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Party in my suite, Oct, 1971

From the vantage point of 50 years, I can say that Bob and I were a good couple. We had great chemistry; I have learned that having such “chemistry” and remaining intellectually interesting to one another are motivating factors for me. We had fun together, learned songs and sang together. But I was congenitally insecure. I was SO happy when things went well; SO unhappy when things didn’t. I wrote about him for a different prompt in 2021, but have an important addendum since writing originally. The following is our story:

With Bob, sophomore year (1971).

I came back to school early sophomore year. Along with suite-mates Nettsie and Rozie, I was in the Orientation Show. We had to prepare for the opening, early in the school year.

With Nettsie and Rozie in Gondoliers, later in Sophomore year.

We were busy rehearsing in the theatre, which was at the opposite end of campus from East Quad, where we lived. We had to hike up a rather steep hill, which crested by the library, before descending to our quad. We did that several times a day, going back and forth to rehearsals, which were great fun. The student written and directed show was super – sardonic and funny.

Poster from Orientation Show, 1971; I am in the second row, at the end on the right.

The two others were slightly ahead of me one day walking up that hill, and gave a huge greeting to a tall guy with dark hair, mutton chop sideburns, wearing tube socks and shorts. I didn’t look terribly closely and thought it was our classmate and center of our basketball team, Al Klein, so I scurried up to say hi too. It wasn’t, but they greeted this guy so warmly that I did too. That’s how I met Bob. There was an immediate spark.

I was typecast as the “sexy one” in the show. The second act opened with a Day-Glo Frisbee number. We all wore tee shirts with slogans on the back that became visible under the black light as we each turned to expose the slogans. The person next to me’s tee read, “If you got it…” Mine read:

Back of my tee shirt from Orientation Show

We had a so much fun! What I didn’t know was that Bob and another guy (with whom I would also become friends) were seated in the front row, taking bets on who would go out with me first. Needless to say, Bob won. Within six days we were a couple, on and off for a year and a half. We had white-hot chemistry.

He was the first guy I was totally over the moon about. He was smart, curious, into everything. We both enjoyed all sorts of music. I introduced him to the “New World Symphony”. He took me to our little on-campus coffee shop, where we listened to Joe Val & the New England Bluegrass Boys. Who could have predicted that I would really enjoy Blue Grass music? We took an art history class together. We went to all the dances, and all the movies (Wednesday nights were for old classics, Fridays were first runs). I became friendly with all the guys he lived with. In fact, I’m still friendly with many of them. In 2016, I was invited to make a “guest appearance” at one of their annual dinners. We had a blast. The left-most one was the fellow with whom Bob had the bet at the Orientation Show in 1971.

With Bob’s friends in 2016

I was always in Bob’s suite, so they all knew me well. After homework was finished, we’d get stoned and play hearts with two decks. The look on someone’s face if they got two Queens of Spades dropped on them in one hand was priceless! I tried to learn to play chess, since he loved it, but that was beyond me. My brain just doesn’t work that way. I enjoyed going to our basketball games, with or without him.

Bob slept in my room. My roommate loved him and was a very sound sleeper. We took turns waking her in the morning. She dropped out of Brandeis at the semester break. Then I had a double-single, which I fiercely protected. I confess, I was obnoxious to the various candidates who were sent as potential roommates. Bob and I scared them away and I kept the room to myself for the remainder of the year; such a precious commodity. Bob and I took full advantage of it. He was IT for me. But he wasn’t Jewish, so my parents seriously DID NOT approve and I understood there could be no long-term future with him.

One might think that life was ideal. I was so happy with him, but Bob had a wandering eye, and more. He just couldn’t settle down. He would wander off with some other woman for a short period, just to check her out. Was she of Greek heritage? Great! Did she play chess? So much better. In talking to some of my classmates recently, I learned that the one of Greek heritage had a serious heroin problem. Her suite-mates would check her pulse each morning. Depending on her level of toxicity, they’d either call 911, or leave her alone. I had no idea. I doubt Bob did either. Another lovely earned extra spending money as a Playboy Bunny in the club in Boston. She waited on Dan and me at our first anniversary dinner, as described in the “anniversary” prompt. Bob craved those extracurricular bouts.

I’d be crushed (I truly loved this guy), would lose an incredible amount of weight in a short period of time, mope around, but didn’t sit still. Other guys were interested in me and I would accept their offers (never sleeping with anyone else, just going out on dates). Eventually, Bob would come back and all would be right in the universe again.

Jones Beach, summer, 1972

My savvier girlfriends asked why I put up with this nonsense. It is a fair question. I asked myself that question too. I guess the heart wants what the heart wants. I had never before had feelings for anyone like I had for this guy. So I put up with his peregrinations (which were short) and he did always come back. I found him fascinating.

