Take a breath and go.
I stepped into the lobby of the talent agency and glanced at the sprawl of magazines on the coffee table. “What was I getting myself into?” I thought, “I had one shot to convince these people that I could hang.”
On a recent Thursday night, I found myself interviewing for a board position in the West Los Angeles Alumni Club. As I sat around the conference table, I began to berate myself silently for showing up too early and having to make awkward conversation with an established board member. To my surprise, however, we quickly shifted to a topic that I knew something about.
“Have you seen Glee?” asked George Ross.
I have to be honest; I was excited about Glee from the moment that I saw a promotion for the show. I was never a choir kid in high school but I’ve developed an appreciation for good arrangements through my many hours spent listening to college a cappella.
George Ross (yes, that’s his name) and I proceeded to chat briefly about the show as I began to explain my thoughts about the song selection and why the show worked—ruminating on popular culture is what I do, after all.
After we parted, I didn’t think much more about the show or about musicals until my coworker broached the subject at dinner a week later. We began discussing Moulin Rouge after it was mentioned that I had strong objections to the film.
“What’s so bad about it?” Lauren queried.
In my head, the lights dimmed and a screen came down behind me as I prepared to launch into my diatribe explanation.
Back in high school, I was naive and I whole-heartedly bought into the romantic aspects of Moulin Rouge. Yet, watching it now, I reflect on how much I’ve grown since then. I am still swept away by the idea that the perfect love can transport you to places unknown and that there are moments of greatness in any relationship, but I also know that the dark side of love never goes away.
After all is said and done, after the wild ride of passion is over, you realize that love doesn’t—and can’t—conquer all. The good guys don’t always win and there is no such thing as happy ever after. Dreams do come true, but just as easily broken. The great poets have it wrong: love can’t move mountains, make rocks cry, or raise the dead. You see that we are human after all and that love isn’t always forever.
I promise that I am not bitter about this whole thing, but I do think that we as young people are so entrenched in the mystique of love that we attempt to feel a glimmer of the emotion any way that we can. We do what we can to connect to others and to avoid rejection, and this sometimes leads us to do things that we shouldn’t. We’ve all heard stories about women confusing sex with love, but also think about the times that you’ve used sex to make someone stay—maybe it’ll turn into a real relationship?—or agreed to unsafe sex just so someone would notice you.
Rather than bemoan the downfall of love, I think that this perspective offers a bit of freedom. Through all of this, we find that we have, in ourselves, the invincibility that we ascribed to love; we discover that no matter how we are challenged, there’s a part of ourselves that only we can give away. We realize how fragile and precious the feeling is—and how lucky we are to have it.
In the end, doesn’t that make it all the more worthwhile? Committing yourself to something knowing that it’s imperfect, knowing full well that the magic doesn’t last? To me, that makes it priceless.
When I talk to female friends of a certain age about great cinematic romances, I will often hear Pretty Woman come up in the conversation. Let me start off by saying that I enjoy the movie but that I also have some questions about it. Perhaps it’s just my cynical nature, but I just don’t buy the whole “rich dude falls in love with a prostitute” thing. I get why the movie might be appealing: a downtrodden girl gets the opportunity to escape her life (and cramped apartment), swept up in the arms of a client and transported into a life of the finer things. Who doesn’t love being rescued? Who doesn’t like believing that True Love can conquer all? Or, at least transcend the sociocultural taboos of Beverly Hills? For me, part of the allure of the movie stems from the fact that it probably wouldn’t happen in “real” life—there’s simply too much of a stigma associated with prostitutes.
I haven’t thought of this movie in a while, but an ending scene of a recent Private Practice episode made me think about prostitutes. I have to say that I don’t really have an objection to the whole idea, although I certainly wouldn’t ever tell someone to prostitute himself or herself. I’m not going to try to convince you that prostitution is okay, or that you should like it, but there are some things to consider.
