Shaffer: Self, death, love

Untruth and Lies

Like every other great empire in history, America’s decline is hastened by the sexual license of its elite. Yale University, a cesspool of sin, has become a nexus of dirty dancing, sexual exploration and worse.

The YSFP table tent says: “Do not throw rose petals in your bathtub for a romantic rendezvous. They’re covered with poison.” Death by poisonous rose petal while in locked in soapy conjugal embrace is, I confess, poetically sublime. But why the gratuitous mention of sex in the YSFP flyer? It’s obvious. All we care about is sex, sex, sex — not sustainability.

The stiff upper lip and the heroically suppressed sexuality that made our ancestors great are quickly fading. Yale University is snipping the moral fiber of the youth.

Stop. That was all satire. It’s easy to make fun of those who don’t like our current sexual clime. Our attitudes toward sex are political — you’re either with us, or you’re with the fundamentalists. But in truth, there are shades of gray. And many Elis fall in those shades — not condemning all kissing outside heterosexual marriage across equal class and denomination, but also not satisfied with campus romance.

I’m very unmanly in that I’ve always enjoyed love stories. I like the archetype of the young man playing the mandolin beneath the window of his beloved. Granted, it is heteronormative and chauvinistic, idealizing female passivity. But there’s something beautiful about that idolatry, that intoxication, that losing oneself in another.

Demythologizing sex is a crusade of modernity. But mythology animates our greatest art and poetry — our noblest lives. Myth elevates sex from mere mechanics and biology to a kind of rapture. My favorite myth is Aristophanes’, in Plato’s Symposium — that each individual is a cleaved half of a single primordial self cut by cruel gods. A loving couple is really a single soul, each half crippled until they are united. It’s cheesy, but it embodies what couples in love feel about each other.

But this myth is un-American, anti-capitalist, anti-modern, contrary to the ethos of the Yale (wo)man. We are autonomous, rugged individuals — we don’t need nobody. The suggestion we are insufficient, maimed souls until we find our other half is an insult. We, like Aleksey Vayner, think we should strike those who get in our way out of our lives. And nothing gets more in the way of our goals than lovers, clingy and demanding.

The hookup culture is a product of our rugged individualism. It satisfies the libido without threatening our inalienable right to do whatever we feel like we wanna do whenever we please. It is not just freedom from puritanical parents and religion, but freedom from lovers, from their jealousy, from their sorrows, from their needs in times of sickness, from their expectation that we listen. To desire and be desired and then to forget is so much less burdensome than to cherish and be cherished and hope for permanence.

The ideal is no longer to lose oneself in another, but to use another for oneself — to extract the greatest pleasure with the least intimacy. The boy with the mandolin’s climax was through love and marriage, immortalizing the beloved with oneself through children — it was all about the other and permanence. Now love, marriage and children are the things to be avoided. The cool guy sneaks out of the bedroom before sober words can be exchanged — it’s all about the self and transience. He lies to his bros that he doesn’t remember her name, and receives high fives. He might return for another round, but he will dart if ever the l-word is pronounced. A woman who speaks that syllable is tactless, psychotic, obsessed and dangerous. She must be fled. This satisfies our physical needs —all there is, scientifically — without the difficulties and with more high fives.

That’s the idea. But I suspect that Aristophanes was poetically, if not scientifically, right that a single man is a cleft half. The self is a small prison and the only escape is another person. The hookup, isn’t immoral, but it offers a too easy stand-in to the escape that is real love. Autonomy is easier, though wholeness is better. There naive boy with the mandolin has far more of the erotic than the anonymous androgynous hookup. The way we live now is anything but erotic in the classical sense. It is the death of eros.

We know everything about the mechanics of sex: how it’s done safely, every variation on the standard positions and the instruments employable. But we’re incompetent in love. We boldly party naked but won’t (forgive the cliché) dare bare our souls. The proper use of birth control we have down, but the immortality through rebirth in beauty we’re missing.

We need a better mythology of love, not more sexual mechanics. We should consult Plato instead of Sasha Grey.

I, for one, will spend the night with the former.

Matthew Shaffer is a senior in Davenport College.

Comments

  • Yale 08

    The ideal is no longer to lose oneself in another, but to use another for oneself — to extract the greatest pleasure with the least intimacy. The boy with the mandolin’s climax was through love and marriage, immortalizing the beloved with oneself through children — it was all about the other and permanence. Now love, marriage and children are the things to be avoided.

    BEST SENTENCE in the YDN all year.

    Well done.

  • 2010

    I haven’t commented before, but I’ve been reading your column for a while, and I think you’re one of the best columnists the YDN has ever had. Today’s piece was especially great.

