She rolls over on the bed, turns to face him. She’s been doing this for years, both the teaching and the rolling over on the bed. Every year it happens: one of them says they want to quit, the other asks why. Sometimes it’s serious, other times it’s just venting. Either way, both of them are still teaching.
“Teaching,” she says, “is like an abusive boyfriend. You love it and you love it and you love it and it’s like the more you love it, the worse it is to you. Your friends ask when you’re leaving it, tell you that you deserve better. You pretend nothing’s wrong. You focus on all the good qualities and make excuses for the bad ones. Oh, it doesn’t mean it, it had a bad childhood. Oh, everything will get better next year and it will take care of me. And it never does but for some reason you keep coming back year after year after year.”
He considers this a moment. Understands. Disagrees. Offers a different take:
“I think teaching is more like a first girlfriend. You get her and you’re super excited even though she’s not that smart or pretty or funny because you’re young and dumb and have never had a girlfriend before. It’s awesome just to have someone to hold and to make out with, but mostly it’s just awesome to say you have a girlfriend so people don’t think you’re a loser. Like, teaching feels like a real job when you’re young and dumb and haven’t really had a real job before, and even though it doesn’t pay a ton it’s still better than all those bozos you graduated with who can’t find a job because of the economy or whatever.
“Then you’re with her for a few years and a few years turns into a few more and a few more and all of the sudden you’re almost thirty and you can’t help but wonder where the time went. You can’t help but wonder who you could have dated or slept with or married but didn’t because you couldn’t quite bring yourself to leave teaching because for all her flaws she was a lifeboat in a sea of uncertainty. So you shrug and stay with her for a few more years, which turn into a few more and a few more and a few more and all of the sudden you’re almost forty and you can’t help but wonder where the time went. And you realize that you’ve done absolutely nothing with your life except teach and you’re not sure how to feel about that.”
There is silence in the darkness and he can’t help but wonder if it’s silent because she's fallen asleep or because she’s figured out that he was actually never talking about teaching at all.