Romance at Bowdoin from another perspective
Romance at Bowdoin From Another Perspective
One day this past summer, which I spent here in Brunswick for the first
time ever, my clock-radio alarm went off at about 8:00 in the morning.
It reminded me, unsuccessfully as usual, that I should get out of bed
soon, so I could make it to work on time.
Since WBOR, the station my clock-radio was most used to playing, was
out of commission, I had tuned rather haphazardly in to one of the many
mix radio stations in Maine that day. After being awakened initially for
about ten minutes by the depressingly inoffensive and passionless tunes
of Celine Dion and the many other inoffensive and passionless up-and-coming
young singers who sound exactly like her, the mix DJ's shrill and penetrating
voice cut through my presently uneasy slumber to discuss a promotion.
Last week, they had given out little sampler packets of a brand of topical
cream that, if used properly, would enhance a woman's sex life by (somehow)
making her more sensitive and therefore more likely to climax.
I was half asleep. I didn't understand exactly what its chemical makeup
was and whether or not it irritated the skin in the bunnies I'm sure they
tested the product on.
The essence of the promotion was that the radio station had given out
packets of this cream to five or six different women and asked them to
try it out and give it reviews: "Did it," the DJ asked, "you
know, help you, you know.
" The reviews were mixed. One woman
talked about how this cream was the most wonderful she and her husband
had tried together. Another thought that it just felt strange. Another
felt just ambivalent. And so on.
When 8:58 rolled around, and I realized that I had to get up if I wanted
to make it to work by 9:00, I finally switched the radio off and walked
to work. The whole time I wondered to myself if someday, when I'm old
and gray, I will be like these women.
Like them, and the people at the radio station, will I spend my day eagerly
awaiting the moment when I get to come home and experience that One Greatest
Pleasure of my all-too-brief existence, which is, of course, a mutual
orgasm (or, as it is referred to in Lolita, a moment of "mutually
satisfactory mating") and when, after years and years of nightly
repetition, the intensely pleasurable thrill begins to wear off, and I
become bored and disillusioned, will I then call the radio station when
they're playing some of my favorite inoffensive and passionless hits from
my youth and beg them to give me some kind of cream, some kind of medical
advice, some kind of expert analysis to help improve my sex life, so that
my wife and I can continue to get the sensory enjoyment and Romantic excitement
that we both had expected from one another?
I wondered if this was simply inevitable, if there was something about
our culture and expectations as modern-day Americans that makes a successful
Romantic relationship-that is, one that is "mutually satisfactory"
for a relatively long time-more or less impossible.
The thing that set my mind wandering down these pathways, I now think,
is the general obsession with sex in the culture at large of which this
radio promotion gave only a small glimpse. It's the obsession with having
a normal sex life, the obsession with the idea that, as a matter of public
health, everyone have an enjoyable and orgasm-ridden sex life. It's the
general idea that the one greatest pleasure and one most meaningful story
this life has to offer is the romantic excitement of finding your One
Perfect Person, which finds its best daily expression in the orgasm.
Thus, after marriage we can re-live again and again the ecstatic excitement
we feel when we watch Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan finally get together just
like we knew they would at the end of the movie.
So, when I read Kara Oppenheim's series of articles in the Orient over
the past couple of weeks and realized that she wasn't joking, I thought
it might be good to point out the ways in which this obsession with sex,
and its inevitable precursor, seems to express itself here at Bowdoin.
It is, of course, of a different character from the obsession I've experienced
by being a long-time listener to Oldies Radio and other such Adult fare,
but there are some common threads.
Our obsession, it seems, is largely anticipatory. We ask ourselves "Are we going to meet the person who will someday turn out to be the man/woman/moose of our dreams here at Bowdoin?" and not "Is this man or woman I just met the man or woman of my dreams?" or worse "What kind of medicine can I get to make the man or woman of my dreams better in bed?"
But the basic obsession is still the same, and there is a perfectly logical
progression from one to the other that tells an interesting coming of
age story in and of itself.
Fortunately for us, the Youth, the great Romantic Comedy of our lives still, for most of us now, has yet to happen. We haven't quite reached the point in our lives where the greater part of our daily pleasure comes from the application of a topical cream. But, as Ms. Oppenheim's articles point out to me, we're already very near that point.