It’s all too, too shaming.
When I was 16 years old, I stole my first kiss — in public. I was walking home from Starbucks with this girl I knew from school. We were talking about something inconsequential. I liked her. And I knew from her obsessive texting habits that she liked me. So, as we were passing that Methodist church whose belfry plays Christmas carols year-round, I went for it. Easy as that.
It was the next few kisses that were hard. They all occurred somewhere semi-public: on a park bench, behind the auto-repair store, down in the woods near my house. At every subsequent meeting, we exchanged fewer words before getting down to business. Each kiss was more passionate than the last, and more distant. The anonymity allowed by these vacant public spaces hid any sign of affection from our parents, family, and friends.
Our actions played out on a moral heath. And when it all ended, we went off separately and did it again with someone else.
I’ve often found myself or one of my friends caught in a similar cycle — make out in the car; don’t forget the breath mints — and every time we talk about how our actions were right or wrong for our particular situations. We solve our problems in-house, like the mob killing Luca Brasi or Amazon picking a new headquarters.
And that’s how it usually goes at Hillsdale. Love and shame bind us together. We’re a tight crew.
Except this past week. After a year of #metoo, outrage culture has finally made its way to the conservative Harvard — albeit in eunuch form. And it reveals just how much like everyone else we are: Regulating norms of social conduct isn’t an interpersonal matter. It’s an opportunity to jump on a soapbox and tell our less-urbane boot-cut jean-wearing peers to get a room.
It’s not just last week’s Collegian article. I mean, golly goose. We have an Instagram account devoted to mocking the awkward romantics in Saga and the student union. We boast a newspaper readership eager to gobble up run-off from Barstool Hillsdale’s post mocking kissy weirdos. Even Weird Catholic Twitter — the internet’s tentacular arm of traddery tied up with angst — cares about us again, set off by the rantings of @tradqueen.
Now I know this outrage stuff happens at other schools too. But they’re, like, obsessed with MAGA hats and that gun-toting blonde girl. Boring.
Here, we have a tendency to obsess over honor. Tour guides brag about how students can leave their laptops out in the library. Men usually hold doors for women. Professors and students greet each other on campus. These are precious customs, not often found at other schools.
It’s understandable that to many, certain public displays of affection seem to threaten our honor culture. After all, H.L. Mencken was right about us; we don’t like levity. That’s fine. Many of us come from a stiff Midwestern stock, beholden to a sex-fearing, sex-obsessed environment. It’s easier to work within that way of life than to grow out of it. Accepting widespread PDA — in any form — could radically alter our campus character. For the sake of Hillsdale’s integrity, we should stamp it out. Cruelly.
So bring on the social media. Print more Collegian pieces. Set up a student roundtables to discuss the many and varied positions on the matter ab urbio ad nauseum. While we’re conflating taste with morality, we might as well go whole hog and write up manifestos on the specifics of what is and what is not right and just in public.
But I’ll hang back. For my own part, I’m lucky to have a brother and close friends who help me out when I’ve made mistakes. Every time I’ve mistreated a woman, whether in word or deed, they’ve made me feel ashamed of my actions and told me to do better.
It’s encouraging. I’ve always wanted to be a good person — a saint, goddammit — and it’s much easier with friends willing to offer deeply personal corrections.
For that, I’ll always be grateful.
Nic Rowan is a senior studying history.