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When I (a Teacher) Kissed (Another) Teacher: Oberlin Professors on Love

ZOE JASPER // FEBRUARY 22, 2019 

Welcome to this very new and exciting column, where the couples of Oberlin’s faculty share their sage wisdom on love. If you enjoy reading about professors in love as much as I enjoy writing about professors in love, email zjasper@oberlin.edu with who you’d like to see interviewed in the future. To start us off for the semester, I had the pleasure of talking with Charmaine Chua and Chase Hobbs-Morgan from the Politics Department.

 

So how did you folks meet and how long have you been together?

 

Chase Hobbs-Morgan: We met through grad school.

 

Charmaine Chua: We went to orientation and were forced to go to math camp. They taught us how to calculate the statistic probability that we’d be in the same building as Osama Bin Laden. And we looked at each other like, what the fuck. According to Chase’s account, I was wearing Converse One Stars without socks and he was like, “That person seems cool.” We were just really good friends for a long time and had an intellectual connection because we were the only ones in our cohort doing political theory. We stayed friends for four years and both of us went through long term relationships and breakups. Then we hooked up one night and were together from then on.

 

CHM: You can’t make things happen. In my experience never try to force dating. We’ve both been on a lot of awkward OKCupid dates.

 

CC: We actually broke up and got back together. Then Trump got elected and we were out on the streets protesting a lot. One day, because I was scared about my immigration status, I asked Chase to marry me, and he was like, “Yeah.”  So it was in part from the horrors of the administration. It was like our wedding was the one good thing to come out of Trump being elected.

 

What is it like working with your partner?

 

CHM: We were prepared for that because we were already working together as grad students. We actually shared an office. It definitely would have been a stranger transition if not for that. So in short, it’s good!

 

CC: As academics you have this kind of unique companionship in a lot of ways, and you’re in conversation on everything from Star Trek to the music we like to Spinoza. We’ve been lucky to have that kind of companionship. We already knew what each other were like and had a strong friendship, so working together doesn’t feel overbearing.

 

CHM: Also, academic work is quite individual. Even though we’re in the same department, we do our work individually in our offices and teach different classes.

 

What were your worst Valentine’s Days?

 

CHM: Probably just the trepidation of valentines getting passed around in elementary school. In middle school you could pay a dollar to get a carnation or something. It was very nerve-wracking. I didn’t like that. So much playing favorites. Super awkward.

 

CC: I went on one Valentine’s Day date in a super tight leather skirt and it almost ripped in the snow. My date and I got our picture taken by the Twin City newspaper and then he broke up with me a week later. Valentine’s Day is a dumb social construct but we still celebrate it.

 

CMH: Like most dumb social constructs.

 

What do you think is the hardest or worst part about the college dating scene?

 

CHM: I think the worst part is the lack of understanding of basic consent. In terms of personal experience, I didn’t casually date very much. I had longer term things in college. The worst part is that I was boring.

 

CC: Thinking back the worst part is how much your self worth is tied to who you date. And at a small liberal arts school, the toxicity and claustrophobia becomes part of it. I went to Vassar and everyone knew everything about who was dating and breaking up. It wasn't just the difficulties of that, it was also the way that it’s tied into how you feel about yourself. I got into a pretty serious relationship starting sophomore year and when it ended I wished I’d fucked around more. If you take yourself too seriously you lose the opportunity to experiment with who you love and how you love. And how long or short you love. It’s quite possible to share intimate moments with someone that can end the next day. I regret not getting drunk and hooking up more.

 

CHM: A bigger way of thinking about the problem of dating in college is it seems like self confidence and self worth are poorly distributed. Some people have way too much and some have not nearly enough of it. One person feels tortured because they have feelings for someone and maybe the other feels the exact same way but they would never know. I hadn’t figured out who I was in college. It’s kind of unfortunate that you’re in this situation where dating should theoretically be very fun and liberating.

 

CC: I think this is also unevenly distributed, but some people are afraid to love openly and freely because of fear of rejection. Don't be too attached and don't be afraid to love openly. Don't hold back cause you're scared.

 

If you could give one piece of relationship advice to Oberlin students, what would it be?

 

CC: I think mine would be that intimacy takes a lot of work. Even if you end up with a partner who you deeply love you’re still going to need fulfilment from other sources. It’s good to remember that how and who you love outside your relationship is just as important. My favorite Valentine’s Day quote is from Gayatri Spivak: “What deserves the name of love is an effort - over which one has no control yet at which one must not strain… The necessary collective efforts are to change laws, relations of production, systems of education, and health care. But without the mind changing one-on-one responsible contact, nothing will stick.” It’s deeply theoretical, and I love it ‘cause it identifies love as not just a feeling but also as a structure. You have to change the distribution of resources like healthcare and education that make people feel safe. But the base of it is one-on-one mind changing contact and intimacy.

 

CHM: It’s a very particular skill or practice to make choices with somebody. And that’s something to develop. We often think, “How do I make the right choice for my partner given what I know about my partner’s desires?” It’s actually a separate process of making a collective choice. And that can mean between partners or a group or whatever. That’s something I could have thought about more.

 

CC: You always have to make choices as an individual, but also have to find the right balance between your own happiness and what your partner wants. The language used to describe this is often like a cost benefit analysis, but making choices together is much deeper than that. It involves picturing your life together and what sacrifices it requires you to make. We’re learning life is really long, and if you're committed to somebody, it’ll constantly require making choices.

 

CHM: I guess that’s not great for college student advice. For when you’re not in that kind of relationship; I wish I’d gotten better at listening to the little voice in my head about different people and relationships. So many times you look back and say, “That wasn’t a good idea and I knew that it wasn’t a good idea all along.” Actually practice listening to that voice in real time and not after the fact. I guess going back to the very beginning, so often it feels hopeless until it isn't. There are moments where it’s like, I’m never gonna date anybody again. And then it changes.

 

CC: There are a lot of people in the world you can love and it doesn't feel that way when you’re in something that’s ending. Also, like, fuck Valentine’s Day and what it represents. Beyond regular critiques of capitalist consumption, the idea that to be in love is to have a date who you’re enamored with and want to eat a fancy dinner with. I remember we had a Valentine's Day dinner and saw someone having a nice meal alone at the bar, and as we were leaving I secretly bought her a drink. Why did I feel like that was the move? Did I pity her? It’s actually fucking fantastic that she was alone on Valentine’s Day. We shouldn’t hang our hat on the desire to find the right partner.