IT HAPPENED TO ME: I'm A Harvard Graduate and My Partner Is A High School Dropout

As an Ivy League alumna, I never thought I would fall in love with someone who didn't finish high school.
Publish date:
May 6, 2015
relationships, education, bullying, yoga, Harvard

I always imagined I would end up with a smart man. For years, I stupidly thought his intelligence would be measured by the framed degrees on his wall or how complicated his job title sounded on LinkedIn. Then Myles came along.

He didn’t even know what LinkedIn was — plus, he left high school before his eleventh year came to a close. But I’ve learned more from him than I have from any other man in my life, and he has never tried to teach me a single thing.

I’m the first person in my family to attend college, let alone graduate school. My father was a blue-collar worker who was up at 4 AM every weekday without complaint, and my mother was a devoted woman who quit her job to stay home with me. We had enough to live comfortably, but not much more. Unlike the majority of parents in Richmond Hill, GA, mine were tremendously supportive of my education, particularly my Korean mom.

There was no place in our small Southern town for me, a nerdy, biracial girl. My peers called me hauntingly cruel names — you might have cringed when Hermione was dubbed “Mudblood” but I wept for her — and my teachers, at best, shot pitiful looks at me and made snide (and ignorant) comments about my dad “bringing a woman back from China.”

I was eager to leave and make a life for myself that would make me forget about where I came from — that started with a certain kind of education.

Over the next several years, from Emory to Harvard, I was getting it all right academically and professionally, but behind the scenes I was a mess. I was disenchanted with the brutal competition that surrounded me, and I regularly suffered from anxiety attacks and three-day benders of binge eating. More than once I slept in the backseat of my car with a sea of empty McDonalds wrappers at my elbows.

I spent two years struggling to make a toxic relationship work with a fellow Harvard grad boyfriend. He was exactly the kind of guy I felt like I should be with, but he insisted on keeping our relationship a secret because he was in a “visible position of leadership” — he was an actor turned Unitarian Universalist minister and founder of a progressive spiritual community, which only gave him the opportunity to spend a night with a woman who worked with him.

After my graduation from Harvard, I was exhausted. Instead of following in the footsteps of my colleagues and applying for jobs that would have made my mother proud, I decided to take a break from the rat race and attend yoga teacher training.

That’s where I met Myles, who was a senior teacher on staff. The first time I saw him, I was struck by the fullness in his eyes — there was laughter, compassion, wisdom, and even mischief. Overall, he had a gentleness about him. His Australian accent was so thick I couldn’t understand his name the first few times he said it, leaving my face beet red with embarrassment. There was an instant attraction and a cheesy feeling like we had known each other for years.

On our first night out together, as we exchanged the obligatory personal information, he asked me what I moved to Boston for, and I dropped the H-bomb.

“I went to Harvard University for graduate school,” I said, expecting the same reaction I had gotten so many times before. He smiled, but there was no gasp or jaw drop.

“Wow, good on you,” he said like a true Aussie, then added, “How did you like it there?”

Nobody had ever asked me that. They would either inquire about what I studied or simply stare at me in disbelief. Strangely enough, this piece of personal information didn’t shock him — or impress him, for that matter.

“Um, I guess I liked it,” I stupidly stuttered. He gave me an all-knowing look that sent shivers down my spine, then he involuntarily chuckled.

“That’s not so convincing.”

I couldn’t help but laugh. He joined, and soon enough we were roaring like two idiots. The truth quickly came out — I was so grateful for my time there, so proud of what I accomplished, and I learned more than I ever thought I could, but it was an extremely stressful period that robbed me of my health and happiness. He listened with such open ears it brought me to tears. It was an honest conversation I had been bursting to have with someone.

A week later, he was on a plane back to Byron Bay, and two months later, I was selling all my belongings in Boston and moving to Australia to be with a man I barely knew. And to teach yoga, which is what I told my less than ecstatic parents. It was the most rash, irresponsible decision I have ever made.

I arrived with just $220 USD in my pocket. It was the first day of 2014, and I was forced to adjust from a New England blizzard to one of the hottest recorded days in Australian summers. (Turns out, that’s not so hard.) Myles welcomed me at the airport wearing a white T-shirt and a wide grin.

That night, we spent three hours at dinner chatting about our interests and the injustice of the American criminal justice system, which he knew a scary amount about. We shared our experiences of being teased incessantly as children — his mixed heritage and short stature landed him in one too many fights — but while my voice was full of bitterness, he had clearly already reached a place of forgiveness.

“I’ve realized it’s just a waste of time hating people who were horrible to me. What good does that do?” He said calmly, swishing around the remainder of Cabernet Sauvignon in his glass.

As he introduced me to all his friends and family during the next few months, I noticed how comfortable he was with the silences that usually make others squeamishly anxious. He was giving; yet he wasn’t a pushover. He lent money to buddies in need and he rushed to help his friends if they were overwhelmed with their kids.

I began teaching yoga at the same studio where Myles had been working for a few years. Men and women alike told me that he had made a difference in their lives, not only by instructing them in the yoga room but also by being a mentor in how to live a peaceful, healthy life. He was an articulate and humble instructor, a role he had spent 10 years perfecting around the world.

One lazy afternoon as we basked in the sun on the shores of Seven Mile Beach, he nonchalantly mentioned that he dropped out of high school when he was only 17.

“I hated school. So I never went back,” he said, not in the slightest bit embarrassed.

“Really?” I was shocked, “Didn’t your parents care?”

“No,” he smirked, “they weren’t even together so they didn’t give a shit. Plus, all my friends were dropping out too.”

“But… you’re smart,” I said. And I meant it. He shrugged.

“Only because I’ve learned so much from seeing the world.”

Since then, he has reminded me daily through his actions that consciousness and knowledge aren’t necessarily bought within the walls of a university. He has taught me that my academic achievements mean nothing if I can’t find it in myself to treat others with respect, including and especially those who have wronged me. Using my education to make myself seem important was putting me further into isolation.

The winter holidays of 2014 marked the first time I was proud of the man I was bringing home to meet my parents. I didn’t care about his status or how important his career sounded. I was confident that his humor and heartfelt personality would win them over — and I was right.

I was inspired by his generosity to revisit my hometown with an open heart. All the anger that had built up over the years was only wearing on me, and I was ready to let it go. I reconnected with people from my high school. I visited with the few friends who were kind to me when nobody else was. There was no more parading around my so-called accomplishments, which immediately forced me to be real, to be human.

All the small, gradual changes I made in my life since I’ve been with Myles have come back in twofold. I'm happier than I've ever been, emotionally and physically. I'm still working on letting my anger and pride go, which will be a lifelong process, but I feel lucky to have someone by my side who reminds me to be patient, to laugh at myself in moments of heightened seriousness.

Does he still get "to" and "too" mixed up? Yep, much more than he should. But thankfully I couldn't care less.