Please help us deal with a rumor!
March 31, 2008 9:52 AM   Subscribe

How to quell a vicious rumor. People's lives, careers, and futures are on the line.

I am a senior at a small liberal arts college (about 2K undergrads). Right now, there is a rumor circulating that I engaged in sexual activity with a really close friend of mine, who is a freshman.

I just got a tearful, angry phone call from her, and she thinks her life and career are basically over because people will come to think of her as a slut, and she is worried about what her new boyfriend will think. It is a really small department, as well, and we're worried about what will happen in terms of future decisions about advancement and such, not to mention career decisions down the line.

I think we'll be okay, as long as we correct anyone we hear spreading the rumor, and just remain friends, with no hint of impropriety.

Please offer any advice, especially if you've been in this type of situation before!
posted by anonymous to Society & Culture (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

People's lives, careers, and futures are on the line.

They're on the line in case of vicious rumors of, say, paedophilia. Sleeping with freshmen is not exactly a rare activity on campus, I seem to remember. She'll be OK.
posted by matteo at 10:01 AM on March 31, 2008 [10 favorites]

Gosh, this all seems a little dramatic. I am having trouble thinking what sort of collegiate sexual activity could threaten anyone's life, career, or future -- whether or not it actually occurred.

I also agree you'll be okay, with the plan you described above. Perhaps explain this to your little friend? Maturity and perspective will definitely be helpful here.
posted by bluenausea at 10:03 AM on March 31, 2008

It sounds to me like everybody is overreacting here. Correct people when it comes up if you feel like it, but if you don't act like it's a big deal I imagine most people will stop caring pretty quickly (assuming they care in the first place).
posted by PFL at 10:03 AM on March 31, 2008

Stay on message: that didn't happen. Flat affect. "What's the big deal?" etc. I know it's upsetting to hear about a rumor targetted at you, but it's only a rumor (right?) in which case it will blow over teh quicker you and other people let it. If youhave personal friends who have been passing this information to you, you cn deputize them to sort of tamp this down as well "Bob, I'm really surprised to hear you spreading this nonsense around..." The less defensive you are and the more you rise above it, the more people who are fanning the flames will look like malcontents with an agenda. Also, what matteo said.
posted by jessamyn at 10:05 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

You're seriously overreacting. Nobody is going to remember this in two weeks, much less ruin anyone's life or career over it (honestly, rumored promiscuity in college--not a big deal at all, and besides, why would sleeping with you make her a slut?). If you don't do anything to confirm the rumor, such as making out in public, it will just fizzle out of its own accord. If anyone brings it up, just laugh it off.

As for the boyfriend, that's an issue between her and him, and I would stay as far away from that conversation as possible.
posted by nasreddin at 10:08 AM on March 31, 2008

So you're a college senior, which means you're like 21 or 22, presumably. And she's a frosh, which means at this point she's probably at least 18.

I'm not seeing the problem here. Isn't sexual activity sort of the norm for college? You're both of legal age, this rumor seems to indicate it was mutual, and anyway, it was just a rumor with no hard proof that this happened at all.

It seems to me this freshman is definitely overreacting. I can't imagine what you'd have to have done in order for her to think sleeping with you means she can't ever get a job.

If I were you, I'd just wait and let the whole thing blow over. Scoff at people who are spreading the rumor for being insular, petty gossip-mongers with nothing better to do. Would you want advancement in a department that spreads baseless rumors like that?

(And what kind of wacky, anti-feminist, small liberal arts college are you at, anyway, for her to be seen as a slut for having sex? Cripes. Giving small, liberal arts colleges everywhere a bad name, I say.)
posted by landedjentry at 10:13 AM on March 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

I would only react this hugely if it were true, in which case you might have something to worry about (with the boyfriend at least). No one else will care. If you two are making such a big deal of it (calling each other, looking upset, her being tearful, or alternately completely avoiding one another) it will only fuel the vicious rumor mill. I would relax and only speak about it if confronted.
posted by nikksioux at 10:13 AM on March 31, 2008

I went to a smaller liberal arts college, where all sorts of bizarre hookups and puking into each others' mouths and fights and what have you went on, and everyone talked about it. Without going into too much detail, I did (actually did) plenty of stuff in college that could cause all sorts of gossip. The only, ONLY thing that affected my career was not taking my studies/the career development center seriously enough.

Just shake off the rumor and you'll be fine. Your careers and lives are SO not over.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:14 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

This sounds like making a bit of a mountain out of a mole hill. You're a senior, and people said you slept with a freshman. Because she's a freshman, she's still probably in high school mode, in which sleeping with other people gives you that label. But now she's in college - not a big deal at all.

What do you do? Deny, but don't go out of your way to do it. The more you protest, the guiltier you'll look. If asked, deny, but no need to go yelling from the belltowers.

Addendum - I went to a small liberal arts college as well, though not quite as small as yours. Careers aren't ruined your freshman year of undergrad. If they were, you'd see far fewer doctors, lawyers, or anything for that matter.
posted by SNWidget at 10:17 AM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

No one at large cares about the Soap Opera escapades of college kids.

