In the middle ages an Anchoress was a woman who lived in a small, sealed room inside a church;she would have visual access to the Sanctuary and to Holy Communion. Usually there was also a small side window at which she could converse with visitors, receive foods, etc. Usually an Anchorite was rather a mystical and wise sort of person, steeped in prayer. Whether I am wise or holy (prolly not) is for The One to decide - I make no claims for myself, but as a shy type of person with a liking for anonymity, I don't mind taking a line from Julian of Norwich, the wise Anchoress in Britain whose name is lost except as to the patron of her church. Consider this my window. Instead of passing me food, comments will do! I ask only that you be civil, because I do believe that decent people can disagree and still be decent people. Everything is copyrighted, 2006 The Anchoress. Note: All emails are considered fair game for publication, unless you specifically tell me not to quote you or use your name, in which case I am happy to comply.

June 29, 2006

A Mother-Hung Nation? Meyer, again.

Yesterday, in this piece on Hamlet and Harry Potter, I wrote this:

Here is the interesting question…when a life has been lived with a sense of deep mission - as in either Hamlet’s or Harry’s case - and that mission has been fulfilled, what is the purpose of the life, thereafter? […] Perhaps this is why monarchs, old generals, popes, entrepreneurs, mother-hung rock stars and CBS newsmen can never willingly retire and live out their days. Without their sense of mission, life has no thrust and parry, no vivacity, no purpose.

Because I have a bit of a nudge-streak in me, I decided to send that last bit to a few acquaintances at CBS, including Dick Meyer, whose columns I frequently find so interesting, I must comment - even though my commentary sometimes lead to sticky debate.

Meyer wanted to know what “Mother-Hung” meant and then - with what I suspect was a fresh-mouthed double entendre - he pointed me toward his latest piece, The Lonely State of America, which comments on this recent study on social isolation in America.

Now, you know I take every “study” with a grain of salt for two reasons, firstly because everything is always in flux, nothing is static, and life is unpredictable, and so today’s “study” can be tomorrow’s hoo-ha, and secondly because whenever a “study” is given full-trumpet fanfare in the press, soon all the big and little laws based on the study are upon us, for better or worse. Sometimes I think studies - interesting as they are - are done for no other purpose than to excite legislation, but I digress.

Meyers writes that this study’s findings “should scare you.” These days “scared” is how every “study” wants you to feel, so fear is useless. I would say this study should make us more thoughtful, than scared.

Meyer has a book in him, I think, on the subject of the splintering of the American community into sharp, narrow shards - a theme he often returns to, sometimes in vague ways. I can see where this study would be of intense interest to him. He writes: I do suspect that this study overlooks one simple contributing factor, the decline of real geographic communities — places where people grow up where their parents grew up, where non-nuclear relatives live near by, where friendships and acquaintances go across generations.

Explaining social isolation will be controversial, but not as difficult as repairing it.

In primitive and survival-dependent societies, social isolation was basically impossible. But modern societies have never been without chronic existential worries about isolation and loneliness; it is one of the defining marks of modernity.

I urge you to read his whole piece - I don’t agree with all of it, of course - but it is well worth your reading and passing along.

Meanwhile, in answer to his question:

Mother-hung. People who spend their whole lives either trying to please the mother or to replace her missing love. I’ve noticed that a large number of rock stars (and other celebs, to be honest) either lost their moms early in life (Madonna, Bono, John Lennon, Rosie O’ Donnell) or had bad or complicated relationships with their mothers (Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Mick Jagger, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland…Bill Clinton!) I’ve always thought that for these folks public adoration was the “mother replacement,” and one reason why these people can never stop or retire. Lennon let go for a while, but then again, he had Yoko as his “mother,” so…there you go.

Which is actually kind of an interesting correlation to Meyer’s piece. These people, lacking mothers, look ever outward and require enormous adulation, but it’s all long-distance adulation - the length of a playing field or arena, via video, CD, radio - it’s not personal or warm. Just think of the gazillion stories of stars who had the love of the distant world but lived in private hells because they had no one to talk to, no intimacy in their lives. Look at Marilyn Monroe - she was the most wanted woman in the world, yet the night she died, she couldn’t get anyone to even talk to her on the phone! John Lennon was able to put it down, and be a family guy baking bread, when he finally had familial intimacy.

