beasts of burden

Romantic love is a religion obsession for us; it’s almost as revered as war. Couples are supposed to marry for love, art has to have a love interest, etc. Obvious stuff. True Love means your soul mate, the person you love because of his or her inner beauty and personal values and all the wonderful things they are.

Marriage is of course a property arrangement but that’s another story.

The stranger part is “dating”. This is where we try to cram together the ideal of True Love and the grimy math of the sex market. There’s a scale of values there which almost everyone tacitly agrees to, but only boors express bluntly, which is: young and physically attractive women and wealthy and physically attractive men are at the top of the scale. They have buying power. Further down the scale, others have less buying power. At the bottom are poor, ugly, and old people. When someone lower on the youth/beauty/wealth scale partners with someone higher, people are confused. One hears people say things like “Wow, Jim really settled when he started dating Maggie”, meaning that Jim could have acquired a more shapely or younger woman with his tokens. Someone else may respond “Well, not really, I mean with Jim’s looks he should be happy with Maggie”. Or: “Man, I really like Maria but she’s way out of my league”. My favorite bit of language in this system of values is when a man, talking about a woman, will express his opinion of her body, her eyes, her hair, her face, and finally her “personality”. At the far end of this spectrum are beautiful, wealthy, and youthful celebrities who are inaccessible to anyone except other members of their caste.

These values are almost universal, even among people who would give a version of their own values closer to True Love above if asked.

The delicious moment of cognitive dissonance comes when the appropriately matched couple trade their tokens of beauty, youth, and power and marry. At this point their arrangement must be declared to be True Love, and all of their possibly nonexistent real virtues celebrated. The question of whether one of them “settled” instead of getting the best possible value for their tokens should not be raised; they are now prince and princess.

This was annoying when I was 19. At 40, I’m amused to see people still talking and acting this way. At least by now they should understand the part about marriage and property.

16 thoughts on “beasts of burden

  1. My favorite bit of language in this system of values is when a man, talking about a woman, will express his opinion of her body, her eyes, her hair, her face, and finally her “personality”.
    Of course, everybody evaluates these things. But to talk about them like she’s a prize pig, well, that’s demeaning, demoralizing, and goddamn I hate men. 😛

    1. Yeah, it’s gross. For some reason summing up everything other than the body parts as “personality” and giving it a score always made me ill.

  2. “At the bottom are poor, ugly, and old people.”
    you left out fat, and single mother (also known as “used”). i think they are if not very close, then just as far down at the bottom as the rest…
    other than that, yes, you have given us yet another honest piece of pure genius.

  3. I ripped this off of some book I read, and I’m gonna paraphrase:
    “Romantic Love” is a trick that nature plays on you to get you to commit to someone while your hormones are all freaked out.
    “True Love” is the love that remains after the pheromones and endorphins dissipate 🙂 It grows and is nurtured by time, shared experiences, togetherness, and true intimacy. It’s not something that can really be declared or discovered. It’s something that has to be cultivated.

      1. Hugh McLeod had a card that went something along the lines of “At some point, “I’ve been married for 30 years” sounds more impressive than “I’m fucking a supermodel.”
        Of course, his site is fucked right now so I can’t find it.

  4. i read this great, great article in utne magazine a couple months ago about how the idea of Perfect Love/Soul Mates is ruining people’s ability to actually maintain a substantial romantic relationship. people focus so much on finding “THE ONE” that they immediately dismiss basically every single opportunity.

    1. i remember a post of yours during the summer, substitute, in which you said something like, “let’s realize that we’re all great people with our own faults and shortcomings…why should we continue to look elsewhere when we’re all right here and nice people.” of course, that is in no way a quote, but my memory of reading it. i agree with that wholeheartedly. i know so many bright, good looking, single people with senses of humor, tastes for adventure, romantic streaks…they would all make each other great partners ten times over. yet the greater majority of them keep striving for THE ONE, are restless and unhappy, and seem to almost literally be waiting for THE ONE to crash through their ceiling and land in their laps. while they’re watching tv. i blame society at large for feeding people these unrealistic conditions.
      i know some folks who are so caught up in the idea of “THE ONE” that they will dismiss someone cool with potential on the most petty grounds: “oh, well, she chews gum, and I HATE GUM, so therefore i won’t even think about it.” “oh, you’re a bunch of computer guys? well, i’ve got a headache, and i’m leaving early.”
      love is about acceptance.

      1. “the one”
        Part of the myth of romantic love is that “the one” is somehow a preselected Soul Mate that God has picked out for you, and that theme music starts playing when this person appears and you spend the rest of your lives having a romantic comedy, etc. It’s how we all feel when we’re 16 and see someone cute, and it’s such a rush, etc. It’s fairly obviously stupid and I agree that it’s sad to see people over 18 falling for it.
        The other version of “the one” is the one you can stand living with for the next forty years, which is probably a lot harder to find.

  5. I’m writing happy endings for all of us in my head. You’ve been worried that you’re too poor/lonely/desperate to get a girlfriend, and it’s been couched in the language of despair in the past. Deconstructing the fuck out of the dynamic will help you navigate to the shores where you will find what you want and need.
    In other words, if we, as poor and/or ugly people can learn to not hate others for being poor and ugly too, then we will start being more beautiful and rich. I hope that’s the case, anyway.
    Sorry, long ramble. I just feel ya.
    Yer Pal,

  6. I have friends in the situation of dating sporatically but never being able to find the elusive concept of love. We’re all now in our 30’s and of varying “strata” when it comes to this whole value scale on the social scene. But there’s no rhyme or reason to it, a few in the wealthy, beautiful, charming are still lonely, and more in the poor, ugly, social inept category are just as lonely. Sure having the socially valued qualities of fame, beauty, wealth and youth increase their chances of finding this “love”, but the good number of lonely people with some or all of those qualities is a testiment to my thoughts that it’s just all luck in the end.
    I think that in the end, some people are just so afraid of not matching up to the Jones socially that they do settle. They value the concept of being in a socially acceptable relationship more than the concept of finding compatible enough with them that they consider it “true love”.
    For that matter, the concept of true love I’m sure is different to most people you ask. For me, I always thought “true love” was someone who finally set you free of your selfishness. I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life with Audri in less than 3 hours of meeting her, and soon thereafter I realized I’d do anything to make her happy as possible, even if it meant losing her to something that would bring her more bliss than I could.
    I apologize if I’m intruding on a conversation you’re having with friends, I do realize this topic is extremely personal. Your posts are often thoughtful and intriguing (you’re on my girlfriend’s, Audri/Pandaxian, LJ’s friends list).

    1. Thanks, this was really good to read.
      I think you were in a different game all along, in that you were looking for someone to be your friend and spend your life with. The “dating” game is basically economic; it’s about power and money and sexual attractiveness as tokens. People who opt out of that game get a better deal, in my opinion, than people who “win” it.

  7. Marriage is of course a property arrangement but that’s another story.
    Which is part of why the whole romanticization of marriage fills me with inexpressible rage.

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