  • 2013

    great writing and a bold message. awesome.

  • 2012

    “A woman who speaks that syllable is tactless, psychotic, obsessed and dangerous. She must be fled.”

    yes. As a girl, I keenly feel this perception– I would never say that word to a man first, no matter how much I meant it.

  • poster

    ah, mr. shaffer, i always suspected that beneath your cynical misanthropy you have a little bit of love for mankind.

  • lmc

    Today has been declared Live Like You’re in a 19th Century Romantic Poem Day.

    Matthew Shaffer will serve as honorary Wordsworth, and at a ceremony where The New Blue will sing, he will be presented with a copy of “The Symposium,” in braille.

  • Junior

    I enjoyed this. I don’t know what the appeal of the hookup culture is. In my freshman year I awkwardly tried to hookup all the time, not because I actually wanted to, but just because taht’s what you’re supposed to do here. I think it’s the same for a lot of people. They actually would prefer relationships, but they want to be one of the bros.

  • Joe

    This was an especially good column, by one of my favourite columnists. I have nothing to add but a suggestion that Mr. Shaffer watch Hedwig and the Angry Inch to see an interpretation of Aristophanes’ myth.

  • The AntisexweekatYale

    The anti-sex week message is hidden in the final lines, barely visible. Most people won’t get it. I understand the desire not to piss people off. But so long as you’ve taken up the cause of the slightly less libertine Yalies you might as well be explicit about it and make the implicattions for sex week clear.

  • roflcopter

    Maybe more men would feel the same way, Mr. Shaffer, if they had girlfriends as spectacularly beautiful as yours.

  • Love and Lust

    Fortunately, in the internet age, you can access sasha grey and plato in rapid succession.

  • @#10

    she is, indeed, spectacularly gorgeous.

  • a reader

    “This satisfies our physical needs —all there is, scientifically.”

    I don’t think science would back that view, but what a nice piece of writing (and thinking) this is overall.

    A thought for roflcopter, maybe more men would have spectacularly beautiful girlfriends (in the ways that really matter) if they thought about things more like Mr. Shaffer does.

  • Josh

    Hookups are the way people with low self-esteem reaffirm themselves.

  • Charles

    nice

  • losers

    people who complaina bout hookup culture are mostly those who aren’t cool enough to get any.

  • @#16

    eh, people who defend hookup culture are usually people not good enough to have actual relationships.

  • Goldie

    Matt, I thought this was very moving.

  • ROFLCOPTER

    Stop stealing my name, you roflcopter poseur

  • ’12

    ROFLCOPTER, where have you been lately? Only an idiot would try to impersonate you but not capitalize your name.

  • roflcopter

    I could say the same to you, you rogue.

  • retpoclfor

    Ah! A pane of highly reflective silver polish? A mirror, you call it? Then, I, too am become a rogue!

  • je’12

    this is the best column i’ve ever read in the ydn since i came here!

  • don’thookoup

    would any positive commenters here like to date me? meet me on goodcrush?

  • saybrook997

    You raise a new, radical idea that college affection, romance and playmates have something to do with “love, marriage, and children”–maybe not what you have now, but preparing for someone’s some day. Girls don’t expect us guys to get this radical on our own.

    Your eros “high”–idealized love and lust–is fun, good, until reality. At least, this can be intense training, maturing, for Greek or some other reverence in sex/l-word in the relationships that come later, with allyour “jealousies,” “sorrows,” “caring,”sickness,” and “listening.” The effort to prepare yourself and another for someone else then is not wasted and gives some value to my “romantic” failures and mistakes. I’ve found out that a relationship based on love only cannot survive. Human love is too weak.

  • Don’t Knock It ‘Til You’ve Tried It

    I get the feeling that most people knocking the hookup culture do so because they have not been successful at it. College is that last vacation from life before we enter the real world and marriage–why not enjoy it?

  • Plato Enthusiast

    Sasha Grey: Plato:: Eros : Agape. lets aim for the top as long as we are aiming high, shall we?

  • very good

    Though his columns have ranged from pointless to fascinating throughout the year, Shaffer appears to have hit his stride with this column. Good job.

  • Y ’09

    “Demythologizing sex is a crusade of modernity. But mythology animates our greatest art and poetry — our noblest lives. Myth elevates sex from mere mechanics and biology to a kind of rapture.”

    This line reminded me of a painting by Rubens, “Hero and Leander,” that was one of my favorites at the Yale Art Gallery. It is one of the great myths of love and sacrifice. Sure, a mandolin is fine, but what, if not love, would compel a man to swim the stormy Hellespont each night. It is a shame that those mired in the “hookup culture” may never experience something so powerful.