I have a really awesome job. For the past two years, I have driven two high school girls from school to ballet practice at least twice a week. They remind me of my little sister: 14, pretty, smart and endlessly gossiping about boys. We have developed a relationship. They think I’m funny, I think they’re adorable — they ask me for advice about boys because, they think, I am cooler and older and in college, so obviously I would know, right?
Yet here I am, on the eve of my 21st Valentine’s Day, eating chocolate that my daddy sent me in the mail, listening to bad Billy Joel songs on my headphones (so nobody knows I am listening to bad Billy Joel songs) and channeling romantic frustration into cleaning out my fridge. I dump out crusty old bowls of soup and Tupperware containers of now-unidentifiable oatmeal or chick peas or something. And the wilted lettuce. But the things in jars — those things keep forever. Forever. Like years and years. Like after I graduate Yale, I can still eat the artichokes in my fridge. Which is good, because after I graduate I probably won’t be able to afford artichokes. You see, I am hoarding.
But that’s beside the point. The point of the artichoke jar is this: In the modern world, things are lasting longer. People are lasting longer. The overall U.S. population is aging, and 45 is the new 25. March 4 is the new Feb. 16 on the milk jug expiration stamp. And with divorce rates and life expectancies shooting through the roof, we college students — traditionally the target group for chick flicks and Hallmark romance — are not the only census bracket getting ass … or trying to.
My grandfather — “Bigdaddy” Blades, a Southern eccentric whose wife died several years ago — has recently sent me pictures of “a lovely woman from Norfolk, Virginia with whom [he] spent a beautiful afternoon on Hatteras Island sipping iced tea and chatting with old friends.” What? My 70-something-year-old grandfather has a Valentine’s date? This is the same grandfather who once sent me a used pencil in protective bubble wrap with a note that said “I used this pencil in 1965. I know that because the phone number on it [the pencil advertised a construction company] is a five-digit number. Before 1965, there were only four-digit numbers, and after 1965, we switched to seven-digit numbers.” And ladies find that romantic?
I mentioned this imbalance of the circle of life to my widowed grandmother (other side), and she shyly announced to me that her neighbor — we’ll call him “Bob” — has started coming around for dinner, taking her to church and bringing her flowers. “It’s nothing,” she says, “Bob just helps me ’round the house.” Or, “I cooked too much spaghetti last night, so I asked Bob to come eat some.” Oh really? Is that what they’re calling it in social security offices these days, Nana?
You know what, though? It’s okay. Good for them. Maybe now Nana will stop sewing costumes for her dachshund and Bigdaddy will stop cataloging used office items. I’m used to this. After all, my parents divorced when I was 11, so the formative years of my adolescence were not spent choosing my own sparkly tank tops from Limited Too, but rather taste-testing my mother’s breakfast-in-bed recipes. And instead of sharing a popcorn at American Pie II with a cute guy from biology class, I spent evenings telling my father that, no, a navy blazer does not ever match black pants in any conceivable situation, and that, yes, he should trade in the station-wagon with the baby seat for a Jeep Cherokee.
I guess I just thought when I got to college things would be different. But here at Yale, the closest I come to romantic encounters is participating in “the trust circle” in rehearsals or warm-ups for plays. Everyone stands holding hands and says to the person on the right in a very serious and intense tone: “I will hold you up. I will not let you fall.” I always kind of want to kiss whoever is standing next to me.
I am young, healthy and, according to William Summers’ lectures, in my peak physical reproductive state; and yet I annually find myself on Valentine’s Day downing bottles of champagne and plates of sushi with my girl friends while my parents and remaining grandparents receive bouquets of flowers and boxes of chocolates from wooing admirers. Sure, everybody loves Mrs. Robinson and Stacey’s Mom, but only when you’re not Stacey.
I’m not asking for Romeos to sweep Juliets away at 14 like Shakespeare and certain Southern Baptists would have it, but I think it’s only reasonable that I feel more attractive than John McCain. A good friend of mine recently attended his grandfather’s second marriage and was amused to find that the band edited the refrain of the Beatles’ classic to read: “When I’m 84 …” I don’t know whether to smile and say “that’s sweet,” or to turn up Billy Joel, dance like I still have my original hips, and sing, “Only the good die young!”
Or maybe I’ll just eat the jar of artichokes.