Illustration by Brent Wick

IT WAS A GOOD YEAR to take French. David Sedaris had just released Me Talk Pretty One Day (with its charming chapters on his French language education), which inspired every pretty This American Life-listening girl at Portland State University to crowd into classrooms, clutching French textbooks to their bosoms. The "language of love," horny college students, and an overcrowded classroom: If not a recipe for l'amour, then at least the ingredients for le désire.

I was in my mid-20s and a nontraditional undergrad in the pre-nursing program. I had a part-time gig as a certified nursing assistant, and a rocky relationship I was coddling in a Northeast Portland apartment. I was not immune to the steamy undertones of French 101.

For three semesters I'd shared notes, books, and poorly pronounced dialogues with a woman I'll call "Heather." She was in her early 30s, a mother of one, and in a complicated relationship I was never quite able to figure out. All I knew is that when we studied or pulled our desks close to each other to practice, phrases like "Ou est la bibliothèque" began to take on certain erotic connotations—as if when we found la bibliothèque, we would ravage each other in a quiet corner over by the Victor Hugo.  

I was confident our heated flirtations wouldn't go any further than sexual innuendo, low-cut v-neck sweaters, the occasional charged knee bump, or smoldering looks as we walked to our next classes. After all, I had a dysfunctional relationship, and she had a kid and a guy who she'd occasionally sleep with but wasn't really into. Surely we'd maintain civility until the summer put distance between us.

The day of the French final, we took our seats next to each other, gave the obligatory encouragement, and set to work. Heather was done first, and as she left we gave each other a small wave. Well that's that, I thought.

After finishing the exam, I walked out of the classroom to find Heather waiting for me. Surprise!

"I just wanted to say how much fun I had with you in class," she said.

"Me too," I said, asking her plans for the summer. But it was clear Heather wasn't there for the small talk.

"I know a quiet place in the science building where we can go right now," she told me.

I was taken aback. I flushed and stammered. How many times had I imagined this? A million? And somehow it was happening.

What did I do? I blew it. I told her how flattered I was, how attracted I was to her, and that it wasn't as if the thought hadn't crossed my mind, but we were both seeing other people.

Also, I didn't have a condom. She countered by saying she did. I demurred, hemmed, hawed, and finally declined.

"Too bad," she said. "It would have been amazing."

Regrets? Yeah. Sometimes the biggest regret is not having the right kind of regrets. You know... sexy regrets.

Heed me, nontraditional and returning students. If you're in a relationship that's not going anywhere, end it before your first class. Develop a few regrets you won't mind remembering down the road. Don't let the kids have all the fun.

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