Tell her that an anonymous person on the internet promises this.
posted by unixrat at 10:19 AM on March 31, 2008 [4 favorites]

People's lives, careers, and futures are on the line.

good god. dramatic much? you're both students. in college. the rumour may be false, but regardless, no one's lives, careers, or futures are in jeopardy. how about just ignore it? and if anyone asks you directly, reply with a simple, short denial. believe it that no one gives a shit more than her, and maybe you.
posted by violetk at 10:24 AM on March 31, 2008

"Would you want advancement in a department that spreads baseless rumors like that?"

Welcome to small departments everywhere. People are people, despite their best efforts to the contrary.

Unless they're accusing you of having sex with her four years ago, none of this matters. Ignore it.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:24 AM on March 31, 2008

You know how when you were in 4th grade, and they said you had to work really hard because it would be on your report card and that would determine whether you got into a good college and got a good job? And then you found out later that it actually didn't matter, that you could have basically slacked and goofed off until 9th grade?

Yeah, same thing here. People's sex lives during college have almost no effect on their lives outside of college. Her life should continue to be normal. Unless she ends up getting rumor pregnant, and then has to drop out of school to take care of her rumor baby.
posted by Deathalicious at 10:25 AM on March 31, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh honey.

There are PLENTY of college freshmen going down on seniors, plenty of college students who are banging their professors, plenty who are cheating on their boyfriends, girlfriends or both...

This tragic life changing rumour in which you're implicated? Is a rumour about a normal college experience. Your professors have seen it, heard it, and done it all before. Were it entirely true, and far, far more raunchy, it would still not ruin anyone's life or career. You can absolutely take it from me on that.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:28 AM on March 31, 2008

People's lives, careers, and futures are on the line.

Wow. I think you need to step back, take a deep breath, and not be quite so dramatic. So there's a rumor that you, a college senior, slept with a college freshmen. So what? Even if it were true, so what? Lives at stake?

You are probably doing more damage with your freaking out and denunciations than the rumor could ever do. Seriously, just chill out.
posted by Justinian at 10:35 AM on March 31, 2008

Aw, c'mon, all of you girls were cool as a cucumber the first time someone spread an untrue rumor about your sex life?

Reassure her that this is going to suck for a few days, but she just needs to hold her head up and dispassionately debunk the rumor, and you'll do the same. Scoffing slightly is often an effective technique. Counsel her that if she gets all visibly upset, it will feed into everyone's love of drama and give them something ELSE to talk about.

Could you steer another upperclassmen (preferably female) in your program toward giving her this advice, too? It might help to hear it from someone not involved in the supposed misdeeds.
posted by desuetude at 10:37 AM on March 31, 2008

Ignore it. It will go away. If you make a big deal about denying the rumor, it will only give people a reason to continue talking about it. And who knows, maybe next week someone in your department will start banging his or her TA.

Also, not much that you do as an undergrad really impacts your career, aside from failing out or getting expelled.
posted by emd3737 at 10:41 AM on March 31, 2008

Is anonymous also a woman, and is this really about a rumor of being gay?

Unless her intended career is as a minister or other church worker in a particularly nastily conservative denomination, her career isn't over or even affected in the slightest.

we're worried about what will happen in terms of future decisions about advancement and such

I'm very confused. Advancement? Does the school somehow promote people from student, grade 2 to student, grade 1? Is this a military academy, where students also have ranks?

Advice: ignore it. If someone asks you whether you had sex with her, answer honestly or with some variant of "Mind your own business."

I think we'll be okay, as long as we correct anyone we hear spreading the rumor, and just remain friends, with no hint of impropriety.

In the long run, you'll be okay if you do that.

You'd also be okay if you did nothing. You'd also be okay if you both admitted to it. You'd also be okay if you actually did have sex. You'd also be okay if that sex also involved the boyfriend. And you'd also be okay if you had a three-way and people saw you through the open window and heard you all scream ROCK ME AMADEUS in unison.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:42 AM on March 31, 2008 [3 favorites]

Go rent a copy of Three Musketeers. Memorize the speech Cardinal Richelieu (Tim Curry) uses on King Louis when the king confronts him about rumors of his treachery. Apply liberally to anyone spreading this rumor.
posted by Irontom at 10:48 AM on March 31, 2008

Maybe this college is in a very conservative country, then I think it might be more of an issue than people are seeing it as being. (to acknowledge OP's concern)

Even still, everyone's advice to minimize it is spot on, where ever they may be located.
posted by Vaike at 11:08 AM on March 31, 2008

You didn't do anything, so there's nothing to worry about, especially since nobody in the real world gives a shit if seniors have sex with freshmen, unless you go to a very, very conservative school where all sex is forbidden (or a military school where fraternization is forbidden, in which case you have a real worry, but even then).

