Is She Really Going Out With Him? by
(318 Stories)

Prompted By Gossip

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Stu’s graduation photo

It seems to me that gossip exists on a sliding scale from harmless to malicious. It can be fun to talk with friends about what’s going on…who is dating whom, who’s engaged, recently married, who’s pregnant, who’s breaking up. The gossip moves on to more catty subjects: has she had work done? Is she Botoxing? If word gets back to the subject of the gossip, it might hurt one’s feelings, though not ruin their lives. But if a rumor of an affair leaked, that would have serious consequences. One must never put anything in an email or text that can be forwarded or blind copied without knowledge or approval.

Someone gossiped about me once. He barely knew me, it was unfair and had more to do with his own projections about me than actually about me, yet he spread his story and it was passed like a game of “telephone”.

I should define “dating” at Brandeis in the early ’70s. It was rather loosely defined as anything from visiting someone’s dorm room to hang out or listen to music, going to dinner at one of the dining halls together, going to an event on-campus like a play, movie, concert or dance, or actually going off campus to dinner, go to a museum or just hang around Cambridge; a very broad range of activities.

I met Stu, a class ahead of me, as we rehearsed for “Ruddigore” my freshman year at Brandeis. He had a lead, I was in the chorus, during the winter of 1970-’71.

Stu in Ruddigore, 1971

Ruddigore, 1971 (photo by J Zussman)

He seemed nice enough, so when he asked me out, I accepted. This was a very long time ago and to be accurate about the events, I went back to my day timer. I confess, I was surprised a bit by what I discovered. During that period, I was dating many guys simultaneously. There are only first names in my book; I don’t even remember some, but Stu first shows up when I found myself in the infirmary days before the dress rehearsal for “Ruddigore”. I had strange abdominal pains and wound up spending four days there, seeking answers and remedy. He came to visit. Duly noted and appreciated.

Subsequently, we had dinner together at the Student Union a few times, went to see a show at the Brandeis theatre, went into Cambridge, sometimes alone, often in groups with others, whose names are also noted. As previously mentioned, I was also seeing several other guys at this time. It was early on that Stu introduced me to his friend Fred, who frequently came along on these “dates”. I noted in my day timer that Fred began to call me frequently. Indeed, Fred was a much more ardent suitor than Stu.

Fred’s freshman yearbook photo (before the long hair)

Fred had taken a leave from Brandeis and was then living in a boarding house in Cambridge. Fred had big blue eyes, very long, dark hair, played guitar and sang. He sang Elton John’s “Your Song” to me. I was hooked. I’m a sucker for blue eyes and a guy who can sing. We not only went out, we quickly went to bed.

I never slept with Stu (or any of the other guys I dated during that period). I owed Stu no explanation. We were hardly exclusive, but he, evidently, felt slighted. Did he feel like he was entitled to something that he was not? Ah, that’s the basis of many break-downs in communications between men and women since the beginning of time. There was never anything sexual between us. Evidently, he hoped for more, but that was never going to happen.

Fred was a short-lived fling also, long-gone by the end of the school year. Yet Stu complained about me to Al, who lived with Dan (my future husband) who told Bob (my future boyfriend) as I walked passed them one day in the Student Union. He’d heard that I was a tease. Be wary of me; keep your distance. I was unaware of any of this. I had yet to meet any of them.

As I described in How Do You Spell PFAU?, when Bob and I met, we had instant chemistry, but he almost didn’t ask me out because he’d heard from some guy I’d never met that I was a tease. He learned very quickly that I was not, that Stu was just upset that I didn’t have that kind of chemistry with HIM, and he didn’t take rejection well (not that I actually rejected him, mind you, he just didn’t get what he longed for from me. If he had actually asked, I would have politely declined). Spreading gossip like that is hurtful, potentially harmful.

In this era of social media, one doesn’t have to do anything and the gossip/bullying spreads like wildfire, lives forever, can be devastating for an adolescent girl (as has been proven time and again by Instagram), sometimes driving girls (or boys) to the point of suicide.

So be careful what you say and about whom. Don’t spread nasty gossip that can hurt anyone. The world is too toxic as it is.


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, moving, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    A very incisive analysis of gossip, Betsy — both from a general and (unfortunately) a personal standpoint. As for your story, I enjoyed how you unfolded it. At first, I figured Stu would be the subject of it but, of course, he became the instigator of it.

    I am sure you are right about Stu’s motivation being feeling rejected, even if he wasn’t actually rejected (yet). And, to continue my amateur analysis of Stu, having been the lead in a school opera production, I’m betting that he was used to being the alpha male generally. I always found that to be true of the leads in the shows I was in — including the alpha females.

    In any event, screw Stu. (Not literally, of course.) Your last paragraph is wise, kind and instructive.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, John. Stu had a minor lead, but as an upperclassman, probably thought he had some unspecified advantage. Unfortunately, he died young, so I can’t even condone the beginning of your last paragraph, but thanks for seeing the wisdom of my final words.

  2. I agree Betsy with your somber note – innocent gossip can up-end, and tragically gossip can even end lives.

  3. Suzy says:

    Good story, Betsy. I remember your earlier story where you talked about being called a tease, which you obviously were not. Glad that not only Fred, but also Bob and Dan, were not dissuaded by Stu’s gossip from dating you. Your whole life would have been different!

  4. Marian says:

    This is all the more reason to instill in the younger generation how insidious gossip can be, Betsy. At least in your experience the gossip was largely limited to Brandeis (which was bad enough), but at least it didn’t spread worldwide. By the way, love your description of dating in the 70s at Brandeis. Spot on!

  5. Mister Ed says:

    Good story. Very interesting and detailed description of Brandeis in the ‘70s. And lessons that carry over to today.

  6. Wow, Betsy…amazing how common it was for boys to use the word “tease” or “slut” to describe any girl they couldn’t get their hands on. And what did we call the boys we couldn’t get? Crushes. Pretty innocent in comparison!

    P.S. And how is it possible that I now have an ear worm for the song in your title even though I don’t remember ever hearing it?!? It must have been background noise at some point in my life.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Good point, Barb. We had crushes, but in turn, were called “teases” by boys who barely knew us, but longed for more. Sexist world!

      The song is by Brit, Joe Jackson, released in 1978, a New Wave hit; one of those I tuned to while driving to Hartford. Great ear worm.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    As always, I’m amazed by your recall of detail (and the fact that you still have your old day timers). That’s what makes this story especially effective. As you so wisely point out, gossip like what you experienced would have spread far and wide today via all forms of social media. The consequences of this can be fatal.

  8. Oh the pain, the pain. And the damage done. Yeah, I shudder to think of how this kind of interaction is amplified by social media. Thanks for keeping track of your college people, places and events. Worthy of anthropological study! And yeah, echoing John S’s astute observations, Stu didn’t pick up the rope, you didn’t drop your handkerchief and congrats to you and Fred for however long it lasted. It was real enough to be genuinely acted upon.

  9. Dave Ventre says:

    I’ve never understood why so many of my gender feel that they are owed or are entitled to sex. Heck, I always figured that any sex I had was due to a lapse in judgement on her part!

  10. daiseaday says:

    You know how this topic hit home for me. It took a good 3 years to overcome the gossip that labeled me guilty by association. I’m scarred for life and as you say, no way to fight back. The stories still raise their ugly head even now 6 years later.

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