As I have discussed in other stories, I also have deep-seated feelings of poor self-worth; my mother really did a number on me. Yes, it is easy to blame one’s parents, but my mother wasn’t capable of instilling self-confidence in her off-spring. Quite the opposite, nothing I did was good enough. That takes a toll. My father was a love, but wasn’t home much when I was a kid. As someone in retail, he worked six days and two nights a week. We became close once I left for college and he switched careers. Then, he became my rock. It is with age and a sense of perspective that I can now see that it would be nice if one’s partner offered respect and admiration, but one must also find that from within. That has not come easily for me, but I continue to learn and grow. I am a work-in-progress.

I managed to see Bob a few times over the summer of ’72 and we remained together throughout the first semester of his senior, my junior year, when he now had a single in a dorm dominated by freshmen. I became their “den mother”. He no longer wandered, knowing that he would soon graduate.

He graduated at the end of December, 1972, half-way through his senior year. He and a close friend went off to tour Europe. But we always stayed in touch. We exchange greetings at Christmas. Since he’s a classmate of Dan’s, I see him at their reunion every five years. He is always pleasant. Even during Dan’s health crisis in July, 2021, he sent me an email, wishing Dan a speedy recovery. During reunions, I enjoy hanging out with that group of guys. I truly became good friends with all of them; a nice group of guys.

Class of ’73, 30th reunion, with Bob and friends


Bob and I exchanged letters during our school vacations. I looked for them when I wrote the above story, but didn’t find them until last year. I scanned a few and emailed them to him, eventually sending him the above story as well (before I added the first paragraph, which is a new addition). I got a very nice response. We had an interesting exchange. It was like a time machine to look back at his handwritten letters from 1971 and ’72 and see what was on his mind in the moment. I had particularly wanted to find his response when one of the seniors from his suite had died shortly after graduating. Tommy had previously beaten cancer, was out for a jog, felt a pain in his leg, and keeled over. He had a blood clot break loose in his leg, travel to his heart and he died as he hit the ground. It stunned all their friends and Bob wrote about it eloquently; the pain of facing mortality so young, wishing for all the guys to go out on a long sail and just go down in a blaze of glory. Ah, youth!

The letters were tender, always signed “Love, Bob”. That startled me, I hadn’t remembered such a response from him.

His response to my story was surprise that he had hurt me and he apologized. I apologized for being so insecure (it was warranted, but perhaps I shouldn’t have freaked about it the way I did). He confirmed that he thought I was smart and sexy, a good companion, fun to be with; thought that we always had a good time together and thanked me for teaching him about “The New World Symphony”, which he still enjoys. Certainly we could have communicated better, but that comes with age and emotional maturity. This exchange over two days in January, 2022, somehow brought resolution to those long-ago feelings. It’s nice that we can still be long-distance friends.

Bob at 70


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: been there, funny, moving, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    You may be a romantic, Betsy, but perhaps even more so, you are so very honest. Both with yourself and with us, your readers. You have described these two early, and ultimately doomed, relationships not only in wonderful detail, but also with great clarity. Warts and all, as is said. These guys’ flaws, your own insecurities (thanks, Mom!); it’s all there. And, as always, with great photos from back in the day — even of “other woman” Jessie.

    Despite your title, I hope you can now look back at these relationships with (mainly) fond memories of long ago. It does sound as if you have been able to maintain a very nice connection at least with Bob and his pals right to this day. That said, I trust you know that all your fans on Retro think both these guys were complete idiots for letting you go!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      My memories of Gordon are not so fond, John. That was a weird one from the get-go. Bob was a different story and my memories are mostly fun and fond, if a bit of teen anguish. I know how his life turned out. It is better that we parted ways.

      Thanks for your endorsement. I’ll keep sharing all these long-ago moments.

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Gordon does sound particularly creepy—good thing you eventually moved on! You describe the ups and downs of those years vividly.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I look back I agree, Gordon was a real head-scratcher, Khati. I wish I knew then what I know now. My life would have been quite different, but 20/20 hindsight really brings things into sharp focus. We all grow up (one hopes).

  3. Suzy says:

    “”The heart wants what the heart wants.” That’s perfect, Betsy! Thanks for this in-depth look at your early dating experiences at Brandeis.

  4. Marian says:

    Many of us have gone through those odd relationships, Betsy. It’s live and learn. Your details about Brandeis brought back a lot of images because I lived in East, and I remember that orientation show because fall 1971 was my first semester. It was a tumultuous time, and I can’t believe you maintained that double-single, a near impossibility. Funny that I didn’t like most of the guys at all, with the exception of Gary, a junior, who became my boyfriend for a few months. Three years later, when he moved to California and I was a senior at Mills, we dated for a while again and then remained friends.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As I look back, I’m afraid I wasn’t a great judge of character, but that didn’t seem to matter at the time. I can chalk it up to growth and development, Suzy.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I’m glad this all rang true for you, Marian (and you SAW that show – how fun)! I lived in East two years, and yes, I drove away at least two, probably three poor women to maintain that double-single (with Bob at my side). I was really impossible to them, not at all like me, normally.

