My Turkish Lover; Santiago Esmeralda Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Nov 25th, 2019


‘My Turkish Lover’ is the third of a series of memoirs ‘When I Was Puerto Rican’ and ‘Almost a Woman’ written by Esmeralda on her life (Esmeralda 1). In this continuation, Esmeralda mainly focuses on her relationship with Ulvi, her boyfriend. At the age of 21, Esmeralda runs away from her mother’s home to be with Ulvi. Literally she drops ‘Negi’, the name she’s called at home. Symbolically, it is her first step towards leaving her mother’s ‘bosom’ and heading into independence, into the world as a grown person.

Ulvi loves her as she is. This is supposed to be a good thing, but what he really loves about her is actually her naivety, innocence (not a spoilt American girl) and obedience. For this he treats her like his property. He not only looks down on her family, but he also controls her, preventing her from having friends, from thinking for herself and ultimately, from growing up.

While Esmeralda has dropped her home-name, a symbol of her effort to head into the world new, Ulvi gives her another name, Chiquita- meaning ‘litle girl’. Simply said, Esmeralda has walked from one form of dependence, ‘Negi’, into a kind of chains, ‘Chiquita’. In the end, slowly by slowly, Esmeralda finds herself free from the prison that is Ulvi: “I was nothing Ulvi had told me many times” (Esmeralda, 23).

Ulvi and Esmeralda are together in most of the book, hopping from one state to the next. Ulvi is seventeen years older than Esmeralda. Esmeralda is getting ‘nothing’ from Ulvi except a slow, steady and sure erosion of her self esteem. The two seem incompatible right from the start: “the relationship of Ulvi and Esmeralda starts to end right from the very start” (Ligtenberg).

In the relationship, Esmeralda is only living ‘their lives while “Ulvi is living both ‘his’ and ‘their’ lives” (Ligtenberg). In spite of the eventual freedom of Esmeralda one is then bound to wonder why it took her so long to see the relationship for what it really was and leave.

What did the two really need from each other? Did Esmeralda, having grown without a father, need a father figure, someone to hold her hand and lead her into the world? Or was it a youthful infatuation with ‘hollywood’? What about Ulvi; did he need a girl seventeen years younger than him as an assertion that he was still youthful, a stage he realized was helplessly slipping away as he approached forty? These questions express all possible assumptions. The purpose of this paper is to explore all these possibilities.


It is obvious that both Ulvi and Esmeralda were in the relationship for different reasons. Both may have felt love towards each other, but whatever shaped that love had to be different for each of them. And so to adequately answer the question on why they were together for so long, what each needed from the other, it is important that both be understood separately.

Esmeralda. Up until the time she escaped from home at 21 Esmeralda had never gone beyond Brooklyn. So she can be forgiven for falling victim to her hunger to see the world beyond Brooklyn, and especially at her age. She “desperately wanted to leave Brooklyn” (Lanham); Ulvi offered her this and she fell for him.

But after a while, it became obvious to her that he was using her, yet she stayed. Esmeralda admits that passion was part of it (Lanham). When he took her out of Brooklyn to Lubbock, “He opened up her intellectual boundaries/horizons and introduced her to new interesting ideas and people” (Lanham).

Esmeralda once likened her interaction with graduate students from Europe and the Middle East to a “crash course on the world beyond East River, … and toyed with the possibility that Ulvi would take her to Turkey, Germany, Saudi Arabia” (Lanham). This was part of the Ulvi-appeal.

And beyond this he promised her stardom. Having initially asked her to audition in a movie he had claimed he was working on, now that he was her boyfriend, she most probably hoped he would now make her a star. But one is likely to wonder if Ulvi was the only path to that world beyond so that in spite of him, Esmeralda had to stay. Surely, Esmeralda could have made a choice no to tolerate anymore of Ulvi’s reign over her life. There must have been ‘something’ behind her tolerance.

