Sunday, June 08, 2008

Post Modern Love

Wow, a soccer punch Modern Love column this week: Let's Not Get to Know Each Other Better.

The New York Times is running a series of winners from a contest. They're all from people 20 years younger than I, but I'm struck by how much resonated (resonates) with my own encounters with love.

College is much on my mind as this past weekend was my 20 year college reunion. And in reading these wistful pieces, I feel a bit sicken to think they have no idea that it's not likely to get any better...I know 40 year olds, 50 year olds who think casual is sexy and caring is creepy!

Here are some excerpts that jumped (emphasis added):
With so many avenues for communication, one might expect an onslaught of romantic soliloquies, but that isn’t the case. Casual is sexy. Caring is creepy. You don’t want to show your hand, and you certainly don’t want to fall in love. At least until you do, and by then it’s too late.

Planned romance is viewed as nothing more than ambition, so it’s important that things be allowed to happen naturally. Sex is great, and so are some relationships, but not to the point that they should be actively pursued.

And then these pithy, evocative observations
  • the big wet kiss that changes everything and nothing.
  • the perfect hookup, a pressure-free surprise. With a stranger, everything is new and acceptable. Her quirks are automatically endearing. This first encounter is the perfect place, but where does it lead? In the best case, nowhere at all.
  • If it continues, you have an understanding, physical chemistry and great conversations. You meet two or three times a week for no-strings sex and long-winded philosophical talks.
Body and mind intercourse does not a relationship make. You'd think it would, but it doesn't seem to turn out that way.

Most importantly, you aren’t lonely. Maybe deep in the recesses of your mind you think about possibly loving this person. What’s the standard response? Nothing. If she asks, “How do you feel about me?” you answer from the heart: “I see you as an unexpected treat from the heavens. I don’t know how I deserve this.”

Your relationship is good. Your relationship is strong. But it isn’t a relationship, and that’s the key.
I laughed aloud at this. I learned a long time ago never to ask such questions because I got such elliptical answers. Or maybe because I never had the courage to ask ever, or ever again after such a response, while I would admire the cleverness.

The effect of a bookcase:
A friend of mine, a normal girl who is neither especially social nor aloof, engages in hookups unabashedly — she’s just doing what she wants and doesn’t regret or overthink it. Except for one time when she woke up in some guy’s embrace, got out of bed and noticed his bookshelf.

I’m not sure what it was about the contents that impressed or moved her; maybe the books suggested a gentle soul. All I know is what she told me: “I only felt bad after seeing his books.” The books had made him a real person, I guess, one she liked. Or pitied. Because then it was on to the next.

Yes, the disconnect has long existed. My generation had too many options. The generation of the 60s had too many options. The utter lack of protocol is systemic and problematic and has been true since the 60s busted it all up - another reason why I don't particularly appreciate that decade.

Maybe this disconnect has always existed. As one of my classmates, a genteel 60-year-old, said to me, “Every generation thinks they discovered sex.” Which might be true, but I’m not sure any previous generation has our plethora of options and utter lack of protocol. This may reflect how our media obsession has desensitized and hypersexualized us.

But I think it goes beyond that. Our short attention spans tend to be measured in nanoseconds. We float from room to room watching TV, surfing the Internet, playing Frisbee and finding satisfaction around every corner, if only for a moment.

Out of fear, we shrink ourselves. There have been many times I should have cried but stifled the tears. Instances where I should have said, “I love you” but made a joke instead. Once, a girl dumped me and it nearly ruined me. How bad was it? I ate nothing but Wendy’s for an entire week.

I’m fairly certain I could have saved the entire endeavor with a soul-baring soliloquy of what was true and what mattered to me, but I couldn’t muster the courage. I don’t know many who can.

We’ve grown up in an age of rampant divorce and the accompanying tumult. The idea that two people can be happy together, maturing alongside each other, seems as false as a fairy tale. So when a relationship ends, it isn’t seen as bad. It’s held as evidence that the relationship was never any good to begin with.

MAYBE it’s just that we have learned nothing can compare to the perfect moment of the unexpected hookup — wet lips on the beach, lying in the sand — and so we aim to accumulate as many as possible. Or maybe we’re simply too immature to commit. That has been the rap against guys forever, but now women think the same way. With the world (and the world of sex) at our fingertips, it’s difficult to choose, to settle, to compromise.

But I do occasionally wonder: If we can’t get past ourselves and learn to sacrifice to be with another, then what is in store? A generation of selfish go-getters fueled by nothing more than our own egos, forever seeking that rare dose of self-esteem? An era of loneliness filled with commercial wants and mate selection based on the shallowest of criteria?

Yeah, not much good is in store.

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