Erotic Interlude: One Lesson
By Hapax Legomenon

99 Erotic Notions Index

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                    Von Hofmann, 1896, Idyll
Ludwig Von Hofmann, Idyll, 1896 .

The Saturday after I sent Lisa the link to Erotic Notion #9: Germs, she met me for lunch. I asked if she read it (she had) and what her reaction was. She feigned boredom and said, "All right, I guess. "

"You didn't like it?"

"College students discovering passion is not exactly an original subject."

"That's the best age to write about," I said. "College is when you are young, energetic and open to new experiences."

Lisa scowled. "In college," she said, "you witness people in various degrees of seriousness using the same word: love. Some just want the thrills of ecstasy without the responsibility; some are deeply committed to love and rattled when partners don't feel the same way; some succumb to a night of romance and later feel the burden of a relationship they've lost all passion for. Some settle for less-than-love just to be rescued by the boredom of solitude. Some let romance turn them into needy or resentful people. Some are merely confused, unsure of what they are feeling or what they even want; Some enjoy love only for the pride of conquest or adventure; some enjoy it for the companionship or the sense of fulfilling another's needs. College is a time to love and hurt and play."

"You make college sound so dangerous. Maybe it is. But it's the only time when you have total freedom to pursue your passions. Better in college than later."

"You remember the freedom but forget the frustration and pain. That's why people romanticize their youth."

"I'll be honest," I said. "I look back at college and wish I wasn't so bashful about confessing romantic feelings. I wish I had overcome my fear of rejection and just spoken from the heart – "

"In order to get laid."

I laughed. "Well that certainly was a part of it. And that was partially the reason I wrote Germs – to imagine what it would be like to pursue a passion instead of letting it wither away."

"Trust me, you're better off erring on the side of caution. College students are thoughtlessly cruel about passions. They talk about love and sex without a sense of empathy or how deep passions can run."

"Maybe," I said, "but to tell the truth, I now wish I had subjected myself to a little thoughtless cruelty. Instead, college was a record of what should have transpired and didn't. I sometimes look back and wonder about my semi-crushes, the girls who were sorta cute, but not enough to awaken deep passion. My reasons for dismissing some girls at the time (looks, clashing interests, superficial defects), now seems inconsequential. In retrospect, my preferences seemed so limited. Many of these people would have been pleasant to become involved with, not as longtime lovers, but intimate, sensual friends."

"That's a typical male view. When I look back at college, I usually end up composing a list of men I wish I had avoided."

"By now our preferences are different. We become more tolerant about certain kinds of people, less tolerant about others. At college I was quick to label, quick to judge. You cannot feel desire for a person you have already judged inadequate. I would love to revisit college today and spend more time with certain kinds of women, less time with others."

"You are naive," Lisa said. "Do you really think an extra tryst or two at at college would have made you happier or wiser?"

"In a word, yes."

"Your mistake," Lisa said, "is believing experience to be the best teacher. College students hunger for new experience; that's natural. But they also read textbooks on ethics, psychology and justice. Shouldn't these things count for something? The first time love happens, one is tempted to disregard books and lectures. Love seems strange, unique and mysterious. But experience has only one lesson to teach: disillusionment."

"Some things have to be experienced firsthand. Love, for instance. "

"No, they don't!" Lisa said. "You don't need to put your hand in a pot of boiling water to know it's going to hurt. Sociology, psychology, religion and philosophy help you to avoid repeating mistakes of people before us."

"Don't forget literature and film," I said. "Literature classes offer more guidance into living than all the other subjects combined."

"Oh really? What does literature actually teach us .. aside from curiosity or even hunger for additional experiences? "

"If I recall," I said, "the Greeks thought drama had a positive cathartic effect on spectators. There, you see; my English classes did teach me a thing or two."

"But that's like saying – "

"Wait," I said, "let me finish. A novel or film lets you pass through an imaginary event in slow motion – with the guidance of someone who has already pondered its meaning and rendered it in a provocative way. As long as you remember that it is artifice (and subject to manipulation), the lessons of fiction are no less profound than raw experience."

"So what is the point of 'Germs'? Should college students confess their secret crushes? Did it make the protagonist any happier?"

Written, October, 2005

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      "College is a time to love and hurt and play"

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