Welcome to Dear Vinvan, Capsule’s resident advice columnist and source of empathetic truth, tough love and honest opinion by former Nadia editor Vanessa Marshall. If you have an issue you need some help with – trivial, serious or somewhere in between – email [email protected] with ‘Dear Vinvan’ in the subject line.
I’ve developed what can only be described as an unhealthy obsession with my Pilates instructor. To give you some background; I’m in a happy and very closed relationship, I’ve never had an affair in my life and I’m generally far too insecure to look sideways at anyone I didn’t know was already interested in me first.
So this is the most troubling part of my admission. I’m not actually interested in him, in fact I find him kinda crude and intimidating. For starters he calls himself the Destructor, and once, he singled me out during training as a perfect example of what not to do, which is when I think my attraction to him first kicked in. To my great shame, I liked it. And I like it when he touches me in class, even if it’s only to make an adjustment and is often followed by a ferocious put-down.
My boyfriend is only ever loving and supportive but I keep going back to these classes to get routinely ridiculed and mocked. I literally cannot stop thinking about the Destructor after several humiliating incidents which as a feminist make me feel a bit grubby and embarrassed. I finally told one friend and she just rolled her eyes and said, “Jesus, what a cliché”. I hope she meant him, as I did explain he likes to teach topless. I think she meant me.
Two words: Lena Dunham. Actually, here’s another two: American Bitch. I’m referring to thirty minutes of the most powerful television you will ever see on this topic. Bear with me, I know this isn’t a TV review but Girls season 6, episode 3, is a masterclass on the power imbalance between narcissistic men and the women they so desperately need to impress.
In Lena, or rather her character Hannah’s case, it’s a celebrity author who summons her to his apartment after she calls out his predatory behaviour on a book tour rather than the teacher-student situation you describe for yourself.
But Reformer-girl there are similarities. Hannah despises and hero-worships her interviewee in equal measures while he whines and complains, dishing out compliments one after another, until he hands her his penis during a book reading in his bedroom. For a few excruciating seconds she holds it, she squeezes it, thrilled and disgusted, as is the TV audience watching.
The reason why I thought of this episode when I read your letter was the way your Destructor sounds like he’s enjoying this dynamic you have going on. Or at least as much as a narcissist can. His behaviour, while not complimentary, is a kind of reverse flattery which is triggering some feelings of shame you might need to dig around in.
Teachers, even sporty-spice ones, have an obligation to honour the trust code between student and teacher because the line between admiration and attraction can be easily blurred.
A similar thing happened to me in high school. My dope-smoking, poetry-writing, English teacher also routinely singled me out in class me until his attentions veered from my writing to pesty questions about my sex life in the school corridor. When he found out I’d told another teacher he responded by kicking me out of his English class and recommended I no longer be taught by a male. [Ed’s note – for the love of God if this happens to you now please tell someone – it is NOT ok!]
Sexual desire isn’t a thing that you do. It’s a place where you go. So says psychologist Esther Perel in her Ted Talk on erotic intimacy. Maybe the Destructor’s place is a Pilates studio? Maybe it’s yours? My English teacher preferred teenage parties. Hannah from Girls, finds herself in the bed of an alleged sexual offender.
The point is not where you go but rather why? And how to you feel when you get there. Julia Cameron, the author of the creative recovery workbook, The Artists Way, says because the trust between authority figure and student is parental in its nature, once violated it becomes a form of emotional incest.
Reformer-girl, you need to check your sexual compass to see which direction these feelings for the Destructor are pointing you. If they are toward a gateway to more erotica with your loving and supportive partner then go for it. Nothing like adding one of those bondage-style reformer racks to kink things up in the bedroom. But if it doesn’t feel emotionally safe, chances are it’s not. Could be time you got yourself a new gym membership and some better friends to confide in.
Disclaimer: Vanessa Marshall is a former magazine editor and writer who lives with her teenage daughter during the week and her husband on the weekends. This situation pleases her greatly. She is a follower of radical empathy and if you write to her she will answer with honesty and care. While she may not have been there she will definitely have been somewhere.