Friendship on Campus

Just read today’s NYTimes article on college sex by Kate Taylor.  Sex is nothing new.  Sex when drunk is nothing new.  Sex without love is nothing new.  It has been going on forever. The article is new and begging for comments.  I’ll fall into line and make mine. 

What’s missing from this article is that women and men on both high school and college campuses, unlike when I was a student in the sixties, can be friends — not just loving couples or hookups, drunk or sober.  Or at least the boys and girls/men and women of my son’s school years –the nineties and two thousand naughts — were friends.  To me that possibility is the most important change in male/female relationships in the past fifty or so years since the women’s sexual revolution.

The sixties opened the door wide for pre-marital lovemaking without guilt or shame.  This eventually became acceptable in the minds of all.  Well not all.  Not those who truly believe in and practice abstinence until marriage, and we should all respect their choice.

Free sex (again what the feminist movement brought about) was certainly not acceptable in the minds of those who had a problem with equality of the sexes.  They took it as a perk.   A dirty perk.  They still do.  Lately with the nonsense coming out of the mouths of our politicians, and the medieval stances being made by legislatures across our land, one might think they are the majority.  Can’t be.  They are just the loudmouth bullies who were loudmouth bullies when they were younger.

Good and bad came with women’s sexual liberation.  On the bad side were the abuses of all those young women and men who wanted to express their trust and love, but who were too immature and innocent to understand that not all the people with flowers in their hair were as pure in heart and mind as they were.  There were bouts of loss of self-esteem, “degrading encounters,” and the hurt and depression that come with miscommunication or lack of communication about expectations or outright lies, conflicts with family and perhaps future partners.  Same as now.  Were there increases in venereal disease or unwanted pregnancies or extra-marital affairs?  There could very well have been.

A lot of college men in the sixties were heavy, heavy drinkers.  What has caused this increase in the female student population?  Is there an increase?  I don’t recall any of my classmates ever saying “If I’m sober, I’m working,” as one college woman is quoted in the article.  Does that reverse into “If I’m not working, I’m drinking and having sex?”  Doubtful. An increase in drinking among today’s female students might stem from a sense of futility, financial pressures, lack of opportunity and lack of encouragement from the leadership and powerful that have emerged from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  Being young doesn’t mean you are stupid.  There are just not many places for them to go.

On the good side, the women’s sexual revolution of the sixties enabled students and young adults in their twenties and thirties to delay marriage and experience the freedom of being single and independent before marriage.  The youth of my day were free from internal and external pressures to do things the way our parents did.  A person learns a lot about him/herself and the partner he/she wants and needs by experiencing relationships with different people.  This goes both for personality and lovemaking.

We had time on our side.  We could grow into ourselves before our marriages, not after a divorce as so many of our parents. 

Perhaps the above thought is out of date. Today’s college students can’t do things the way their parents did.  There is little on their side.  Where are the jobs?  What do they do when they graduate?   What fields are open?   They can sell their souls and work for Monsanto or Exxon or Bank of America.  They can teach but only if they agree to deny science and teach lies.  They can go into the arts but only if they have a corporate sponsor which means they are censored.  They can try to change the system but only if they are strong (or crazy) enough to be publicly persecuted and harassed.

Opportunities for high school graduates are even bleaker.  They pay little, offer little chance of advancement, and provide no security or benefits.

Perhaps experiencing life so that you can be a better person and make a better partner choice no longer matters.

Girls and boys were not friends in my school days.  Girls wanted boyfriends, steadies, a class ring, an athletic letter, dates on Saturday night, a club jacket, husbands along with diplomas.  That’s what girls learned from their parents, the TV, the love songs on the radio. Boys wanted someone who would put out or they were too shy to want anything at all.

Somewhere between the sixties and the nineties something changed. 

Both my boys have had girl “friends.”   They’ve been to my house and have spent the night and I know they have not shared a bed, but often a bedroom.  It took me quite a while when they were in high school to believe that all was innocent.   

It was such a great change, a very needed change.  I wish I had had boy “friends” when young.  My first male “friend” was gay and I was in my late twenties!  Even now I’d feel a bit of a flirt and a bit deceitful meeting a man “friend” for coffee or for a walk along the river while my constant companion was at home.

Am I that different from my son’s girl friends?  I wonder. It has come to seem perfectly natural that my sons can have females as friends.  I wonder it if is perfectly natural that other women’s daughters can have males as friends.

Are today’s students so different from those of just ten years ago?  Please don’t tell me so.  Please young women and men of today.  Hang on.  There is no one way.  There are many ways.  Some just wander around a little more than others.

