Lecture hall image via Shutterstock

Majoring in awkward

by Non Traditional Student

I’m a veteran producer and executive in the entertainment industry, but I’m also a community college student.  Everyone asks, can women have it all?  Can they have career and family and community college?

Absolutely.  And sometimes you get a Ted along with it.

I’m taking classes at an undisclosed Community College to fulfill science prerequisites required for graduate school.  The College administrators and professors call me a Non Traditional Student.  I thought it referred to my offbeat attitude and the fact that I already have a college degree.

I’m wrong.

Ted, by contrast, is a traditional student, which means he’s planning to apply to UCLA or USC, and in the meantime he’s knocking off a lot of required classes at a fraction of the cost.  Some people think Community College is easier than a four-year university, just like they think producing a reality show is easier than a one-hour drama.  But if there’s an easy way to teach Organic Chemistry or Human Anatomy, how exactly are they doing that at UCLA?  Teaching the students blindfolded?

I’ve seen Ted before, coming in and out of class.  He’s the disembodied voice in the back of the big lecture hall, hidden behind a phalanx of drowsy jocks in track suits.  Ninety people in this dreaded core curriculum Sociology 101 class, and he’s one of exactly two students who asks smart questions and makes intelligent comments.  (I’m the other one.)

Otherwise, I haven’t given Ted a second thought throughout the term, until he touches my shoulder, one week before our final exam.

“I’d like to ask you something,” he says, looking me in the eyes.  “I wonder if you’d let me take you out for coffee, or to get something to eat.”

“What?” I blurt.  His words – they make no sense to me.  It requires a full beat for clarity: he’s asking me out on a date.

At the moment, the only romantic relationship that interests me is on “Downton Abbey”, and it’s whether or not Sir Robert and Lady Edith will be permitted to marry.  I think he’s a perfect match for Edith.  Everyone fusses about his age, but he’s not as hideously old as John McCain or Mitch McConnell, and he’s so nice and polite and intelligent.

And now here I am, being courted by a nice and polite and intelligent man, albeit a non-fictional one who can’t legally buy a six-pack of beer and lives at home with his parents.

Now I understand.

Thanks to Ted, I understand what Non Traditional Student means.  It means old.  It means 40 plus, a career, two kids, school committees, soccer games, and a husband experimenting with facial hair.

In the “Downton Abbey equation”, I’m Sir Robert.  Ted is young Lady Edith, with an odd longing for a romance with someone – oh God – someone old enough to be his mother.

Moreover, he’s asking me properly, politely.  It isn’t the mumbled mating call I’ve steadily ignored, like “Kappa Kappa tonight if ya wanna hook up, yo.”  This is different.

Ted looks me in the eyes.  He shows courage in the line of fire while I try to think of the right way to translate, “I think the script is good, but it’s just not what we’re looking for right now.”  He deserves the nicest but firmest rejection I can muster, but I’m rusty.

Before I can say anything, he doubles down.  “I just think you’re really interesting, and I’d like to get to know you better.”

Okay.  Time to nip this in the bud.

“You know I’m older than you,” I say.  It would be more accurate to say “a lot older,” but he has eyes in his head.

“I don’t care,” he says.

“I care,” I say.  “The world cares, and my husband cares, and your parents will care.”

He nods, and drops the subject.  He walks me to my car, and I ask him about his educational and career plans.  He isn’t sure, something in business and finance.

A week later, Ted comes up to me after the final exam.  There’s no awkwardness.  He has an easy self-confidence.  We exchange notes on the exam, and he walks me to my car again.

“Did you think about going out with me?” he asks.  “I know age is an issue with you, but I turned 21 last week.”

Yikes, I think.  Is this going to turn from a sweet crush to an alcohol-fueled obsession?

“Happy birthday,” I say.

“I just want to take you out,” he continues.  “I think you deserve someone who really appreciates you.”

Good God, does he know my husband?  Nevertheless, “I already have that area covered, thank you.”

“You should know that I think you are really beautiful.”  Okay, that’s not so terrible to hear, even from a kid who had his first beer in the last six days.

“You should find a nice girl your own age,” I say.

“The girls here aren’t interesting,” he says.

I can’t disagree there.  I hate it when people make blanket statements about generations, unless of course they’re demonizing Baby Boomers.  But I’ve noticed a trend in my classes at Community College that applies across all demographic lines.  Many of my fellow students are so interconnected with their friends and family via social networking that they are completely disconnected with the larger world around them.  There’s only one reason to go to school – money – and any discussion of larger social issues, even in sociology class, are met with blank stares.

I’m not judging.  I wasn’t much different in college.  The simple fact is that I have twenty more years of life experience, two decades of connecting with the world.  I’ve had a career that challenged me, I’ve traveled, I’ve been paid a good salary to immerse myself in our culture.  In this day and age, maybe having money is the most important thing, the most sensible goal.  But I can’t find anyone at the college to debate the point with me.  Except maybe Ted.

So Ted and I do agree on one thing.  If I was looking for someone to date at Community College, I’d choose me too.

Non Traditional Student

About Non Traditional Student

The author is a twenty-year veteran of the entertainment industry, with several produced movie credits and two produced children. She has two television projects currently in development, and her organic chemistry class begins next week.

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