Of remedies of love she knew perchaunce,
For she koude of that art the olde daunce. (I.475-6)

Ther wiste no wight that he was in dette,
So estatly was he of his governance . . . . (I. 280-1)

This is not another post about the Kalamazoo dance in the good old days. Rather, it’s about discreet conduct of the “olde daunce” at that and other conferences.

Now, if you’re not interested in discretion—if you prefer to advertise that you are hooking up with Hot Grad Student, Randy Rising Star, or Sexy Senior Prof—then you may skip this post. But if you and Randy have reason to conceal your liaison, then here are some suggestions, offered more in the spirit of Miss Manners than that of Ms. Mentor. As I so often tell my students when explaining some shocking aspect of medieval mores, “I merely report; I do not condone.”

There is, of course, a difference between the on-going conference relationship and the more spontaneous conference fling. Those engaging in a longer-term affair can make plans in advance, and stay at the same hotel, perhaps even in communicating rooms (not the same room: think of the receipts). Staying at a hotel unrelated to the conference, while inconvenient in driving time, means you will be surrounded by people who have no connection to Prof. Nosy Parker or Dr. Grundy, and who have little interest in whether you and Randy are shacking up.

But what if you have not been able to lay your plans in advance?

If you intend to put the moves on someone, you might still want to book a hotel some distance from the conference. On the other hand, that means you may have to drive your guest somewhere in the middle of the night or very early in the morning. This is both inconvenient and a chance to be observed. Or you may be overcome by unexpected passion while staying in a conference hotel or in the Valley dorms. What then?

For one thing, the person of lesser stature should always be the visitor. If a graduate student or junior professor is seen knocking at the door of a more senior person, this may be to return a forgotten program or jacket (remember to carry a program or jacket prominently, as a prop). But a senior professor lingering longingly outside the dorm room of a grad student is more likely to give rise to salacious assumptions.

On the other hand, while it’s true that hotels are considerably more comfortable, staying in the dorms has certain advantages. People come and go at all hours, stay up late talking to old friends, hold parties in their rooms: although the coming and going means that your guest is more likely to be observed, the noise of all these activities will tend to cover up any noise from your room, and your guest may be assumed to have been catching up with an old friend.

Actually hosting a party in your hotel or dorm room on one night will encourage your neighbors to attribute odd noises on the next to another party rather than to, ah, dauncing. Further, having good wine or liquor in your room provides a good excuse to invite someone up, though for pick-up lines I refer you to Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous set, on which I cannot improve.

I hope I do not need to remind you to refrain from public displays of affection, particularly in hallways, stairwells, and elevators. Similarly, clean up your room before anyone else sees the empty condom wrappers or worse. Travel separately. The knock at the door is more explicable than two people entering together.

Try to avoid disheveled early-morning appearances. The guest should either depart in the small hours, when dishevelment may be due to an after-hours party, or else be clean and professionally attired, as if for an early breakfast meeting. Here, of course, the hotel has a considerable advantage, unless you are lucky enough to score an end-of-corridor private-bath dorm room. There is nothing like running into a suite-mate in the bathroom to ruin all attempts at discretion. Requesting to share a dorm suite with a discreet friend will help conceal your affaire from others, but may mean that the friend will tease you or expect details.

Pick your partner carefully. All your discretion will go for naught if your paramour boasts of conquest. Avoid those who are, “som men seyn, . . .of tonge large” (T&C V.804).

And if you behave yourselves estatly and observe those who do not, you will garner much useful material for creative writing. Or gossip, as you prefer.