I will have to read this study to see if it considers the disintegration of the family into single-parent or “blended” units, or the “both parents working, here is your “quality” half-hour of “together time” before you go to sleep, sweetie” phenomenon of the past 20-30 years. Because that could well be a factor.

We have now had several generations growing up with either missing parents or well-meaning but “barely-there” parents. A lot of what we learn regarding intimacy we learn from Mom and Dad and Grandma. If they’re barely in the picture, from whom will we learn it? The Nursery school teacher? If we have a society with intimacy issues (and I would define it thusly, rather than as loneliness issues), I’d wager it is because we have a society wherein intimacy has been pushed aside for the progressive lifestyle ideas which preclude learning the skill. The folks who are demanding free, government-provided child care are not helping society learn intimacy and interdependancy (even though - to be fair - in their minds, they really ARE, they believe they’re preaching “it takes a village” interdependancy - but that is not intimacy, that’s social duty, and social duty always ends up being humorless, perfuctory and expedient).

Another problem, of course, is that intimacy has been defined downward, especially for our young girls, to mean little more than a “hook-up.” This is something Buster talks to me about. Children, but especially girls, are being sexualized at ever-earlier ages. The sexual messages begin very young in television commercials and on the clothes-store racks, and most of Buster’s generation grew up watching Friends and Sex in the City and thinking that this was what life was: a series of sexual encounters with no emotional attachments, no repercussions, no pain, no loss of oneself.

Sexualized early, many girls are either overly jaded or mistrustful and remote. Buster says a troubling number of girls his age are sexually hyper-active, but unhappy and lonely - they cannot make good, healthy connections with respectable young men, because they don’t “get” the guys who open car doors for them and who look for a relationship to be about more than a “hook-up” or perfunctory oral sex. (A romance recently busted up because Buster wanted a real relationship, and the girl, a nice-enough kid, simply did not know what that meant!)

While the girls are untethered and confused balls of sexuality, too many boys are learning to see the girls not as young women to be respected, admired and (in a chivalrous sense) looked after, but as disposable spitoons for their disregarded and misunderstood sperm. I’ve heard my sons and his friends complain about it - that their generation is very screwed up about how to relate to each other, that too many of both gender have no idea what self-respect is, that they treat themselves, and each other, badly. They crave intimacy but have no idea how to achieve it when they’ve been raised to throw everything - their virginity, their standards, their drive to succeed (it’s not cool to get good grades) - their potential, their very selves away. You cannot learn or achieve intimacy if you’re busy conforming to the Culture of Now - what Flip Wilson used to call The Church of What’s Happening Now - you’re too busy just trying to keep up.

This is not an overnight problem, it’s yet another fruit of the sexual revolution and the world-tilting sixties - the overcorrection to the 1950’s.

Meyer makes the excellent point that “In primitive and survival-dependent societies, social isolation was basically impossible.” True. When my husband and I were growing up, Grandma lived upstairs and auntie down the street, cousins all over the place and that mattered, but I don’t think that’s really the issue. I think this study is quite right that much of it is a matter of time and the incessant demands of the beeper, the cell phone, the freaking unending email (my husband literally has nightmares about the non-stop email at work that keeps him from full productivity, and sometimes keeps him stuck answering it all night instead of interacting with us). The demands of the workplace, and the fact that the work day no longer begins at 9 AM but as soon as the first cell-call rings through as you step out of the shower, may well be unhinging and destructively distracting us, as perhaps illustrated in this horrific story. It could well be that the work-demands are so out-of-control that when people finally end their work day they say, “just leave me alone, and give me a little space, fer cryin’ out loud!”

But I think there may be other trends which answer this worrisome report and can provide some reassurance and reason for optimism. Last year we read, to the horror of many feminists, about the growing number of women - ivy leaguers and others - who were actively planning to leave their careers and the work force for set periods of time to have and raise children. They were including parenting in the career plans, being smart enough to recognise that if they wanted kids, they’d want to raise them, themselves. It goes without saying, they were also hoping to marry men who could help them achieve that goal. Sometimes both parents must work, but more and more we’re seeing younger parents decide that one parent will stay home while the kids are young or - as with my nephew and neice - working in shifts so that the kids are always in the charge of one parent, rather than assorted sitters and caretakers. And now - just like back in the day - Grandma is moving in with them. The pendulum swings.

