Boundaries… Like the corners of your crotch…

(It’s like this and like that and like this… So please stop talking…)

I’ve never been accused of being a prude, and I’ve never
really had people worrying that they were offending my delicate sensibilities.
True, I begged out of a bachelor party before my wedding because the guys
planned to take me to a strip club, but that’s a different issue. Having women
who use crack being willing to do “anything” for $20 (not a rip, but an actual selling point from one of the guys
trying to get me to go there) doesn’t really appeal to me. I also
have a weak stomach when it comes to noticing mold on food I’m eating, finding
used tampons in the toilet when I just wake up and hearing the Midget describe
in infinite detail what happened when the girl in her K-4 class puked all over
the snack table. That’s squeamish, though, not prudish.

However, I’ve found lately that perhaps there is a limit,
even for a guy who liked to tell dick jokes that could best be described as
“factory inappropriate.” Oddly enough, it’s the students I’m working with who
are leading me to this conclusion.

Here’s what I’m talking about: I had a couple of very nice, polite female
students I know signing up for an advising session on my door. The women were
going through the dates and asking me which days would be better or which days
I might have the Midget with me and so forth. Finally one of them says,
“October 2! That’s my birthday!” The other responds with, “I’m so bad at
remembering birthdays. Except for my best friend’s birthday, because that was
the night I lost my virginity.”

(Insert shot of Doc cringing here until every hair on him
stands on end.)

The kids then looked at me with a “Oh, was that not good?”
kind of look and started talking about something else slightly more

This wasn’t the first time this happened to me. A few years
back, I was meeting with a young lady in my writing class as part of a
one-on-one session. She explained she’d need to leave early because she needed
to have a fight with her boyfriend.

“He’s trying to break up with me, but he thinks I’m going to
keep fucking him if we’re just friends,” she explained.

(Insert shot of Doc feeling brain being sucked into the back
of his headlike in the old Maxell commercials.)

She stopped and said, “Oh, did you not want to know that?”
Uh… No…

I conveyed this to a colleague who was working with the kid
in another class and he said, “Oh, you mean Genital Warts Jen?” Again, too much
info, but yeah. “She told everyone once that they needed to stop stealing her
chair this week because her genital warts were particularly bad and she didn’t
want anything to spread.”

(Insert shot of Docthrowing up in his mouth a little bit.)

Recently, I’ve had guy students tell me something about how
they were “laying pipe,” women students tell me that they had to skip my class
because they were on their period and it was particularly nasty this month and
older students convey to me how they might need to leave because they had
menopause issues.

In some very, very, very small ways, I appreciate that people feel comfortable
enough to let me in on little slices of their lives. However, I think that your
right to express yourself to a professor should end a little farther north of
the border. Beyond the fact that I like to think of my students as Ken Dolls
when it comes to that region, I’m uncertain as to how to continue to contribute
to the conversation.

What should I say to the “deflowered” girl? “Hey, what a
great memory tool! The guy must have been great!” How should I react to the
menopause? “Yeah, my mom went through that. Ain’t it a bitch?” What should I
say to the lady who’s dealing with Aunt Flo? “Glad you’re back. How’s your
crotch?” I’m usually pretty glib, but man, I’ve spent days on this idea and
have yet to come up with something better than, “Oh… OK… Yeah…”

The two worst parts of this whole thing is that a) the students
don’t seem to know that there needs to be a limit to their expression to me and
b) there’s no good way for me to bring this up. I wonder if there’s just a growing trend of self-expression among today’s students or if I’ll just eventually get used to it.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just keep wearing my crash
helmet to school.

15 thoughts on “Boundaries… Like the corners of your crotch…

  1. Miss Manners would suggest icy silence. I think your surprised expressions are probably having a more positive affect than you realize.

  2. I prefer a long silent stare over the top of my glasses. I wish I could just raise one eyebrow because I feel like that would be the perfect response.
    Did you ever see the movie Kissing Jessica Stein? Where she’s having lesbian sex for the first time and her partner asks her what her therapist thinks about all this and she says, “Oh, I could never tell my therapist. It’s private!”
    That’s me.

  3. Oh, and the other day at work I got an e-mail asking about employment with our organization. The address it was sent from began with “mcnasty.”

