There's a novel I read long ago--- Christopher Coe's "I Look Divine" ---that has one of the better literary lines I've come across. The narrator has just upbraided his younger, strikingly handsome brother for accepting expensive gifts from wealthy older men. His brother waves a dismissive hand and says, "My dear, you're confusing trade with tribute." I've always loved that line, and always felt a bit sad after reading it.
I'm someone who likes the rituals of romance and the proofs of love. I've always had doubts about my value on the market. I style myself as a roué, and as a gentleman of a certain age (and one raised in the deepest part of the American South) I'm expected to pay court to lovely young companions. There are gestures one makes, and recognised gifts that one offers up to a girl during an affair. One does pay tribute to youth and beauty and grace. The gifts and gestures are as carefully measured as some medieval land lease where the lessee is required to bring the lessor a brace of swans or a fresh-caught pike on a chosen saint's day. Or as carefully measured as sacrificial gifts at some early Roman temple. Take your pick on that. The point is the symbolism, the formality and ritual nature of the gift. Not the emerald necklace, let alone an envelope of cash. More like the single rose and the bottle of champagne with the classic label, or the midnight rooftop garden dinner. It's not the gift itself, but the idea of the gift, the formal offer of tribute and romance. What matters is the formal offer, the knowledge that the gift is part of something structured and formal rather than simply a gift. The glass of champagne or the dinner aren't about having a drink together or having dinner together, they're about investing those things with something more abstract and formal, about making them part of a ritual.
I'm a believer in things like Valentine's and New Year's Eve. I do believe in nights designated as formal nights for romance. One can be in love on any day; one can go out with a lover on any night. Valentine's, though, has the virtues of the artificial. It's been set aside for something symbolic. Gifts brought to a lover on 14 February are invested with a special aura. One gives a beautiful companion a gift on 14 February as a tribute to desire. Sex on 14 February is like sex on the night of 31 December: it's something ritual and symbolic, attached to literary and film conventions.
Now I do sometimes feel sad when I think about those nights, and about the symbolic exchanges. I don't mind paying tribute to beauty and youth and desire and grace. Beauty and grace deserve tribute and deference--- I believe that very deeply. I sigh, though, over the idea that my own time has long since gone. I'm not Christopher Coe's character. It's not for males, and certainly not males of a certain age, to receive tribute. No formal gifts, no symbols of desire. There's a holiday created in the early years of the new century that tries to give males a night--- Steak & Blow Job Day in March, when girls are supposed to offer those two things to males as a ritual gift. It's a nice enough idea, but it's never caught on. Still and all, it's the only attempt I know of to create a night where one can be male and be offered up formal symbols of desire.
One can say "I love you" on any night. One can have sex on any night. One can open a bottle of Veuve on any night. This isn't about the content; this is always and ever about form. There should be ritual nights where one is courted, where one can wait and be paid court to. There's no male equivalent of Valentine's Day--- Steak & Blow Job Day doesn't have the same social value. There's no formal day where a lovely girl will offer up ritual gifts to show her own desire. That's sad, really. Whatever you may be as a male, there's no symbolic moment where you can be told formally and in ritual acts that you're desired.
There's a time in one's life when it gets harder and harder to believe that you do have value as a male, that you have any value at sex or romance. I've always needed the proofs and symbols of sex and love more than the things themselves. Perhaps it's only the season, since those liminal weeks between spring and summer alway leave me unhappy at the encroaching heat. Nonetheless, I do feel particularly depressed this year. I could use something very formal and ritual, something almost Etruscan in its pure formality. I'd like to think that there's some ritual that would at least be a simulacrum of tribute, or at least a statement of value.