Jon Bell loves a girl who won’t shut up. He can’t stand pre-professionalism. He is from St. Louis, Missouri, and has an endearing habit of bookending his words with “for heaven’s sake,” and “my punch line here is…” Another Jon-ism I love: “to make a short story long.”
He was a History major and an English minor. Of his time at Stanford, he tells me, “I never went to class, I never did homework, I got really good grades and I don’t know how I did it.” He first emailed me about my column at the beginning of the year, and we have been in consistent email contact since. He volunteered for my profile project, so I called him at his home in Boston. We chatted for an hour to the accompaniment of a snowstorm with winds so nasty I could hear them on the other end of the line on a 70-degree afternoon on campus.
Jon and I get each other. We have never met but conversation is easy. We share Stanford. We share a love of Faulkner.
Still, we come from different eras. I have to explain to him what the term “hook-up” encompasses. He loves the tradition of Full Moon on the Quad, but doesn’t like the tables of condoms you will find there. As he puts it, “It’s not like you’re going to kiss some guy and wind up in his bed that night, that’s cheap.” When I let him know that, cheap as it is, that is just what happens for some students, Jon is astonished. “Wow.”
I try to steer the conversation toward his time at Stanford, but what Jon is most eager to talk about are male/female dynamics on campus. He wants to know what it’s like to be a girl at Stanford, and he’s curious about this hook-up culture. I do my best to explain. He tells me he wouldn’t want to be a female at Stanford. “Being a guy, it’s so easy, Renée.”
I’m skeptical, and ask him to elaborate. He touches on a double standard that I have been struggling to articulate for myself. He nails it: “If a girl sees a guy she likes, she can’t write her number on a post-it and stick it on his ass. Girls can’t be as direct.”
When we finally get through the relationship advice, Jon has plenty more advice to offer about careers. He worked on Wall Street for 30 years and hated “the hypocrisy and the lying.” He now works at Harvard Medical School, and seems satisfied in his work. “For heaven’s sake,” he raises his voice a little, “I hope that kids who are undergrads now follow their passion. What I did is I tried to find a prestigious job that paid me a lot of money. And I went for it, I got it, and I hated it. Actually, the passion word is over-used; follow your love.”
It’s tough to sum up Jon in an hour-long phone conversation and 700 words. He is curious. He seems refreshingly mischievous, if slightly inappropriate. His abundant insights lend themselves better to print than the patchy bits of his story he offered.
He was clear that he wanted to speak to things to which current students might relate. As he put it, “none of this old-alum, misty-eyed, ‘Oh, back when I was at Stanford’ stuff.” His remarks about the extent to which girls can be direct are certainly relatable for me, and seem a far cry from misty-eyed old-alum stuff.
There is clearly a gap between Jon’s Stanford of the seventies and my present Stanford. I would like to think that at my Stanford, even if a girl can’t write her number on a post-it and stick it on a guy’s ass, she can be as direct as any guy. Jon brings up some salient dissonance, though. I hear plenty of guys who tell me they love when girls are direct, but I also hear plenty of remarks about girls being too aggressive, too forward, desperate, trying too hard.
I explain to Jon that while I try to debunk the double standard and be as direct as possible with guys, I don’t want to be the subject of any archaic remarks about girls being too forward. He chuckles and lets me know in typical irreverent Jon fashion, “The fact is pal, you are.”
If you have a story to tell, or know someone with a story to tell, contact Renée at email@example.com.