“Just one more hour,” Joe Stone thought to himself, as he heard the bells of the UC Berkeley Campanile Tower ring twice. His tutorial session in beginning stats with Edgar, a young enthusiastic Latino student, was at an end. He had one more hour-long session left in the day, a Wednesday in mid-October 1974 before his work day was to end.
He noticed from looking at his schedule that he’d be seeing a new student named Donna Roberts. Having a few minutes to himself, he started thinking about the upcoming Grateful Dead shows in San Francisco, reportedly the group’s last, but then drifted off into thinking about how he got here.
It was in January 1970, just under five years earlier, that he had graduated college in New York as a mechanical engineer, a milestone he had reached after a long, hard struggle. Eleven years had passed after landing in the US with his family as an 11-year-old immigrant from Israel who knew very little English, bearing different first and last names than he now had.
Joe’s very domineering father had died but months before graduation, so there was no stopping him from joining his brother, likewise a mechanical engineer and an army Vietnam vet. His brother had moved to San Francisco in May ’69, returning briefly to marry his longtime girlfriend back in New York and take her away. Joe, of course, had no idea back then that within just a few months of graduating, he’d become totally disenchanted with his employer, a large corporate firm with a very perverse company culture, face near-induction into the armed forces while the Vietnam War was still raging, and be radicalized by that experience.
He also had no way of knowing he would also meet a woman named Mary Hale on a beach in Marin County, north of San Francisco, who seemed in her late 20s but would later turn out to be 39. She would introduce him to free love, the wonders of inhaling fresh air, and, indirectly, the Grateful Dead. Later on, she also introduced him to the pleasure of long hikes in open spaces.
Even less could he have guessed that he would be let go by his employer during a mass layoff (he was actually seriously ready to quit anyway), go on a 10 week cross-country drive, come back, become involved in voter registration and the McGovern presidential campaign of ’72, start going to Dead shows and get very immersed in the counter-culture, and enter the UC Berkeley law school intending to become an environmental lawyer who would fight the likes of his former employer.
Within months of starting law school, he was beset by financial problems and got a job as a tutor in statistics in a unit on campus which provided tutorial help in all sorts of fields. The unit was in a temporary structure left over from WWII, close to the Campanile. By then, his perspectives had gone beyond electoral politics, feeling as he did that society needed a more radical change than such tactics could provide. After a short time of exploring, and thanks to new friends, he came upon the anarchist and anti-authoritarian socialist strands of thought which he quickly realized were what he was striving towards. He also became a vegetarian.
The previous May, he astonished his fellow students and walked out of law school, feeling certain he did not want to be a lawyer. He had come to see the legal system as part of the problem, as a pillar of the status quo, even in the case of lawyers with progressive and radical pretenses.
By then, he had come to sort of like his tutoring job. He’d found out via his job that he liked explaining material to other students who were having problems by bringing up daily life examples to which the material could be applied, that he enjoyed breaking down what seemed like complicated concepts into ideas that could be comprehended by those who often lacked nothing more than self-confidence when it came to even the sight of numbers.
By building their self-confidence, students could go on and tackle all their problems, and do well in a course they often perceived as an impassable barrier standing in the way of getting any further in college. Whatever his job title, he was now a teacher, something he never imagined being while growing up or in college.
Suddenly, Donna walked into the room he was sharing with 3 other tutors, each with a desk. She was a fairly attractive black woman, definitely older than most students. At 27, he was also older than most of the students, yet she was probably a couple of years older than him. She was dressed in a fairly mainstream way, a fashionably short skirt (though not a mini), heels, nylons and styled hair. She seemed a touch shy and very polite.
She was a bit panicky about the class. At first, she seemed a bit unsure about him, staring at his mane of light reddish-brown hair hanging down to well below his shoulders. Her uncertainty passed as she realized he had a firm grasp of the material. Her dark brown eyes began making direct contact with his deep blue headlights. By the end of the hour, she seemed calmer about the material, yet he also noticed that she had a tendency to suddenly appear spooked, assuming a facial expression as if some vague presence was scaring her. She wanted to make the hour into a regular weekly appointment, and he was game.
