Sunday, January 29, 2012

Meet Meat

There really is less than meets the eye to the attraction of VR romance of the sort discussed in last week’s blog. Technology allows us to play Pygmalion: to carve our own Galateas out of the computational cloud. We can, so we do. There is not much more that need be said about it.

Yet, there is something else going in the real world that is notable: the much-remarked breakdown in modern romance. Some argue there is no breakdown, and they have a point. People continue to pair (or sometimes multiple) up, whether in “traditional” or “alternative” ways – though both adjectives are misleading since all the ways are ancient, if not universally legal. Yet, there is no denying that something has changed in recent decades. The presumption that (after, perhaps, a wild oats phase) most of us will settle into lasting relationships has all but vanished. We actually are a little surprised when we encounter such a relationship. Celebrities on talk shows who mention, for example, a 5th wedding anniversary get astonished applause.

The percentage of adults who are single has trended steadily upward for decades. Currently, 49% of over-18 Americans are single, up from 28% in 1960; singles will be an absolute majority here within a year or two, as they already are in parts of Europe. Half of those singles say they have no interest in changing their status. Oddly, they have yet to form a significant political interest group (we don’t hear much from politicians about “preserving single values”) though this may soon change. (For some early rumblings, see Bella De Paulo’s Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, which details discriminatory practices against singles in everything from health insurance to social security.)

The trend was obvious by 1987 when Henry Jaglom made his quirky film Someone to Love. Jaglom belonged to the half of singles who aren’t happy with their status. In the movie he asks why modern relationships don’t last. (Once again, plenty do, but by the 80s the odds weren’t looking good.) Orson Welles, in his very last screen appearance, opines that equality and lasting intimacy may not be compatible ( ). He was not arguing for inequality, by the way, but merely saying there are consequences. I don’t pretend to know whether his remarks are sense or nonsense, but I do agree that fewer relationships last than they once did.

So they don’t last. That by itself is not a reason to avoid dabbling in them. In my life I’ve had five relationships I consider to have been truly serious. None lasted as long as four years, but there isn’t one I’d choose not to have had. OK, that’s not true. There is one I’d choose to go back in time and undo, but four out of five keepers aren’t bad. (On the other hand, those four are enough, too; presently I’m satisfied to remain in Bella’s squad of merry singles.)

Oscar Wilde: “I always pass on good advice. It is the only thing to do with it. It is never of any use to oneself.” So, here goes: Don’t forgo the meatspace dalliances altogether. At the very least they’ll enhance the details of your VR sweetie. True, there are those awkward breakups at the ends, but, hey, contrary to a famous 1927 song, the best things in life aren’t free.

My favorite movie break-up,
by the way, is in Bananas. The copyright owners won't permit embedding, so you'll have to use the link .

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