Happy Valentine’s Day, If Possible

Today is Valentine’s Day, although you probably wouldn’t notice it here at the home office. Ours is a contentedly solitary home life, shared only with a crabby cat named Miss Ollie, as we’ve had our fill of romance and true love and all that at this late point in life, but we nonetheless wish an especially good day to anyone out there who is still so foolhardy as to fall in love.
Based on our observations of our vast and very diverse friendships and friendly acquaintanceships, which includes a lot of young folk,  falling in love is less common than it used to be, and according to an astute columnist at The Washington Post there’s more scientific proof of that. He cites a professor’s study that 85 percent of “baby boomer” and “Gen. X” high school seniors went on dates, but that had fallen to 56 by 2015. Between 1989 and 2016 the percentage of twenty-somethings who were married had fallen from an already low 32 percent to unprecedented 19 percent, and we can count many many solitary individuals among our friends and friendly acquaintances of all ages.
Having come of age during the height of the Sexual Revolution, when everybody seemed to be heeding The Beatles’ advice to “Do It in the Road,” we’re quite surprised and entirely unsure what to make of the evidence that there’s also less sex going on, as the percentage of twenty-somethings who admit they haven’t been getting any lately has reportedly risen by half over the same ’89 to ’26 period. It’s fine by us if more young people have forgone the ephemeral pleasures and lasting pains of doing it in the road, but the same conservative instincts have us rooting despite all evidence for the propagation of the species, and when we note the falling birth rates, except in the poorest and most primitive parts of the world, it seems a mixed blessing.
All of these desultory statistics are backed up by our anecdotal evidence from the nightspots we visit,. We’ll often see attractive young couples in the next booth, but they’re invariably looking at those confounded machines in their palms rather into one another’s eyes. Our younger friends and friendly acquaintances frequently tell us about their sexual attraction to some other young friend or friendly acquaintance, but they don’t seem very hopeful, and they very rarely confess the sort of romantic yearnings we used to share with anyone who would listen. Try as we might to avoid the contemporary popular culture, it’s so unavoidable that we’ve noticed it doesn’t encourage romantic love the way it did back in the days of MGM musicals and clean-cut pop song crooners. Our politics are full of porn stars and Playboy playmates and serial marriages, and that’s just the Republicans, not to mention all the scandalous behavior those damned Democrats have long been up to..
Which is a shame, on the whole, as we figure it. True love entails risks, as we can readily attest, but so does life itself, and there’s no way life can go on without it. Among our many friends and friendly acquaintances we count many who have been happily coupled for many years, and like Walt Whitman we revel in “the chaste blessings of the well-married couple, and the fruits of orchards and flowers of gardens.”
We’ve been happily spared the perfunctory chores of buying chocolates and cards and flowers and expensive dinners at any restaurants the past several Valentine’s Days, but if you’re currently obliged to do so we urge you to do it hopefully. It might just work out happily ever after, and even if it doesn’t we can assure you there might be some memories you can warmly recall in some cold winter of your old age.