Donna kept showing up every week as the semester progressed, and Joe’s life kept going through big changes. He got burned out of his home in September due to a stupid accident caused by a friend who’d been staying with him and his housemates. He subsequently had to sleep on couches in friends’ places for a couple of months, until landing a place in November with a woman who had advertised for a roommate.
He had gone without a relationship since breaking up with his girlfriend Wendy Finkelstein in February. It had been his first serious relationship and lasted 15 months. He subsequently had no luck hooking up with anyone, in spite of seriously pursuing several leads which turned out to be empty of content or existed entirely in his imagination.
He did go to the shows and enjoyed them immensely. He was sad that the Dead would never play again, of course not knowing he’d be still seeing them more than 20 years later. One constant through all this was Donna’s weekly appointment. She was doing OK in the class, was managing to do her homework assignments, but often expressed the feeling that she was just memorizing stuff and didn’t really understand the fundamentals.
She also continued to show her tendency toward being easily spooked. One time when they walked outside together after the tutorial session, she was weirded out by the dog belonging to the girlfriend of a fellow stat tutor, a somewhat scrawny but totally harmless friendly female which had been tied up to the nearby fence.
Another time, this skittishness surfaced because another student in the stat class whom Joe had helped was hanging out by the steps, a young, light-complexioned black guy, clean-shaven, with glasses. She acted like he was checking her out. Joe had to suppress a chuckle, as he was pretty convinced that guy actually had a crush on him, something he totally did not welcome, though he had come to accept gay people and the like (this was before the coinage of the LGBT acronym) as simply being who they naturally were.
Early that December, Joe had found himself suddenly connecting very quickly with one of his students, a woman of Jewish background from Florida named Millie Steinberg, a grad student in the social welfare school. Soon afterward came the last tutorial session of the quarter with Donna. For the first time, she showed up wearing something different; casual neat pants and a tight sweater which accentuated her ample bosom.
The discussion topic was hypothesis testing, the point at which one applies all they learned in the class to solve some real-life applications, such as telling whether a new education method really leads to higher reading scores, whether a new production process leads to a longer-lasting product, whether two groups within the population have differences regarding a particular social issue, or whether all these differences are simply due to chance error.
They were also to look at a sample final. Joe had Donna tell him exactly how the process of testing differences worked and watched her do some problems. This time, she totally got it. She became excited, expressing her relief, even moved her body around while seated as if freeform dancing. Joe found himself enjoying this display of joy but also noticed he was aroused by the act. She was quite attractive, he decided. She also had no problems figuring out what to do on every problem which was in the sample final.
When they finished and walked out, as usual, she asked if she could walk along with him across campus. He was totally game. She talked about being from Minneapolis, dropping out of college after getting married, and going back to college after she got divorced from her husband, who was a doctor. The conversation was enjoyable, though at that point Joe wasn’t interested in pursuing anything. After all, he had just started seeing Millie.
He had never dated a black woman. His parents were adamantly against “race mixing.” When the family moved to a new building in 1964, it turned out that about half the residents were black and relatively well-off, many of them professionals such as teachers. Joe thought that many of the black women were really attractive, but he was just 17, and if age wasn’t enough of a barrier, his parents’ “good neighbor policy” (not) ensured he could not even become friends with them. Whereas his male friends in college drooled over photos of white Playmates and entertainment celebrities, Joe fantasized about the likes of Diana Ross and Tina Turner.
He, of course, did not share this attraction to black women with his parents, who did not even approve of his brother Murray getting married to a Puerto Rican woman named Lorena. Never mind she was a green-eyed blonde from a family better off than they were. It was a visceral reaction to the very label “Puerto Rican,” plus a resentment of the fact that they didn’t get to pick her.
