The other day at a holiday gathering, I had a conversation with a pretty pink-haired and old-fashioned hatted 18 year old just home for the holidays after her first college semester away. I’ll call her Martine. We were talking about life and relationships, and how all that’s going. I loved that she was so open and willing to get down to the nitty gritty right away. Martine said she gets nervous when she’s attracted to a boy and then has trouble being herself. I’ve experienced the same thing in life so I totally got it. She then told me she has a friend, a boy, who she is very at ease with, and has a great time with, but it’s because he’s “a-romantic”.
Instead of asking Martine if she could tell me more about what she meant by a-romantic or more about the boy, I proffered (perhaps just a little puffed up with a sense of “earned” knowing-ness as adults are wont to), “I think he can call himself an ‘a-romantic’ IF by the time he gets to sixty he’s still never met anyone he feels attracted to. But at 18, it’s entirely possible he simply hasn’t met the person yet who will trigger those feelings in him.” Though I’d never heard the term a-romantic before that moment, I felt pleased with myself for my sense of psychological acuity and conversational deftness.
She looked at me as if I’d just wandered out of the pre-historic adult section of the natural sciences museum, exposing myself for the holder-of-dreadful-and-out-of-date-ideas that I am, and said “That’s the problem with old people, they have these old-fashioned ideas that they got from places like Cary Grant and Betty Grable movies, and they don’t allow people to self-identify. (I was feeling young and energetic talking with Martine, so I wanted to protest the thing about “old”, but then I thought, dang, I am old. So…) Martine went on… “It’s NOT about romance, it’s about being who you are right now. If you change later, you can, because of course, everyone does. People change. But even when you’re a kid, you know who you are in that moment.” To further clarify the “a-romantic” designation, Martine gave me another example, “there’s a difference between “being a celibate” and “choosing celibacy”.” (Sure. Even I could get that).
Martine made a strong case. It was clear I was not the first adult she had needed to explain things to. Over time I have broken out of many old-fashioned notions, but apparently my work is not complete. Not that I didn’t try to argue my point a little further, but I could feel that there was something in my position that rang a little more rigid than true. I wanted to be right. Instead of arguing, I decided I would do well to listen better and more, be more curious, ask more questions.
I do have mixed feelings. Our mid-20th Century ways of thinking are, perhaps, no longer quite as relevant as the young ones’ ideas breaking new ground. Upcoming generations have a major and life-long cleanup project on their hands. Because really, up to this point, our species has done entirely too much damage and harm, labeling our selves and others in restrictive and negative ways that set the basis for harmful actions. Harm to people, other animals, the Earth, seas, and air.
I am truly sorry to be among the elders passing on this ginormous task.
My prayers are with the young, that their new ways of thinking and respecting themselves and others will help bring into being a more peaceable, healthy, loving species and planet. But as people have been saying lately, thoughts and prayers are not enough. What can we do?
We elders have a role to play, with whatever mental and physical energies we still have. There is so much work to do. Maybe we need to start by listening more and better to our young. I’m grateful to Martine, that she took the time to be real and honest and didn’t indulge me. I like to think she thought I was worth getting through to. Personally I’ll try to live up to that trust.