      Let’s hear it for Gary! I’m sure he was a nice guy.

  5. As always, Betsy your recall of dates and events is so impressive and you always have the photos to show us who was who!

    And it’s quite something that you and Bob have remained friends, good for you both and for your understanding husband!

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    The depth of your memory and your honesty amaze me, Betsy. I could picture the scenes you described so well, especially the one at Drumlin Farm, where we took our grandsons when they were young. Your story captures so well the heartbreak of failed young relationships. They hurt at the time but we also learn from them.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      We do learn from those breakups, Laurie. Sadder, but wiser. I look back at Gordon and wonder what was I thinking? Why did I put up with that sort of abuse? I would never stand for that today. So that’s something.

  7. Yay, you! Seems you’ve always worn your heart on your sleeve…I love that in a person. As I was reading your story I wanted to say, “Wait…there must have been an issue with your mom, that someone like you would have so little self-esteem…” and then there it was, of course! Betsy, like others, I went through similar experiences chapter and verse. I hope you don’t regret one thing, not even Gordon! Going through those experiences made us who we are today…strong and confident, and still wearing our hearts on our sleeves. XOXO

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    I always wanted to be like Bob. Luckily I was never like Gordon.

    In the picture from 2016, is that Bob in the upper right corner?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Funny, I still see George (the fellow driving the car that crashed in NC) on a regular basis. I once mentioned Gordon to him. “Gordie? We were roommates the next year. Great guy!” I’ve never mentioned him again. Do you want to be like Bob because you wanted to be a “player”? He was a very successful merger and acquisitions lawyer in NYC, who visited his senior partner in his hospital bed where he was dying from cancer. The older lawyer was still working. Bob retired at 40. That group of friends (who gave me this info) enjoy his company from time to time.

      Bob was not at the dinner in 2016. The friend who invited me, teased the other guys that there would be a “mystery” guest. They thought it might be Bob, but it was just me! They were a little disappointed, but got over it and we had loads of fun. The last photo I’ve included of Bob is that 30th reunion photo, taken in 2003. He is on the upper right in that photo.

  9. I’m exhausted just from reading your saga, Betsy! And I must admit, Gordon sounded a bit off and a bit scary. You said you lost track of him, yes? Just as well. And Bob, I’m glad you guys had such a good time together. The first pic of you together is quite revealing of a certain overt male display… testosterone on the loose! I agree with Barb. You tell your stories with such clarity and openness. You are much appreciated!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for the male perspective on that first photo with Bob, taken at a party in my suite in 1971. I never caught that nuance. Didn’t mean to exhaust you with all the details. This is the first time I’ve ever shared the story of Gordon in a public, complete fashion; had to get it out after all this time.

      Thank you for “You are much appreciated”. It means a lot to me.

  10. Susan Bennet says:

    As they used to say, Betsy, one may have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. I always liked the song “Saved the Best for Last” :

    All of the nights you came to me
    When some silly girl had set you free
    You wondered how you’d make it through
    I wondered what was wrong with you
    ‘Cause how could you give your love to someone else
    And share your dreams with me
    Sometimes the very thing you’re lookin’ for
    Is the one thing you can’t see

    Glad you found your prince!

  11. pattyv says:

    Betsy, such an honest, in-depth, recollection of real love. I can tell Bob was definitely a soul-connection to you, as you were probably for him. It’s usually equal, how we handle it is the difference. I love reading your memories. You fill them with so much detail, love the theater, the music, the games. The pictures are the best, you were and still are a ‘looker’, so captivating. I’m not anywhere near a psychiatrist, but I think Mom wasn’t all to blame. Back then the roles men and women both displayed were across all divisions, and somehow we had to struggle to get it right. I know, dear Betsy – we still are.

  12. Dave Ventre says:

    A fascinating and honest tale, Betsy! We have a vulnerability when young which always renders our First Love unforgettable, special, and a bit sad.

    Your low self-image sounds a lot like what ACOA kids get left with. It doesn’t take an alcoholic/druggie parent per se; any fractious or crucially unsupportive upbringing can saddle us with these problems later on.

    I tried the friendship route with Maria decades after college, but it was a mistake. The reasons for the debacle all those years ago are still very much in place with her. That oil and water ain’t gonna ever get along. When I read what you wrote about an important addendum, I really thought it was going to be something bad or tragic. I am glad it was just the opposite!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you for your insights, Dave. They are interesting.