At this point, Joe was no longer even remotely opposed to the idea of interracial dating, no surprise, given what huge changes he had gone through regarding his perspectives about everything. Yet, for one thing, he didn’t even think black women were very interested in dating white guys, unlike black men and white women. He had also heard plenty of what amounted to myths and stereotypes concerning black women – fallacious beliefs and stories that did nothing to bring people together. He wished her luck and happy holidays when they parted, and figured that was that.
Things were to get crazy soon after. Joe’s new roommate, who turned out to be quite flakey, quite suddenly moved out a couple of days before New Year’s, forcing him to take on new roommates; two guys who turned out even worse than her. Millie came back from the holidays break after New Year’s and informed him she didn’t wish to pursue their relationship further because she wasn’t ready.
Soon things got so bad at home he moved out to live in the back of a house in west Berkeley rented by a couple he had met through Bill, one of his close political friends. In December Bill had become involved with Sherry. They’d all been friends on the East Coast before Bill had moved to the Bay Area in the middle of high school and reconnected, and the previous relationship reignited. Soon after Joe moved in, Sherry announced she was pregnant.
Things got increasingly strange with Bill and Sherry, who started isolating themselves from everyone else. Bill moved in, Sherry’s husband Tom moved out and relocated back to New Jersey. Life at home became like walking on eggshells. Work was OK, but personal matters did not improve. Joe had been functioning per an unstated notion common within his tight political and social circle, that one should only date those he has total political agreement with. Otherwise, one’s politics would be separate from one’s daily life; a complete no-no.
Joe was starting to wonder if this restricted his dating options. He totally did not like the fact that the group was becoming incestuous due to such notions, as it seemed the dynamics were becoming very much soap-opera-like. Besides, he wasn’t even attracted to any of the women in that circle. He became friends with one of his students, Ronnie, a tall, foxy black woman (who taught him the word “foxy” and some other slang), even got the feeling she was trying to encourage him to reach out to her, but he was still too uptight and ambivalent about dating black women. Besides, should a tutor date his students? There were no rules yet about such matters, but he figured things could get messy were he to do that. So he didn’t, and instead he went on to more frustrating encounters with women he knew through political circles.
Soon came summer. Joe was laid off from his tutoring position, with a clear understanding that he’d be rehired for Fall Quarter. No longer being a student, he filed for unemployment but found his case being held up by some unknown procedural problems. His meager savings started shrinking. In July, they took a big hit, as Bill and Sherry told him he had to move because they wanted the place to themselves and their soon-anticipated child.
In a stroke of luck, he found a cheap studio not too far from there, near the North Berkeley BART station. In September, after being encouraged by a friend to raise a stink at the unemployment office next time he was to go there, he found out there was an administrative hold on his case at the UC benefits office. He discovered that a clerk at the tutorial center had inadvertently marked his employment card as being both a non-student as well as a student, most likely had forgotten to erase his student designation.
With that cleared, all the checks which had been held up got cleared, he received a big payment. A chunk of that was to go to pay expenses so he could declare bankruptcy on his law school student loans of a couple of thousand dollars, something which was still possible at this point in history. He was told by Bill that he could borrow a typewriter so he could type out his forms.
Joe began walking to his old place to pick up the typewriter, passing by the local liquor store on San Pablo Avenue a block from his home. As he did so, he heard a woman say, “Hi, Joe.”
He looked up and saw a beautiful black woman dressed in hot pants and a tank top T-shirt that showed her cleavage. “Damn,” he said to himself, “why does it always happen to me? Gorgeous women say hi and I have no idea who they are.”
Seeing he was confused, the woman, who was carrying a bottle of wine and a carton of cigarettes and seemed ready to get into her car, said, “It’s Donna Roberts; you helped me in stat last fall.”
He would never have guessed that a woman who had been so consistently demure in her ways would ever dress like that, and hence, his mind could not process her face in such an unfamiliar frame of reference. Turned out she lived on the other side of the BART station, just a couple of blocks from him.