— Bud Norman

How to Survive St. Valentine’s Day

At the risk of sounding even more curmudgeonly than usual, we have found that one of the many advantages of living a solitary life is being able to take St. Valentine’s Day off.
The more amorous sorts of men don’t have this option, as the women they are incessantly pursuing simply will not permit it. Any man hoping to maintain a romantic relationship with any woman is required by unwritten law to expend a certain amount of money and effort on some elaborately gooey gesture each St. Valentine’s Day, and the unwritten penalties for a violation are too bothersome to contemplate. We well remember from the entanglements of our wasted youth how very giddy the expectations are on St. Valentine’s Day, and how very sullen a woman’s silence can be when they are not fulfilled. Our best advice to a young man is to find a good book and avoid such nonsense altogether, but for those who persist in seeking companionship we will offer a few more practical tips.
First of all, don’t forget the date. The mnemonic device we’ve used is that Darnell Valentine, the great point guard who earned all-American honors at Wichita Heights High School and the University of Kansas before a long professional career spent mostly with the Portland Trailblazers, always wore “14” on his jersey. We never figured out a trick for remembering the month, but always counted on the advertising industry for a timely reminder. Whatever methods a smitten young man might use to remember St. Valentine’s Day, a failure to do so will lead to a most unpleasant February 15.
Also, have roses delivered to the object of your foolish affection at her workplace, school, or whatever location will allow the delivery to take place within view of other women. Some will argue that roses on St. Valentine’s Day have become so obligatory as to become meaningless, and that something more imaginative is required to express true love, but in romantic relationships as in everything else the obligatory remains obligatory no matter how meaningless. Throw in something imaginative if it occurs to you, but don’t omit the roses, and make sure they’re adequate in quantity to arouse some noticeable degree of jealousy among your loved one’s dearest unattached or inadequately courted friends.
Something chocolate is another a good idea. Legend holds that a gift of chocolate is a metaphor for the sweetness of one’s sweetie, but our more modern theory holds that there’s no better way than inviting a woman to chow down on a box of chocolates to assure her that you don’t think she’s fat. We’ve yet to meet a young woman who didn’t harbor a slightly debilitating fear that you think she’s fat, even the ones with the physique of an Andersonville Prison inmate, and chocolate seems to have a strangely calming effect.
A fine meal delivered to a cloth-covered and candle-lit table rather than through a drive-in window is also required. Even here in lost-cost Wichita such a repast with a sufficient amount of drinks might run as high as $100, or $100.50 with tip, but on this damnable date there is no advantage in being a cheapskate.
Yet another toughtful gift is advisable, but we cannot make any recommendations regarding what it should be as we have no knack for such esoteric things. We once bought a girlfriend one of those shower massage nozzles and it had her climbing the walls, so we realized too late that we should have purchased the hand-held model. In no case should you offer anything that might be by any stretch of the imagination construed as implying that you think she’s fat.
The law of averages dictates that some miniscule portion of our readership has already found true love, and we humbly defer to their superior judgments on these matters. To those still holding out hope for such a lasting love we do not mean to offer any discouragement, just a mild bemusement. Our contemporary popular music and cinema and tax code do little to encourage lasting relationships, so let us wish you all a most happy and heartwarming St. Valentine’s Day.

— Bud Norman

A Post-Romantic Valentine’s Day

People still fall in love, we suppose, but our modern culture seems to have lost the knack for it.
This is an age of hanging out, hook-ups, and cohabitation, when subsidized contraception is considered an entitlement, abortion on demand is deemed a civilizational necessity, and yet baby mammas and baby daddies somehow abound. Notions of romance and marriage and happily ever after are now widely regarded as quaintly old-fashioned, if not a dangerous relic of our repressively patriarchal past, and what’s left of the time-honored traditions of courtship are constantly interrupted by text messages.
Anecdotal evidence of this is so abundant that one cannot avoid it no matter how hard one tries to steer the party conversations to more pleasant topics, and all of the statistics from the social sciences and the advice columns of the more fashionable publications provide further confirmation. One notices it when scanning the radio dial or flipping through the television channels, too, as the senses are assaulted by all the jarring jeremiads against romance.
The biggest hit song in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War wasn’t a triumphant military march or a celebratory boogie-woogie but the quietly wistful yearning of “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” done by a brooding Bing Crosby with the spare accompaniment of Les Paul’s elegant trio, but the anthem of today is a spiteful ditty with an unprintable title that was released to the underage crowd as “Forget You,” done with the full synthetic studio treatment by someone called Cee-Lo. Instead of Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse “Dancing in the Dark” through an idyllic Central Park, we now have crunking. Instead of “Casablanca” or “Stella Dallas,” where true love is expressed through heartbreaking acts of selflessness, we have endless “chick flicks” that countenance love only as an act of self-realization.
Some would argue that the hyper-romantic pop culture of the past was unrealistic, and perhaps they have a point. Hearing Johnny Mathis sing “Misty” always made us feel a bit earthbound, for instance, as even in the most love-addled moments of our youth we always knew our hat from our glove. This is probably a good thing, because one would look damned foolish wearing his gloves on his head with his hat wrapped around his hands, but even so we are still left wondering what it might feel like to be so fully enraptured. American culture used to nurture such romantic aspirations, rather than ridicule them, and at its best it could summon a far more realistic attitude than is found in contemporary music yet still be romantic. There’s a classic pop song that weds an ingeniously simple melody by Jerome Kern to Oscar Hammerstein’s plainspoken lyrics about a couple who marry, raise a family, then grow old together, all the time content to be known only as “The Folks Who Live on the Hill,” and it’s sadly difficult to imagine anyone in today’s celebrity-crazed and status-seeking culture settling for such a humble existence.
The consequences of such progress are found in the sad stories we regularly hear from friends and scant acquaintances, and can be seen on the bored faces of the bar patrons as they check their cellular telephones while trying to charm their way to another hook-up, but they can also be felt elsewhere in our civic life. Marital status is now one of the most reliable predictors of how people will vote, with the unmarried showing a marked preference for a big government that will provide the security and sense of belonging that have traditionally been found in marriage and family, and all of those Republican speeches about how the national debt will be passed on to the next generation are unlikely to persuade the childless single who is more interested in government-paid birth control. True love forever and ever might be fanciful, but it’s not nearly so unrealistic as the belief that a society raised by baby daddies and baby mommas will ever be as successful as one raised by husbands and wives.
Yet people still fall in love, we suppose, and perhaps some of them will even get married and raise children and be pleased to be known as the folks who live on the hill. We have no gift for song or cinema or poetry to encourage this tendency, but we will wish all of our readers a most happy Valentine’s Day.

