Tuesday, December 09, 2008

"I'll study your gender." *suggestive eyebrow waggle*

Belle,

Between Burke's warning and personal observations of the horrors of grad school, I'm not about to go, but that collection of syllabi is going to be immensely helpful. Thanks. I've been gearing up to read more challenging stuff of late: I started with a book that was far out of my comfort zone: prose-focused solely, plot and characterization incidental. Now I'm reading some Oliver Sacks and coming to realize that my brain has gotten flabby! So accustomed to skimming plot-driven genre fiction, my eyes try to skip about and are brought to a confused halt further down the page once I realize that in this book, like cases for work, I need to read every word. What a gear shifting! But perhaps the real problem is distractability; the slowing effect of a glass of wine may be required to settle down my skittering eyeballs and fickle mind. Now I have a comfy couch to curl up on with a book, but a troubling lack of lamps is stymieing full-on cocooning. Once I make that long-deferred Ikea trip, though, I'll have everything tied up. (For this weekend's party? Maybe, or else I'll bring the old 3-bulb lamp down from the media room. But it's so dorm-room.) It's nice to be all nestled in.

But listen to me, nattering on about interior decorating when we could be talking about interracial dating and marriage. Coates's posts are the best sort of bloggery: thoughtful, but with plenty of jumping-off points for conversation and debate. This is the heart of his interracial dating post:
[A] long term relationship will make pragmatists of us all. It is hard to find someone you even enjoy sleeping with, much less live with. But please indulge me in that former point for a moment, while I deliver a message to the youth who are of age: When you're talking about long-term, you better enjoy it. Not cold pizza enjoy it. Not Big Mac enjoy it. But hot apple pie with ice cream--after you just smoked a blunt--enjoy it. ... Look it's hard enough to satisfy the basic carnal needs--it's even harder to satisfy those needs, and satisfy the basic emotional and mental ones too. There is a good chance that your long-term relationship will one day fail. A great way to up the chances of truly epic fail, hot grits, I'm talking hot grits fail, burn down the mansion fail, is to shrink the pool of your potential partners.
Now the first part is ever so right, although perhaps controversial: Without a deep connection on the carnal side, no romantic relationship can survive.* But is sex the only thing differentiating your boyfriend from a boy friend at this stage of social progress? Clearly not, witness the FWB. You can have deep, long-standing intimate friendships with others, including those of the opposite sex, but that's not all. It's been too long since I read my classics. You've got your philia, your agape, your eros . . . . What is love? Maybe we need a poet in this exchange.

Anyway. Without that spark, you're doomed. And it's hard to find someone who you have that spark with. But is the answer, as Ta-Nehisi suggests, to throw open the gates? To toss out your list of nit-picky dealbreakers and begin a year of yes? Part of enjoying the whole thing, with that hot-apple-pie-with-ice-cream intensity, is being able to live with a person, be happy in their company, and know that you can count on them as a partner in life. And how can you do that if the person is too much unlike you? If the experience of your racial identity is so central to your life, how happy could you be with someone who could never understand you? Too, many relationships founder on the shoals of "this is how we do things," where "things" can be saving versus spending, or mothers working versus staying home, or whether you make white or brown gravy (the answer is white). Constant clash and negotiation isn't what most people want to come home to. You should be able to retreat from the world into the security of your relationship with your partner; it shouldn't intrinsically be a further source of stress. Is this easiest when like dates like? Perhaps.**

The real problem may be that people narrow their pools of partners in stupid and arbitrary ways, giving them no good long-term options for success. (What are the chances that you'll find that rare carnal and emotional connection with a buxom 5'8" redhead, guy?) People who marry their high school sweethearts and make it work are damn few, in part because the tiny pool of boys in your high school is exceedingly unlikely to contain a good match for you if you're the least bit idiosyncratic, which most of us are. It takes a lot of self-knowledge, sometimes acquired through hard experience, to figure out what values and traits you really need a partner to have and which ones are just destructive pool shrinkage. Sometimes everything looks good on paper but it's just not going to work. You need to figure out why.

On Coates's non-marriage: I had mixed feelings about that post. He's got all the classic arguments down, but as an attorney I think he seriously underplays number 3, the many legal benefits of wedlock, and also gives too-short shrift to number 2, the social context. You're putting civil society on notice, just as you do with the state in #3, that you two are to be treated as a unit. There are clear efficiency gains to this sort of blanket announcement! Plus you get toasters. But on his policy point, namely that relationships are private and the state shouldn't get involved: I like the idea. It seems like the transition between present-day marriage and a Heinleintopia state that was utterly indifferent to marriage as such and just enforced whatever contracts people chose to enter into could be rocky, though. What do you think the real value of "marriage" would be, outside the legal benefits of contract? Are we left with an empty status, or is something still there to give it weight? (Disregarding all the religious stuff, of course; we're all heathens here, yes?)

* You're roommates. Roommates with rings, maybe, but roommates.

** All this is funny, perhaps, coming from me, since I've dated guys of different races before and it's never been an issue. Maybe nothing got serious enough to have things come up. But I'm also reluctant to trace problems with individuals to their racial or ethnic identities. It seems like letting them off too easily. Sometimes your jerkiness is just you, and not part of some culture clash or deeply ingrained ethnic whatzit. There's plenty of home-grown American white boys who can prove that.

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