"Sometimes it's easier to bullshit than to tell the truth."
And thus, the summation of the decline of a civilization. Or at least a pithy, one-lined explanation for what has gone so terribly wrong for the 18-30 set presently prowling the bars and campuses of our great nation.
Snuggling up on my sister's couch this morning with a fresh cup of french press and the TiVo remote in hand, I indulged in a little post-jet lagged, early morning movie watching. The options? Pretty much any B-grade flick from the mid nineties on... obviously I was stoked.
I settled on a cheeky chick flick entitled "Perfect Opposites;" (ever wonder what happened to Piper Perabo post-Coyote Ugly? Wonder no more.)
And it was pretty much all that I expected...and then some. Maybe it was the early morning hour, or perhaps the insanely strong coffee that tasted of death-by-caffeine-topped-with-skim... but I was moved - deeply - by these characters and their sad, familiar lives.
Let me set the stage: Boy meets girl. Girl is previously committed to Neanderthalean frat boy. Girl feigns "hard-to-get-ness." Underdog law-student persists, brings picnic to library during finals week. [Finally, he has found a mission, a quest for which he is willing to sacrifice ... and he does so. His pride, his sense of self-respect, his status with his buddies... there were no limits to the trials, toils and humiliations he was prepared to suffer.]
Girl hesitates... looks deeply into his pleading, persistent gaze ... and accepts his proposal - Er, rather, his invitation to forgo a post-graduate gig with a Chicago marketing firm and move to L.A. with him.
Bliss ensues... for 2 months, anyway. The two of them become - as our main character/underdog law student narrates - inseparable. They are connected: "Sexually, intellectually, harmoniously and psychologically, we were firing on all six cylinders."
And he's hit the nail right on the head. In a moment of blinding clarity - or perhaps instinctive pagan insight - our young hero recognizes a profound truth of human love and sexuality: when two become one flesh, the fabric of the universe is altered.
Maybe he doesn't come out and say it in so many words. Indeed, the reality was more readily captured by the frequent teaser-shots of steamy, counter top scenes and oral innuendos... but the message came through loud and clear: sex changes everything.
But we persist on insisting otherwise.
This couple - so young and in love and desirous of the other (note: not necessarily the good of the other) were swept completely away by the force of attraction, by the awesome power of their physical union. He wanted her. He pursued her. He wooed her... and she accepted his offer of self...
But then something unexpected - or at least, unintended - happened: she wanted to make the arrangement permanent. Longing for the natural end of intimacy - union - she deeply desired to build a life with this man who had come to her with an offer of his very self... and she was prepared to accept his offer.
Except, that's not exactly what he'd had in mind. Sure, she was beautiful. Sexy. Incredibly adept in the bedroom. Funny, smart, sassy... and a whole host of other qualities which set her apart from other women... but there was just one teensey problem: she was only one woman. In true Saved by the Bell soliliquy fashion, our hero admits to the audience: "When she talked about marriage and a family, all I could think was: I will never sleep with another woman for the rest of my life."
See, our young stud had been brought up in a culture whih extols choice - or the freedom from choice, really - as the ultimate good. His pursuit of Cinderella was more of a vanquishing effort, really. She had become his mission, the end towards which he strove mightily... until he reached her.
And, finding in her mortal finitude something less than eternal, he was understandably disappointed. Disillusioned. Dissatisfied... and so naturally, he turned his gaze elsewhere, wondering - rightly so - whether there was an other who might satisfy his undeniable hunger, his longing for satiation. There was not, it turned out - at least not in flesh and bones.
But neither was she satisfied with his offer - his gift of self which had turned out to be more appe-teaser than appetizer. In truth, he had no intention of offering his very self, of becoming one flesh with her... at least not unless there was something in it for him.
I don't mean to make him out to be a monster. In a culture such as ours which longs for permanence and pursues eternity in fleeting, grasping, heaving moments of pleasure and pain... he had nowhere else to look, really. And he didn't know he was perjuring himself with every intimate counter top romp. He desired to give himself to this woman; he just expected to receive something back in return: fulfillment.
A fulfillment which she herself - longing for permanence and communion - was unable to offer to him. In the glorious poverty of our humanity which is expressed perhaps nowhere more perfectly than in the bedroom, men and women become aware of something that is profoundly true: we are not enough.
The fulfillment of all desire, it turns out, is not to be found between the sheets. Or at least, not between just any set of sheets.
In sex we seek union, communion, consummation with an other, "one-ness" with some one else who can make us ... whole. We are seeking nothing less than immortality. Which is why we are inevitably disappointed.
Because no other human being can truly fulfill any other - no matter how great the passion, how thrilling the rush.
And no amount of sexual detachment can quite divorce the desire for permanence, the inexplicable ache - particularly for a woman - for endurance. We were built for something more lasting, a longevity that cannot and should not make sense in light of our biological make up. Our bodies fail us. Our looks fade. Our fertility vanishes...and yet the desire remains. We want something that quite frankly, we cannot have. And we cannot seem to accept that.
So we keep searching. We try on different marriages, experiment with new techniques, dabble in illicit affairs...always searching for the perfect fit, that elusive, immortal ache for completion. But what does completion mean to a people who have been carefully groomed to pursue all options, to weigh every possible choice and explore every angle, but who have been told that ultimately there is nothing which will satisfy.
Maybe we don't explicitly receive this information. Maybe it's more subtle, whispered in soft, hushed tones: "Did He really say not to eat that?" Though our bodies long for permanence and our souls for satisfaction, do we really believe there is an end to be had, a prize to be attained... or are we damned to an eternal, Sisyphean search for the next great thing?
I watched their hearts - his and hers - break on screen, and my heart broke too. Their desire was so strong, so right... and yet so misplaced. I wanted to wrap my arms around this beautiful, broken woman who rightly longed to be loved and cherished... and to encourage this misguided masculinity which would not permit him to lay his life down and receive everything in return.
Don't worry, though. After a few painful years of separation, a trial marriage and divorce and a second successful run at the California bar exam... they were reunited. And as the credits rolled, and they embraced on the threshold of a second chance, the audience was left with a final nugget of Hollywood wisdom: "the first time around with Julia, I had a plan, a vision...this time, there was no plan. We'll just see what happens."
And so the blind lead the blind. Further and deeper into this mess we're unwilling to admit we've made, and reluctant to stop and ask for directions.
But at least we're having fun.