Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ninety-Nine: Enchantments

Last week there was a video clip that went viral all through the web. The initial descriptions were simple enough. A filmmaker had gathered up twenty strangers, paired them off, and filmed each couple's first kiss. The initial response was full of delighted accounts of how the couples--- always described as "real" or "ordinary" people rather than models or actors ---were so wonderfully awkward yet willing to make one another more comfortable, to make a shy, slightly anxious first kiss into something very touching and sometimes very sexy.  Everyone was thrilled with the video, and even the gender warriors refrained from ranting about whatever they might've declared to be "problematic".

I watched the video and just sighed. It was all very charming--- watching ten pairs of strangers share a first kiss. I did like the way some of the men were trying so hard to be as polite and apologetic as possible; I very much identified with that. I felt a twinge of envy, too; there's no denying that. The first kiss, especially with a stranger, always has a special rush of delight and excitement. I only wished that I'd been asked to be part of a video like that...or that I could kiss a lovely stranger on a springtime afternoon.

Alas, though--- the video was revealed to be, well, if not fake, then at least not what it was originally thought to be.  The video was revealed to be an ad for some obscure hipster clothing company. And so the backlash began. There was a feeling of being cheated, and the footage itself was subjected to a withering revision. Commenters on the web were angry that the magic had been taken away from them.

I could only agree. Watching the video again, I felt...vaguely irritated. All the magic had gone out of it. If this was an art project,  it was lovely and touching and romantic. If it was an ad, well, it lacked those things.  If the kissing couples were strangers assembled to share a first kiss as part of an art project, then that was something very different in intent and atmosphere from assembling for a advertising job. Volunteering to kiss a stranger for art has a very different valence. I couldn't any longer imagine myself standing in a studio, a bit bewildered at the video equipment, looking at a girl who'd been paired off with me, trying to be nonchalant and pleasant, feeling like I'd been given the gift of a kiss. The video lost its charm once it was an ad. I couldn't even watch it and feel any kind of sexual thrill. These weren't "strangers" if it was an ad; they were just co-workers.

And, yes, if it was an ad, there was another loss of sexual or romantic appeal. If the twenty subjects worked as art-project volunteers, they were...appealing. They were all of them reasonably attractive for an art project... but they weren't attractive enough to be models in an ad. There's a certain kind of beauty expected of models in ads, and the people in the video weren't advert-beautiful. Once the video was just an advert, then I couldn't look at it and project myself into it; I couldn't imagine myself as part of one of the couples.  And if it was just an advert, the people in it weren't attractive enough to watch just for themselves. (The clothing line? Never heard of it, couldn't possibly care less.)

I haven't kissed a lovely stranger in rather a while. I miss that rush of excitement and the new. I miss that, and just for a moment I felt it when I looked at the video as an art project and imagined being part of it. There wasn't even the consolation prize of being able to watch and desire girls of the quality I've been taught to expect in ads.

Disappointed, yes. Perhaps it's only that context is everything.  The visuals that worked so well as an art project failed utterly in an ad. They didn't offer up either hope or the consolations of voyeurism. In any case, the Kissing Strangers video means nothing to me now that it's only an ad--- and now that the world is just a little less magical.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Ninety-Eight: Finisterre

Memory says that it was sometime in my later twenties when it occurred to me that I would never be married or live with anyone in a romantic relationship. There was no particular trauma involved, no bit of drama. I suppose it was a gradual dawning, much like realising that, say, you've gradually chosen a favourite varietal of wine, and now your wine rack is filled with pinot noir rather than cabernet.  It had to be something like that--- just a quiet acknowledgment that this is the way your life is going to be.

I have in my life asked two girls to marry me. Both accepted, but the project never got much farther than some vague, nebulous idea that marriage might be out there somewhere. No rings exchanged, no plans made or save-the-dates sent. I'm not at all sure I'd have known what to do or how to act, the closer I got to a wedding date.

Those two occasions were later on, and they were nine years apart. Still, I'd never have known at either time in my life what one was supposed to do...or how to cope with what would happen afterwards. I suppose I never thought any girl could ever really want to stay with me, and I was certainly afraid that being married would be a big hit on my standard of living, that being married would make me realise how poor I really was. Marriage requires bringing social standing and stable finances to the table, and it requires some kind of understanding of how to live with another person. I've never had either of those things, and of course it's far too late now.

When I was in my later twenties, I was still in graduate school, working on my seemingly interminable doctorate. I used to blame being unmarried on having poured so much of my life into pursuing a PhD, but in all honesty I can't say that's true. I knew other postgraduate students who married, or who moved in with lovers. I never understood how it happened, though, or how people reached some kind of agreement. I'd had lovers at university,  certainly, but I could never have imagined how one made the jump from planning the next Friday night to planning living together after graduation.  Planning a four-day weekend in Manhattan was something I could do, but I never thought about how one planned a wedding or a life. I never thought about how one asked a girl to move in together. That always seemed like something that would be beyond me, like something that would be futile even to attempt. 

There are endless numbers of articles by authors both male and female that take it as a given--- or which very plainly declare ---that anyone who hasn't been married or lived in a romantic relationship by their early thirties is damaged and unmarriageable. One male author at (I seem to recall) Good Men Project actually did a long post about how only "losers" hadn't been married by their mid-thirties. Anyone who hadn't, the author claimed, was either a failure at his career and  couldn't hold up his economic end of a relationship, or was deeply damaged psychologically ("narcissist", "Peter Pan", "womanizer", "misogynist").  Since I of course have a lifelong history of immediately accepting as true any negative things anyone says about me, such articles leave me  depressed and bitter.

My fear of course is that I slipped into being unmarriageable or unfit for relationships without ever noticing what was happening. But a deeper fear is that I may have had the ability to create and maintain a long-term relationship and just never known it--- or, another way, that I missed the social lessons on what to do if planning a long-term relationship.

Even here in my later years, I tend to see a relationship as being about next Friday night or next Sunday brunch. My Young Companions and I can agree on a restaurant or a kind of wine or on sharing a Sunday NY Times over flat whites at the coffee shop, but I'd have no idea how to discuss anything that others seem to have taken for granted at twenty-four or twenty-five. 

I have no particular wish to be married. I'll say that. I wouldn't know how to live with another person, and I've read enough 19th-c. novels to understand how key money is in any long-term relationship. I can very nearly get by in genteel poverty alone. I have nothing to offer a girl who expects the kind of financial partnership that well-educated North Americans should have in the new century. 

I've certainly fallen in love since my mid-twenties, and I've told girls that I did love them.  Nonetheless, at some point I must've understood that I was now unmarriageable. I'd still to understand how it happened, though, and I'd like to know what I failed to grasp as social lessons at university and after.