What's more important to you? Money or love? When you can't buy the groceries or pay the rent, money becomes an issue of survival. Can only the well-heeled and secure afford to be in relationships? After all relationships require stability to prosper, right? An aspect that intrigues me about humans hooking up within the realms of dating, friendships and professional partnerships, is the balance (or imbalance) in the exchange of goods. Goods can be time, talents, money, emotions.
What do I have to give and what do you have to give and how do we make sure the exchange is mutually beneficial?
In my previous posts about Wolfie and his obsession with a woman 30 years his junior, I implied that the equation in older men/young women and older women/younger men relationships was often (not always) monetary. Some accused me of cynicism. Perhaps. But I think maybe in our commodified culture that judges people's worth on the accumulation of wealth and goods, this is not far off the mark.
You need money, I have more than I need and I lend or give it to you in exchange for something tangible such as food, housing, clothing. The uncomfortable aspect in exchange of goods seems to come about when we talk about exchanging money for less tangible things such as love, affection, physical intimacy, sex or the promise of friendship.
Then the Puritan in many of us gets kicked up. After all, shouldn't these things be above the mundane? Shouldn't they be held in higher esteem? Why should a wealthy older man not be able to seduce a young woman? (Wealth, incidentally, does not always equate to money. Wealth can also be social capital such as fame or prestige.) What codes of honor and civility is he breaking when he does? A lot of people came down hard on Wolfie, mostly women in fact.
Some of the male responses to this question, however, intrigued me. One guy believed that older men going after younger women was predatory. He wrote:
"The problem is that a woman's erotic capital is a perishable commodity. The men who go after younger women tend to 'consume,' so to speak, more than their fair share of this commodity. Before the sexual revolution, people got married early and it was hard to divorce, so those type of men couldn't get away with that type of behavior. Today alpha males are truly free to exhaust multiple women's erotic capital, ultimately screwing over that woman (when he inevitably moves on) and undoubtedly screwing over other guys as well. This isn't good."
Hmmm. There's an element of truth in this if there is such as thing as "erotic capital" in a woman. When does a woman's sexuality peak any way? I recall reading it was in her late 20s but then again other reports (unscientific) have said much later than that. Maybe it makes sense for a woman of 28 to hook up with a lover whose sexual drive is equivalent to her own. Men supposedly peak in their 30s.
Does it make any sense at all then for a man of 60 to hook up with a woman of 30? Or vice versa? Logic would dictate against it; yet it happens all the time and many such relationships last for years. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Ashton and Demi had a pretty good run. Madonna's boyfriend is 22. She's 55. Damn that's 33 years apart. Is it because an older man/older woman can give a younger woman/younger man the security s/he might crave? Or could it be that love between people reveals itself in many ways and age may not have much to do with it? Or is it that all these people have had great plastic surgery and do a lot of yoga?
I wonder if we lived in a world less driven by capital but one formed out of respect and good will, if we would ever feel the push to take advantage of one another? Is it in the human DNA to try to get something out of you that I need at the expense of your needs?
We're still evolving. The direction the world has gone in the past 30 years and the trends towards combative exchange in endless wars speaks volumes about our collective unconscious need to feel powerful and superior over someone else.
But I wonder if there are other models of creating society, loving relationships and a peaceful co-existence out there? What about a new way to make decisions where we all win? What about a fair distribution of wealth and property, health and education for all? Is this Utopian or is it actually possible? Am I just an old crotchety Socialist at heart?
I found this in a 2009 press release from UC Berkeley News (Egads! That place? Berkeley?):
"In contrast to the 'every man for himself' interpretations of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychologist and author of Born to be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, and his fellow social scientists are building the case that humans are successful as a species precisely because of our nurturing, altruistic and compassionate traits.
They call it 'survival of the kindest.'
Because of our very vulnerable offspring, the fundamental task for human survival and gene replication is to take care of others," said Keltner, co-director of UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center. "Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate. As Darwin long ago surmised, sympathy is our strongest instinct."
When you ask the wider questions, an old man getting together with a younger woman or an older woman getting together with a young man, seems like a minor blip on our journey to survive our own fear-driven needs to hoard, exploit, kill and maim one another. And yet within even the smallest exchange between people lies the kernel for either exploitation or expansive generosity. It requires eyes on both sides to be wide awake and conscious of who gets what and the price one is willing to pay.
I say we go for love and say bye-bye to exploitation. Let's follow that generous, giving spirit in each of us. Yes, it's really in there except maybe in sociopaths and two faced politicians.
I know it's in me. The next time I hook up, it will be with eyes wide open, with a generous and forgiving heart and no expectations. Age and money won't matter. I want to see if this Keltner guy is right. Can we save our species one loving relationship at a time? Dogs love unconditionally all the time. What do they know that we don't?
Too much is at stake for the world not to try love over money. We know where money has led us. