I grew up as one of the few of my friends whose parents weren’t divorced. Sure, my parents fought a lot, and there was a dark period of a few months where Dad slept on the couch every night, even brought is alarm clock out there, would fall asleep to the cable and since the remote didn’t actually turn the TV off, he’d switch it to a dead channel like 999 and let the blank blue screen play all night long. It was rough there, for a while: I was certainly preparing for an inevitable break, for the talk, the sit-down conversation where my sister and I were told that everything we knew was about to be ripped apart, that we would join the bell curve of families on the trash heap who just couldn’t hold it together. I’d hear the fights coming from the living room, my parents somehow still unaware or uncaring that our tiny ranch house carried sound down the small hallway right into my bedroom, and through the heating vents sometimes too.
Somewhere in there, the parents went to some counseling I think, sorted it out, started sharing a bedroom again, and eventually sharing tender moments and what looked like a full, healthy relationship. This was an anomaly among the soul-compacting confines of suburban New Jersey, where it seemed like broken homes were so de rigeur it wasn’t even fair to call them broken homes, they just seemed like the natural evolution of human relationships. You don’t call a kid who moves away to college a “broken” person, after all.
This is all so damn adult, the idea of piling years of experience into a relationship, mixing it up like sludgy, complicated concrete for a family, and then at some point smashing it all apart because it turns out the foundation was kinda jank in the first place. When you’re a kid, it all seems so helplessly boring: the fights over money, the fights over too much internet use (yes, this was a thing: hello 1994 and IRC chat), the subtext of it all the question: are we going to be boring for the rest of our lives?
So then you grow up, you flee your hometown as quick as you can and spend a few years walking around the pinball machine that is college, and then an internship, and then those first few post college years where you feel like the biggest kid in the world running around the biggest playground in the neighborhood. Playground, in this instance, usually means “bars,” but still, the freedom to become and do and see what you want is all yours for the first time.
And then in that time, you get an internet presence and are instantly connected to the rest of your generation, particularly (or at least) the educated ones, who can pool their collective family experiences into shareable forms to know that maybe we should try to do better than that. After all, approaching a relationship like your parents is like approaching the internet like your parents. My dad, bless his heart, would get so brutally frustrated by trying to figure out the internet that he’d walk away from it in an enraged huff. I’d ask him “Dad, what are you trying to find?” and he’d say, “I don’t know, something simple, like the Yankees starting lineup, and then I get lost and I get frustrated and quit it,” to which I’d respond, “Dad, all you have to do is type in ‘Yankees starting lineup’ into Google and, bam, the answer appears.”
“Huh,” he’d say, still not grasping what I did. He’d make it needlessly complicated.
Yes, it’s just that easy. Like handling relationships in the modern era: we’re not shackled by the needs of family pressure or the unnecessary pressures of age that make you feel like you should have done X thing by Y time in your agedness.
So why, with all the resources of youth at our age, are we still so bad at relationships?
I ask this as a guy who is beginning to wonder whether he is passing into the male version of spinsterhood, which, for all intents and purposes here, we shall call “minsterhood” unless you have a better idea of what to call it, and either way I’m not that mad about it. That is to say, I turned 30 last year (what what 30s!), which was fine, and actually turned out to be one of the best years of my life, and turned 31 this year, suddenly to watch the frantic pairing up of everyone around me. Some of the pairings are genuine, for sure, long struggling loners who finally find their match who is the right kind of strange, and over-eager romantics who have come across someone who appreciates their overtures. And I’m still single, which isn’t a complaint, or even a problem, but just the state of things, probably because I spend too much time working late at night on things like this post that aren’t first dates with girls, and can’t find the spot where a break in the workflow is worth a probably uneventful first date or whatever.
But then there are the others, the ones in long term relationships, who have called it quits, recently including even a few divorces I know of, which seems like a needlessly lugubrious way to complicate a simple breakup (the act of getting married in the first place being the original complication). One divorce came after a marriage of about a year, after an engagement of a few months, after a pretty nice low-key wedding in the park; another was between some swingers I know, who got married for whatever reason while still swinging, and then broke up for whatever reason that I don’t have any information that I care to pry into. I kinda wish The Onion hadn’t already done this story, because it’s a pretty real issue that I could totally dive into with skeptical journalistic flippers flying.
I asked out a terribly cute girl at Trader Joe’s on one of my last days there, of course expecting she wouldn’t be single, but she said yes. We went on a date and had a good time, when she revealed she had just gotten out of a long-term relationship. A three-year relationship. And they were engaged. And she had ended the engagement three weeks previously. I didn’t know what to make of that other than it seemed weird, and that I couldn’t imagine being in such a situation and to act so glib about it. But maybe she was figuring it all out for the first time.
The latest broken relationship I saw hurt particularly bad for everyone involved, a shattered home for two people eager to settle down but unable to make it through to the actual wedding, due to what eventually breaks all relationships: boredom. Boredom with each other, boredom with stability, maybe just boredom with life itself.
I think this all makes me so sad because it seems so magnificently unnecessary. Because it seems like marriage is just such a trifling expenditure, both in terms of personal treasure and in emotions, and the trouble you’re going to put your friends through when you enter the inevitable break down, that degradation of supposedly eternal human emotions that we refuse to to admit is not going to skip a generation for pretty much the first time in human history.
It’s like with politicians, the Eliot Spitzers, your Mark Sanfords and the like. How, in this day and age, where every politician’s every move is tracked by the collective consciousness of the internet, would you think you could get away with an affair? To be such a politician, you must say to yourself something along the lines of, “I know every politician who has cheated has eventually gotten embarrassingly caught. But THIS time….”
Why then do we all eagerly pair up, with the burned path of our parents before us, and the constant reassurance by so many public figures in relationships that lifetime commitment is not only unnatural, but nearly impossible?
So all this is some probably justification for me not being wifed up, or maybe more just not trusting anyone who is in a long-term relationship that’s headed toward marriage, because of their lack of perspective and the lack fo ability to see the eventualities that are before them.
This is a really long-wined way of saying that to see friends of my generation, (let’s call them the 30-somethings because that sounds cooler than “late-term millennials”) fills me with immense sadness, because we should know better by now, because we’re the most informed people who’ve ever lived. Or is inevitable heartache just somewhere buried deep in our DNA where we just can’t shake it? Either way, we can do something more interesting than fall into the same old patterns, staring at the blank blue screen of an unworkable coupling.