She told him “Hey, come by whenever you feel like.” She was getting her masters in social welfare at Cal State Hayward. He almost asked her if now was an OK time to drop in, but then remembered he had but a small time window to file for bankruptcy, and that he better get busy and finish that. She was, after all, going to still be around later.
File he did and his case went through, greatly easing his financial burden. A couple of days later, he was to see the Grateful Dead do a free show in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, playing much of the material on their newly released album Blues for Allah. It was a very jazz-oriented recording, and he realized that a return to a regular show schedule was just a matter of time.
Soon, school started again and so did his job. He experienced a change at work. He now was going to do some of his work at what was called “drop in” in the huge room at the center, where students could come in and ask short questions, rather than get help in the form of hour-long appointments. He was also going to start helping out in math.
The calculus he’d had a bunch of as a student started coming back as he helped out more and more students, and indeed, he found himself understanding the material better than he ever had as a student through explaining it to others. He also began interacting with a lot more people than ever before, meaning the potential for meeting new people increased exponentially.
He had a really good interaction with one woman he helped. That evening, he went to visit a couple he had casually been friends with earlier in the year, through some of his political friends, who were living in a different house. Turned out that the woman, Marie, was one of their roommates. His friends had to leave, but he stuck around and talked to Marie, and by the time he left, they were friends. They were to remain friends far past the time he lost contact with that couple, and he got to see her become a doctor and raise two daughters. They stayed in touch into the 21st Century.
He kept meeting new women, but any real connection with a potential for a relationship remained elusive. He started feeling like some women were deliberately acting like they were flirting with him in hopes of getting more attention to their questions than other students, only to not even say hi when they would see him outside the center. Nonetheless, he was becoming increasingly self-confident, as his mastery of both math and stat kept building up, and as he for the first time in his life started riding a bicycle. He found this made him more mobile and hence more self-sufficient, and with more options for activities.
The center had always been linked to programs involving students from historically underrepresented communities, meaning that many of the students he encountered were Latino and black. He befriended a whole circle of black students who were taking math and stat and found himself attracted to some of the women. He even promised a couple of the women that he’d come visit them at their summer workplaces.
Come summer of ’76, he was laid off again, but this time, there were no money problems due to red tape errors. In July, he went to Dead shows in San Francisco. The bus was back in town and was to stick around, albeit with a couple of personnel changes, for almost another 20 years.
Fall quarter ’76 started in late September. The very first week, Joe ran into the two black women he had told he’d visit at their jobs. One, Betty, introduced him to the meaning of the word “turkey,” unhappy that he never did show up. The other, Carol, was friendlier, but still seemed a bit aloof. He, of course, didn’t tell them that he hadn’t thought they’d really be welcoming of an actual visit, and hadn’t thought they’d miss him in the least.
He also met a black woman named Julie Wilkins, a student in the first course of the “hard-core” first-year calculus sequence (for students who intend to major in engineering, physical sciences and math, versus the “soft core” for students in other majors such as conservation of resources). She was very attractive and seemed quite friendly and good-natured.
Later on in the week, he was doing his first session of a study group in stats, held in a partitioned area off the main drop in room, when he heard “There you are.” He looked over the partition and saw Donna. She was dressed up in her old demure style, though she had let her hair grow out quite a bit. Interestingly, it was lengthwise matching his hair, now trimmed to the shoulders. He thought she looked good like that, and he was viewing her in a different light given he’d seen a different side of her before.
She had one class left in grad school, stat, and needed to finish a paper involving a study she had done. It was a class requirement, and she was having problems figuring out how to apply statistical analysis. They arranged for him to come over to her place Friday evening and discuss things.
At noon on Friday, he finished his work shift, which involved helping Julie, the student he’d met in the hard-core program. They walked across campus towards South Side/Telegraph Avenue, talking as they went. Out of the blue, she asked him, “Can you tell me where a woman could get a cup of coffee around here?”
He, of course, asked her if she wanted to go with him to his usual cafe a block down the “Avenue.” She was older than most of her fellow students, though three years younger than him. She had dropped out of school in Southern California, where she was from, and had come back. She seemed interesting. They parted after an hour, knowing they’d be seeing each other a bunch during the quarter. He felt that things were looking up.
