That title is from the lyrics of the Rolling Stones’ song “Emotional Rescue”. One day last year, I experienced a sudden inner tidal wave of loneliness so strong that it brought tears to my eyes. As a writer, I often obsess about words and their meanings, and the word I’ve been obsessed with for a while now is “my”. “My” indicates ownership, yet we use it to talk about our relationships with other people. Of course, we have a history of humans owning other humans. We are still affected by that history, the extent to which is revealed by our language –MY friend, MY lover, MY wife, MY child, etc. Equally disturbing is the fact that when you , and when you own something, you generally feel you have the right to control it.
Throughout history, both church and state have perverted our natural need for a sense of belonging into a twisted concept of ownership. The extent to which we accept the concept of ownership seems to be directly proportional to the extent that we allow ourselves to be enslaved. Don’t most of us spend the vast majority of the time allotted us here on earth working at jobs we don’t like each day in exchange for the opportunity to say “MY car, MY house—MY rules”? It’s almost like we believe that enslaving others will provide us some relief from the suffering of our own servitude.
The natural human need for connection and sharing life experiences with others is a strong one, and none of us are exempt from it. It was that need that prompted me to join an online dating website for people aged 50 and older called “Our Time” last year. I shelled out a little over a hundred dollars for the opportunity to connect with other lonely single people all assembled in the same virtual space to vie for attention. Even the name of the website is possessive. It implies that time itself should only exist for people 50 and older, and that it shouldn’t be anybody else’s time but ours.
Once I got past the name of the site, there were the standard questions to be answered. First, you have to pick just one gender. Then they want to know what kind of relationship you are looking for. They give you five boiler-plate options:
2. A Serious relationship
3. A Casual relationship
5. Pen pal
I view marriage as an ownership contract in which both church and state are invited into your relationship in order to to force you to stay in it. They do this with a combination of threats of eternal damnation, social shaming, and legal and financial penalties. It is in their best interests that people marry young, serve in the labor market, and have children to ensure they will continue to labor—children who will become future laborers, taxpayers and soldiers. I’m too old for all that, so I didn’t check the marriage box.
What exactly is a serious relationship? Does it mean no laughter or playing is allowed? Or is it just a relationship in which you are both bound by some of the elements of a marriage contract, like exclusive sexual ownership, but without the penalties if you want to leave it? Is it serious because you have to stay constantly prepared for feelings of loss when one of you finds someone else you enjoy spending time with more? Or is it serious because when you split up, your mutual friends have to take sides regarding whose fault it was that the relationship didn’t work out and choose which of you they want to remain friends with? No wonder people want casual relationships.
Just what is a casual relationship, though? Do you both agree to always wear only jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops and never address one another as “Sir”, or “Maam”? Of course, most people translate “casual relationship” as “sex without having to purchase it with three fancy dinner dates, the promise of a long-term commitment, or having to introduce them to your friends and family.” I like to dress up sometimes, take turns buying dinner, and don’t really want to be intimate with anyone I’d be ashamed to introduce to other people in my life, so it’s also a no for a casual relationship.
So I guess that means that in a moment of weakness, I paid a hundred bucks for a few potential pen pals. Curses on possessive pronouns and the commodification of human relationships.