Monday, January 24, 2011

Wilt Thou...?

I am actually seated at my computer a little earlier today than usual.  I have fallen into the habit of watching Morning Joe which seems less polemic and a bit more even-handed than other cable shows which deal with politics.  I cannot stand bumptious rhetoric whether or not I agree with the speaker.  I want to hear right wing pundits who will admit that Obama does some things well, and left wing pundits who admit that there is merit in the argument that there are some beneficial programs that we cannot afford, or that conservatives are not just a bunch of crazy people.  I usually complete my morning TV viewing with a bit of the Live show with Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa – or more than a bit of it, if the guests look like people I want to hear from.  But this morning, there was a guest host in Regis’ place and after a bit of badinage, we were forced to see a video of this man’s marriage proposal.

This trend toward choreographed and over-the-top marriage proposals is one more sign to me of the trivialization of marriage, and of pretty much everything else.  Whenever I see a public wedding proposal, I always know that the lady to whom it is aimed would be wise to respond with a resounding, “NO!”  A public proposal is manipulative and the men who make them are precisely the kind of man who can and will manipulate friends and family of a woman who is fleeing an abusive situation into disclosing her whereabouts because he is SO sorry and loves her SO much and will never, ever do it again.  These women are being placed in a position where saying anything except a happy and thrilled, “Oh, yes! will publicly humiliate the would-be groom.  Despite this being exactly what he deserves for placing her in this position, one assumes that she feels some affection for the poor jerk and doesn’t want to add humiliation to an already hurtful response, if her wish is to refuse or to request more time as a dating couple.  These proposals are acts of aggression and I think the smart woman will recognize that.   It might ease the lady’s conscience were she to reflect that in these situations, she is not the focus, HE is.  In these self-absorbed times, this alone should be enough to give her pause: "What?  This is not all about me?". 

A columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle during the 70s whom I liked very much named Charles McCabe once wrote that those who can write great love letters are not capable of great love.  I have often thought about this, and I am inclined to agree, although I suppose there could be exceptions.  A truly great love letter in my mind would not be one which trumpeted great sentiments in beautiful language, but a simple one which spoke in words that meant a great deal only to the recipient.   Similarly, is there someone in your circle who constantly takes pictures of every event to which he or she is invited?  Regardless of how valued these pictures may be later, isn’t it also true that this person is never really participating in these events, but is far more consumed with recording them?   One reason I have much valued and long-lasting friends of whom I now have not a single photograph is that I just cannot step outside happy moments and record them on a camera, and I confess a frisson of irritation passes through me toward those who do so.  It makes everything seem not real for that moment, but just a performance.  Although I own a camera, I rarely take any pictures with it, and on my three or four week trip to my niece’s wedding on the train, a trip that seguéed into Thanksgiving with my best friend, I took exactly two photos, both of a lake that the train passed by in the Sierra Nevada Mountains (which I took mostly because the some announcer on the train suggested we passengers might like to do so) and I have never looked at these photographs since, nor do believe I ever will bother to do so.  If I do see them again, they will mean nothing to me at all. 

I am, as usual, straying from my point, which is, insofar as I have a point, that we are moving toward aggrandizing events and rituals at the expense of actually experiencing the human transaction that is taking place.  Call me a Romantic, but I think that when two people love each other enough to marry, it should almost go without saying that the marriage will take place.  I don’t recall Tumwell and me talking about IF we’d move in together, but only where we’d move (we each had room mates) and how soon we could do it.   Now that marriage seems to be just a phase in a life of serial monogamy, or a right to be demanded or defended, all the little rituals seem to have metastasized.  It is so often all bark and no bite, smoke without fire.

I have never placed any value on someone making any special effort – or even noticing the date – for St. Valentine’s Day.  (Does anyone even acknowledge that it is the feast day of a Catholic saint – one who is probably as fictional as most of them?)  And I have cherished forever those little impulsive gifts or gestures that come now and then just because someone has seen something and thought of me.   I think that part of any pre-nuptial agreement should be a clause specifying who will get the wedding album.   My suggestion is that it go to the one who doesn’t get custody of the kids; this will accord nicely with the current feel-good sentiment in children’s competitions that the loser should also get a trophy.   This is a great concept when we are speaking of the Special Olympics – but the benefit of everyone getting a trophy is doubtful when the people involved are not “special” in the sense implied by the term 'Special Olympics'.  People of average intelligence or better know when they have lost, however much we pretend otherwise – and they should.  It is called “learning” – a concept that has long since departed from anything that we currently term “Education.”