Around 6, he walked the four blocks over to Donna’s place, which was easy to find, being on a corner. She was in her front yard, dressed in the hot pants get-up she had worn a year earlier. “Oh, oh,” he thought to himself, “this is gonna be strange.”
By this point, he had not had sex since Millie almost two years ago and was feeling like that was making him vulnerable to making bad decisions. He was determined to avoid these. Donna said a nice hello, told him she had just a couple of things to do in the yard, and bent down on the ground to attend to something. He couldn’t help noticing her butt sticking up towards him.
They talked a bit about the pleasant early autumn weather and about maintaining yards. After about five minutes which seemed like an eternity, she stood up and they walked into the house. He mentioned how she had invited him a year earlier to drop in, and she reaffirmed the offer. They sat in the kitchen where dinner was ready, and she offered him some of the chicken soup she had made and a glass of wine. She lit a cigarette and they started talking.
Quite suddenly, an older-looking black woman dropped in; a friend of hers. She stayed only a couple of minutes. After she left, Donna said, “I feel less and less in common with my contemporaries. I’m 43 but much prefer to hang out with younger people.”
He was quite astounded to find out her age, at the time 43 seemed so, well, old. He told her he had thought she was in her early ‘30s, that she looked great, and she seemed really pleased to hear that. He also related to her how the first woman he ever dated, Mary Hale back in 1970, was 39 when he was 23, and how it worked out quite well. “That’s really nice,” she cooed, making it clear she liked the idea.
This age thing rang a certain bell with him in that he was now finding himself less able to connect with most of the students, who were by now often 10 years younger than him. He then mentioned how he often felt isolated because of his radical views. She asked him to explain. He talked of how he thought that the entire political structure was rigged, that a tiny rich elite controlled everything and that all social institutions were set up to benefit them at the expense of everyone else. “That’s not radical,” she responded. Everyone I know thinks that.”
After they finished eating, she poured herself another glass of wine and offered him some. “No thanks,” he replied, “I don’t drink a lot. I prefer…the other stuff.”
He was surprised to see her adverse reaction, as she responded, “Now there’s something I think is radical. I can’t get behind that.”
Since becoming acquainted with the other stuff, he had thought people were bizarre about that, especially people who drank alcohol, given how much more dangerous in terms of the physical and social effects of booze. He decided this wasn’t a good occasion to get into an argument about the topic, so he said nothing. Sometimes, he mused, silence is the best option.
They went into the living room and sat next to one another on her couch. She pulled out her paper and showed him her work. As they discussed her paper, she moved her bare leg against his pants leg, and then quickly moved it away.
He by now was feeling really confused as to what was going on. She started to rant about how she was just tired of having to jump through meaningless hoops, was sick of not only the problems with her paper but the entire master’s program.
“No, no,” he told her, “this will be easy to finish up.” In an instinctive reaction intended to convey sympathy and offer comfort, he touched her forearm with his fingers. She reacted as if administered a mild electric shock, but said nothing. At that point, he was determined to depart and told her he would come by Sunday afternoon. He got up and walked away.
On the walk home, he kept trying to make sense of all this. Had she been interested in him but changed her mind on a whim? Was she just trying to make him think she was attracted to him so he’d offer to help her for nothing? Was she thinking she was doing that but with the twist that she was actually more attracted to him than she was willing to cop to? Had he misread signals, something he was wont to do, given his relative lack of experience in this realm, and given that perhaps in black culture there were social cues and signals he was just not familiar with?
Did he miss something because he was always inclined to conclude when interacting with women that there was no interest on their part, and anything he thought he was seeing was just his imagination at work? Was he so jacked up because of his lack of any sexual activity for such a long time that he was seeing things which weren’t there?
