Exemption Lists: Harmless Fantasy or Seeds of Betrayal?

A108 lists

Written by Sarah Tuttle Singer and Hugo Schwyzer.

Sarah is the social media director for Times of Israel and a long-time author of satire and comedy. For more of Sarah’s writing, check out A Night at the Cat Club, A Letter to My Daughter About Fighting Back or The Rabbi and The Vibrator.

Hugo is a professor of history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. For more of Hugo’s writing, check out My Sweet Boy, My Goy Toy and follow him on Twitter at @hugoschwyzer.


We all know the basic ground rule of traditional monogamy: no sex outside the relationship. As simple as that rule seems, there’s still plenty of room for misunderstanding. Does cybersex violate the rule? Porn? Is flirting off limits? What about the dreaded “emotional” affair? How do we negotiate healthy boundaries that honor our relationships – but don’t leave us feeling trapped and limited?

The idea for this piece came as the result of a twitter conversation with my friends Avital Norman Nathman, Lanae St John, and Sarah Tuttle-Singer. We were discussing celebrities we’d love to sleep with. They threw out names like Jon Stewart and Jason Bateman; I responded by confessing my attraction to Toni Collette and Mariska Hargitay.

I’ve never met Collette or Hargitay; I’m assuming Sarah hasn’t met Jon Stewart. The unattainability of these celebrities is part of what frees us all up – we’re all in committed monogamous relationships of one kind or another – to have this discussion. Exemption lists are rooted in the idea that there are some opportunities so exceptional that even marriage vows shouldn’t stand in the way – an idea so outrageous on the face of it that it’s only safe to use the names of famous folks we don’t know. (We also flatter ourselves. I’m making the absurd assumption that if I were to meet Mariska, and if my wife were okay with it, that the SVU star would also somehow be interested in sleeping with me.)

I like hearing people’s lists because I’m interested, as so many of us are, in conversations about what turns us on. I’m happy to explain what draws me to Toni Collette just as I want to hear about the dudes that get Sarah hot. I’m curious. Why do we like what we like? How do our fantasies differ from our realities? And maybe more importantly: are we talking to our significant others about these lists?

So, Sarah and I asked each other some questions….

1. Who is on your exemption list?


So check it. Some people have crushes on actors and actresses, and that’s cool. I have one friend who has seen every Jake Gyllenhaal movie ever made (yeah, including October Sky), and this guy I used to date back in the day would measure the sex appeal of every woman he screws/dates with Audrina Patridge– yeah, it’s no wonder he’s still single, and hasn’t ever had a meaningful relationship. (No, I’m not bitter.)

And wanting to fuck a movie star is understandable. I get it. Not only are they paid to be hot, but they are also encouraged to project varying fantasy personas ranging from the Cute Boy/Girl Next Door (Matt Damon/Jennifer Anniston) to the Sexy Badass (Collin Farrell/Megan Fox) when they’re out and about in the real world. Call me a conspiracy theory nutjob, but I think this is all part of a larger Tinseltown effort to encourage our active participation at the box office. (Too bad they don’t offer vibrators at the concession stand. #ImJustSaying.)

And yes, it’s hard to miss the sexy appeal of someone like Will Smith, Angelina Jolie, or that pasty dude from the Vampire movies. But still, I’ve never actually fantasized about a movie star. But while I’ve never lusted after an actor (or actress), I have been known to develop hardcore, obsessive crushes on fictional characters.

Welcome to Fantasy Land.

This isn’t anything new. I’ve been crushing on fictional characters since I was a little kid:

Comp Lit Nerd Alert: My first crush was on Gilbert Blithe from the Anne of Green Gables series. Then, I discovered James Ubriacco, John Travolta’s streetwise, kid-loving character in Look Who’s Talking. Soon after that I fell in love with Viktor Laszlo, the soulful, selfless resistance fighter magnificently portrayed by Paul Henreid in Casablanca. Then, I wanted to be seduced by strong and sexy Johnny Castle played by the late Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing. Yeah, just like in my real life, my tastes are varied: I even had a thing for the Weasley Twins.

And right now, I am in full-blown raging hormonal lust with Jon Stewart on the Daily Show. I mean, of course I am. Duh. He’s smart. He’s funny. He’s Jewish. He’s got a smile that lights up my heart and when he makes with his witty repartee, he makes my ovaries quiver.