At 21, with all her vigor to go out and explore the world, deep down Esmeralda was still quite insecure and filled with fear. She did not just want to encounter the world, but also someone to take her hand and lead her in that exploration, “the Young Esmeralda felt that she needed a protector” (Lanham). Surely, that protector did not have to be Ulvi, besides, he wasn’t really protecting her.

Esmeralda’s tolerance to Ulvi can best be explained and understood by the Psychoanalysis school of thought, especially the theory of Electra Complex (also referred to as Bernfield Factor) developed by Carl Jung as an extension of Freud’s Oedipal Complex (Horward). In a nutshell, the theory of Electra Complex, famously referred in slang as ‘Daddy Issues’, stands for a girl’s sexual attraction to her father resulting in an emotional competitive hostility towards her mother (Horward).

This, it claims is reflected in the behavior of a girl in the absence of her father; that if the father/daddy is not around either physically or emotionally, a girl develops certain habits in an effort to compensate for this absence (Horward). Daddy issues generally imply that girls missing a father physically or emotionally feel incomplete and are always searching for a kind-of familial or fatherly relationship with other men (WiseGeek).

Psychologists agree that a father’s attention and compliment (e.g. loved by ‘daddy’, being daddy’s ‘little princess’) raises a girls’ self-esteem; helps raise her confidence and strength (WiseGeek). In the absence of the father, and the compliments, a girl develops ‘daddy issues’; seeks that approval elsewhere, sexually even (WiseGeek). These daddy issues may include having sexual relationships with older men, having affairs with abusive partners, etc (WiseGeek).

Esmeralda exhibits all these behaviors since she is in a relationship with a man seventeen years older than her, one who also abuses her. In spite of all the abuse and clearly being aware that Ulvi is only using her, she still stays. Clinging is yet another fruit of daddy issue. Esmeralda herself has admitted that her having had no father must have played a role in her tolerance to Ulvi’s mistreatments.

Based on this school of thought, it can be argued that Esmeralda stuck with Ulvi for his age, the father-figure that she had missed all these years. She may have been willing to die in her attempt to stay with the ‘father’. Fortunately she came to her sense early enough.

Ulvi. “I will teach you everything” (Esmeralda, 23), so says Ulvi to Esmeralda. This statement implies that Ulvi is devoted to Esmeralda not only for his own benefit, but also for the ‘good’ of Esmeralda. It is as if he does not need anything from Esmeralda except her ‘devotion’ and for which he’ll reward her with knowledge on ‘everything.

This makes sense as he is seventeen years older than Esmeralda. By age, he definitely knows more than Esmeralda does about that ‘outside world’, the world beyond Brooklyn that Esmeralda is so yearning for but kind-of fears and which she feels insecure.

Ulvi adds “but you must listen to what I tell you” (Esmeralda, 23). This statement then becomes the implicit mantra of his reign over Esmeralda. It clearly implies that, to her, every word he says must be unquestionable; that she is never to question him. So he didn’t let her choose her own clothes, drive or pick up the phone because he says so. And in that reign lays the key to what he really was after, what he really hopes to get from his one-sided relationship with Esmeralda.

Ulvi, while pursuing two master degrees and another doctorate made Esmeralda help her with his research and type his papers. Esmeralda implies the possibility that somehow, Ulvi was affectionate and might have loved her in his own way. She says he “was gentle and understanding” of her occasional disobedience to him, and later refers to him as the man who “as he claimed, might love me” (Esmeralda 29).

As we have seen in Esmeralda’s case, it is likely that Ulvi represented the missing link that was her absent father. But besides this psychological approach to it, it is also largely true that most women prefer to not just date but also marry older men. This is in contrast to the exceptional cases where a twenty-year old woman dates a fifty-year old man. But men equally prefer to date younger women: “men mostly prefer to date younger women while women mostly prefer older men” (Op Papers Editors).

Men, it is argued, prefer younger women for a number of reasons. One is to feel young (Govind); young women are beautiful and youthful, full of energy and vibrant. So men like to have young women to help rejuvenate themselves and bask in their youthfulness. Again, we do not really see this in Ulvi, but obviously he basked in the youthfulness of Esmeralda.