When he showed up on Sunday, Donna seemed different. She was wearing a pair of baggy jeans and an oversized sweatshirt. She seemed distinctly less friendly, though polite. She again offered a bit of food and drink which he turned down, and she acted as if she expected that out of him. The work was easy, she now had the paper all finished, her masters assured. She thanked him, they bid farewell to each other, and he walked home.
He never saw her again.
In coming weeks and months, he started dating Julie Wilkins. He determined by year’s end that the relationship wasn’t going to go anywhere, but the previous taboo had now been broken. He was to get involved with two other black women in 1977.
He met one named LaShaunda in the laundromat he went to, she initiated the interaction, all but invited herself to his place. That’s where the entirety of their relationship was to take place, inhaling and having sex which she initiated as well. She refused to talk to him on the phone the one time he called her, pretending she wasn’t home and that she was someone else living there when it was obvious who she was given her voice and mannerisms. The relationship didn’t last.
After LaShaunda, he dated two white women he met in a social sciences class taught by a friend whom he helped out. Neither situation led to anything. He experienced the same result with two Asian women he met via tutoring. He then met another black woman; Jennifer Jones, a grad student in public health. When she contacted him looking for stat help, they soon became friends. They developed a relationship and went out to see movies and music. This too did not last, just as with all his relationships, no matter what color or ethnicity the woman had been.
To him, the minimal requirements for a relationship were that he found the woman physically attractive, that she be smart, kind, and sensitive enough to be reasonably easy to get along with. But that wasn’t enough — the two people needed to be compatible. He found Jennifer too irksome, and strangely uptight, politically, sexually and otherwise, surface pretensions notwithstanding.
Years later, in hindsight, he concluded that this was much less a matter of her being black than of being an academic brat, the child of academic parents growing up in a community next to a large campus in the Midwest. At this point, given his experiences, he started feeling that while he was attracted to black women more than to any other ones, the cultural barriers involved were just too big to surmount.
In early ’78, he met a woman named Paula Hart by way of tutoring, attractive though not a conventional way. She not only looked somewhat similar to him in hair and eye color, but also turned out to have a background in the counterculture, both in LA in 1966-7 as well as Berkeley since ’68, and was still holding on to those values. They liked doing many of the same things, such as long hikes. The attraction was irresistible on both their parts and not even the fact which emerged that she was married could get in the way, though it made the first year and half of their relationship rather tricky and impossible to fully get into.
It was not until two years into the relationship that Joe discovered that Paula had a tendency to go berserk every couple of months during the low part of her cycle. She often had long bouts of depression, no doubt enhanced by having problems relating to her separated parents, especially her mother, and could easily go ballistic at the drop of a hat. By that point, he was too much in love, and additionally carried a feeling of guilt over getting her to leave her ex-husband. He felt he had a responsibility to see things through no matter what.
Their relationship had further solidified by her becoming politically active, joining his many endeavors in this realm, and by her embracing the Grateful Dead. She, in fact, demonstrated a high level of enthusiasm for the band’s persistence and continued evolution while other bands of the ‘60s bit the dust or turned into nostalgia acts. He and Paula even got married in May ’84. Both together pursued physical and spiritual activities such as yoga and for a while aikido and they went beyond being vegetarian to eating only organic food.
Though the rocky passages started becoming ever longer in late ’87, he still remained fully committed to the relationship, as this coincided with and could have been explained by a long period during which their housing situation turned insecure. Besides, she kept reassuring him in between these passages that they were still tight and “forever.”
Yet his unease increased as conditions persisted even after that problem was dealt with. Things got to the point that instead of just psychological abuse, Paula began physically abusing him.
In summer ’91, with his assistance, Paula reconnected with her high school boyfriend Rob, after 25 years of not hearing a word. She traveled to Southern California for a visit, came back, and in September told Joe she wanted to leave. By November, she had relocated to Southern California and was dating Rob, whom she married the following May right after her divorce with Joe was official.
Her political involvement was mostly gone even before she left. Her fondness for the Dead and similar music vanished soon after she moved. Her apparent deep feelings proved to be as easily washable as shampoo out of her hair.
