"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, September 14, 2018

Love The One You’re With - Never In Our Neo-Puritanical Age

And there's a rose in a fisted glove
And the eagle flies with the dove
And if you can't be with the one you love honey
Love the one your with (Stephen Stills)
The Sixties were significant for many reasons – a renewed, public, and militant commitment to civil rights, opposition to an unjust if not immoral war, and a rejection of an old, faded, antiquarian morality.   More than anything else, however, the Sixties revolutionized sexual attitudes and behavior.  No longer was one obliged to conform to Victorian mores, Fifties sanctimony, and outdated and irrelevant attitudes towards the nature and purpose of intimacy. Love the one you’re with was the anthem of the Sixties.  Love was relegated to treacly Hallmark cards, daytime television and the Midwest.

At its most post-modern, love does not exist at all.  It is  no more than a social construct reflecting time, era, and culture.  The sonnets of Petrarch for the first time expressing romantic love were a product of the emerging middle class, one which had risen above the peasantry and while not quite upper class or aristocratic had the economic and social mobility to worry less about survival and able to think less of hammers, nails, and anvils.  Love was a new thing, an invented idea, a plaything of the rich and privileged.

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Romantic love has stayed alive for centuries, a commodity of the wealthy and the newly rich and an aspirational ideal of those beneath.  In America the concept of romantic love has been institutionalized in Hollywood, soap operas, comic  books, and popular lore. Everyone wants to fall in love and to be happy forever after.

At the same time romantic love has been progressively marginalized.  Love is found through the social media, contracted civilly, and continued thanks to feminism, sexual mutuality and new-found respect. But is it love? Can any socially-mediated commodity possibly be the stuff of romance, marital fidelity,  or painful, passionate infidelity?

The question of love is more complicated in our age of feminism and gender identity.  Do women really need men, their pursuit, and testosterone-driven sexual immaturity? Has the traditional male-female dyad any relevance whatsoever?  If sexuality is indeed fluid, then relationships between any points on the sexual spectrum are valid and promising.  Love? Reduced at best to a functional state of equilibrium.  The idea of romantic love is not only outdated but treacly, and anti-progressive.  What has love ever accomplished except for the enslavement of women to men’s fantasies; an idealistic notion of woman-as-saint, itself self-serving and deformed when considered with its parallel – woman as whore.  The whole idea of love is antiquated and counter-revolutionary.

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Feminism notwithstanding, thousands of weddings are held each year – not simple ceremonies pledging honor, respect, and fidelity, but over-sized celebrations of the idea of love.  The bridal bowers, marriage canopies, romantic ice sculptures, turned out bridesmaids, and four-course dinners and dancing are still common and par for the course.  Petrarch has not been left behind.  Young women in their bridal white with train and flowers feel themselves princesses, adored and put on pedestals by their knights. Marriage is ordained, and love is adhesive.

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Once these brides join their husbands at home, notions of  chivalry and pedestals disappear. Contractual obligations must be met, clauses and codicils of the pre-nuptial agreement discussed and rules and regulations written and agreed upon. As much as the marriage ceremony might reflect female beauty and grace; and suggest complaisance and duty, post-ceremony reality is quite different.  Love may be there, but only if certain conditions are met.

Modern, woke and aware men take these terms and conditions literally.  Suppositions of male authority are long past and gone.  Although parity is presumed, women’s rights have supplanted men’s.  Their bodies are their own, to give birth if and when they choose and to give to other men as cause or desire dictates.

Non-woke, savvy men want nothing to do with such obvious posturing.  They understand, as men have for millennia, that women want them absolutely – their bodies, their confidence, and their authority.  As long as ‘the Daddy syndrome’ persists, women will still defer to men.  If there is nothing genetically programmed to assure this, then nurture is a far more potent signifier than ever thought.

So marriage continues, although a far more challenged institution than ever before.  How can it possibly survive in such a fluid, non-specific, and continually questioned environment?  And should it?

In former times marriage was absolute and essential.  The heritage of kings and courtiers depended on right alliances and proper offspring.  Peasants relied upon marriage certificates and wifely fidelity to assure that they were not working back-breaking hours for bastards.  Marriage fulfills God’s injunction to be fertile and multiply within an acceptable social framework.  In the Catholic Church it is a sacrament, a blessed institution anointed by God himself and reflective of his relationship to his only begotten son.

