor’s Note: We decided to run this op-ed anonymously due to its private and personal nature. We hope that it fosters genuine discussion of relationship health on college campuses.