Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lady in the Street: The "Chasing Amy" Problem and Modern Relationships

The blood-spattered camp satire Red State is a gore-stained polemic that takes aim at just about everyone, but Kevin Smith's most enduring commentary is actually found a good fifteen years earlier, in his oddly poignant paean to geek love everywhere, Chasing Amy.

Watching the movie itself can be a bit of a test of masochism, with its preponderance of pre-politically correct pejoratives and early 90's references.  And the central "turning the gay character straight" plot is still frustrating, even when you realize that Joey Lauren Adams' character was always bi-sexual.

And surprisingly attractive even fifteen years later.
More interesting, however, is the bigger conflict in the narrative, which unfolds when Ben Affleck's Holden discovers some rather graphic novelty gag gifts in Adams' Alyssa's past.

I don't want to focus too much on the movie, however.  Essentially, the Hollywood ending makes it seem possible, if difficult, to come to terms with the fact that your significant other was once the kind of person that would be willing to step foot inside an ash- and semen-stained panel van and not think anything of it.

Increasingly, however, modern relationships are beginning to feel the strain of "oh, it was just college."

Basically, this ended exactly the way those three guys wanted it to.
The current crop of 27-35 year old adults are more or less the first to have to deal with a society that not only tolerates and expects such behavior, but has sadistically decided that talking about it is important for functional cohabitation.  For previous generations, even back to the attic centuries, the kind of dalliances this essay is primarily concerned with were viewed as private business even between lovers.

Breakdowns in communication are among the most cited reasons for relationship failure, and it's easy to see why when you think about how every conversation that starts "so he happened to leave my computer logged into his Facebook," ends.  What that does, however, is place an unrealistic expectation of certain things being discussed at some point.  You can probably remember every time you were presented with, "Well, I know you were kidding, but really, how many?"

It is true that most of the time, a strong partnership can weather any number of "one time in Mexico" stories, but it is equally true that some details unfortunately plant tiny seeds of doubt that happen to grow into really big frickin' shrubs.  

If you have a threesome story, that will eventually culminate in "how could you do it with him and not with me, why is he so much better?" or a pernicious doubt in your own ability to singularly please your significant other.  

Same thing for "weirdest places you've had sex" conversations, or "have you ever cheated?" confrontations.  These all create lingering resentments because of the fact that inevitably, the person you were at 21 is not the person you are at 28.  You might not think it matters that you don't like to shower with someone else any more, but your partner is sitting there wondering why the hell you won't do it with them.

"I even brushed my teeth before I got in."
These small cracks build up, and the foundation will shake, and it's no longer a question of if but when.  

That is creating a very real intimacy problem and is one of the leading reasons that contemporary relationships rarely last longer than a year.

It is not the purpose of this essay to examine the rebuttals, of which it is obvious there are many.  Several relationships do succeed despite numerous roadblocks, and it is understood that not every reacts to history the same way.  For example, women are much better at cognitive dissonance than men; a reality that does make it easier for women to care less about their partner's sexual past.  Still, the inclination towards comparison is not limited to one sex.

"And then I told him it was the biggest I'd ever felt."
As a culture, gamers in general have a tendency to encounter this issue at an overwhelmingly higher rate.  Speaking broadly, the age range primarily affected by this dilemma is populated by intelligent, mature individuals who may be looking to "settle down," despite the allure of the Sex and the City lifestyle.  Keeping in mind that these are generalizations designed for facilitating the conversation, the cliches described  remain surprisingly relevant.

The unpopular high school nerd frequently does take advantage of a new environment to "get out there" and the even the "quiet" girls have a few Jager-soaked nights they aren't sad they can't remember.  When everyone eventually "grows up" they start pairing off, usually with someone that didn't party as hard as they did, as a kind of reflex or bounce-back from the Bacchanalian debauchery they previously engaged in.

It becomes difficult to conceive of the idea that the very things you find most attractive in the person you are with are the things that person is most embarrassed of or least likely to want to repeat.  If your partner was quiet and reserved, they really want you to lead them through a few of the wild nights you talk about.  When your partner was the crazy one, they want you to just stay home and read with them on the couch.

"I hear the club you used to work for just hired new dancers, I think we should go one time." If you know what I mean.
"Oh, I just don't know, dear," with a smile, "This new Suzanne Collins is so well-written."
Inevitably, this tension combines with the other conflicts inherent in any relationship, and it becomes almost impossible to ignore.  If the relationship falls apart, it's back out into the dating pool where the same problems are only compounded by the most recent failure.

Whether there is any way to actually address the growing concern is something that is outside of the scope of this piece.  Without more information, and a larger recognition of the issue, it is incredibly futile to suggest possible solutions.

If Kevin Smith is right, then everything will end with mangled bodies sprawled out over the dirt-strewn cobblestones of a religious compound somewhere.  Or am I getting those mixed up?

Ben Snyder writes just about anything, and if you pay him, he's willing to prove it.  His book is still available for only 99 cents, and the first in what he hopes is a long article series is now published on StarCityGames.com.  You can follow his nonsensical ramblings on Twitter, @snglmaltproof, or e-mail wherethemeatcomesfrom@gmail.com.

No comments:

Post a Comment