Jordana Narin is a college sophomore. Her youth and inexperience notwithstanding, she has written any impressive essay for the New York Times.
Aptly published in the Modern Love series, Narin’s essay shows what happens when young people live their lives as though they are living in a philosopher’s fiction.
It’s about the wages of ideology, when ideology defines your life plan.
In her essay Narin recounts and analyzes her attempts to make sense of a relationship that isn’t really a relationship.
What happens to two young people when they go bump in the night, have feelings for each other, spend quality time with each other, dream about each other but refuse to pin a label on their relationship?
They are not boyfriend and girlfriend; they are not fiancés; they are not husband and wife; they are not even master and mistress, lover and concubine.
Narin calls the man in her life “my Jeremy” and explains that many college students have forged similar non-relationships.
If human beings are social beings, the absence of a label dehumanizes the individuals involve. Refusing to affix a label to their relationship, refusing to define their roles, rejecting any rules that would order their connection, a couple suffers as their relationship, Narin explains,become inchoate, amorphous and bizarre.
Ironically, the people involved also become incapable of expressing feelings, affirming their connection or establishing a commitment.
Those who proclaim the transcendent virtue of expressing feelings and who never really offer an ethical principle that would guide people to expressing feelings properly, at the right time, in the right place, to the right person, in the right way, in the right circumstances are less attuned to human reality than is a college sophomore.
If you do not know who you are, with whom you are involved, the nature of your relationship, the duties and obligations that pertain to it… you will find that your feelings, such as they are, become inexpressible.
If you do not know who are and with whom you are connected your feelings will not be grounded. You will feel that they are not really yours.
Social context does not cause people to repress emotion. It helps they to express it, effectively and respectfully.
Two people whose relationship has no definition have made no commitment and have no duties, obligations or responsibilities toward each other. They are beings of desire, not moral beings.
In truth, it’s a novel arrangement. Not because it represents a great leap forward in human relations but because it is uncommon for people to dehumanize themselves voluntarily. It is strange to see human beings treating themselves as less than human by following the instructions laid out in some philosopher’s fiction.
Since these young people still use language to refer to other people, they have needed to find a way to refer to the boys or girls they are not involved with. Narin calls hers “my Jeremy:
And just like that, a name — one I referred to often — became an archetype, a trope, an all-purpose noun used by my college friends to talk about “that guy,” the one who remains for us in some netherworld between friend and boyfriend, often for years.
In the absence of all but the minimum socializing definition, communication is stilted. Narin explains:
Naïvely, I had expected to gain clarity, to finally admit my feelings and ask if he felt the same. But I couldn’t confess, couldn’t probe. Periodically I opened my mouth to ask: “What are we doing? Who am I to you?” He stopped me with a smile, a wink or a handhold, gestures that persuaded me to shut my mouth or risk jeopardizing what we already had.
Of course, she feels that all is well. She explains:
But now, more than three years after our first kiss and more than a year after our first time, I’m still not over the possibility of him, the possibility of us. And he has no idea.
I’m told my generation will be remembered for our callous commitments and rudimentary romances. We hook up. We sext. We swipe right.
All the while, we avoid labels and try to bury our emotions. We aren’t supposed to want anything serious; not now, anyway. But a void is created when we refrain from telling it like it is, from allowing ourselves to feel how we feel. And in that unoccupied space, we’re dangerously free to create our own realities.
Of course, everything is not fine, but she is correct to say that she and her Jeremy cannot and do not occupy any space, so she is “dangerously free to create” her own reality.
I suspect that she will eventually discover that you cannot create your own reality. You cannot even recreate yourself. Still, she has defined the issue correctly.
Apparently, Narin learned it all from feminism. Once she chose to live out the promise of liberation, entangling attachments were not acceptable. Thus, she is obliged to repress her wish to connect with her Jeremy, to define the relationship, to be attached to him.
Today’s feminism imposes a dehumanizing repression on women. It deprives women of their humanity and their womanhood.
Narin explains how feminism has contributed to the difficulty she is living:
“People don’t go steady nowadays,” I explain. “No one says that anymore. And almost no one does it. Women today have more power. We don’t crave attachment to just one man. We keep our options open. We’re in control.”
But are we?
I’ve brooded over the same person for the last four years. Can I honestly call myself empowered if I’m unable to share my feelings with him? Could my options be more closed? Could I be less in control?
To her parents, and to most sentient adults, it makes no sense:
My father can’t understand why I won’t tell Jeremy how I feel. To me, it’s simple. As involved as we’ve been for what amounts to, at this point, nearly a quarter of my life, Jeremy and I are technically nothing, at least as far as labels are concerned.
Without labels to connect us, I have no justification for my feelings and he has no obligation to acknowledge them.
No labels, no drama, right?
I think my generation is venturing into some seriously uncharted waters, because while we’re hesitant to label relationships, we do participate in some deviation of them.
But by not calling someone, say, “my boyfriend,” he actually becomes something else, something indefinable. And what we have together becomes intangible. And if it’s intangible it can never end because officially there’s nothing to end. And if it never ends, there’s no real closure, no opportunity to move on.
Instead, we spend our emotional energy on someone we’ve built up and convinced ourselves we need. We fixate on a person who may not be right for us simply because he never wronged us. Because without a label, he never really had the chance.
Note well: Narin understands perfectly that in the absence of labels the moral dimension of the relationship and of human being is discarded.
Happily for her, she is questioning what is happening as she attempts to live her life according to the dictates of an ideology. In her next step she will begin to question whether this type of non-relationship is merely a new and clever way for men to exploit and abuse women.
For my generation, though, he’s often the one we never had in the first place. Yet he’s still the one for whom we would happily trade all the booty calls, hookups and swiping right. He’s still the one we hope, against all odds, might be The One.
Narin hasn’t quite seen the extent to which she and her generation of young women have been duped and exploited by ideologues, but she is thinking clearly,is asking the right questions and is providing a cogent analysis of the problem.
With no labels, it's all drama. All psychodrama, that is.