In general people do not think to insist they are telling the truth if, in fact, they are, because it doesn’t occur to people stating a fact that this fact is in question.  I have never felt any pressure to make an official show of love toward those whom I actually love, because I am pretty sure we both know it.  I need no public demonstration or concrete proofs from those who love me.  If I doubt anyone’s sincerity, a public performance will not do anything but increase my doubt.  When someone says, “I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” my one sure belief is that he won’t be. 

While I am on the topic of overdone and relatively insincere ritualization of life’s little ups and down, I wish to ask the question, why is a wedding day so often referred to as “her day” or “her special day”?  Isn’t the event supposed to be a union of two people?  Just thought I’d ask.  

OK, now I am done.


  1. You've got me thinking now, David.

    I am one of those who takes joy in sharing my unabashed affection for my beloved; I proclaim it from the rooftops, to the very skies, and--dare i say it?--from my Facebook page. After 35 years in a mediocre marriage, I found someone who is as much a communicator as I am (my ex was challenged in areas of meaningful communication about relationship issues) I discovered that Steve and I enjoy a level of communication which I have rarely experienced in my life, in other relationships.

    You have me wondering why I feel compelled to "share" my happiness with the world when, at the end of the day, this happiness really matters only to Steve and me. In my universe everything is subject to examination and nothing is sacrosanct. I wonder if our culture is so saturated with that "need to know" mind set, reinforced by aggressive media types, that each of us have become, in essence, reporters ourselves. When I think about that, it seems very sad. How much time do we spend broadcasting our feelings to the world--including setting the stage, dressing it with appropriate props, and assembling an audience--and spending precious little time actually being in our most meaingful moments?

    I will offer this insight: because Steve and I married later in life, the odds are extremely unlikely we'll have a golden anniversary and our time together is precious to me. Already I've seen couples near our age losing their partners and spouses and the thought of losing Steve is one which I can't begin to assimilate. He has made the world a little less lonely by his presence in it, and I realize, in some ways, he has been my buffer against the harsh realities which abound there.

    I have told him on more than one occasion that his presence in my life is about the only thing which keeps me here. I don't have a lot of respect for life as it exists today on planet earth--so much violence, exploitation, cruelty--and I feel impotent to do anything constructive in the face of it all. I suppose the hippie in me still believes one human being can make a difference, although a lifetime of evidence indicates otherwise.

    One of the things I DO know makes this existence worthwhile is my ability to think with discernment, David; it is a thing which is being slowly but surely twisted from our collective consciousness. I'm glad I can still confront issues which compel me to step outside my comfort zone and thereby grow as a human being.

    The title of your essay, "Wilt Thou...?" asks more questions than the obvious:

    Wilt thou consider flaws in thy thinking?

    Wilt thou face ways of thinking which get in the way of living life fuilly?

    Wilt thou consider engaging life in a more than superficial way?

    Wilt thou risk being hurt in the quest for pleasure?

    Wilt thou be willing to cast aside assumptions, preconceived notions, and dogma and risk the overwhelm which sometimes accompanies understanding?

    To all of those question, I answer, "I will."

    And it's not really so scary at all.

    Thank you for that.

  2. This is a great post David. I was just talking with my daughter yesterday as I was getting ready to serve the cherry cheese pie. She picked up the sterling silver pie/cake server and read the inscription on it 'Barb and Jim, April 12, 1980.' It was something I bought at a garage sale for a quarter quite a few years ago. Sadly, many thousands of dollars are spent on a wedding that most likely (according to statistics)will only last a few years. My husband and I had a small church wedding with a reception in my parents home. That wedding lasted 51 happy years until his death in 2006.

  3. Ye gods, David--I was so carried away with my own thoughts that I neglected to respond specifically to your insightful essay; for that I apologize.

    I guess I bought into the hype when, in the past, I felt all warm and fuzzy about public marriage proposals. When the hype passed, I wondered then how the recipients felt (and men received proposals, too)being forced to experienc such a private moment in public. I recall a proposal to which the recipient was honest and said, "No, but thank you for asking." (Words to that effect.) I see how your observations about the passive/aggressive mind set were spot-on; manipulative behavior may wear the most benign disguises. Your speculation about manipulative behavior persisting into subsequent marriage was insightful and chilling.

    The hearts of lovers are oftentimes wont to follow an innocent belief that everything will be okay, that love will triumph; sometimes there's truth in the saying, "love is blind" (it may also be deaf and downright stupid).