Her age, added to the fact that she had never gone beyond Brooklyn, made her quite excited at the prospects of adventures beyond Brooklyn. This excitement shows on her face and in her manners. Ulvi at thirty seven was approaching forty; obviously, some of his vibrancy was gone. Then here came Esmeralda, a symbol of his youth.

Two, to uplift their ego (Govind); not only do men like to be seen in the company of young and beautiful women, but apparently, they also love it when younger women look up to them as father-figures. Being praised and looked up to, makes them feel attractive since to be seen as superior and knowing makes a man feel superior in the society (Govind).

Ulvi, by the time he met Esmeralda, was a struggling movie producer/director and wasn’t successful as he might have hoped. At thirty seven, he must have been feeling he was late in his life. Then he meets Esmeralda, one to whom his movie-maker dream is a reality, and in which she basks. Naivee and innocent, Ulvi is a ‘hero’ to Esmeralda. She loves him and he has saved her from her boredom with Brooklyn, and she still dreams of him taking her to Germany and Turkey. Ulvi was aware of his place in Esmeraldas mind and needed it for his ego.

“Men who go after younger women because of this are always insecure and unhappy” (Govind); based on this, it can be argued that Ulvi’s control over Esmeralda was only a reflection of his insecurity, his fear that if she was ‘free’ she may leave with another man, and equally leave with his inflated ego.

Three, to start a family (Govind); the evolutionary theory claims that men who want to settle want younger women because they are more fertile than their older counterparts (Vonda). While women reach menopause at 40, and as such lose their fertility, men’s fertility only ‘decreases’ with age (Op Papers Editors).

Esmeralda has not said in any explicit terms if Ulvi wanted to marry or even have a child. But at thirty seven the issue of settling down may have been a recurring thought to Ulvi; besides, such choices are sometimes subconscious. Just as no man really sets out to have a younger woman so she can ‘uplift his ego’, hardly does a man consciously set out to find a woman for the sake of fertility.

Four, to look successful (Govind); many famous movie stars, including producers and directors, lawyers, businessmen etc get themselves younger women, the so-called trophy wives/girlfriends, so they can look successful. Ulvi may have consciously/subconsciously wanted something to show off, something to make him feel he had made it and for people to see as a symbol of that perceived success.

He seduced Esmeralda under claims that he would audition her for a movie he was working on. Maybe he really believed he had made it; that he could offer Esmeralda such a promise. From this point of view, Esmeralda was his trophy-girlfriend, the symbol of the success he may have believed to have achieved.

Five, it may be a reflection of one’s insecurity with old age which was becoming imminent (Govind). Some men fear old age; as such they go after younger women as a subconscious way of clinging to their youth. Ulvi was not approaching old age yet, not in the real sense of the word ‘old’. But a looming ‘forty’ must have been a scary prospect, and Esmeralda may have been his way of ‘staying young’.


Most of these arguments are only possibilities arrived made out in the implications of Santiago’s story. She does not get much into Ulvi’s mind as she only tells the story ‘as it is’, from her point of view. Still she gives some data upon which a number of theories from different schools of thought can be discussed and perhaps proven. This paper has gone into the basics of these schools of thought and what they can tell us about Ulvi’s and Esmeralda’s workings of the mind, in relation to their affair. These possibilities, albeit not exhaustive, are all likely.

Works Cited

Esmeralda, Santiago. “My Turkish Lover.” Massachusetts: Da capo Press. 2004. Print. Govind, Das. “Top Five Reasons Men Date Younger Women.” 2010. Web.

Vonda, Howard. “Girl, deal With Your Daddy Issues.” Curvy Magazine. 2010. Web.

Lanham, Fritz. “Writer Esmeralda Santiago transforms from ‘Chiquita’ to woman and finds freedom.” 2004. Web.

Ligtenberg, Anna. “The Turkish Lover; Anna loves books.” 2006. Web.

Op Papers Editors. “Bridewealth and the American Culture.” 2009. Web.

WiseGeek. “What Are daddy Issues?” 2009. Web.

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