I’ve written these character profiles prior to leaving for vacation, in a hope to keep the blog somewhat alive while I’m gone.
Melissa was a composite of several girls I either was close friends with or had crushes on late in college and in grad school…in at least one case both.
There’s an awful lot of “just friends” and “will they/won’t they” cliches in Scott and Melissa’s relationship, but in addition to having the romantic angle I wrote the character in as a way to understand male/female friendship. I strongly believe that as a straight male not only can you have friends of the opposite gender, you can even have friends of the opposite gender who you sleep with or have slept with. Note I didn’t say I believe it’s easy, but possible. I was developing Melissa’s and Scott’s relationship, at least at the beginning, as what I held to be a platonic ideal of male/female friendship: one where any sexual tension is out in the open, and both people are on the same page as to what they do about it and how physical they’re willing to be. And then, as I wrote the first draft the interplay came out naturally: the anxieties, the jealousy, and the unadmitted desire are all things that can come of this situation, and all things that could torpedo a friendship if not dealt with in a productive way.
Ironically, the two people that I see most in Melissa were not only both Greek, but also in the same sorority. That said, it was important for Melissa to *not* be Greek for much the same reason it was important for Grace to be Greek: it showcased a different sort of relationship that was common when I was in college. There are very few terms for this that are…well, nice, but there are girls who end up hanging around fraternity houses and developing a close relationship not only with many brothers but with the house as a whole. For me, having part of the fraternity social group that wasn’t male made a lot of our social events more fun, and helped me meet a lot of cool people. Some fraternity chapters even have what are called “Little Sister” programs to recognize the non-brothers who are often an essential part of their social fabric.
AEPi as a national either (I don’t recall, if I was an active it may be less ambiguous) discourages or has banned Little Sister programs, because in some chapters it becomes a program for sexual patronage; that is to say in the past these programs have become a group of women who sleep with members of the fraternity and are recognized for that. It’s an unfortunate mutation on what should be a much more productive recognition of the limitations of single-sex groups. Our own attempt to recognize the female contributors to our brotherhood disintegrated while I was there, for reasons I won’t go into in detail.
Melissa is intended to represent a girl who’s “one of the guys”, though also one who is probably treated with respect because she’s dating the fraternity president. As much as her relationship with Scott gets complicated, she also represents an aspect of fraternity life that was both ubiquitous in my experience and also reveals the cognitive dissonance of single-sex fraternities at its absolute most stark.