Marriage has been the foundation of human society for millennia.  However consecrated or observed, the union of a man and a woman was sanctified by church, state, and society.  It was the guarantor of property and civil rights, the model for respectful social behavior, the corral for a wild, independent herd, and social security for the aged and infirm.  It was a breeding ground which produced children to continue the human race but also provided recognition and legitimacy.   Everyone knew who Hermione Porter was (Ah, those Porters), where she came from, and what genetic claims she had to respect and inclusion.

None of this has any importance today except perhaps in Rittenhouse Square, Nob or Beacon Hill.  Despite attempts to modernize and socialize it, remains a holdover from a far earlier age.  It is still a socially mandated correctional institution.  Men and women are far better citizens if they are married than if they are not. 

The Sixties were revolutionary because they challenged this notion.  ‘Love the one you’re with’ was an ode to sexual, social, and emotional liberation.  Despite the political progressivism that characterized the movement, conservative individualism was at its very center.  Community was only a holding pen for newly-liberated individuals.  Communes were collectivities of like-minded people with no hold over them.  They provided the supportive context within which individualism was to thrive.

Within such communities, fidelity was an unheard of concept.  The institution of marriage was as oppressive as any other bourgeois claims to sanctity.  Love was a presupposed construct of a former, unenlightened era.  It meant nothing but servitude.

Of course hippydom disappeared, and even the most partisan advocates of the Sixties zeitgeist calmed down, returned to Iowa and Montana, got married, had children, and lived to a maturing old age.  It was too revolutionary.  Socialism, communalism, even idealism were quite tenable; but sexual anonymity and a rejection of the sanctity of sexual union were more than any generation could handle.

So what now of love and ‘love the one you’re with’? Have we reached an equilibrium where the two can co-exist?  Hardly.  The worst of all possible worlds has evolved .  Neither has stable, traditional male-female marriage remained intact – i.e. that within which both male and female sexual imperatives are expressed and counter-balanced, one against the other – nor has it been transformed into a no-trespassing zone where anything goes within an acknowledged important social framework; nor finally has it disappeared, replaced by a libertine ‘love the one you’re with’ ethos.

Husbands and wives routinely end conversations with ‘I love you’; but the sentiment means little.  Better to acknowledge and admit that they do not love each other but have been co-opted into an arrangement where love has been the authorization.  ‘We satisfy the terms and agreements of our marriage contract’ would be a far more honest statement.

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Men have not changed one iota since the 70s feminist revolution.  They, except for those who for reasons of doctrinal purity or sexual timidity, have chased women, reluctantly agreed to marriage (marriage has always been a woman’s thing) and continued their tomcatting and serial infidelities ad infinitum.

Women, either persuaded by feminist scenarios of authority within institutions (breaking the glass ceiling, dominating men a la Hedda Gabler and Shakespearean heroines), or because of genetically programmed commitments to motherhood and a protective, intact family, have been reluctant to ‘love the one you’re with’ as much as men.  Women have always been defenders of hearth and home.

Incidents of infidelity among wives has increased significantly, although rates have never even approximated those of men; and men’s rates cheating has remained the same.  Men have always been unfaithful; and if there was ever a case of nature besting nurture, men’s perennial sexual waywardness proves it.  Yet at the same time there is a persistent Puritanical guilt.  Excuses must be made.  Where did the Sixties go?

There seems to be an irreversible urge to be married.  With the legalization of gay marriage, a surprising number of gay men have shown up at the altar despite decades of exaggeratedly promiscuous sex.  They have wanted to join the marital club, leave their lives of happy libertinage, and enter in to pre-nups, legalize marital contracts and, one supposes, empty the trash and clean the bathrooms. Love? Doubtful as a reason for marital union.

There are a few unreconstructed, unapologetic members of the Sixties generation who still love women as women, who have no desire to conclude more permanent relationships; and who, if in a marriage, refuse to accept monogamy.  They are either outliers or revolutionaries.  Hard to tell; but it is a delight to see men who make no bones about their male sexuality, the fundamental differences between men and women, and the absolute pleasure of sexual adventure.

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