A dear friend who perhaps knows more than I do suggests making lists of pros and cons before an important personal decision, reminding me that as a teenager, and even in college, bewildered by the attention of various boys—as they were then—I resorted to lists to try to sort them out.
My agony can perhaps be guessed at when I reveal that, distraught over having dates (merely dates, in the old form) with two of these boys, I went to the Radcliffe library to look up the meaning of “prostitute.”
Not much freedom of thought or behavior in those bad old days, at least for good girls, one of whom I longed to be.
The lists I made then are long gone, but I can imagine some of the items I would have included:
On the pro side, good looks, good manners, a shared background (at least in terms of the nineteenth century literally classics), a sense of humor, and the possibility of some devotion, however limited, to me.
On the con side, inevitably a good deal longer, heavy drinking, objectionable touching, unreliable flirtatiousness, no fixed intentions in regard to me or anything else, and aggressiveness I learned to combat, but which still frightened me.
One of the two boys I was dating knocked me into the bushes outside my off-campus house when I was returning from an evening with the other one.
Thank God I knew enough even then to understand, immediately, that his violence was unjustified by my perfidy (I had broken a date with him to go out with the other one). I went at once to a faceless authority—all the authorities, at that time and in that vast university, were faceless to me—who hauled the wretch in and threatened expulsion. I was relieved when he was let off with a less severe penalty but I can’t claim I would have felt sorry if he had been kicked out.
The year before, my freshman year, a drunken boy who had left me at a Boston nightclub—kind friends drove me back to my Cambridge dormitory—managed somehow to penetrate that brick redoubt and find his way to my single room where he passed out on my bed. Other residents of the hall had menaced him with brooms and mops when he tottered down the corridor.
Fortunately I was able to convince the housemother in her armored housecoat and curlers that I was not in my room when he intruded. This time, the authorities were even more severe, and this gifted student very nearly suffered dismissal.
I had no hand in that, and since I was fond of him, and recognized his giftedness (I doubt if he recognized mine), I was glad for his reprieve.
My lists affected none of these outcomes. It seems that the pros and cons of relationships, or individuals, have in the end little influence on my decisions, which spring usually from a hidden pocket of my intuition—hidden, even from me, as well as from the lovers or would-be lovers or husbands who encounter my will.
Now my eldest granddaughter is about to leave for college, probably, again, one of those over-rated universities in the East. I don’t believe she will ever have to result to lists to bolster her decisions, and I’m absolutely certain she will never frequent those august libraries to look up the meaning of “prostitute.”
But then she will not have been subjected, as a Freshman, to the nearly naked “posture photographs” to which we all, sheep-liked, subjected, photographs that were revealed, years later, to have been passed along to the boys to help them decide which of us to date. Our passivity to this assault on our vulnerability is even more horrifying to me than the shameful practice itself.
So much for lists, and for the good old days.