But do I have a crush on the real Jon Stewart? The guy who isn’t saying lines that others have so creatively crafted for him? I don’t know. If he can bring it in real life the way he does it in the studio, then maybe. I guess he’s as close to a real fantasy as I’ve ever gotten.


I think that’s a great observation: we get crushes on ciphers, on images. Not on real people. That’s why falling for literary characters is so easy. I remember seeing a stage production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof when I was in my early teens, and totally crushing on “Maggie.” It didn’t hurt that the actress (whose name escapes me) spent a lot of time walking around on stage in lingerie. But it was the character’s tenacity, her fierceness, her sexual confidence that I found so alluring.

I was attracted more to Toni Collette’s characters in movies like Black Balloon and Little Miss Sunshine than in Connie and Carla or The Sixth Sense. With a celebrity, it’s about both their look and the role they inhabit.

2. Do you think these cross a line?


Since my crushes live on book pages and on script pages, I think it’s kosher.


I think that sometimes the danger isn’t infidelity, it’s elevated expectations for passion and romance. “Why can’t you kiss me the way so-and-so kisses in that movie?” “Why can’t you be as graceful as that character?” It’s subtle, but I think sometimes we can fall so hard for these archetypes that no real person can measure up.

3. Is there added safety in naming names of people we’re likely never to meet in real life?


Absolutely. I think it takes the sting out of the attraction for our partners. Because we’re lusting after an ideal – a stereotype, really – and not a real person who succumbs to human vulnerabilities like crows feet, or sagging breasts (or balls) or farting in bed. I think this softens the edge in some ways, although it can throw our partners if our celebrity/fantasy crushes are completely different from them.

Still, it does beg the question, what if my boyfriend’s list of five celebrities were all diametrically the opposite of me. Would it make me cringe? Or on that same vein, what if his list was made up exclusively of women who were my type? Would I feel fetishized? Hey, I know! What if – heaven forfend – I stop overthinking this!


I don’t talk a lot about my list with my wife. I know a few of hers (she’s very partial to Jimmy Smits, and has been so since his L.A. Law days). She tends to be drawn to black and Hispanic men; most of the guys she dated before me weren’t white. I know I’m an “exception to the rule” when it comes to her type, and that can lead – I’ll admit – to flashes of insecurity. What is she doing with this nerdy white college prof, I wonder? But I also trust that her fantasies are just that – fantasies that can be enjoyed in passing, but that don’t express a real sense of lack in our marriage.

Bottom line, my crush on Toni Collette has nothing to do with my wife. And I don’t see it as a threat to my marriage to name it. (Though living in West Los Angeles and working – as both my wife and I do to some extent – in and around the entertainment industry means that we’re statistically more likely to meet our crushes than other folks might be.)

4. What about internet crushes, the kind that writers tend to get on each other? Are those more dangerous or more acceptable? Is it okay to flirt a bit with each other? What are the limits of that?


Oh Hugo. You just had to ask that, didn’t you.

I think these are much more dangerous – because unlike our celeb-fantasy-crushes where some of us laminate our lists and hang them on the fridge – (Ahem) – we’re pretty unlikely to sit down with our partner and say “zomgggg I so want to bone this hot male feminist writer in LA.” Because that’s when shit gets real. Our “I swear, he’s just a friend” is a real person who is responding to us in real time – and with that reality comes something that can turn the equation into one giant clusterfuck (and not in a good way): Possibility.

But even then, I think the attraction is more about the persona and less about the actual person. Because reality is not made up in the 0s and 1s of binary code. Still, I’ve lived enough to know that internet crushes can devolve into a very dangerous reality. And that’s all I have to say about that.


Exactly. With real people, I think we often confess attraction as a flirtatious act to tease out reciprocity. It’s about that dangerous intersection of desire, curiosity, and a hunger for ego validation. It is a huge potential clusterfuck.

That said, I think a lot of us who write want to be written about. When we get crushes on writers – and maybe this is just me – part of the fantasy is that maybe if something develops, they will write about us. That thought is both horrifying and exciting.

So, readers, who’s on your “exemption list”? Is this harmless fun or playing with fire? Do your partners know about your celebrity crushes?

Social media guru of Jewrotica, Sarah Tuttle-Singer is a writer for the Times of Israel and Huffington Post. Sarah lives in Israel with her two children and is - in her own words - quite dangerous when bored.


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