Friday, August 28, 2009

Matrimonially Challenged

Another month lurks just the other side of this weekend. September has its share of annual events: Labor Day, the new school year, the autumnal equinox, and the start of the new auto model year, to name a few. One of the less well-known, but one that appeals to singular me, is National Unmarried and Single Americans Week, this year September 20-26 (see, "celebrating the lives and contributions of unmarried and single Americans."

You see, we are an oppressed minority. Sort of. At 92 million adults singles are a majority of households. So, by that method of counting we are a majority. Well, we feel oppressed anyway. According to Bella DePaulo, author of Singled Out, there are 1,138 federal provisions in which marital status affects benefits and privileges, always in favor of marrieds – such as social security benefits to a surviving spouse. Singles, having paid just as much into the system, cannot leave them to anyone. State-level rules are on top of that, plus private benefits such as health insurance with lower rates for spouses. Then there are simple social presumptions. For example, how many “happy endings” in movies consist of the leading characters getting married? How many consist of them getting or staying single? The prickly movie Love Stinks comes to mind, but few others.

Despite our numbers, we are still waiting for a single President. I know some of the historians out there are shouting “James Buchanan!” Our 15th president (by most reckonings the worst – no mean achievement considering the competition – because he could have prevented the Civil War but didn't) never married, so haven’t we been there and done that? Well, I don’t think Jim really counts. Given his fifteen year live-in relationship with Senator William Rufus King, which prompted Andrew Jackson nastily to refer to them as “Miss Nancy” and “Aunt Fancy,” and Aaron Brown (Postmaster in Buchanan’s Administration) to call them “Buchanan and his wife,” his “first” seems to belong to another category. True, he did court an heiress to an exceptionally large fortune in his youth, but it was a courtship notable for his inattention to it, and the young lady died of a laudanum (alcohol and opium) overdose before anything came of it. He then attained financial security on his own in short order and never pursued another woman, whether or not those two facts are connected.

Anyway, the role of true singles (of whatever orientation) in politics no doubt will increase. As our share of the population continues to grow, so will our political clout. As mentioned, we are already a majority of households, so traditional families should be regarded as the ones pursuing an “alternate lifestyle.” The rest of us should strive to be to be tolerant of them.

So, in late September, spend a week giving thought to single people, or celebrate being one. Actually, we prefer to be called “matrimonially challenged.” Just kidding.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

It's a Date

While channel surfing last night, I noticed an ad for What caught my eye was not the ad content but rather its presence on a cartoon channel. This begs any number of easy wisecracks, but I’ll let that opportunity slip. Network sites on which I have pages sport similar ads. "Skip that annoying dinner-and-movie with the uncertain outcome,” they say in essence. “Here is a sure thing."

Many folks always have preferred to short circuit the whole courting business, of course. This is nothing new, even leaving out of consideration the professional services always procurable from entrepreneurs. I'm old enough to remember the weekly meet at a neighbor's house for what then was still called wife swapping. I was too young to participate, but personally knew many of the people who did. Local suburban couples showed up, and, so some veterans of the events told me, the men literally tossed keys on the coffee table. Each woman picked a key at random and went home with whomever the owner of the key happened to be. For an hour once per week, it was a busy driveway. I'm not suggesting this was typical married behavior in the 1960s. It wasn’t. Yet, it was not as rare as one might think either, especially in the age group older than the boomers but younger than the boomers' parents; a lot of these folks feared they were missing out on the decade's social revolution, which was intensely youth-oriented, and they rushed to pluck what fruits of it they could. Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice was not just some scriptwriter's fantasy.

Nowadays, clubs and network groups offering quasi-anonymous sex tend to be geared more toward singles, presumably because there are so many more of them. This, rather than concern over sexism, likely explains the word change to “swinging.” The participants typically have no spouse to swap.

It is hard to come by reliable numbers, but anecdotally (and credibly), online sites offering such arrangements have far fewer customers than dating sites for people seeking something less edgy – something in which last names might be mentioned. Most people (eventually anyway) apparently are still interested in stable, more mainstream relationships. All the same, the members of "adult singles" sites are still pretty numerous.

I certainly have no moral judgments to make. Just yesterday a good friend chided me on my own dating history -- I initially wrote habits instead of history, but the time is past when I made a habit of dating. I answered her, "Men are like swimming pools. Even the deepest ones are shallow on one end."

Nevertheless, key-exchanges, or their modern counterparts, are much too catch-as-catch-can for my taste. On my rare forays, I prefer, as I always did, to chase someone utterly inappropriate for me after due and careful consideration.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Dumpster Diving

While slipping into my player a DVD of "I Married a Monster from Outer Space" (1958) the other night, the thought struck me (along with the inevitable one, "Who doesn't?") that this movie, considered throwaway trash in its day, is now "classic 1950s sci-fi."

The line between high and low culture always has been fuzzier than most self-styled connoisseurs admit. Regardless of how they style themselves though, few people would deny there is some distinction. It is not just a question of money: baseball cards can be more valuable than paintings. It is not just a question of difficulty: catching a greased pig is as hard as scoring a goal in polo. It has nothing to do with prudery: there is plenty of nudity in an average art gallery but none at a roller derby. It is something more ethereal. It is the difference between a wine tasting and a keg party, even though both are just get-togethers of folks who like to drink.

As mentioned, the line never has been sharp, but there is little doubt that in the past few decades it not only has further blurred but has lowered. This is no bad thing. It has allowed, for example, talented director John Waters to shift his residence from one to the other without changing his style, though his budgets have gone up. Waters often comments that American culture is trash culture. He doesn't mean it as an insult. Arguably we are witnessing a return to classical tradition: Aristophanes certainly had no trouble being both ribald and erudite.

To be sure, crack dens never will be afternoon teas and burping contests never will be reviewed on the same pages as the latest revival of "Richard III." Nor should they be equated. Nonetheless, perhaps we should less often (not always, but less often) employ the class-loaded words “high and low” and simply judge with the terms “good and bad” instead. After all, there are good beers and lousy wines, as well as the reverse.