I never actually dated anyone in college. I’m not sure what that was about. I was thoughtful, conscientious, and passably cute. No warts, oozing orifices, rotting limbs. I developed strong relationships, engaged in life-changing conversations, and got some startlingly good grades. But no action. Not an ounce.
Luckily, I had an outlet for my frustrated attempts at romance. There’s something of a captured audience in college, a group of people who are extremely bright and alarmingly articulate. They were the perfect match for my over-mature self: people who were a bit older, a bit wiser, and most importantly, more than a bit unavailable. That’s right: college professors.
I may have had crushes on at least half of my professors in college. There were very minimal requirements for this unsought affection, and most passed the basic parameters: a quick intellect, a passion for learning, very little jutting nose hair, and something approximating respectable teeth. Once they’d surmounted these obstacles, I was free to fantasize at leisure. I would sit in class, legs crossed alertly and eyes bright, looking like I couldn’t possibly get enough of Mayan pottery, but really taking notes that read, “And then, he unbuttoned my blouse....”
Sometimes, as a tool for procrastination, I’d unveil my crushes during a pre-test study session with my classmates. They would be, almost uniformly, morbidly fascinated. “Dr. Cushman? He’s got salt-and-pepper chest hair! He works out in spandex biker shorts! He’s fifty!”
“Stop,” I’d protest, “You’re making me hot.”
Only my closest friends ever got the full scoop. In those relationships, storytelling was more reciprocal. They would tell their real-life romantic escapades, and I’d detail my classroom fantasies. The classic tale had a basic premise, a visit to a professor’s office during his visiting hours.To begin with, I would look devastatingly sultry. The outfit was key, and I’d always go over it with my friends: casually low-cut shirt, nicely arranged hair, some whisper of perfume. He’d get up to close the door and on the way back would literally trip....
I should add that in all my fantasies I always relied on nothing short of an interventionist low-order deity conspiring towards the trysting moment, mostly because I never imagined either myself or my crush actually initiating anything without some hot-and-heavy accident transporting us to thoughtless folly. Cold-hearted calculation on my part was so ballsy as to be unimaginable. And his initiating things without apology would be totally skeezy because-have I mentioned?-with a few notable exceptions, these men were married. Ehm. Premeditation was out of the question for both of us. We needed all the divine intervention in the world (or perhaps more aptly: diabolic intervention).
So, tripping. I would be in his office, and he would trip and fall onto me a bit. He would pick himself up quickly, blushing and laughing, and we’d go through an embarrassed conversation about that fold in the carpet “getting him every time,” and I would be blushing so winningly that, for the rest of the meeting, he wouldn’t be able to take his eyes off of me. Heat would be running high.
At this point in relaying the story, I’d realize that I’d still need yet another interventionist trick before his body would be against mine, my face tipped back and receiving his warm lips, etc., insert Nora Roberts quotation. Yes, the tripping wouldn’t do it alone. So the low-order deity would have to step in again, wearily twisting her strings or whatever, so that, when it would be time to leave, he’d say he had to leave as well and, as he’d go to open the door, he’d trip again onto me. Ok, lightning may not strike twice, but that doesn’t mean that a carpet can’t wrinkle repeatedly. Let’s just throw in, for good effect, that his hand would slip down my shirt and under my bra and cup my breast. Sure, what the hell? Two accidental trippings and an unintended full-breast groping. And let’s say I would moan quietly, without particularly meaning to, and let’s say that then our brains would shut off and we’d just kiss for a long, groping while, as he whispered, “Your essay on spinning in fin-de-siècle England? Why have porn when I can read your assignments?”
My friends couldn’t get enough of these stories, but then even their all-inclusive sensibilities were challenged when I started having crushes on clergymen. It was just kind of....wrong.
A normal conversation introducing the fact that I think Dr. Cushman was hot went as following:
“Dr. Cushman? So hot.”
“Ew, Rebecca! That’s so gross. So....was it the office scenario or the desert island?”
A normal conversation introducing the fact that I thought the Rev. Luke Hunter was hot:
“Rev. Luke? So hot.”
Awkward silence. “Rebecca, no.”
I resented the fact that I went from amusing floormate with raunchy make-believe stories to tasteless pervert simply because of the addition of the three-lettered Rev. to my roster. Surely fantasizing about older, often married men is either wrong or it isn’t, no discriminations about vocation included. I’m an equal-opportunity fantasizer, I’d protest. They’d just shake their heads. They didn’t even want to know if the Rev. and I fell for each other in the nave, the narthex, or the closed-circuit nursery.
I probed this issue further with a few close friends.
“So, why is it wrong with Rev. Luke and not with the physics Chairman?”
“Dr. Harmond? Are you out of your mind!?!?” Squeals followed.
“Okay, that’s not the point. Focus, ladies. Why is it worse with a minister?”
Friend A: “Well, you go to Rev. Luke for spiritual counseling, right?”
“So your relationship is more intimate than just watching Dr. Harmond’s hairy white arms as he writes on the board.”
Me: “Dr. Harmond and I have a special brand of intimacy.”
Friend B: “She’s just saying, you go to this man to reveal your soul to him, asking him to make you a more spiritual person, and all the while you’re imagining situations in which he’d cheat on his wife and traumatize his children? How do you think he would feel if he found out you were doing this?”