This was a blow Joe did not recover from. The level of betrayal, after what he went through and went along with for the sake of love after they seemed to establish deep connections and a common set of favorite activities, was too much. It was hard to trust someone with your emotions after something like that, and quite impossible to create an intimate relationship without such trust. Besides, by that point, he was a white guy in his mid-40s, not down and out but not a wealthy yuppie either, and a Deadhead with radical politics who was also somewhat of a science nerd. He was not exactly a hot item on the dating circuit.
This experience, as expected, made him examine his history and attitudes regarding relationships. Amongst other things, he couldn’t help notice how often in his dreams he was involved with black women. He had acquired the attitude from friends and acquaintances, as well as the general social ambiance, that it was somehow wrong for him to feel particularly attracted to black women. After all, many people he knew via political practice even thought that having any standards of physical attractiveness was simply socially constructed conditioning, and indeed that even being strictly heterosexual was somehow reactionary and “politically incorrect.”
But these feelings of special attraction persisted. He simply was not attracted to men. He did not find all women attractive, and while he found the proportion of women he thought attractive was about the same in all ethnicities, the black women he found attractive seemed to affect him in a distinctly stronger manner than other women.
He remembered early dreams about black women from even before the time he knew any, back when he still lived in Israel as a young child. Furthermore, he really liked the independence and self-confident manner of presence displayed by many black women. Yet there were very few such women who seemed to share his cultural and political likes and dislikes. There seemed to be very few black women Deadheads; heck even the jazz shows he attended seemed to have few blacks in the audience. He knew of very few black women eco-anarchists. Indeed, there seemed to be few women of any ethnicity who even tolerated such proclivities. So he went on being without a relationship, not even dating anyone.
It took Joe till 2015 before he befriended a black woman at a store he went to a couple of times a week. He became curious and found via the web that he wasn’t alone, that in fact there were many white men who were primarily attracted to black women, and likewise black women to white men. He started interacting with people who discussed this in a healthy, helpful way and realized that even if he were to never have another relationship again, he could assist others by sharing his experiences.
Quite naturally, one of the things he started wondering about was what exactly happened with Donna back in October ’76. He raised this topic with a woman he had met through a website devoted to the topic of such relationships, and she provided him with what he thought was an excellent analysis. Donna, she told him, had engaged in what is popularly known as “code switching,” hence the different forms of dress in different environments.
She was probably also somewhat ambivalent about him, and somewhat curious, but not willing to put herself way out there. And she was also likely annoyed that he didn’t pick up readily enough on her cues, which can make a woman lose interest or be turned off. Annoyance could cause her to decide to nix any romantic ideas that may have seemed good at the time, but could also cause her to go from 60 to 0 and back in no time. To this, Joe added that he also felt ambivalent about Donna, and was also put off by her tendency to be skittish.
He concluded he’d probably done the right thing by doing nothing. But if he could do it all again, a la “Ground Hog Day,” he would have been more communicative, asking Donna at some point whether she was feeling uncomfortable because of anything he was doing.
No matter the outcome, maximized communication is always a good idea. One should never do what feels very uncomfortable, even while questioning what that something is and why. He also would not have tried to suppress his own feelings of attraction. Instead, he would have been totally “there” instead of trying to be present as some sort of desexualized being, which only served to make him less sensitive to the immediate situation.
Maybe, in another time or another place, he would have his chance.
Jeff Strahl was born in the British Mandate of Palestine, which was to become Israel within a few months. At the age of 11, in 1958, he along with his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York, where he grew up. He graduated the City University of New York with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1970 and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. He is now retired, enjoys hiking, bicycling, gardening and music (whether playing it, listening, or dancing to it), social activism, and life in general. To connect with Jeff on Facebook, click here.
Copyright © 2016 Michelle Matthews Calloway, ASwirlGirl™, The Swirl World™, LLC, All rights reserved. Feature photo property of The Swirl World™, LLC.
“A Teacher’s Teachable Moments” Copyright © 2016 Jeffrey Strahl.
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