      Finding the letters and subsequent email exchanges with Bob were quite helpful/healing; a balm to a wounded soul, really. We had dinner with his college roommate last week, who stays in close touch with him (we’ve also remained friends all these years). He didn’t know about the other girls but nothing shocked him. Though he and Bob remain close, and I know how Bob’s life has turned out, I am not unhappy that we parted ways and have remained friends. That is all good.

  13. Dave Ventre says:

    I just remembered; in 1980-81 I dated a Jewish woman at Rutgers (she a senior, I a new grad student; we met at a square dance, of all things). We got pretty serious. We were discussing marriage. One of the things we discussed was how to deal with her strong family opposition, which existed despite her saying at the beginning that it would not. How strong? Her grandmother referred to me as “the mieskeit” and would hand her flyers for Jewish singles dates while I was standing next to her. The relationship eventually foundered not on their dismay, but upon her gradual realization that it actually mattered to her as well.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I think having the same cultural reference points do make a difference for a relationship, whether one is religious or not, particularly if you are young. Less so as one ages and matures, perhaps. I knew I could not overcome my parents’ objections, nor did I wish to. Religion is/was important to me. I don’t think his parents would have approved of me either.

      • Dave Ventre says:

        I know my parents would have been fine with her. They were, for their time, strangely devoid of all the then quite common prejudices and preferences. No idea how that happened, because all my aunts, uncles and grandparents were very bigoted people.

  14. Rereading your “first love” story Betsy I’m amazed as always at your recall – of course of the young romance but also of the dates and events, and as always you have the photos to prove the tale.

    I’m sure I’ve discarded photos and letters that would have come in handy writing for Retro now!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks for taking a second look, Dana. This story has actually been rewritten since you found it and commented on it. The first story, of “Gordon” from freshman year, has been lopped off to concentrate on Bob, since Gordon was hardly a love affair. I added a first paragraph and that addendum, after finding those letters (I had unsuccessfully looked for them when I originally wrote the story) and having the email communication with Bob last year. That really closed an important loop for me, bringing closure to that open wound. I do have albums and boxes (from my mother) full of wonderful photos and all those old day timers that give me accurate dates and reminders of what took place at key moments in my life. It does help to jog the memory.

  15. Dear Betsy:
    Your story sets an opportunity for a ballad.
    The first few sentences about the elements of love’s chemistry hit home. My Yale experience fits exactly into your prescription.
    We are probably related — we both had the same mother. And father. Maybe not, they were emigrants from Ukraine (under the U.S.S.R.) and Poland. From a humorous side, they were like Fiddler on the Roof.
    Looking forward to reading your earlier account.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Something about those Jewish mothers, right Richard? My grandparents (on both sides) came from Lithuania/Imperial Russia (I’ve written a few stories about my maternal grandparents, who came in 1906 after vicious pogroms in Bialystock; my paternal grandparents came from Kovno, separately. They were married in St. Louis when my grandmother, for whom I was named, was 18 years old). The original story, unfortunately, no longer exits. It was called Heartbreak Hotel. I tried to preserve it when I moved the second section about Bob forward and deleted the part about Gordon, but the whole story disappeared. Sigh.

  16. You told this story very well, and seemingly with great honesty and self-scrutinizing.
    I am still amazed that any of my peers had the ability to get involved in a longterm relationship during those years of being 18 or 19 to 21. (Maybe it built on some practice you already had in relationships during your younger years, which I did not have.). I was so far from being ready for that! I know you weren’t unique; I knew others for whom that was also true. But all these years later, I am still not sure what gave you those inner resources to get entangled, for better or for worse, in that way.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Dale, I never had a serious relationship in high school, but did date a lot. Everyone I knew in college paired off quickly. I wasn’t at all unique. Maybe we were just a bit younger than you, or were looking for that kind of emotional support. I really can’t speak to it. Both my closest high school friends married their high school boyfriends (and the marriages lasted). That is what we saw around us.

  17. Jim Willis says:

    Betsy, your story brings back so many similar memories of my own, right down to lucking into a double-single dorm room at the University of Oklahoma in my sophomore year. In my case, my roomie up and decided he’d had it with school. But he didn’t want his folks to know yet, so he never told the registrar, meaning they thought there were still two in my room. It worked for the entire semester. As for your memories of Bob, I’ve carried my own of my ex-love. It wasn’t until we ran into each other last October 31, in fact, that I was forever convinced — in every way possible — that we had made the right decision in moving forward in life with someone else. As Joni Mitchell once sang, “We can’t return, we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game.”

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Double singles are great gifts, right Jim? And it may be difficult to move on, but I’m glad that you, also, have understood that you’ve made the right decision. I never doubted mine, but as you read, it was only last year that I was able to resolve some lingering issues, so that was useful. Always good to move forward in “the circle game”.

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