Thursday, December 8, 2011
"Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"
- The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Young or immature minded people like us experience a thought, after staring long and hard in the mirror, I mean really digging into all the relevant the physical and mental spaces - those pores, those milk jug ears, the hot mess of subcutaneous psychological untidiness - that leads to one conclusion: we are disgusting. We are repulsive trolls.
Yet the thought is fleeting. It gets swept up and defenestrated by our primal narcissism, like a buried toy meeting a mulching lawn mower. Most of the time we are thinking this: 'We deserve all the world's attention! All of it. And none for anyone else. We're going to make ALL the babies. Except we don't want attention from ugly people. Or the uneducated. We hurl drinks at their faces when they approach. The temerity!'
Chuck Klosterman put it another way. He said that every person he knew as a young man seemed frustrated that he/she didn't have the kind of mind blowing love that they felt entitled to.
The paradox isn't imaginary. It implicates hard cold laws of sociology and probabilities. Because the story of romance in the real world is not millions and millions of radiantly happy couples holding hands to the very horizon. Instead, the story is this:
-Teenagers: Skinny people sobbing because they are SOOO in luv and just got dumped.
-20 Somethings: Half are furiously onanistic and the remaining are in an obviously lop-sided relationship based on infatuation by one and guilt by the other.
-30 Somethings: Everyone is bored except for that one perfect married couple who is so resplendent and chatty at parties yet secretly seething with mutual disgust and goes home to wordless dinners where they fantasize about murder to the sound of clinking silverware.
-People past 40: Yuck.
But as for the mind-blowingly passionate love mutually felt? Love, True Love, like between Westley and Buttercup in The Princess Bride? Who has that sh*t?
And there's a reason for this. And it's the same reason that Yankees pay Derek Jeter but not you to start at shortstop. Westley and Buttercup aren't like us. They aren't the people you see on the 22 line or in your yoga class. Those people are normal. They're flawed. And I'm not talking about personality flaws, like Ike Turner having a touch of a temper. I'm talking the sh*t that reflects on your market worth: being bad at cocktail conversation or blue collared or balding or bacned or a touch unsymmetrical. Small flaws, really. 99% of people have them. But these flaws we don't forgive. Not in ourselves. Not in others.
The sweetest, most decorous persons that ever lived - put in a dating situation - would turn into a judgmental a**hole. F*cking ruthless. Because that's what humans do. We judge, judge, judge. And, oh yes, we will find flaws. And one flaw of yours in particular will stick in our craw. The Flaw. Sometimes it's your crappy job. Or strangely oversized mouth. We fixate on it, like hyenas spotting the gimp of the antelope herd. Except we don't self-admit to what we're doing. We reframe the Flaw to implicate something abstract or vague in your character (e.g., you're a workaholic, you're needy) so we don't feel like superficial bastards and can sleep at night in the event we dump you for having a recessed chin.
And as a function of this delusion that we convince ourselves that romance isn't like professional baseball, online commerce or commodity trading. Instead it's predicated on a special connection - that spark between Westley and Buttercup is personal, two hearts beating as one and all the other vomit-inducing platitudes that appear on wedding place cards. We distinguish it from basically every other free exchange in the world - i.e., where value is established by a mountain of public, agreed-upon consensus, not by what one individual person feels at a given moment. We will praise and express general affection for the idea of two homely, socially insignificant people loving each other in some god forsaken hovel or marsh - like it's cute, but don't for a second impose that construct on us. Ef that. Because unlike Shrek or Danny Devito and Rhea Pearlman we aren't weirdo losers.FN1
The delusion is sustained over time partly because not all Flaws are equal, at least in a limited sort of way. Generally speaking, the Flaw people focus obsessively on is the one they are most terrified of exposing in themselves. The overachiever angles for the handsome bar tender four years her junior so she can say to herself, 'I am desirable. All those years I busted my hump to get into Cornell, then KPMG, and otherwise compensate for social rejection but I'm dating a pretty person now, which ipso facto means I am a pretty person, right? Suck it, Bakersfield High!'FN2
Of course, a fat guy who buys a sports car still can't run fast. (On the plus side his sports car will never dump him for Carl Lewis). There's no cheating an efficient market. Even in the realm of romance, there's a cool kid club, and it's highly select and you're either in or you're out. If you're reading this blog, you're out. You're a ninety-nine percenter. You are a repulsive troll.
The point is that our conflicted feelings of narcissism and self-loathing reflect on final calculus a tension between our personal expectations (which are huge) and the allotment social markets will allow us (which is, at least usually, rather modest)). San Francisco isn't especially unique is this regard but it is on the vanguard of a nascent collective psychology that demands fairytale endings for very ordinary people. And that's the kind of psychology that's bound to make us alienated and unhappy. And that's unnecessary.
The thing about life in America, in San Francisco, right now, for the readers of WTANGISF, is that it's f*cking awesome. And it's not f*cking awesome because it's a fairytale. Or because you're going to marry Jake Gyllenhall or Blake Lively. It isn't and you're not. It's awesome simply because the air is clean and mild, you have a decent apartment, a gym membership, a few friends, and you're not eking out a polluted, hellish existence on 12 rupees a day in Delhi. You're a repulsive troll but you're also a lucky son of a b*tch.
FN1. Right? Wait.
FN2. Go Taft.
Posted by Samuel Snodgrass at 9:24 PM