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True Stories: Divinity-School Boys
I learned my lesson: never come between them and God.
By Jane Yager
Every Harvard Divinity School boy is the same: after the first time we have sex, he talks wistfully about becoming a monk. He says he long aspired to a life of solitude, discipline, and celibacy. With pointed eye contact, he adds, "...but I'm not doing a very good job of that," in a tone that — depending on the boy — ranges from gentle remorse to flat-out accusation.
For Jared, my first div-school boy, dreams of monastic life are only the beginning. In his postcoital stream of confession, Jared says his parents were missionaries, their congregations considered him a child prophet, and he never had much talent for speaking in tongues. At a Pentecostal university in Oklahoma he discovered he was "hypersexual."
"What, you slept with lots of people?" I ask.
"Of course not." He's taken aback. "Everyone who wasn't married was a virgin. I mean I had sexual feelings whenever I prayed with someone, and I had more phone sex than anyone I knew."
I'm intrigued by this world where nobody has in-person sex and everyone has phone sex. Jared says the boys and girls of the Pentecostal university were strictly forbidden to visit each other's dorms. After curfew they got on their intracampus phones to talk dirty, interspersing the phone sex with prayer. The physical distance made this a good way to get off while saving yourself for marriage, he says. I imagine high-rise dorms at opposite ends of a dark cornfield, a girl in a cross necklace at the window with a phone in one hand and the other down her pants, a boy across the field doing likewise.
I grew up in a secular family, have no religious beliefs, and do not consider myself to be on a spiritual journey. So what am I doing at divinity school? In college, I took a religion class on a whim, found it fascinating, took more, and decided to become an anthropologist of religion. My profs suggested I start with a master's degree in religious studies and pointed me to Harvard Divinity. Like many of the more secular folks here, I've underestimated the difficulty of sharing classrooms with the devout. Also sharing beds with them, it turns out: a break-up from my college boyfriend has just left me single.
I imagine slutting my way though the varieties of religious experience and taking assiduous notes.
As Jared talks into the night about faith healing, I wonder if I've found an anthropological fieldwork site in my own sex life. I imagine slutting my way though the varieties of religious experience and taking assiduous notes, my years at Harvard culminating in a book called Ethnography in my Pants.
Then Jared says I have to leave out the back door — before dawn. Otherwise his ex-fiancé, who lives across the street and watches him through her window, might see me. Sensing I'm offended, he says the ex is still strong in her faith and he himself lost Christ barely a year ago. His faith might return; he'd like to marry her if it does. When we part at the back door, he squeezes my hand and says, "I wish you a good life." I feel profoundly insulted.
At lunch in the div-school refectory I tell my friend Lydia about Jared. Lydia's a second-year student, a self-described Jubu who spent years raking the rocks at a Zen center in northern California. She's been through a div-school-boy phase herself, and shakes her head: "If you look close enough, these boys all have Jesus in their eyes. Whether consciously or not, they think they're sinning, and sin is all-or-nothing: if they're already having premarital sex, they feel no obligation to treat other people with decency." This strikes me as a bit overdramatic. Figuring Lydia doesn't understand that I'm just out for adventure, I shrug off her warning.
It's easier to spot Jesus in the eyes of Caitlin, an assigned roommate in the Harvard-subsidized apartment I can't afford to move out of. Caitlin receives messages from God and taps them with a hammer and nails onto sheets of copper hanging above her bed. The messages remind me of Post-It notes; God signs off with a dash:
After I stumble home wasted on Halloween with a guy in tow, Caitlin declares my lifestyle violent. The ensuing Caitlin-led roommate meetings bring about new house rules: no alcohol in the apartment. No returning to the apartment drunk, no bringing guys home. I find in Caitlin the repressive Christian parents I never had, feel myself at age twenty-four turning into a sullen teen, smoking out the window with a towel under the door, answering prying questions with monosyllabic lies.
I sleep away from home as often as possible. After our one-night stand, Jason, a Southern Baptist, says, "You know, that was my first time," then bursts out as I stare dumbfounded, "Ha! Just kidding!" I leave unsure what to believe. Doug, a Minnesota Lutheran, waits until after a blowjob to mention he'd never go down on any woman: "Sure, I've strayed from my faith, but that's just straying too far!" He offers in consolation that I'm welcome to check my email on his computer anytime. These boys avoid eye contact in the halls of div-school forever after, and I'm always left with the bewildering sense of having lost an argument I never knew I'd begun.
After my third conquest-gone-awry, my misadventures start to frustrate Lydia. "If you really think it's about avoiding Caitlin," she says, "wouldn't a steady boyfriend get you out of that apartment more than random hookups will?"
She's right: I need a boyfriend, one open to me spending all my time at his apartment. Enter Patrick the Buddhist. Patrick grew up Catholic, found Buddhism during a semester abroad in Thailand, and now studies Tibetan tantric texts. My hopes of tantric sex are dashed when he sniffs over coffee that tantra isn't what dirty-minded people think; it's "best understood as the principle that spiritually advanced Buddhists aren't bound to the same moral rules as other people."