Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A bucket of hormones

I found out last night that it all comes down to hormones. Or chemicals, or whatever it is that lights up the brain.
According to this show, Secrets of the Mind or something like that, "love" just comes down to changes in the brain: violent changes, flooding the cortex and other structures with feel-good chemicals, along with the bizarre notion that it will always always always be this way, that we'll always feel this euphoric and live the rest of our lives on a fleecy pink cloud.
To me, it's a biohazard.
I'm not against love, not against romance, no nor any of it, or I wouldn't be posting pictures from A Room with a View, in which George clasps Lucy around her virginal, corseted waist and kisses the hell out of her. Oh God! These are my fantasies, and I freely admit it. I'm just a transplanted Victorian, and wish I had the same masses of untameable dark hair and smoldering eyes, and got to wear those great outfits.
The show about the secrets of the mind had an English couple (let's call them George and Martha) who were recently married and decided to "test" the durability of their love by getting brain scans, going on an arduous months-long cycling trip that would include all sorts of awful hardships, then having their brains tested again.
If their brains still lit up with ecstatic electrochemical activity even after the road trip from hell, then it would prove that they were Really In Love. If not, well. . .
Guess what, folks: the woman's brain somehow still held on to the hormonal brush fire, but his didn't. Oh man, that brain scan was pathetic. It had somehow all turned grey. All the fiery reds and yellows had fizzled out.
His wife was absolutely devastated. Imagine, not being able to sustain the role of Prince Charming for the rest of your life! Imagine not constantly experiencing honeymoon bliss for forty or fifty years. It was unthinkable.
Here I want to pause on this story - it's boring the piss out of me anyway, as it's so distorted and patently false - and talk a bit about weddings. I remember a time in the early '70s when all sorts of proclamations were issued about the Changing Role of Women. No longer were we delicate little princesses tripping around in high heels. If we did undertake a "romance", it would be a partnership of equals, quite possibly between two women. Marriage was out, or consisted of a quick civil ceremony: get the nasty business over with as quickly and cheaply as possible.
At that point, all domestic chores were split exactly down the middle. When it came right down to it, each partner would wash half a dish.
Fast forward a few decades, and it has all lapsed back to the '50s, or even before that. Huge puffy white gowns, a million bridesmaids, a $500 cake made by that Buddy guy on that show, a few hundred guests, catered reception, etc. etc. etc.: these are standard now, and women (and, alarmingly, little girls) are all being conditioned to return to fainting passivity.
Fuck equality! Bring on the princesses.
I see it every day: I have three grandgirls, and everything they play with is princess-themed. The princess movies make a feeble attempt to mention traits like self-confidence and self-esteem, but for the most part all they do is sit around waiting to be rescued.
I can't help but think this stampede back to traditional customs (and spending) is some sort of reaction against feminism and its disturbing implications that not all is equal in gender-land. Who wants to hear about that, when the girls can get together to giggle, drink Sangria and watch beefy, oiled-up gay men gyrate and strip?
I often feel - and maybe this is my age - that I'm outside of things, but I'm outside of things deliberately because the "things" alarm me so much. I refuse to use the word "iconic" to describe items like cupcakes. I won't say "agaaaaahhn" for "again", or "fesssshhhh" for "fish". For some reason, my jaw won't drop to my chest like that.
I don't tweet. Hey, listen, I really don't object to the act of tweeting itself. But why the hell call it something so lame, so brainless? If someone had told people twenty years ago that there would be a popular means of communication called tweeting, they would have laughed at you in disbelief or looked at you with an incredulous, even offended expression.
I have a bird that twitters, I have a bird that sings, but that's about all.
I'm not against technology, but why does a recent innovation have to be called Skype? Can you think of an uglier word? Worse than Vonage, worse than Voip, worse than anything.
I care about words, I care about how people use and pronounce them. They are my stock in trade. Now, how did I get onto this? Anyway, four months later, George and Martha got their brains tested again. Everyone held their breath. If George's brain was still grey, well, that would be the end of the marriage.
But he went back inside that frightening sausage-roll thing, in spite of his claustrophobia. This is the sort of story producers of reality shows manipulate all the time. They manufacture happy endings, even for dismal cases of hoarding in which the person lives in a sickening, gagging landfill. They call it a happy ending if the person (or the producer) has cleared a 6-inch wide path. They. . . never mind, they did it again, and George's brain was nice and sparkly and red, all lit up like a Christmas tree. (Obviously, they had kept the first scan on file.)
"Oh, darling!" his wife exclaimed. It was like something out of a Monty Python sketch with Michael Palin and Carol Cleveland.
I'm not sure what my central point is here, but I do wish couples would put half the energy into marriage that they do into the wedding.
Partners fart and burp and go to the bathroom. They get testy and even furious, and critical. Their needs don't match. Their interests don't match. Their sexual urges don't match. They get sick of each other sexually and want variety. They have huge rows about finance, and mortgages, and whose house they'll go to for Christmas dinner. They'll think to themselves: I can't believe what I've gotten myself into!
If they come home late, even a little bit late, they will have to explain why. They'll put something important down, a notebook or laptop or a pair of shoes, and when they look again, it'll be gone. Their partner will have "put it away". The chicken salad they were saving so they wouldn't have to slave over dinner on a hot day will be eaten: the dirty plate won't even be in the dishwasher! It will be sitting there on the counter surrounded by globs of salad and greasy crumbs.
Laundry, well, don't look too close, especially at underwear. Princesses aren't supposed to have secretions, or those little menstrual accidents that happen to absolutely every woman. And men aren't supposed to have. . .well, I do have limits as to how explicit I am willing to be.
This is life, not too savoury or smooth. Often it's just boring, or at least very tame. Vacations cost too much, so you stay at home and snap at each other. You gain weight, inexplicably, then gain some more. Mother-in-laws nag. Father-in-laws drain all your best booze. One day, hubby stumbles upon a web site, simply fascinating. Well, there' s nothing wrong with appreciating feminine pulchritude, is there?