Me: “I’m sure, being a man of God, he would feel badly when the miserable snitch who told him about it was killed.”
Friend A: “Great. If you’re defending this practice AND insinuating that you’ll kill us, maybe you should reconsider whether or not you should go to something stronger than spiritual direction. Like shock therapy.”
What? WHY were these people so freaking serious when it came to clergymen? They were verging on becoming pissy. I decided to cut to the chase.
“Listen: even if I’d never personally met Rev. Luke, even if he weren’t my spiritual director, you would be more scandalized about my drooling over him than about others. If I were to talk about a professor and a clergyman, both of whom I’d never met, you would be disapproving more of the clergyman than the professor. You aren’t being consistent.” I did a mental Zorro motion in my head as I sliced to the point. My friends were only slightly impressed by my argument; they reflected for a second.
Pause. B: “I think I know. It’s because, if Mel Harmond decides to make out with you, that would just be an annoying weakness on his part. If the Rev. Luke decides-
“Accidentally gets overwhelmed into,” I corrected.
“...accidentally gets overwhelmed into making out with you, then he has so very far to fall.”
A: “Yeah, not only will he have cheated on his wife, but he’d have cheated on his congregation, which he asks to walk in honesty and integrity with him. He might have to confess his sins to the church, he might lose his calling in the process.”
There still seemed to be a missing link to this line of reasoning. I pondered. “So his job is morality, is what you’re saying. Mel Harmond’s job is to determine whether or not quatrinos react with electrods or whatever it is that physics does, and Rev. Luke’s job is to be some blameless moral paragon. But we’re all held to the same standard-Mel Harmond has a wife just as deserving of fidelity as Luke Hunter’s; their respective children would all be shocked and horrified. And whether or not people are more disappointed by a minister cheating than a professor cheating is merely feeding their illusion that ministers are somehow more holier. They’re not!
“Anyway, people, you’re missing the point. The point is that it’s a fantasy: it’s all going on in my head. It’s not happening. That alone should loosen you up.”
B looked skeptical. “But, really? Are you telling me that there isn’t a sliver of truth in your fantasies?”
“Does it look like I’m getting action from professors, much less men of cloth?”
B: “Hmm, point taken. But think: there haven’t been any accidental groping possibilities yet. If the unlikely happened, and you both reached for the same book, knocked each other in the head, fell on the floor, and landed with your pants off somehow....”
A nodded, reminiscently: “That was a good one.”
B: “Then, honestly, what would you do? Would you walk away? Or would you follow the things you’ve been rehearsing in your head, day in and day out, and commit the acts you’ve been imagining?”
See, the thing is, I was always betting that the impossible would never happen to me. Sure, a married professor might hit on me, openly, but such overtures would necessitate a personality I would probably find leering and exploitative. And, honestly, how likely would it be that a nice, honest, married man would a) be suddenly overwhelmed into making out with me and b) be the sort of person who can be “suddenly overwhelmed” into anything? The whole premise, that nice married men can do foolish, disloyal things if circumstances become absurd enough-even that’s up for grabs. Let’s say that a professor were accidentally to lose his balance and, in order to catch himself, extend his arm only to have his hand slide through my blouse and pop off all the buttons, at which point he’d exclaim in dismay, only to fall suddenly against me with his mouth landing on my neck and having a momentary convulsion that made his lips purse into a kiss....Let’s say fate got us that far. In reality, there would still probably be some married men who’d say, “Good lord, what was the likelihood of that? Sorry about the blouse, shit this is awkward,” and move on. So what’s the sin in fantasizing about events whose likelihood is vanishingly slim?
I’ve come to decide, however, and with much reluctance, that the whole process is in the end just unavoidably damning. It’s the married part that gets me. If it’s a single person, who cares? But fantasizing about a marriage being broken has always left me with an uneasy feeling. It’s play, I used to maintain; as far as I knew, all the low-order deities were too busy rigging lotteries and other more likely events ever to direct a professor’s hands under my clothing. But, it seems, playing about inspiring someone to adultery is kind of like playing about maiming people or playing about conquering indigenous people. It’s questionable. It probably breeds a bad ethic. I’m not the sort of person who’d spur a married man towards adultery, but I’d be the sort of person who’d dream about being that sort of person. And, for me, I realized after this conversation with my friends, that’s too close to the real thing.
But shit, my resolution made classes (and spiritual direction) a lot less interesting. I actually had to pay attention to the events of Japan during the Meiji period or to the state of my immortal soul. After class, I would pack up and look in wonder around me at the classroom, as if for the first time. Who were all these blank-faced boys my age, their brawny limbs, their all-American, unwrinkled blue eyes, their Abercrombie khaki shorts ripped just so? Where were their piles of erudite research? Where were their late night conversations peppered with words like “epiphanic” and “concomitant”? I imagined, with an involuntary shudder, that boys my age had late night conversations about “funneling” and something termed “March Madness” that had nothing to do with the exciting, early egg-laying of certain garden birds. The worst blow was that none of them were married, so I couldn’t congratulate myself that I didn’t fantasize about them. It would be like congratulating myself, upon visiting a cannibalistic society, that I wasn’t tempted by human flesh: clearly, no temptation involved. Just mild-to-strong revolt.
With a sigh, I packed up my bags and headed to spiritual direction. If Rev. Luke inquired about the state of my soul, I’d have to prostrate myself: “Abysmally pure.”