Saturday, January 7, 2012

Permanently Single: Is This Where Our Society Going?

My friend Diann, a single heterosexual not quite my age, living alone and loving it in a house in the Connecticut woods, recommends this article from Boston Magazine:

The article has inspired me (gay man not the least bit interested in marrying another gay man - or even a woman, though I like them better), to some reflections.

People used to marry when they regarded themselves as, primarily, part of a family (tribe if you will). They married, and they married someone their family approved of (ethnicity, religion, politics, job), and the important thing was to have a support in old age and for someone to be available to bring up the children.

In my family, in 1850 (across the Atlantic), they married other Jews in their region, and the marriage was arranged young, except in the case of prosperous widowers for whom age was never a bar. And had scads of children. In 1900, in New York, they still married, always Jews (looking down on those from different regions), and always with the intent to have children. There were fewer of those: No one had more than three. If a wife died (usually in childbirth), the widowed husband was soon married off to her sister or his cousin, so the children would have parents. Children cared for the aging relations. By 1940, the first "lifelong bachelors" had appeared, causes not discussed openly. By 1960, the first intermarriages had shocked the family, and after that ceased to do so. By 2000, half of my relations had married non-Jews if they had married at all. Differences in race or religion or sexual orientation somehow were not as upsetting to any of us as the bitter feuds between Hungarian Jews and Russian Jews had been in 1900. (The first family divorce, by the way, had taken place in 1920. It wasn't the last.)

The Industrial Revolution has slowly changed our familial ways. We are individuals now and feel entitled to suit ourselves in these matters. And we have far fewer children (since we learned how not to do so). The problem of being alone in ill health (as I found with a shoulder out of commission last November) is the one that lingers. Of my six first cousins, only two had children (one of them by a white gentile, the other by a black foreigner - both marriages did not last, by the way). I might have married in my teens (like my great-grandfather) but later than that ... I was far too much the loner. I am also openly gay (and not the only one), which is another signpost of rising individuality. This didn't happen - openly - before Stonewall.

Society in the Industrial West has fewer and fewer families and children, let idiots like Santorum rail against it as they like. We have "families of intention," but they are not linked indissolubly as blood families usually are. You can choose your friends, and you can choose to "unfriend" them, however close they may have become. Society must rethink the matter of people who are alone and old, devise new structures.

The present fallback: Bring in more immigrants to do these chores, to care for the old who are childless or otherwise engaged, and to produce the population mass to replace our decline. This situation has many defects. Immigrants are good at such work, and they absorb our ways, convert to our attitudes, but that takes time, a generation or two (as the Dutch have lately discovered). And we may not have two or three generations until the whole Western industrialized top-heavy mass topples over.

Did we reach the top only to find that our pyramid has uneasy foundations?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Trust. Even more than Love

It's about Trust.

Even more than Love.

I am coming to realize that.

Love without Trust is more trouble and complication than it is worth. (Though it's produced a lot of good opera, drama, novel, folk balladry.)

Trust without Love is still valuable: You know that your
friend/ partner/ relative/ whatever has enough self-esteem not to do you dirty, to look out for you, simply because it is necessary to that self-image.

My aunts, for instance, loved their sister and looked out for her every step of the way through the vicissitudes of old age, last illness and death, and they look out for me because ... it just wouldn't occur to them not to do so. I can rely on that. I can tell them my troubles and get good advice. I can turn to them in need — they both said that if I needed a loan for expenses when Mum died, they would be happy to provide it; I was happy not to need it, but it made me very calm that they could say it, and that I knew they meant it.

It is necessary for me – maybe for anyone – to have someone to whom I can say anything and know my privacy will be respected. To be able to give someone my keys (and passwords!) and know they'll take care of things in my absence or illness.

(God knows what it was like to live under communism or fascism, when informers were everywhere! I've read some fascinating books on this subject, notably Anna Funder's Stasiland and Timothy Garton Ash's The File, but ... how much of the real experience do they convey? Especially as Funder and Ash, like me, were outsiders, though, in Ash's case, across the Wall and under observation. It is unimaginable to us, privileged to live in America. I cannot forget certain conversations I had in Berlin while The Wall was still up, in Prague soon after it came down. A world with little trust.)

Plenty of people probably do not have such totally trustworthy persons in their lives, or are themselves unable to yield absolutely to Trust. Others grew up in families that did not nurture that sort of trust, or had lovers or friends become addicted to something. Among Witches, one encounters many children of betrayal, searching for the kindly parents they didn't have, and it worries me, and complicates coven politics. I'm sure it's true of priests and evangelical ministers, certainly of those who head radical political movements.

Freud spoke of The Transference: His patients began to see him as a father, a lover, a god, fixing all their betrayed hopes upon his omniscience and benevolence. He could see this might easily lead to trouble, and of course it often did.

Trust is key to making a society.

Love may be a good idea for one's ethical life, but one can live without it.

Plenty of people do.

Or it turns up in the oddest, most unpredictable places.

But Trust is key.

Or we are all, shatteringly, alone. And, facing mortality, we are alone anyway. But we can seek some relief for that.

As Grace Slick would say, "You better find somebody to trust."

This is a reflection on my great number of dear and trustworthy friends, especially perhaps on the ones who were attentive and useful after my surgery in November, and the unforgotten many who were so devoted after my lymphoma in 1997.