The social world is structured by rules, arbitrary but sharply enforced. I've always known that. That's been the plot of how many hundred novels and films? Pick your own favourites--- mine are Wharton's "House of Mirth" and her short story "Autre Temps". It's not a thing that disappeared somewhere late in the last century. We still live by arbitrary social rules, and time puts all of us on the wrong side of many of them.
I define myself as a bachelor and a Gentleman of a Certain Age, and I have chosen to call myself a roué. The arbitrary social rules and various contemporary ideologies frown on all three of those things. I'm well aware of that, but there are some days when I realise how harsh the rules can be.
I've always been willing to discuss social behaviour and the codes for seduction and flirtation, always willing to learn about the codes of politesse in different social circles. That's like learning languages and histories: two things that have been key parts of my life. What I've been finding, though, is a social scene that's infused more and more with contempt, where the arbitrary social rules are enforced with growing harshness. There's a narrowing field of places and events where it's socially safe to make conversation, let alone to flirt. Playfulness and delight and ritual are being slowly, inexorably erased from social interaction. And I do find it harder and harder to imagine what social life, what flirtations and seductions will look like in a decade or two--- or if we'll be allowed to do those things at all.
This summer I feel a sense of futility, a sense of exclusion, a sense of loss. I do imagine no longer being able to be part of a life outside my rooms and books.