• Paul D. Wilke

A Dirge for Romance

Mobile Lovers, a mural by Banksy, on Clement Street, Bristol, UK (PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo)

All hail this golden age of romantic capitalism! Sex, now so often decoupled from love, is for many a sort of selfish business transaction, with buzzwords like empowerment and mindfulness masking the crass reality. We're trained to ask that one essential question: "What's in it for me?" Love loses out in a simple matter of cost-benefit analysis. It's better this way.

This is a brave new world where narcissistic ideals about what love should be clash with the ugly realities of the way it actually is. Everything's crisp and clean and just so when staring at a screen. But real life with genuine human contact? Not so much. An unsolvable tension emerges. 'Nobody's perfect, and I won't settle' should be the motto (or epitaph?) for our lonely age, one where we browse for partners like the discriminating shoppers we are and then dispose of them when they're no longer part of 'my journey' of personal empowerment. "I want"..."I need"..."I feel..." all miss the point of real intimacy, which is about the needs, feelings, and wants of the intimate other, the You over the Me.

Today's tech zombies prefer human contact to be safely mediated on devices rather than in person. Physical intimacy is only for the fleeting pleasure it offers instead of nurturing any long-lasting bond. Many these days prefer to just quickly handle sex by themselves, engaging in that empty act of self-pleasure to diffuse the urge, if only for a little while. That's the lonely place we are headed. Don't worry if erotic pleasure proves elusive, and your happiness suffers as a result. These days they have the most fabulous pills to fill the emptiness all the way down to that bottomless bottom.

And don't judge, o wise elders, for you made them this way, preaching the Gospel of Whatever You Want Whenever You Want. The youth of today look at your sad example and choose otherwise, even if they are merely trading decadence for denial, one set of chains for another. Maybe that's what we need: an era of refusal to reset the balance. You old-timers filled the void with Big Macs and big screens and look where it got us all.

So maybe this is how the world ends, with everyone sitting at home alone in the dark, masturbating and streaming porn, surrounded by a stack of empty pizza boxes, living vicariously by the dark and flickering glow.

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