Classmates of the opposite sex are not just marriage partners or hook-ups.  They can be friends – friends for a year, friends for life.    You don’t have to swear to love each other until death do you part.  You don’t have to be committed.  There are chapters in your lives.  Live each one to its fullest.  Friends are fun in good times, they are there in the bad. They are very nice.  It may take a little more effort than getting drunk and doing it standing up in the bathroom.  You may still argue and go different ways, but after making the first friend, you will find it gets easier.  And you won’t have a hangover in the morning.

If you don’t have sex with each other, that’s wonderful.  If you do, that’s wonderful too.  

Prologue to Listening to JBKO

Shirley and I started work at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on the same day, September 13th, 1971.  We worked together in the library’s temporary quarters in Waltham, although not on the same projects.  We were still colleagues when the Library moved to its new building – stunning, out of the way, and leaky – on Columbia Point in Boston.  I left in ’83 to have my first son, and Shirley left for the Boston Globe in ’84.

Waltham staff at JFK Library / 2008

The Waltham staff of the JFK Library gets together for reunions about once every two years – when someone who has moved far away is back in town, when the JFK Library Foundation puts on a big bash, sometimes unfortunately at funerals.  I go because my work there was over-the-top and my colleagues, for the most part, were very bright and interesting people. I’d go to more of the events, including the Hemingway Awards in the spring, but I live more than 3 hours away, and I’m very content at home.

I am so happy that Shirley and I are still friends.  The date of our meeting, September 13th is a very significant day in my life. It is also my marriage date, the date I started work as librarian at Lowell National Historical Park, and the date that my husband found out he had lymphoma.  Meeting Shirley is in there with some of my biggies.

For my 65th birthday Shirley gave me the book of Jacqueline Kennedy’s interviews with Arthur Schlesinger.  They were recorded  just four months after the President’s death in 1964.  The book bears Caroline’s signature.  It was a wonderful present.  I don’t know if I would have bought or read the book otherwise.  It was a boxed set with CD’s.

With Jacqueline Kennedy at the opening of the Hemingway Room 7/18/1980

I met Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, or JBKO, as we referred to her in the library, several times.  The staff thought it undignified and too familiar to call the former First Lady “Jackie,” but Mrs.Kennedy or Mrs. Onassis was too formal.  I was curator of the Ernest Hemingway Collection and I would see her at Hemingway events, which she often attended.

At one of these events I introduced JBKO to my husband. The next time we saw her — a year, two years later — she amazed us by remembering him and our conversation.  She asked us about our house that we had told her we were building. Even after I left the library Clark and I would return and see her.  We told her we had opened a children’s bookstore, Book Nooks & Krannies in New Hampshire.  Months later a big unmarked box of The Fisherman’s Song by Carly Simon, illustrated by Margot Datz, arrived at the store.  They were all signed “Love, Carly Simon.”

I think I walked around in a daze for a week or two.  I was overwhelmed.  Where did these books come from?  Were they a mistake?  What should I do about them?  There was no note, no paperwork, no bill.  I didn’t want to be presumptuous but I thought perhaps JBKO asked Carly to sign them and  had Doubleday send them to me.  JBKO was Carly Simon’s editor at Doubleday, and the editor, songwriter, and artist knew each other on Martha’s Vinyard.  Wondering how to thank her, and still not being sure if I should thank her for fear of embarrassing both of us if she hadn’t, I did nothing.  I thought next time I see her . . .

Of course, next time never came.  And that is one of my regrets.  How does one thank someone who has passed away for having done something so thoughtful?

I have lots of books in piles around the house waiting to be read.  I wondered when I would get to Jackie’s.

Then I remembered.  I used to love listening to books when I was by myself on a long car ride.  I would occasionally be so engrossed, in Water for Elephants for example, that I missed my exit to Moultonborough and almost made it to Canada.   I eventually wore out the player and turned to NPR and singing with my ipod.

Now I have a new car with a functional CD player, and a new 2-hour each way drive to visit my mom in New Jersey every week.  I could listen to the book.

And I am.  My first thoughts were about JBKO’s voice.  It is very feathery, and reminds me, unfortunately, of Marilyn Monroe.  She has an accent.  I cringe when I hear myself saying “cawfee” for coffee, but if JBKO can speak with a somewhat unflattering accent, I can too.  I hope it is endearing.

I’m more than half way through.  It’s sometimes hard to hear what they are saying.  I’ve got to fill in the blanks in my memory.  I’m curious to compare the book and the CDs.

In the meantime I’m going to send a copy of The Fisherman’s Song off to Shirley this afternoon, and start writing about my impressions of what I have heard so far.