Darwin Downer: Love & Nature Versus Social Evolution
Admitting you’re boy-crazy is a bit like admitting to alcoholism or to an embarrassing addiction to The Real Housewives of Orange County. It might be okay when you’re fifteen years old, and you plaster your room with posters of Leonardo DiCaprio and Barry Manilow (so I was a strange child). But, I find that increasingly, as I enter into the twentysomething world, I’m faced with a dilemma: I’m no less boy-crazy, but I’m a whole more embarrassed about it.
There are a few friends I disclose my yearnings to (although more often I whine, “I want a boyyyyyfriend”). When, for the twentieth time this month, I complained about this again, an older friend could only laugh and say, “I was so boy-crazy when I was your age, too.”
“Why do you think that is?” I asked.
“Hormones.” she replied point blank. “It’s natural. Your body is at its peak to make babies so you crave relationships. The thing is that our moms and grandmothers lived in a culture where this instinct was fulfilled. They all got married in their twenties. But just because our culture has evolved past this doesn’t mean that the desire ceases to exist.”
Girlfriend had a point, and one that was supported by my past. Right before I was 21, I met him, the one, the partner, whatever you want to call him. We fell in love — fast. Before I knew it, we had moved into an apartment together, and had gotten engaged (well, the fact that there was no rock should have been a sign that it was doomed).
I would have never admitted it at the time. I was still in school at Smith, an all women’s college famous for radical feminism. To become domesticated, in the eyes of my classmates, was so unheard of that it was counter-counter culture.
At that time, there was something about being “boy-crazy,” even in a relationship, that I felt wasn’t accepted among other women. We’re supposed to be career-oriented and headstrong. When Gloria Steinem spoke at my graduation, she spoke of her generation’s segue into “jobettes” after college, and how far we’ve come since then. Not to knock Gloria, but I felt a pang of guilt as she spoke (when I was still in this domesticated relationship): What if what I really do want, what I really crave and desire, even before life goals and jobs, is that companionship?
Funnily, I found myself plowing through Chasing Harry Winston (Lauren Weisberger’s new novel — she wrote The Devil Wears Prada) this weekend (it was a guilty pleasure), and was struck by a quote that resonated deeply with me, but I thought was so oft admitted. One of the characters, Leigh, a thirtysomething, contemplates her past:
She bit into a cookie and remembered all the years in her early and mid-twenties that she had wanted this scene so badly: the doting boyfriend, the romantic late-night picnic, the comfortable apartment filled with all the things she loved. Back then it had felt almost impossible or, at least, very far away; now she had it all, but the reality didn’t feel anything like the fantasy.
It’s not that Leigh doesn’t want passion and “the one,” but that in this moment, she acknowledges her fueled twentysomething hormones. I feel much like Leigh’s past self: hopeful and romantic, yet surrounded by an enemy who suffers from the same hormonal rage–young men who can’t settle because (perhaps) their natural instinct is to spread their seed as much as possible while in their prime.
New new feminism would have us believing that women can become sexual equals with men during the twentysomething era–detached and highly sexual. And yet what about those natural instincts that go against our current cultural values?
While I was at Smith, songstress and girl power-enthusiast Liz Phair came to visit, not to play, but to talk on a panel of several feminists. I walked away from the lecture feeling a bit jaded and off put by what she had said. She was questioned by an audience member about her so-called “sell-out” that was her last album, a poppy, mainstream opus which garnered criticism from her indie fans. She backed herself up by recalling a song from the album, “Why Can’t I?”. Phair claimed she was always asking herself this question, “why can’t I?”, and she essentially framed it as a feminist statement: Women can do whatever they want. At one point she pulled out the “I choose my choice” view, and said, “if you want to be a bum, you can be a bum.” I thought, “So what? Now female empowerment is cut down to actions? That whatever a woman decides to do means she is a feminist?”
I don’t think I have an answer to all of this yet. But the fact that Liz’s argument appears to be on my side gives me some sort of hope that I’m not completely crazy. Not that I’m about to quit my job and be a bum. But that maybe those Barry Manilow posters I still love aren’t so bad.