It's amazing to me how stubborn an idea can be. In a world in which we've created supercomputers that can crunch massive amounts of data as well as understand enough of the subtle nuances and puns of our spoken language to be viable competitors on the game show Jeopardy, we cling to vestiges of superstition, hearsay and antiquated customs and allow them to continue shaping our modern world. Isn't it time to sever the anachronistic cords tying us to bygone eras and demand to be emancipated? Let's start with balls and chains.
There was a stir yesterday around what constitutes marriage material. Maybe there were those editors out there who believed the chocolate hangovers of the unmarried would make us susceptible to suggestions of our own inadequacy? I read Oryoki's post and it sent some ideas tumbling around in my head and then I went and read the Huffington Post piece by Tracy McMillan, the genesis of this post-Valentine's day discussion.
Oryoki's piece I enjoyed. It showcased the intelligence and spirit of a confident person with a generous helping of wit to appreciate the humor in the subject matter. The HuffPo piece made me ill at ease with the world. Replace some of the saucy language and obfuscate some of the references to sex and you might as well have been reading a Good Housekeeping article from 1956. It brought to mind a quote about Betty Friedan's book, The Feminine Mystique, found in A People and a Nation, In A People and a Nation, Friedan is credited with the following:
"Friedan, instead of blaming individual women for failing to adapt to women's proper role, blamed the role itself and the society that created it."
Friedan's seminal work was published in 1963. I'll help you out with the math and say that's 48 years ago. That is obviously enough time for a generation of women to be born and grow up, exposed to new thoughts and ideas on what it means to be a woman and what that role entails. But just when you thought you were out, there's a Tracy McMillan waiting to pull you back in. She's telling you that's it's not the him's of the world, it's you. You're a bitch. You're a slut. You are a smelly pirate hooker. (ok, that was Ron Burgundy) Regardless, we've come a long way, baby?
On a normal day I would have completely ignored McMillan's article because it was intended for women and the basic premise of it I find offensive. If you're at all familiar with my writing, then you know I mostly concern myself with late-night bars, debaucherous adventures and the women I meet along the way. I am unapologetic about being a happy bachelor. Despite that, I still run into the marriage metric myself.
Let's circle back to the concept of stubborn ideas. Not to borrow too much from the recent film Inception, but an idea is "resilient...and highly contagious." It doesn't matter how unfounded that idea is - the fact that it exists can give it validity. To this day my mother will tell you that running around barefoot can lead to a cold. I have discussed germs and bacteria with her but it doesn't matter. We hear these ideas all the time and people often accept them: sharks don't get cancer, swallowed chewing gum takes years to digest, evolution is a 'theory,' the Great Wall of China is visible from the moon, unopened mussels aren't fully cooked, marriage indicates you are mature, stable and self-actualized.
Stop the press! Are you kidding me? Sharks get cancer? Yes, yes they do. More interesting though is how we view marriage. As a young lad in his 30's, ahem, I receive the critical eye at times from others who are already betrothed until they die. Some will even put my emotional maturity into terms directly related to marriage. 'When will he finally be ready to settle down and become a man?' How is this any indication of my emotional maturity? Weren't Nick Lachey and Jessica Simpson married? Employers will even view it as a sign of stability, despite the fact that statistics indicate a large percentage of marriages aren't that stable.
Why is being married viewed so favorably? Let's reverse the question and put it in these terms: Why is being single so scary? One might view it from a Big Brother perspective and say that a population with established roots and a vested equity in domestic life is more predictable and easier to control than a nation of free agents. That idea has merit but is a tad too conspiratorial for my taste. One might go the religious route and say that the mandate to 'be fruitful and multiply' helps ensure that generations of faithful acolytes take the religious doctrine forward into perpetuity. One might wax philosophical and state that coupling off leads to procreation, which is a means for the self to achieve life past one's own death.
I would say that there is a modicum of truth in each of these ideas but I think the issue at hand is in fact, far greater. Marriage has transcended all the various perceived virtues that constitute it and become a virtue in itself. It has simply become something to be obtained, like platinum status or Hertz Gold. I'll share with you a personal anecdote that helps support such a premise.
A female friend of mine, happily married herself, told me a story about one of her friends, also a female. It seems this gal went on a date with a successful, unmarried man who was in his 40's. Both the woman and the man were attractive, ambitious and healthy so, at a glance, it was at least a favorable pairing. They had a nice evening and the woman looked forward to seeing the man again.
