Sunday 24 January 2016

Romance and Sex, Part 2

Ghastly American import
Valentine's Day is coming up – don't forget it's a commercialised American import! Pairing off has a lot to do with class – but that’s one of those things the British won’t talk about. They have to pretend that partnerships are all the result of True Love striking like lightning.

Turns out that when a woman is rejected by a looker, rather than lasso the nearest leftovers... she will actually spurn the average guy waiting in the shadows even harder, because she doesn’t need that noise watering down her social value... accepting the overtures of a “low-status” person “may imply one is of similarly low status”... “What people want is not immediate acceptance per se, but a sense of assurance that the person is acceptable to the sorts of people they want to be connected to.” We only care about the opinions of certain people—it’s called standards... Everyone knows this. (

Comment to the above: I find the fact that most romantic pairings are negotiations of social status so disgusting that I cannot let my guard down to date at all. (She says she gets many more approaches when she is underweight. “I know they’re attracted to the idea that they are good enough to be with someone that is that small.” Also that slimmer women marry “professional guys with a college education” while their heavier sisters end up with a dropout with missing teeth.)

My parents met in a nightclub. I met my boyfriend in one. (London Review of Books Jan 2016)

It’s tough being middle class, because you can’t step outside. You can’t follow bands or go to discos or “clubs”. You have to go to classical concerts. You can be friendly with people from different backgrounds, but they keep expecting you to go back where you came from. They may almost order you to. They think you won’t want to go out with them. If they do ask you out, it's for the wrong reasons – you’re a trophy, or else they want to use you to move up the ladder. And they say nasty things about “chavs” and expect you to join in.

Point out a relationship between a man and a woman on planet earth that does not involve some sort of monetary output or exchange. The truth is marriages are built on this premise as is dating. (Web)

We can put a man on the moon, but it’s lonely in the big city and though we all want a partner we pretend nobody does, and couples drop their single friends and are super-unsupportive. Methods of finding somebody: parties, bars and apps.

In the olden days, middle-class parents spent a lot on their children, sending their sons to Eton and Oxford, and taking a house in the London “season” so that their daughters could mix with the right young men at the theatre, opera and ballet. They gave a lot of mutual parties, and there were public balls with an MC who would introduce you to a dancing partner. The Victorians gave big parties and invited all sorts, but made sure to invite several singles. There were also trips to the theatre, skating on the Round Pond, archery, croquet and tennis parties. Parents made strenuous efforts to get their children married, and got together with other parents. But there was no unchaperoned dating in those days. The Edwardians built conservatories so that couples could "sit out" at dances and propose behind the potted palms.

In the early 20th century there was a round of house parties with the aim of pairing people off. It was reciprocal, like wedding presents. Once you’d got married and had a house of your own and your husband was making money you took on that role and gave the parties. Obviously the house owners were rich (low taxes) and had servants (low wages). They wanted the right sort of people to marry each other, and probably thought of it as a social duty. They also wanted to keep family money in their own class. As the century wore on, they became poorer, and most of the big houses ceased to be. The debutante “season” limped on for a couple of decades after the war. And was replaced by... university. (Teales and Weybridges in suburbs or small country towns went to tennis club dances.)

These days parents buy a house in the right area near the right schools (where the children will meet the right people), pay public school fees ditto, and shell out for university ditto ditto. Do they ever admit their motives to themselves or each other? (In Jane Austen, the girls – and boys – had to pretend to be totally ignorant of what was going on, and the girls had to pretend they didn’t want to get married at all, as Mrs Smith points out in Persuasion.)

Writing in the Times about the death of dinner party, Shane Watson lamented: “There are no single men, there never were.” (Giving dinner parties was a terrible lot of work, and only really made sense when you had servants.)

Teales and Definitelies can be quite open about wanting to get a boyfriend, get engaged, get married, have children. Poor Upwards are forced to pretend they want to be writers and actresses, to be utterly wonderful and daring and unique. They settle down and get married anyway, just a bit later. Unless they think they are somehow too special to get married, and live together without the legal and financial benefits of marriage. They think cohabitation gives you legal rights, which it hasn't since 1753.

Writer Bruce Chatwin was married, though gay. He “hated the idea of divorce, while finding ‘something “awful” in the idea of two men living together’.” Meanwhile Lucian Freud thought birth control was “squalid”.

Old anecdote: Lady Jane Snooks got married. After the honeymoon, a friend asked her: “Well, how did you get on? You know, what’s it like?” Lady Jane: “It’s much too good for the working classes.”

Another old anecdote: Lady touring factory: And how do you find marriage, Edna?
Edna: Ooo, miss, it’s like 'ot treacle runnin’ down yer back!

More here.