"Young man, no one knows more about love than an old maid."
-Spinny to the Artist in Robert O. Selznick's 1948 Portrait of Jenny
It's true. I should know, I'm an old maid. Old maids are not what society thinks we are. First of all, we're not all women, but that much is obvious. Secondly, they assume that since we are unattached that we have never experienced love, never mind mad passionate obsession or any of the degrees of human attachment which lie between.
Jennifer Jones (no relation) and Joseph Cotton made a fine and midly isane pairing in the roles of the Muse and the Artist. Of course insane, one clear interpretation of the film is that Jennifer existed only as a figment of Cotton's character's imagination, a placebo to fill in a gap left open by the varied circumstances of a basically bourgeois man's life as he tries to find himself in the modern world. Already in 1948 the upper middle class man and woman were trying to find themselves, but let me not digress into a discussion of class on this topic.
Cotton's deep seeded feelings for the semi-mythical Jenny are natural; they mirror the unrealistic expectations of fulfillment that so many people seem brought up to have. Old Maids - note I from this point on capitalize the term; it is, as it should be, a proper noun. We are a different breed - are alone not because we couldn't find someone to love. We find many people to love, but they all disappoint us in the end (if not very near the beginning), not because, as the merrily coupled accuse us with wagging fingers that we have supercilious expectations of others, but because we are not looking, as our erstwhile partners are, to be fulfilled. This search for fulfillment that most others seem to have from the onset is the true unrealistic expectation. It is perhaps the result of the slow permutation of the Victorian sense of romantic love, and it is perhaps an especially American problem, although not exclusively.
From a very early age, we seem taught to seek a number of impossible dreams, being fulfilled near the top of the list. Quixotically we are also taught that such dreams are good to have. Who among us has not at some point in our lives heard the strains of "Dare to dream the impossible dream"? Thus arises a social disease present in nearly all classes of our society. We are taught in books, movies, television, nearly every media, including the internet with its plethora of dating services, that sooner or later we will find the Alpha to our Omega, the lid to our pot, the final puzzle piece to finish the jig-saw. We live in a complex multi-causal world with myriad social stimuli and we trot off like Don Quijote tilting windmills in hopes of impressing Dulcinea, as thought achieving this one, lone thing will make us complete human beings!
And yet, if we take time to read Cervante's obra maestra we learn that like the Artist, Don Quijote's Dulcinea is a larger-than-life fictionalized dream of the ersatz knight. Yes, she does exist. No, she is not, in real life the damsel he seeks.
Such unrealistic expectations of the mate are not the exclusive purchase of the middle classes anyway. One has only to observe (and quixotically - to keep with the theme - it's good food for the soul) an episode of the pathetically low-brow Jerry Springer Show to see how the lower end of our society plaintively exclaims when asked why he or she slept with the tranvestite half-man-half-pig sex surrogate, "Because baby, you were never there for me!"
I have one low brow question to ask about that ubiquitous declaration: What the hell does it mean anyway?
My answer translated into uppity snob / Old Maid talk: "Because baby, I wanted you to make me feel like a full human being; I wanted you to show me that I'm important and that I have meaning in the cosmos. In short I want you to validate my feelings, my existence, my pain, my suffering, my joy, and I want you to do it every waking minute of the day, and if you don't I will keep looking till I find someone who will do all those things for me."
Old Maids on the other hand, all we really want is a nice person to spend some time with us most every day. We don't really want them around twenty four hours a day because we know that even our favorite people can grow tedious and tiresome with too much exposure. We would like that person to pay us common courtesy and be essentially respectful to our person. It would be nice to go out socially and publicly with this person once or twice a week, and as often as feasible spend time naked and aroused with this person performing various sexual positions as suits our mutual fancies. Moreover we expect this to be a two-way street, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. We look for deep, abiding love to grow over time, and to grow stronger. We wouldn't like if this person ran around with other more sexually adenturesome people, but as long as they did it discreetly, without bringing home disease and maintaining the social veneer, most of us would tolerate it. Finally we would like this person to become a real freind, a person who would still be at our side as we slide into old age, dotage and death.
We're not looking for fulfillment and ultimate validating, we're looking for a life-long dedicated friend with benefits, a human cozy corner in other words.
And we are the ones who are asking too much and have unrealistic expecations...
But wait, considering the perspective of most other people around us, I guess at the end of the day, we do. We don't want too much; we just don't want the right things!
A few people who do enter the world of Happy Coupledom find true amor reciproque, cariad cywir we call it in Welsh, "correct love," where the partners treat each other with genuine respect and true, heart-felt love. Most however, even if they refuse to admit it, live in a wretched state of codependence swirling in a quagmire of disappointment and longing for an ideal which is no more real the Don Quijote's giants.
More than likely I will end up like my aunt Arwilda Elizabeth (1908-1994) (aka Dee-Dee) who died "alone" and without children. I can recall my cousin Arwilda Helen (1927-1997), who was born on my aunt's 19th birthday, and hence named for her, declaring as my aunt languished in the hospital on her death bed: "It's not our fault she's alone. She could have gotten married and had kids!"
Arwilda Helen, whom our family nicknamed Nutchie, should have known. She was married twice. The second man she married in the early 1990's, but they had begun their courtship before I was born, somewhere in the misty 1960's. For this man, who for years denied he was seeing her intimately, she continued to take birth control pills, resulting that, even in her 70's, she had not yet gone through menopause; moreover she died of liver cancer, no doubt, I would imagine, brought on by years of abusing the poor organ with unnatural chemicals, which in turn induced unnatural results in her body. In the end, he outlived her by around two years, and her son, whom she had had with her first husband, was more fond of his father whom she had divorced some thirty years before her marriage to husband number two.
Thank you Nutchie, but I will gladly choose Dee-Dee's lot in life. She lived long, seemed to be happy with her little laundry business that she ran almost until her last breath, her canaries, her baking, and her other family members. Of course our family's genetic spiral has just about unwound these days, but along the way, I have met other good people and they have become non-sexy friends and a sort of surrogate family. If God exists, and if he loves me, then I may live to 85, and die a slow painful death on a morphine drip too, but at least the ride will have been a good one, and while it may have been taken largely unattached in romantic terms, it will still have been worth the journey. If there's any fulfilling to be done in my life, I'll be the one doing it, thanks all the same...