The next day, the woman receives an email from the man saying he had a wonderful time the night before but he was afraid they were in the market for different things. He realized that he was really only looking for someone to party with and have sex and he didn't think that she would be happy with just that. If she were, he left the door open to meet up again but he didn't want to mislead her in any way.
This story was passed around the social media outlets, specifically Facebook, and gathered a pretty intense response from other women reading about it. There was immediate vitriol, widespread criticism, disgust and even anger in the comments following the post. Most dealt with the man being a loser and not worth her time. Many were making fun of him for his lack of maturity and some of those commenting were in disbelief that a man in his 40's could want such a lifestyle.
With no intention of being contrarian and reaping a share of venom myself, I didn't comment. However, what I saw was a man who gave at least some level of reflection as to what he was looking for and came to a fairly concise conclusion. He was honest about it and communicated this as clearly as he could to the woman. He didn't want to see her again under any false pretenses but if what he suggested appealed to her, then he would like to see her again. He was honest, respectful of her feelings and confident about what it was he was looking for. He seemed like an okay guy and a hell of a lot more honest than most men. The women commenting on the Facebook post did not see it that way.
So what's wrong with this guy? Don't most of us remember a time growing up when a sagacious authority figure told us to go through life doing what makes us happy? There are limitations of course and your happiness should not impose upon or preclude that of others, but for the most part you should be allowed to pursue the things that make you happy. This gentleman wanted to party and have sex. Some people might think that's fine for a college student or someone in their 20's but are opposed to that as a way of life for a 40-year old man. Should his age matter? Shouldn't he be allowed to do it if it makes him happy, especially considering he was being as honest about it as he was?
The reason some people object is simply virtue. Forget the fact that the man in question is a productive member of society and is attempting to ensure his way of life doesn't impose upon someone else's. There is virtue in a life filled with a spouse and commitment but there is an abject lack of virtue in a life filled with wine, women and song. It is a woman's role to prepare herself for marriage by casting aside her bitchy, shallow, slutty self and it is a man's role to accept as virtuous that which he is told is virtuous and thereby demonstrate his maturity by marrying a woman, preferably not a slut.
When did we decide to put a statute of limitations upon living life to its fullest? Horace, the famous Roman poet born in 65 BC, wrote: Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero, meaning 'Seize the Day, putting as little trust as possible in the future.' Life can be short and by the time we start to realize it, the sands of our glass are already falling away but our wine glasses can be refilled to the brim time and time again.
Sure, I'll be the first to tell you this is not how I envisioned my thirties growing up. I didn't see the nights that went on without end and I didn't see all this ridiculous adventure coming, but how could I? All I knew of grown-ups was what I saw with my parents and that was pretty sedate, even by parental standards.
Looking at Maslow's hierarchy of needs, I am doing pretty well, all the way through to the self-actualization bit. How can I be self-actualized and a bit of a rakehell? It has to do withwhat I aspire to be. My morality might be more flexible or catholic than yours but that should be perfectly acceptable. Moreover, ideas of understanding one's place in the world are highly subjective to the self. I can be responsible but on my own terms. Isn't that an American ideal?
Furthermore, wouldn't a truly liberated man embrace both the more reptilian parts of his brain as well as those thoughts refined in the frontal lobe? On the most primal level, the first components of critical discernment are: Can I eat it? Can I mate with it?
I am a sexual being. I like wine, women and song and yet some will frown upon that. It wasn't all that long ago that Aldous Huxley wrote Antic Hay, a book dealing with social conventions, elitist ennui and sexuality in which a protagonist, Theodore Gumbril, dons a beard to be what he terms a 'complete man.' This complete man is one who feels comfortable in his sexuality and in approaching and dealing with women but Gumbril feels compelled to hide behind a disguise in order to experience this invigorating part of his life. Yes, it's a comedy and satirical but it was still banned and burned in countries around the globe and there are vestigial remnants of this kind of parochial thinking still dictating what is proper.
Why should I marry if not for love? Not to get mushy on you this late in the game but I will marry if and when I find a woman I do not want to live without. Love will be all that compels me to marry. That is a much better post-Valentine's day message.
So ladies and gentlemen, be slutty, be bitchy, be shallow, be perverse, be sexy and be full of life but most of all be true to yourself. There will always be those who frown upon us and so let them. They can keep their conventions and I can keep my distance. Here's to a life full of all the things I love!