Friday, May 1, 2015

An Ill-Defined Relationship Is All Drama

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.

Narin continues:

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.


Ares Olympus said...

It is a confusing tale, but I confess I don't exactly know what isn't confusing in relationships, especially during college, where you, or men at least, expect to graduate and focus on their careers, and wouldn't necessarily expect their temporary college relationships to continue.

And these psychodrama confessions look to me about standard for young women, at least since society decided to delay marriage into their 30's.

Are labels really the problem? If a college couple calls themselves a couple, but each knows they are not permanent, is that any better?

In contrast, I actually have friends who are into the polyamory world, which I don't understand, but live and let live I figure. But it was interesting to hear about logistics, and labels and rules are central when you live complicated lives of loving multiple people.

But back to Narin, maybe she's under the feminist's spell, that says women should be submissive, and never act dependent and ask questions about boundaries and labels??? Is that what feminism teaches? Maybe feminism does teach women to be immature men, who knows?

It might seem that men stringing women on for years without commitment is a standard storyline, no need for feminists to be the source of this lament.

And she ends with some clarity, recognizing her cowardice saying "But until we’re brave enough to find out for sure...", although of course we know "brave enough" means "confirmig what she already knows.

And this line is interesting too showing what she always knew:
“You know what a Jeremy is. You practically dubbed the term. He’s the guy we never really dated and never really got over.”

It reminds me of the male parallel, the (more) sexless friendzone, where a man tries to woo a higher status woman under the label of friendship by idealistically waiting for her to see he's what she really wants.

Relationships are weird things no matter what world you live in. People who live in constricted formal cultures and people who live in liberation cultures each live in the shadow of the other.

Meanwhile homosexuals are trying to gain labeled status for their committed relationships, but we can't allow that. If they live in moral confusion long enough, perhaps they'll turn straight, right?

Sam L. said...

She WILL not say what she wants, and he won't either. Feminism tells her not to (seems to me). He's getting sex. Does he want more? He does not know what she wants, and may be afraid to broach the subject.

priss rules said...

--Narin calls the man in her life “my Jeremy”--

Why not reject her own name? Names are labels. Reject 'Narin' and 'Jeremy'. How about 'my something or other'.

But then, words themselves are labels for things. Bad!

Get rid of language.

So how about "mmm mmm"?

priss rules said...

"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."

They have no idear but sure have a lot of idear about having no idear.

It's like someone who says "I got nothing to say" but goes on and on and on about how he or she has nothing to say.

Fellini with 8 1/2 and Bergman with PERSONA were ahead of their time.

8 1/2 is a long movie about a director with nothing to say, and PERSONA is about a woman who refuses to talk but turns into some kind of silent drama.

Anonymous said...

Hey! The entire concept of the TV comedy "Seinfeld" was that it was a show about "nothing". And each of the characters reflected that nothingness perfectly, in their relationships to each other and to those romantic interests who were part of the weekly plots.

OT, Ares shows its total lack of understanding about men with the flippant remark about "stringing women on for years without committment". Stupid! The mere act of continuing to deal with the same woman for years, IS the very definition of committment.