A Partial Defense of Adulthood

Found this over at Karl’s place.  In many ways it reads like it was written by a latter-day Henry Miller or Charles Bukowski (and bears more than a slight resemblance to Bob Black’s essay “The Abolition of Work”).  As Bukowski himself said once about the work of another writer, “It’s already been written before, and better.”  But it’s not a bad piece overall, and it’s genuinely funny in spots, and as someone who meets all three of the dubious criteria of “adulthood”—not to mention having recently hit the grim milestone of turning 40—I have to admit that many of the observations ring a little true, maybe a little too true.  I mean, I’m not going to deny that dragging my ass to work every day feels a lot more like capitulation than anything even remotely approaching triumph, and that sometimes I think the sole reason for my daughter’s existence is to destroy her parents’ lives, and that occasionally I wonder what the fucking point of marriage is, other than to have someone to pay half of the bills and help with the household chores.

But this wouldn’t be a blog if I didn’t at least quibble with something, so here goes.  First, there’s this:

But while studies may show that married people have more sex than singles, that’s like pointing out that the man who spends fifty dollars on McDonald’s receives more calories than the man who spends fifty dollars on sushi, and is thus better fed. One of the main elements of sexual pleasure is novelty, and after the first year or so, that’s been killed deader than an unmarried fornicator in Afghanistan. Anyone out there in the real world knows that single people have far better sex than the average married person, who just clicks off the bedroom flat-screen to be confronted with the same tired genitals every night.

Novelty is one element of sexual pleasure, and it doesn’t necessarily equate with better sex.  To spin that analogy around, that’d be like saying that franks and beans is a better meal than beef bourguignon because you’re more accustomed to eating the latter.  I have a friend who’s still single, and, contrary to the cliché, I don’t find his sex life to be particularly enviable.  More often than not, on the rare occasions when he actually does get laid, I don’t get the impression that the sex is all that great; it’s more just a temporary respite from jerking off.  In other words, novelty’s about all he’s got, and novelty has a tendency to get boring, too.

Then there’s this:

The monk, when he turns from life, at least gains spiritual enlightenment. The adult, on the other hand, descends into a cosseted fog of drudgery and consumerism, weighted down by responsibilities and debt—debt! Of all the concepts that have lost their allure in this century!—his drives blunted by cheap surrogates. Relegated to the second tier of pleasures: food (the fetishization of a necessity, the sanctification of something that’s going to be shooting out your ass in 72 hours), vicarious drama (sports, reality television, porn), travel (the novelty of temporary dislocation). What could be sadder than becoming a tourist in life?

No arguments with the general, um, thrust here, but a couple of the particulars jump out at me.  First of all, I thought novelty was supposed to be a good thing.  Why is the novelty of a different sex partner okay, but the novelty of “temporary dislocation” from travel something to be pooh-poohed?  Also, it strikes me as a bit ironic that in an article blasting a conception of adulthood as nothing more than sheeplike conformity to insipid routine, the author would express such a drearily utilitarian attitude towards food.  I guess the first-tier pleasure is—what else?—sex.  But if an extraordinary interest in food is “the fetishization of a necessity,” what do you call an extraordinary interest in fucking?  It’s not a necessity in the same way that eating is, but they both satisfy biological urges, both provide corporeal pleasure.  Isn’t this just the sanctification of something that’s going to be shooting out of your dick in five minutes (though I’m sure Casanova never finishes in less than twenty)?

Yeah, the notion of adulthood that’s fed to us our whole lives is a massive fraud, like so much of the other shit we’re taught to believe.  And yeah, beyond a certain point, it seems like a lot of people become passionless drones, clinging to their lives rather than living them.  But some of us at least are just doing what we have to do to get by and taking our pleasures where we can.  We know we’re losing.  That’s why we’ve stopped keeping score.

4 thoughts on “A Partial Defense of Adulthood

  1. That’s good shooting.

    I also quarreled with the idea that multiple new sex partners = better sex. I am guessing that the author has experiences in the single-digits. Or has been very lucky in his matchups. Or has low standards. In any case his views on sex remind me of those of a 17-year-old virgin who is ultra-horny and looks at too much porn. They seem rooted in fantasies rather than actual experiences.

    I think he’s also a bit over-bitter about those who raise kids and have a good(-ish) parent-kid relationship. His disparaging sounds like he’s talking about friends who didn’t want kids, but had kids because they thought it was the “thing to do” or whatever. His rant isn’t about parenthood but about unwanted or poorly timed parenthood, really.

    So that’s strike two. And I’m sure I could’ve found a few more strikes myself.

    But it’s the comments thereafter which really are dull, robotic, and self-justifying rather than well-reasoned or soundly critical.

    And thanks for the bump/nudge.

    • No problem, Karl. Yeah, it seems like he’s basing his idea of the single person’s sex life on Vinnie Chase from Entourage. Maybe he has a point, if we’re talking about some Hollywood stud, but, to borrow a line from the article, “Anyone out there in the real world knows…”

      And yeah, the comments are ridiculous. Just skimming over them I noticed several telling him to “get a life,” or some variation of that.

  2. Lord knows I agree with much of the piece, but I’m also at a point where marriage is starting to seem unavoidable, simply because of financial incentives: lower taxes, shared health insurance, etc. It sucks that these coerce people into the formal social arrangements desired by the state, but they aren’t nothing, and could conceivably make life easier. It’s never quite so simple as “marriage sux, live free!”–though I sincerely wish it were.

    It’s funny too–as I move from the idle single lifestyle described in the article toward something like standard het monogamy, people seem to have more respect for me. Or maybe not respect–they actually seem to SEE me now–It’s like I’ve suddenly revealed myself to exist in reality after all, whereas before, who knows where or what I was? I am now cast in the proper role, I confirm all expectations, the world is again constructed of straight lines–I am above all *approved* of. Makes me wanna have public sex with dogs.

    • I definitely felt pressure to get married at a certain point, but it was more from family (mine and my wife’s, though mostly my wife’s) and already-married peers. It was more like, “Come on, it’s time for you to join the club now.” The financial incentives didn’t kick in for me until after I was married, so they seem to be more about making it harder to get out once you’re in. Not that I want out, but it still irks me on occasion to realize that I’m living the societally approved lifestyle.

      Can’t say I noticed any lack of respect before I was married (not that I was paying much attention), but my wife said that she did, and a friend told me once that he noticed pressure to get married at his job–like you weren’t considered worthy of promotions etc. until you settled down. What a pile of shit.

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