This is all minor drama. It'll be forgotten shortly. I presume you know this. She's younger, so she can be forgiven a little overreaction here and there.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:29 AM on March 31, 2008

If you're a senior, I assume you're graduating in about, what, a month or two? After that you'll no longer be attending college. So you're fine.

As for her, there's summer break. There will be so much drama and horseshit among her classmates over the ensuing three months that they will have completely forgotten about it come fall.
posted by Atom12 at 12:07 PM on March 31, 2008

Don't give any more validity to this rumor than it deserves.

It's like when you are late to a meeting at work. You can apologize profusely over and over to everybody and keep reminding them of how sorry you are that you are late. But if you do that, you are sending the message to people that THIS IS A BIG DEAL. And all they will remember from the meeting is that you were late and that you were sorry. You'd like them to forget both, so the thing to do would be to apologize once and stop reminding them of the incident.

As this analogy applies to your situation, deny the situation briefly and firmly ONCE, when it comes up. If others poke around or bring it up again, remind them that you've already addressed the issue and it does not need to be discussed further, ever. The onus is back on them to be sorry for being gossipy, since you have no interest in participating in that.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:54 PM on March 31, 2008

Can we get an update from anonymous, as this doesn't really make sense to a lot of us who have been in college...?

A senior having sex with a freshman seems completely unremarkable to me. Why is this a big deal? At your school, are seniors not having sex with freshman? What's up with the talk of advancement? Why would your university or department care which students are having sex with each other?
posted by andoatnp at 1:03 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is this a military academy, where students also have ranks?

Honestly, this is the only situation where the circumstances warrant the melodrama that your post exhibits. If you are at one of the academies*, then you shouldn't worry about it unless and until you are officially approached on the subject by someone in your chain of command or cadre. Until then, do as everyone has suggested already in this thread. And if you are approached officially, then you already know what to do, which is to tell the truth.

*A "small liberal arts" college with about 2K undergrads certainly doesn't sound like one of the academies, but facts could have been fudged to blur this.
posted by ereshkigal45 at 1:08 PM on March 31, 2008

Wow, it looks like someone's spreading a nasty, vicious, and baseless rumor about your sex life.

Welcome to adulthood. It only gets worse from here.

I'm told that after the age of 90 most of your enemies will either be dead or have backed off, so there's something to look forward to. Meanwhile, stay cool and handle it with a smile, like so many have already advised: "Oh no, you must be mistaken. That never happened."

And look at it this way: if someone is spreading nasty rumors about you, you must be achieving some success or happiness in your life, which pissed that someone off. In an indirect way it's confirmation that you're doing something right.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:26 PM on March 31, 2008 [1 favorite]

I too am curious about why so many people at your school seem to care about this. I went to a small liberal arts college myself, in a very small and selective major, and I can't imagine something like this being anywhere near as big a deal, especially to the point where one might be worried about his/her career and advancement.

If it's not true, go about your life as your normally would and just deny it if it comes up. If it is true, it's no one else's business anyway. But make sure the girl knows that no one outside of college will care who she had sex with in college, and most of the college students probably don't either. It should absolutely not affect her advancement in the school, again unless it's some kind of religious or military school, but it doesn't sound like that from your description.

Any idea why the rumors might've started circulating in the first place? Actually, looking back, you never actually said you didn't; you just don't want people to spread it around. Basically, nobody should care about this except the three people involved. In light of the details we seem to be missing, I would say that "That's none of your business" would be an appropriate response. Otherwise don't mention it if it doesn't come up, and stay friends with your friend.
posted by wondermouse at 1:37 AM on April 1, 2008

OMG I was in so very many dramas during my time at a small liberal arts college, altho most of them involved non-students, which made the drama even MORE interesting. In the long run, it has (generally*) NOT MATTERED to the rest of my life. (12 years now since graduation.)

Profs, IME, neither know nor care about student flings etc. That's usually the only "advancement" that matters: taking & passing classes, in order to graduate. (And unless you plan on an academic career, the only part that matters is the graduating.)

If her boyfriend is going to dump her because of a rumor that both of you deny, then she doesn't need him. It's only freshman year; she's got a long stretch of college to have all sorts of interesting relationships.

Your advice to her is spot on, as is all the advice in this thread. Unless there's some extra data point that we aren't getting, this is no. big. deal.

* One of my recurring "complicated" relationships from college has continued to this day; but OTOH, we remain very good friends, and I wouldn't trade (most of) the drama for anything else in the world. And it has had no bearing on my professional life, and a fairly minor influence on my other relationships.
posted by epersonae at 10:32 AM on April 1, 2008

Fuck, are you seriously a college student? This happens at every college and nobody's career is ended for it. Employers don't CARE about your sexual dalliances during college, whether you actually did them or not. (I'm an undergrad at a large state university, so while I don't know everyone on campus, I know firsthand the usual college social milieu.) Also, one erstwhile intercourse does not a slut make...

That said, be truthful. You didn't do it.
posted by kldickson at 8:15 PM on April 1, 2008

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