Thursday, February 28, 2013


I'm sorry if you've heard some of this before. Sometimes I feel like I'm writing the same things over and over again in slightly different ways. But the topics that tend to recur in this here Breadbin are important to me. Central to my life, actually. And so one of the first blogs I ever wrote makes a thematic return.

Stumbled across this quote in THE WEEK just now and it made me sad.

We have become a nation of phonies, writes Richard Cohen in the Washington Post. We love everyone. We don't merely like them or respect them or hold them in some esteem. We LOVE them. Performers on the stage shout that they love us. Politicians love us. Acquaintances love us. We lack all formality, all distance. I do not want others to kiss me, which is starting to happen. I say goodbye and they pucker up. No! This is reserved for love and by love I mean real love, not the silly xoxo stuff that clutters the Internet with false, saccharine intimacy and emotion. I want to shake hands. I do not want to be hugged. I want degrees of intimacy, gradations, so I know where I stand and so, for that matter, will you.

Mr. Cohen, speak for yourself.

I recently wrote a blog lamenting the decline of hugging. Obviously I'm moving in the wrong social circles...or I'm just not huggable. And kissing? Is he right? Is this really a thing now?

Not that I'd object. Social kissing is common in many European cultures, after all. If you're uncomfortable with the notion, consider: there are kisses and kisses. I can't imagine someone mistaking a social peck for a percursor to intercourse. Can you?

Maybe I'm strange. (Do you THINK?) But I believe myself perfectly capable of hugging and/or kissing someone without ripping a hole in my Levi's. Then again, I'm also a guy who has slept with women--that's plural, incidentally--before so much as kissing them. And "slept with", to allay your filthy minds, means "got into bed together and went to sleep, got up eight hours later and got out of bed." With one girl I did this three nights running, and got a kiss at the end of the third night. Sex, in case you're wondering, came three months later.

Deconstructing Cohen's screed a little further: Of course performers love us (but only when they're playing); we pay them well, after all. Politicians, same deal, though the love is of course quite self-serving. Acquaintances, though? I have many of them. I don't love them. I like some of them, I tolerate others, and a select few I dislike. I'm sure I'm on all three lists of the various people acquainted with me. That's fine; that's normal.

"We lack all formality, all distance," says Cohen, who must really be a hit at parties. I'm picturing Cohen in his office at the Washington Post, about to punch out for the day, saying goodbye to his boss, who leans in for a smooch...

Really, Mr. Cohen? I can tell you there's plenty of formality in my professional life, at least: if I told anyone at work I love them, let alone "puckered up", I'd probably end up fired for sexual harassment. Hell, on social occasions, there are friends I hug and friends I shake hands with. No friends I kiss.

"silly xoxo stuff that clutters the Internet"

Well, now, here he has a bit of a point. I've noticed the proliferation of kisses and hugs in the form of exes and ohs over the past decade or so, and it is getting more casual. Women who've never kissed me in real life think nothing of littering their Facebook messages with xoxoxo, and I've caught myself wondering does she really mean those despite myself. Then I put it out of my mind, because I'm married. I reserve xoxo for Eva...I could put it in notes to other people, but it'd get misinterpreted, sure as hell.

Cohen's problem is linguistic.

I've written before on the English language's noticeable lack of "love" words. It's maddening that we are all but forced to use the same four letter word to express

  • the affection we have for a lifemate
  • the depth of feeling we have (if we're straight) for our best same-sex friends
  • the emotion we have for various members of our family--all those 'loves' subtly different
  • our strong enjoyment of our favourite foodstuffs
I had to contort myself just describing these things; L-O-V-E is the only customary term that we use in all four situations. And that's without bring S-E-X in. Somehow sex has also become synonymous with love, which is really just silly. (A runner is one who runs. A watcher watches, a hammer hams, a grocer groces. A lover...)

This in turn means that, especially for many males, the word love is off-limits in various situations to which it actually applies. A guy can't tell his best mate he loves him without stepping out of a closet. A guy can't tell his female friend he loves her, even if he does, because she'll probably think the love is really just lust. 

Cohen wants to know where he stands, and that's a fair question to have. But will he ask it? Will he confront the person proffering the unwanted pucker and peck and say just what the hell do you mean by that, politely or otherwise? I doubt it. And that's the saddest part. A grown man, bothered to the point of polemic, but so obviously unable to ask what is, after all, a simple question.

No comments: