The third essay of PMS: Meditations on the Post-Modern Syndrome was written largely in the mood of exasperation that used to come up for me when people asked questions about my “love life.”
Until very recently, I considered romantic relationships as investments that, at best, break even, and at worst, leave one bankrupt in every conceivable way. One trades one’s freedom (guaranteed) for security (uninsured), one’s convenience (fixed) for intimacy (variable), one’s identity (granted) for belongingness (earned).
And in cases where one can find security, intimacy and belongingness in the arenas of career, friendship and family, romantic relationships offer not a single unique benefit to offset their very generic costs—which was why I found it puzzling that they were such a prized commodity. Friends bemoaned their singleness, declared this year or the next as “THE year/the YES year/the year IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN,” and promptly asked me to maintain a perpetual vigil for Mr./Ms. Right.*
I always gave the same wearied response: Get in line.
You’ll change your mind when you’re older, an ex once warned me. Being free’s not fun at fifty—maybe it’s not even fun at forty.
I’ll take my chances, I told him drily. Besides, who has fun in their forties, let alone their fifties?**
Recent events have led me to alter my views about relationships . . . somewhat, but I still hold fast to my belief that love is a reckless venture, an impractical affair and, at bottom, a vastly unnecessary gamble. If people can get that—can get its superfluity and its improbability and let go of all hope and all expectation—and still (still!) want it, then by all means, they deserve not just getting in line, but cutting it altogether.
* “Right,” in this case, is defined as the satisfaction of the following basic criteria: not married and attracted to the relevant gender. These days, it’s the second criterion that’s proving increasingly tricky.
** Forgive me. I was very, very young then.