Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The girlfriend/ boyfriend culture...


Growing up in the late sixties to seventies, the impression I got about the purpose of life was that you ought, at all times - from the age of about 10, to 'have a girlfriend' - and that what life was mainly about (the kind of life I saw on TV, movies, read in books).

Thus life ought to be focused around 1. having a girlfriend and 2. doing fun things.


The idea was (implicitly) to have quite a few but not too many girlfriends, perhaps one a year? to demonstrate that you were 'serious' about 'relationships' - and one at a time to demonstrate that you were honest and capable of being faithful.

That was the baseline for everything else - such as education, work or hobbies - and indeed, education, work and hobbies themselves were implicitly aimed at greater long-term success at girlfriends and fun.


I remember, aged 17, attending a (compulsory) talk by a Church of Scotland minister who - in response to questions - said that sex should be only within marriage. As a basis for life, I found this idea bizarre and crazy - and in fact life-denying; because I had absorbed the prevalent culture that the extra-marital boyfriend-girlfriend framework was simply the main thing about life: after all, it was the subject of almost all the TV, movies and books I had ever seen, including many of the best ones and the ones which most made me want to emulate the characters.


There seemed to be no point in marriage, and especially not in having children - because these were 'irrevocable' decisions; and a responsible person would not put themselves into a position of being 'tied' by 'permanent' situations - the ideal was that when the situation changed, then life should change. That seemed obvious.


My point is not that I was wrong - although obviously I was - but that (even in the sixties and seventies) I simply could not comprehend the alternative of marriage and family - which seemed arbitrarily, cruelly restrictive.

In retrospect this is my interpretation: Since I saw no real meaning or purpose to life, the enemies were boredom and misery.

To combat boredom and misery I wanted to set up life as an absorbing psychodrama - so on the one hand it would not be good to make relationships so trivial they didn't matter psychologically, but on the other hand it would not be good to make relationships so serious that they caused a lot of misery.

So the life ideal of the 60s/70s which I lived by was (implicitly) to seek a moderate path with a moderately large number of moderately serious relationships lasting a moderate length of time - and when they finished leaving a moderate sense of regret, but still the possibility of continuing friendly relationships - so that after a while one might have a network of 'exs' - preferably dotted around the country - with whom to socialize and with each of whom there were some memories of 'good times'.

So the string of moderately serious girlfriends might, after a while, lead to a kind of 'extended family' to provide emotional support, a sense of rootedness, mild stimulus and so on - at any rate that was (again) the kind of thing I came across in art and the mass media.


In sum, my ideal life (not a compromise life, but the ideal) throughout late childhood, youth, and early adulthood was based on the metaphysical belief system that Charles Murray described as typical of modernity:

Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.

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