    On the matter of love letters, they may be among the most profound expressions of the human spirit's longing for something special and transcendent. Great minds have sought to transcend in the spiritual and intellectual sense, but the emotional human spirit also begs deliverance from the mundane. I don't agree with Mr. McCabe's estimation of love letters and their authors' capacity to love deeply, and as you observed, there are many exceptions.

    Once upon a time love letters were filled with flourishes of elegant expression; words were tended with the same care as exquisite flowers. Sadly, as our culture becomes more pared-down in all things considered "non-essential" we also lose some of those lovely nuances which make utlitarian communication a little more tender.

    Regarding the paragraphs in which you addressed other aspects of love, I see your point of view and agree with much of it. Public shows of affection aren't necessary when the sentiments are mutual and agreed upon, and special holidays shouldn't have such an impact upon the expression of those sentiments. My guess is that there are more of us who feel a certain insecurity in matters of love; sometimes a little reassurance is a sweet concession on the part of our beloved ones--a little handful of flowers, a pretty card--they're simple things which offer so much in the way of symbolic behavior. (Symbolic behavior; now THERE'S a blog for another day...)

    About incessant photography of life events, I agree with you that the practice may be excessive for many of us. Why do people focus so intensely upon images of events? I have boxes of vacation photos which indicate I was in the Rocky Mountains, but they are now only pretty pictures which cannot inspire the same depth of emotion which the actual experience of the mountains did.

    When did cameras become requisite for a satisfying vacation? Do we have Polaroid and Kodak to thank for that? Clearly they've made lots of money from this.

    Jumping ahead to your observations about truthfulness and love (and I'll take it a step further and imply truthfulness in general), I liked your statement:

    When someone says, “I’ll be perfectly honest with you,” my one sure belief is that he won’t be.

    Yep. Got that right.

    About wedding days being referred to as "her day", I agree that it's a pretty limited description of the day, but it's most likely the doing of wedding planners and others who appeal to brides' emotions and make boat loads of money as a result. I doubt that it'll change anytime soon.

    Thank you for offering another well-considered essay, David; I've enjoyed my visit here and look forward to returning soon.

    You know, I'll probably be thinking about much of this for quite awhile to come; again, thank you.

  4. I'm not into PDAs. It reminds me of a dog peein' on a tree - all it does is mark the territory. I wouldn't propose to anyone in public unless I was already positive what the answer would be. In this world of the easy-access and immediate communication (like twitter, facebook, cell phones, etc.) people seem more interested in seeking their 15 minutes than enjoying a romantic private moment.

  5. @Marge – Wow – if these are the amount of thoughts you put in mere comments – I cannot imagine to what length a blog on this topic might run. First, I utterly am down with both wanting to make, and actually making loud joyous anthems of praise and pleasure for the one who makes you happy. I have done these things myself. But such impulses are unique and personal and not tied to formal rituals. Gifts are great (V Day or no) and so are all expressions of affection that are spontaneous and which bubble up from the happy place. I am strictly inveighing against the phony, over-the-top, competitive and manipulative public displays that seem more to cry, “Take THAT, World!” than to say, “I love you.” Miz Angie’s later comment EXACTLY states where I stand (well, maybe not exactly, because I can tolerate a little hand holding or a quick public kiss, and it wasn’t clear to me that she would go for that).
    You point out that you have told Steve more than once how you feel. Not, I suspect (and hope) on a sports arena’s giant screen or in a big newspaper ad or even on a home video. And therein lies all the difference. I am still inclined to agree with McCabe. Some see love (and sex) as a performance and some see it as a feeling. I am with the latter group. A few can play it both ways – being a practiced poet or sexual athlete does not rule out genuine feeling, but it argues a suspiciously great quantity of practice. I know personally that it is a lot easier to say, “I love you” when I don’t. Crazy (and sad), maybe, but true.
    @Beth – How I miss attending those home wedding receptions. With people I actually liked actually enjoying each other, without all the ritual and formula. And your 51 years speak s volumes about how much display and fanfare are worth.
    @MizAngie – You are harder than I am, although I wouldn’t make the proposal in public whether or not I was sure of the answer. Unless, that is, I also intended to make my wedding night public also. And I am thinking a lot of these dudes would. One has only to flick past an ad for “The Bachelor” to see that there are degrees of shallowness and emptiness that can only be reached by those who haven’t a clue how love feels. Those roses you see them handing out; do you imagine for a moment the guy pays for them?