Professors Tell Love Stories
At Oberlin, Valentine’s Day celebrations range from indulging in the eating of huge boxes of chocolates to denouncing a holiday commonly considered a Hallmark creation. On rare instances Obies have even been known to spend the day marveling at the wonder of romance.
These couples are easy enough to spot smooching in Tappan Square and holding hands through the corridors of King. Faculty and staff have happy love stories of their own. Here are some of them.
“It was love at first sight,” said Politics Professor Mark Blecher, recalling his initial encounter with Sharon, his wife of 36 years. “She was the most beautiful girl I ever saw, and she still looks the same.”
Blecher was only 19 when he met Sharon at a late-night party. He was too nervous to ask her for a phone number, so he waited until after the party and asked the host, who quickly called her. She had talked to any number of guys that night and was puzzled about who might be asking her out.
“She had no idea who was going to show up at her door,” Blecher said.For their first date, Blecher had gotten tickets to a rock concert featuring the hot folk-rock band of the day, Simon and Garfunkel.
The year was 1967 and audience members flooded into New York’s Forest Hills Tennis Stadium eager for the performance. But they were met with a great disappointment when some group out of Los Angeles called “The Doors” was opening.
People were disappointed, Blecher said, because they had not heard of the opening band. But Blecher, who listened to their music on FM radio, knew enough to “dig” the Doors.
“I was cool and listened to the new thing,” he explained. “So I was ecstatic.”
Discontent swelled as The Doors played on. Their displeasure was driven home when lead singer, Jim Morrison, got up to perform one of the last songs in the set. “This is the end,” he sang, and the audience, mistaking the dramatic lyrics for an early surrender of the stage, broke into hearty applause.
The Doors would go on to be headliners on their own, and their ominous song “The End” would be used for the soundtrack of Apocalypse Now. For Blecher and Sharon, it was only the beginning.
For Rebecca Gordon of the Cinema Studies department love struck just last month.
“I moved here last year from New Hampshire,” she began, “and I thought, ‘the only way I’m going to find anyone in desolate northeastern Ohio is to throw myself into electronic dating with a vengeance.’” And so she did.
Last semester Gordon had dates with people in New York City, Seattle, and Chicago. But her one-and-only turned out to be the boy next door.
Doug, living only a short car ride away in Cleveland Heights, is a self-described asthmatic cartoonist.
“He found me,” she said.
Gordon admits, however, that she was “a little leery at first.” Doug had been through a lot — he is a cancer-survivor who has weathered a divorce and is raising two kids. But Gordon decided she could handle it and in mid-December they met for dinner in Cleveland. The first date rendered only a peck on the lips. When on the second date he tried to do the same, she took control of the situation:
“And while we were kissing under a phony streetlamp, by the phony mall, in the phony city, a guy walking by us paused and said, ‘awww,’” she recalled.
“Since then we’ve lived in a bubble,” she said. “Wherever we go people just seem to know, and give us plenty of space.”
Like Gordon, History Professor Leonard Smith met his love, Professor Ann Sherif of the East Asian studies department, while living in Cleveland Heights.
“It happened ten years ago,” said Smith, “just after I moved to Cleveland Heights.”
Sherif taught Japanese at Case Western Reserve University but was being recruited by Oberlin. Smith taught history at Oberlin. They lived less than a mile apart but didn’t know each other.
One day James Dobbins of the religion department was showing Sherif around the campus, when whom should she meet but Professor Smith. After their brief introduction the two decided to meet on their own.
“We had coffee to talk about the joys and sorrows of teaching,” said Smith, who had been teaching at Oberlin for six years.
Weeks passed. He was traveling in San Francisco, then in France. She was attending a conference in Hawaii.
“I had secretly resolved to call her when I got back,” Smith said. Since Sherif had just decided to take the job at Oberlin, Smith even had an excuse.
“I called to congratulate her, ostensibly,” he said.
But within no time the first date was scheduled. “We went to see the movie Fargo and the rest is history,” he said.
So there you have it, Oberlin students. For a turn of luck this Valentine’s Day, you have two choices: move to Cleveland Heights, or rent Fargo.
Dennison Smith, professor of neuroscience, also met his beloved on a blind date.
“I needed a date, so I called a friend from high school to ask if there was someone she could fix me up with,” he said. Off-stage, Cupid smiled, and his friend called Fran.
Smith was a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts. She was an undergraduate at Boston University. His friend from high school was her friend from long summers spent in family cabins on Cape Cod.
It was not a thunderstruck kind of love, Smith explained. Rather, they got to know one another slowly.
“We just grew to like each other,” he said.
When asked if neuroscience can shed any light on the mysteries of love, Smith looked thoughtful and said, “Well, a pair-bonding experiment with voles showed that if these animals don’t secrete the right hormone at the right time they will not be monogamous. Humans release some of the same hormones.
“Some have argued that love can’t be scientifically described because it transcends scientific explanation,” he continued. “Well, that might be true in part, but a lot of what we experience as love can be explained by a correlation between hormone release and pair-bonding.”
Stopping himself mid-thought, he added wryly, “That, of course, never happened in my case.”
Love’s arrow, it seems, has the force of nature behind it.