Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

The City's buzzing with matrimonial afterglow today. San Francisco's strapping young divorced-caught cheating-rehabbed-gay marrying-gubernatorially aspiring mayor got married over the weekend to his pretty blond girlfriend, and all the gossip columnists are digging for details from the swanky "Out of Africa"-themed soiree thrown at the bride's parents' ranch in Montana.

It's a dishy story that I'm not particularly interested in plumbing, other than the fact that I'm glad Gavin's found a chicky who'll stand by his side after his ugly personal drama of the last few years, and she seems nice enough, if quite bland and possibly driven by ulterior motives, and their little Ralph Lauren styles will serve just fine as a photogenic face for the City. Sounds like all the Google movers and shakers, along with Willie B and the other Democratic glitterati were up for the wedding. Cheers. Hope this one sticks.

I'm more interested in a rather more messy corollary to the whole wedding hubbub, the flip-side of which I find far more rich and fascinating. The other day someone sent me this smart little piece from the New English Review by Christopher Orlet on "Bachelorhood and Its Discontents."

I've always been interested in that destabilizing state, that delicious and dangerous bachelor status that carries such a more interesting cultural cache than its parallel "spinster" or "old maid" equivalent. Sex, solitude, the social functions of marriage: obviously I dig this stuff!

But it's the bachelorhood aspect that interests me most, perhaps because I've always been more of a stereotypical dude than a chick in terms of independence and relationships and what-have-you. It's a conversation I've been having for nearly a decade now, the question of creativity and productivity as an artist as related to being solitary vs. being in a relationship. And now that SF's most eligible bachelor is no longer on the prowl, the topic seems particularly relevant.

Orlet points out that most important writers, artists and philosophers - practically "a roll call of the architects of Western Civilization" - have been bachelors (or, as he writes, "effectively single"), kept that way by "the bachelor's great intellect and creativity." Is that it? Sometimes I'm tempted to think so. Checking out Orlet's long list of brilliant men only reinforces that idea: we're talking Brahms, Descartes, Flaubert, Van Gogh, Hume, Kafka, Kierkegaard, Locke, Newton, Pascal, Sartre, Thoreau, da Vinci, etc.

Orlet cites studies that show that scientists' productivity peaked in their 20s, then spiraled downward after they'd been married and taken on the usual responsibilities of a family and being the bread-winner.  Presumptively they then lacked the "prerequisite time and solitude" to be as productive as they'd been before.

I wish he'd have explored this whole idea more, particularly as related to history's presumptive gay men like Michelangelo, in which case their sexual preference allowed them more time to be creative because of the lack of needing to play a functional provider role for women or children. But Orlet turns more to an exploration of economic and psychological aspects of bachelorhood vs. marriage, looking at marriage "as a job to be treated as such," wondering if men "need marriage for psychological stability," (seriously!?!? geez) and considering the "selfish luxury of solitary living" that might, dramatically, end in "obscurity" coming "soonest of all."

Whew. Lots to get started with here. My interest is in a few bits Orlet points out about the bachelor being historically perceived as a "menace to society," this "destabilizing influence" who should be feared for his lack of connections, pitied for his solitude, and simultaneously envied for his freedom. It's a Catch-22, it seems; married men envy his independence and ability to roam free; at the same time they pity his lack of place in the social structure.

It's different for women, yes, blah blah blah, and that's a whole other post, but at the same time I think it's maybe not so different after all. I think a single woman with more bachelor-esque tendencies, e.g. not Bridget Jones, but more of an independent sexual free-agent, is perceived as equally destabilizing and dangerous. I overheard the most interesting conversation yesterday while I was shaking martinis from a beautiful recently-divorced woman who was talking about how women treat her so differently now that she is unattached, a free agent, a "threat."  That when she walks onto the soccer field to pick up her kids, heads turn and women whisper like they did not do when she was married and thus not a sexual threat to their own marriages.

It's funny; at this point in my life, nearing 30, it seems like most of my good friends are in one of three states: either longing for partnership and not finding it, finally settling into the mundanities of married life and realizing it's not the clear-cut Cinderella cure-all they'd always imagined it would be, or moving on after a difficult divorce or the end of a "starter marriage" and wondering what the hell happens next.   And none of them is quite satisfied, or feels fulfilled, and all of them are a little bit jealous of the others. The grass is always greener, yes.  

And I do have to think Chekhov found some truth in his biting barb, "If you are afraid of loneliness, don't marry." And I am glad he pointed out how easy it is to feel lonely in what is ostensibly the ultimate state of connection. But at the same time I do see the great power and life burbling out of some of the vibrant tight-knit marriages of those dear to me. And again at the same time I think it impossible to create and be a writer-artist-composer-creator while saddled by expectations for lawn-mowing and honey-do-lists and diaper-changing and increasingly rare solo time.

So what do you do, if you want to be a creator, an artist, a thinker, and care for someone, and yet remain that destabilizing force, which is actually a thrilling state to be in, as far as I'm concerned (read some queer theory, it's all about deliberate destabilization as potentially sexy and life-giving and revolutionary)? Be a bach? Live in sin? Keep a mistress across the hall? Date the mailman so you see him regularly and then can send him on his way while you write in peace? Have a kid and teach him to wash dishes so you can get some quiet time to play your harp? Or do you just strap him on your back and sit down at the piano while he snoozes on your shoulder?

Thoughts, all. Read the article. It's interesting from any point of view, whether you read it as a swinging single or a hungry bachelor or as a satisfied husband or a caged cuckold or some combination therein. Politics of marriage and solitude, my friends. Fascinating shit.

Bachelorhood and Its Discontents (New English Review)


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