Lost a Friend, Gained a Spouse by
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Prompted By First Dates

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At the beginning of my senior year at the University of Michigan, I made a pact with Paula. We were done with frivolous dating and vowed to spend the year working on our minds. In that spirit, we went to see The Shop on Main Street. This Czech art movie had won the 1965 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, so it fit in well with our plan to be intellectually challenged. It was also the night I committed the most anti-feminist act ever. I came with Paula but left with Fred.

Campus Theatre, Ann Arbor, MI.

It was also the night I committed the most anti-feminist act ever. I came with Paula but left with Fred.

My vow of female solidarity and avoiding dating didn’t even last a week. We happened to sit next to a group of guys, and I knew the one seated next to me. Fred had been in one of my classes and was also the fraternity brother of someone I had dated. Turns out, that was another taboo I broke that night in September of 1966.

I have no recollection of what happened to Paula. I think there was a third girl with us that night, so I didn’t totally dump her. Still, for someone who had decided she was finished with random dating, that evening ended up being my shortest resolution ever, but also the longest date. It has lasted 53 years.

By meeting my future spouse before graduating college, I avoided the Looking for Mr. Goodbar scene. That method of meeting dateable men involved bar hopping and hoping you didn’t end up dead like the protagonist in Judith Rossner’s 1975 book and the 1977 film that followed. Many women I know found date-worthy men and even life partners this way. It was either that or fix-ups in the pre-Match.com era of dating.

My earliest experience with dating ended up being a non-date. A random guy saw me and my cousin at a youth Rosh Hashanah service when I was thirteen and asked me out. When I turned him down, telling him I was too young to date, he asked me to set him up with my younger cousin. This was also a no-go, as she was just twelve. The worst part of this experience was my mother’s reaction. She was disappointed her daughter didn’t want to start dating. After all, she explained, I was now a teenager. Time to get started and join the dating game.

In high school, when I did start dating guys from my school, the rules of the game were well defined. The guy had to ask and pay. He came to the door, greeted the parents, opened the car door, and returned his date home by the specified curfew time. Even though I was ready to go out with these relatively harmless guys who respected the conventions of how far they could go with a “nice girl,” my mother and I still disagreed about dating. My take was that if I couldn’t wait for a Johnny Mathis song to be done so I could stop slow dancing with a guy, I didn’t really like him enough to continue seeing him. Mom insisted if I just kept going out with said guy, he would “grow on me.” This may have worked with her and my father, but my retort was, “Then you date him.”

Dating conventions when I started college were different but equally ridiculous. The guy still did the asking and paying. And if he didn’t ask enough in advance, it was considered an insult. In fact, it was better to turn him down and stay hidden in the dorm with other dateless coeds on a Saturday night than to go out with a group of girlfriends. Curfews were strictly observed and late minutes meted out if the coed did not return on time. Too many late minutes resulted in being grounded. The House Mother locked the door and the guilty party had to ring the bell to be admitted. It was expected that the guy would gift his date with a rose for every late minute if any were incurred.

Thankfully, all of this changed during my college tenure. Girdles and hair curlers gave way to jeans and long hair. Women discovered they could go places dateless and still have a great time, perhaps an even better time. Students of either gender could initiate social plans. No more waiting by the phone hoping, as Vicky Carr sang in her 1967 song It Must be Him,

That’s when the phone rings and I jump
And as I grab the phone I pray

Let it please be him, oh dear God
It must be him or I shall die
Or I shall die
Oh hello, hello my dear God
It must be him but it’s not him
And then I die
That’s when I die

Awful. So glad those times are gone. In Retrospect, I was extremely lucky to fall in love with my future husband that final year at college. We were carefree and enjoyed zooming around campus on his Honda 90. By then, I lived in an apartment with three other women, so I was free to follow my own rules and make my own decisions about when I could call him or what time our dates would end. Unfortunately, I never saw Paula again and I think I still owe her an apology for ditching her. All in all, however, that date worked out really well.

I invite you to read my book Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real and join my Facebook community.

Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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Characterizations: been there, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Just a great story, Laurie, and I fully understand your remorse vis-a-vis Paula. But I’d like to think that she would understand and forgive given the trade-off. That said, I hope you realize that the feminist “code” is the exact opposite of the equally tacit “bro code,” which is, in effect, “If I see some woman hotter than you, I’ll see you later, Dude.”

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    You give us a great overview of the pre-liberated dating scene, Laurie. But also, I love that you made a resolution and quickly broke it when you found “Mr. Right”. I came along in the dating scene just after you. I didn’t start dating until I was 14, the guy was still expected to come to my door, hold the car door, pay for the date. By the time I got to Brandeis, three years later, I had taken off my bra for good, and dates were much looser affairs. My first date with the man who would be my husband (45 years tomorrow) was to go to the pool for a swim and sauna. A lot of activities remained on campus, like going to a movie or dance. But we still had fun.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      All of those old dating conventions were “charming” but also a way to keep women in their place. Much better to let go of all of that, even if it meant paying for your share and opening your own car door.

  3. Marian says:

    Fascinating story, Laurie, and very revealing, since your experience in some ways was about the polar opposite of mine (I’m about to post my story). At Mills we had house mothers my first year, and then everything changed apparently overnight. There was no signing out my second year, and we all had boyfriends in the dorm.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Marian, we are both of a generation that experienced house mothers at college. Can you imagine such a thing today? I’m eager to read your story to find out how our experiences were polar opposite.

  4. Suzy says:

    Laurie, I love, love, love this story! You start out telling us the charming story of how you and Fred met, and poor Paula who never forgave you. (You really never spoke again? A true friend would have been happy for you!) Then you provide a wonderful trip through the midcentury dating scene. Of course the guy had to pay, and open the car door! I remember just sitting in the car as the guy started to walk away, until he came back and opened the door for me. And OMG, Looking for Mr. Goodbar – I remember that book AND movie so well! Despite my relatively wild dating history, I never met a man in a bar! And that dreadful Vikki Carr song, which I hated even in 1967. Thanks for a great story!

    I also love the pictures of you and Fred. Your hat in the Featured Image is amazing!

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Susie, I’m afraid Paula could never forgive my lapse from our feminist and intellectual vow. When I think back to dating conventions midcentury, I am most grateful that the times were indeed a changin’. Fred and I actually took that picture in a photo booth. Remember those? Well, I open my own car doors now, and I think that’s a good thing. Sitting in the car waiting was really awkward and stressful.

      • Suzy says:

        I do remember photo booths, and in fact they have made a comeback, at least around here. I have been to bar/bat mitzvahs, a wedding, and a convention where they have photo booths that print out that strip of 4 pictures. Of course you don’t have to put any coins in at these events.

        • Laurie Levy says:

          My granddaughter had one of these at her Bat Mitzvah. It wasn’t exactly a booth but there were all kinds of crazy props to wear. The pictures were also the party favor for guests to take home. But there is something lost in translation when two (or more) people don’t have to cram into a booth to get that strip of black and white photos.

  5. What a wonderful tale, Laurie. I love the frame of the date that doesn’t end. And thanks for your “war stories” especially about house mothers. Brings back memories of curfews and “blanket privileges” and bell desks and the like.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      Tom, my granddaughters can’t believe I lived when there were such antiquated college rules and dating conventions. Of course, they also are amazed I could exist without a computer or iPhone. Their world is much more complicated but at least they feel empowered to do what they want to do.

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