What kinds of things do we sell ourselves for? We sell our skills, sell our bodies, sell our souls, and sell ourselves short. And, since we’re selling, how do we know how much we’re worth? We market what we can do in a boardroom so why is it so different when we market what we can do in a bedroom? Is it prostitution if you trade sex for favors? Can we whore ourselves out for things other than money? Do we trade sex for love? Or romance? Or attention? At its core, how does the idea that you’re willing to make a fool of yourself, or break a bone, or shave your head, differentiate you from someone who’s willing to pose naked, from someone who’s willing to have sex? If you distill it down, and money is not involved, how is the whole process different from bartering? And, why is it morally dissimilar? How do the expectations of buying dinner in exchange for the possibility of sex differ? I’m not going to call any of my friends out but some of them have slipped between the sheets for a lot less than a good meal (and they know who they are).
A recent episode of one of my favorite shows, How I Met Your Mother, also talked about reasons why you would have sex. I don’t disagree with anything on the list, but how is having sex to reinforce good behavior not whoring yourself out? You are having sex in exchange for something that you want.
The classic deal, of course, is that women are interested in money/status and men are interested in beauty (and everybody’s afraid of rejection, although men more so). So if we’re naturally trading sex for money on some level, what the big deal with it all? If you are willing to sleep with, and marry, someone who you don’t love in exchange for a life of comfort, how is that not a form of prostitution? Although the example of this scenario that readily comes to mind involves rich/straight White people, you see this same kind of relationship in other subcultures with, for example, a trend of old White men going after young Latin males.
For me, there is nothing inherently good or bad about this whole process—it is what it is. So, what is it to you?
A colleague recently mentioned in passing that she knew someone whose role model was a Disney princess. (On a side note, does it matter if I mention that the person in question was not a five-year-old girl? If it matters, why does it make a difference?) I couldn’t help but laugh when I overheard this bit of conversation as I have a long-running quibble with my friend Shannon about Disney.
When I was younger, the first of the great modern animated Disney movies was just being released in theaters. As a result of the films, I was inundated with Disney culture throughout my childhood and I loved the movies dearly for the story, the animation, and the music. At the time, I bought whole-heartedly into the Magic that Disney was creating, and for the most part, I still do. However, as I grew up, I couldn’t help but think that in some way the whole Disney Princess culture was feeding into a larger societal problem. I certainly don’t think that Disney is to blame for this phenomenon, but I do think that Princesses serve to engrain a particular thought pattern into the minds of young girls and give them unrealistic expectations for their romantic lives throughout the rest of their lives.
I might have a strong cynical streak in me, but I’m still a sucker for romance when you get right down to it. I love being swept away by things, I love surprises, and I definitely believe in the idea of finding a great love. The problem that I have with the way things are going is that somewhere along the line the whole process became a little less about the person that we love and a little bit more about ourselves.
All of a sudden, it becomes about the grand romantic gesture; all of a sudden, it becomes more about you than the object of your affection. Behind it all there’s a well-intentioned, though misguided, attempt to make the recipient feel special, as though you’ve jumped through so many hoops to make something unforgettable happen, when, in truth, there’s always an element of “Look how hard I worked to make this come about, aren’t I special?” It’s about that kiss that will wake someone up from a hundred years of slumber and change his or her world in an instant, the slaying of a monster, or even dying to prove one’s love for another (and occasionally later being brought back to life because True Love cannot be vanquished, after all). It’s about a plane writing out an invitation to prom in the sky, it’s the creation of a floor plan of a house in candles, and, of course, it’s about opening our window to hear a boom box outside blaring Peter Gabriel. It’s about sending a love interest on a chase through Manhattan to end up in Times her face on a giant screen, searching the world for a used book with a phone number, or making everybody in a stadium pay attention to you while you propose.
I can’t help but think that part of the grandeur of it all is the notion that other people will be amazed at the effort to pull off the stunt. For a second, the world revolves around the two of you and you create a phenomenal story to recount at the rehearsal dinner. Do we confuse the attention and adrenaline with romance? Perhaps I’m out of touch with things, but I’ve always thought that love is something more private and personal—each person feeling the rush is enough. Maybe it’s not always about the furor and the public presentation but a simple act of pausing in the middle of the street while walking your dog at night when the world is quiet and asking someone to hold a ring instead of a bag of poop.