Meanwhile, she is getting into conversations at work with a guy that makes her just scream with laughter. It's incredible: they have exactly the same sense of humor. (George hasn't made her laugh in six years.) One day, he looks at her intently and tells her she has the most beautiful eyes he has ever seen.
That's the story of, that's the glory of love.
I've been married 37 years, to the same guy. People are incredulous when they hear that. For one thing, they assume I'm 100 years old, when in truth I'm only 97. They want to know The Secret. They want to know the formula. Is there one?
There are a couple of things I've found that are absolutely indispensible. My husband and I couldn't be more different in temperament and interests and personal assets.
But there are two crucial things we have in common: first of all, our values are practically identical. (What are values, you say? It's not something you attain for $10.99 at Walmart. It's the principles you live by, and the things you hold most dear.)

Recently we went to one of those pioneer places where a town had been replicated, complete with authentic artifacts. This was from 1920, however, and over and over again, Bill and I kept saying, "Hey, look at that wicker chair (or cheese grater or meat grinder or bread box). My grandmother had one of those."
Sometimes it was even "my mother". Soon it was clear we were blood kin, or maybe even twins. At very least, we had the same grandmother. This went beyond mere artifacts and straight into the heart of how we live. Our grandmothers (and our mothers) lived in such an identical manner BECAUSE THEY CARED ABOUT THE SAME THINGS and imparted those same values to their children.
The other thing is: shall I quote Aretha here? R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Respect will hold like powerful glue long after the flimsy post-it paste of romance lets go. Even when I wanted to throttle him, I never stopped respecting him. Why? Because, somehow or other, when I was 18 years old (yes, 18 years old), I made a good choice. Can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
I'm sick of this now, so I'll stop, but I hope I've gotten some things across. If you want the pumping, swollen, slippery, ecstatically moaning highs of "romance" (which I think is just a code-word for lust), use your hand, or your finger. And try to stay off those porn sites.