  4. I’ve had similar experiences. It’s a sign of aging on my part and the coarsening of pop culture. I guess I should be glad that people still think I’m cool but I’m not interested in their sex lives.
    I also dislike “bachelor parties” for similar reasons; not prudery but a dislike of veneral disease and hangovers.

  5. You teach writing? So, you discuss the concept and need for editing, right? When you are discussing the NEED for editing, point out that it is a good thing for conversation, too — the little self-editing voice in your head that tells you NOT to reveal too much info.
    Also, good to practice those self-editing skills so that you can still use them even when drunk (the reflexes aren’t as good…but with practice, they get more automatic, so you don’t end up saying things you’ll regret when sober… or at least, not quite so many.)

  6. First day of class, I give this speech to try and keep that stuff out of my office:
    “I plan on treating you like adults, which means if you are absent, I expect you have a valid reason, and I DO NOT NEED a doctor’s excuse, or any excuse.” then a bit about attendence policy etc.
    I once had a girl run into my office, slam the door, and say: “you’re a psychologist! I think I’m a sex addict!”
    I just about tore the hinges off that door trying to get out of there

  7. First day of class, I give this speech to try and keep that stuff out of my office:
    “I plan on treating you like adults, which means if you are absent, I expect you have a valid reason, and I DO NOT NEED a doctor’s excuse, or any excuse.” then a bit about attendence policy etc.
    I once had a girl run into my office, slam the door, and say: “you’re a psychologist! I think I’m a sex addict!”
    I just about tore the hinges off that door trying to get out of there

  8. Wow. Just…wow. I can’t say I’ve ever had anything like that.
    And A, right there with ya on the eyebrow thing. I’ve tried many a time to do a Spock eyebrow, and I end up looking like Little Lulu. Not an effective tactic, I can tell you.

  9. More hilarity is when it is shouted at top voice on a noisy bus into a cell phone so not only do you get TMI, you get it one sided.

  10. I’ve had students who obviously think because I have a door on my office and a chair for them to sit in that it’s a therapy session. I had one a couple of years ago who gave me a 20 minute monologue about the ex-husband who beat her for years. I wasn’t unsympathetic, but I wanted to jump in and say, “You know, I’m not really qualified for you to be sharing this kind of info.” I think so many people in our society are so desperate to connect that when they meet a professor who seems smart, funny and empathetic, they feel that its safe to share.

  11. Hmm. Dunno. In light of this:
    things like twitter, FB, and several of the instances you describe could be more about striking a balance between keeping things humane, whilst at the same time TPTB are doing everything possible to commoditize (or worse) all things human.
    Sure, we can look at TMI as an issue of less or more when appropriate, but go with me here…
    Humans have the often vexing dual roles of being both policy representatives as well as feedback mechanisms regarding the effects of said policies. In a world where the human struggle is against the limitations of blanket policies, in many of the instances you mentioned, people just seem to be offering up information regarding personal needs that need to be assimilated or accommodated by institutional policy, lest someone get bent out of shape, or worse, someone gets deemed as willfully noncompliant, with all the attendant consequences.
    As other commenters mentioned, anytime you, yourself, are in the position of being viewed as the interface between “the machine” and its participants, if the parameters are too vague or to homogeneous and you get this kind of feedback, there are levels of information to be drawn from it. Namely, as long as people are being commoditized for profit and/or divided by judgments/harsh penalties based on human foibles, there will be reminders aplenty that systemic algorithms had better be well-articulated enough to permit individual variability. It’s recursive like that.
    For your writing class one-on-one pupil, “I didn’t need to know that, and can see that your distress about this personal issue is a distraction and resolving it as soon as possible is a priority. Perhaps we can reschedule for a different time.” As a former teacher myself, I learned that students often regard the system as so conformity-driven and harsh that anything less than that level of disclosure would be insufficient grounds to be granted a chance to negotiate the terms of participation.

  12. Shame and embarrassment play an ever-smaller role in young people’s lives. Social media plays a part. So does the mainstreaming of coarsened pop culture.
    Maybe there’s a flip side to this that’s good. With the end of embarrassment, perhaps there’s less chance of traumatizing stigma attached to episodes that once would’ve haunted a person for years, or decades. Maybe.

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