— Bud Norman

Unfunny Valentine

Today is Valentine’s Day, which obliges us to forgo our usual glum political and economic assessments in order to address the matter of people falling in love.

People do still fall in love, we presume. Not often in our circle of acquaintances, at least not lately, and not even an old school chum who used to fall in love with an exasperating frequency, but there must be somebody out there still doing it. Many of the people we have Facebook-befriended announce on their pages that they are in a relationship, which is not necessarily the same as falling in love, as we understand the modern parlance, but surely a few of these vaguely familiar people must be feeling some deep emotion or another.

The lack of romance among the company we keep isn’t just a result of advancing age. We make a point of socializing with the young folk from time to time, and have found them generally disinclined to fall in love. Indeed, the young nowadays are often quite cynical about the very idea. There seems to be some “hooking up,” as the youngsters so delicately put it, but that’s also not necessarily the same as falling in love, and judging by the hard luck stories we’re forced to endure there doesn’t even seem to be as much of that as in the past.

If you’ll forgive the brief interjection of a glum political and economic assessment, the younger set’s romantic desires might be constrained by its bleak financial prospects. Parents’ basements are notoriously lousy bachelor’s pads, wining and dining are increasingly expensive, and the prospect of parenthood is downright daunting to a debt-laden twenty-something with an unmarketable bachelor’s degree. The contemporary aversion to romance seems to have predated the economic downturn, however, and even the most financially well-off young people we know seem content to parlay their success into a series of relationships rather than fall in love.

Perhaps it’s a consequence of all the divorces over the past many years, something our young friends mention with depressing regularity, or the sweeping social changes that have obliterated the traditional sex roles and mating rituals without having settled on any universally recognized new ones. There certainly isn’t much falling in love going on in the popular culture, where romance once ruled but is now reviled. Violence is more common across the cultural spectrum than any kind of love, and there’s usually an ironic detachment from both.

We no longer keep up with the latest pop music, which is even more of a young person’s pastime than falling in love, but what little we hear of it as we scan across the radio dial is more likely to be an angry screed than a soulful declaration of love. The couples on the television sit-coms seem to insult one another constantly. Romantic comedies remain a popular movie genre, but they always seem to find the notion of romance comedic. Romance novels still sell in large numbers, but are not considered respectable. There might be romantic poetry in print, but no one reads poetry.

Despite it all, though, there’s bound to be someone out there falling in love. It just keeps happening, no matter what. To those hearty souls willing to take the risk, defy the odds, and let hope triumph over experience, we wish you a happy Valentine’s Day. Here’s hoping it all works out.

— Bud Norman