If there is going to be a correction to all of this mad fruit of the “do your own thing” era, it will take TIME and undoubtedly it will anger some who insist that any correction is a dramatic over-correction. But I don’t doubt there will be a correction of some sort. Humans need each other, we will find a way back. Intimacy can be re-learned and re-captured, and it will happen on a parent’s knee, or through a Grandfather’s gentle wisdom.

The Unstoppable Allure in an Ironic Age.
Maureen Dowd Asks a Question

Posted on:
  1. Excellent, excellent post.

    Your remark, “Another problem, of course, is that intimacy has been defined downward, especially for our young girls, to mean little more than a “hook-up,’ is an more than passing observation. Redefining intimacy means redefined relationships, redefined committment and redefined morality- no small matters.

    Those things that have in effect been redefined, have by extension, redefined what it means to be a parent.

    Woe unto the society for whom parenting becomes conditional or a matter of ‘choice.’ When ‘pro choice’ comes to include parenting, we are in more trouble than we know.

    Comment by Sigmund Carl and Alfred ? June 29, 2006 @ 2:31 pm

  2. A romance recently busted up because Buster wanted a real relationship, and the girl, a nice-enough kid, simply did not know what that meant

    Sadly, this is not a rare situation. I had several short-term “girlfriends” break-up with me when I hadn’t tried to have sex with them after two weeks of meeting them. Too often today young men and women are forced to choose between doing the right thing, or a lasting relationship. Too often today you cannot have both. The lesson for someone who wants a girlfriend? All too often it ends up being: Give in, and do what you want to do anyway. Thus, even good men and women are led astray.

    Comment by Bender B. Rodriguez ? June 29, 2006 @ 3:30 pm

  3. It’s not just Buster’s group. I’m still single because I’m not a car. That is, I don’t want to be “taken for a test run” or have my “tires kicked” or whatever other euphemism is in vogue now.* (As a car lover myself, I think thats the dumbest analogy ever. Premarital sex is like driving a new Bugatti 150,000 miles and then saying, “I love this car, but I can’t commit to buying it. But maybe after that trip to Pasadena…”)
    I think I’m out of tune with my generaton because my parents aren’t Baby Boomers. They’re Silent Generation, growing up in the aftermath of the Depression and during WWII. I want to have a marriage like my parents have or my grandparents (one set married 56 years, the other 76 years). Because of them, I have an “unrealistic” and “romantic” view of marriage as being more than simple teamwork but also a place where, even when you argue and occasionally rage, you don’t walk away. You don’t let your desires outweigh everyone else who needs you.
    And here’s my two cents on the current lack of intimacy: Divorce. Fewer people grow up with parents who stay married and work through problems as part of a lifelong commitment. When you see a man and a woman putting their wants away and focusing on the well-being of their family, you learn that marriage isn’t about the Almighty Me. You learn that marriage isn’t a toy that you put aside when you get bored with it or it needs repair.

    Unfortunately, I’ve begun to resign myself to never getting married. I’m tired of dating because it leads to the eventual break-up as I cling to my old-fashioned (or primitive) ways. I refuse to be a mistress or a co-habitating semi-permanent girlfriend. I don’t think marriage is a piece of paper. I don’t think a spouse is a convenience like a microwave or a computer, but costlier and harder to move. ;)
    *BTW, food seems to be the current analogy for sex. For example, it’s used for the reason monogamy is “impossible”. Who wants to eat the same sandwich for the rest of his life? To which I can only say, “I’m not a sandwich, baby. I’m a smorgasbord!”

    Comment by Jean ? June 30, 2006 @ 10:42 am

  4. The State of the Mommy Nation

    The Anchoress has it as: “Mother-hung. People who spend their whole lives either trying to please the mother or to replace her missing love”…

    Trackback by Pajamas Media ? July 1, 2006 @ 8:17 am

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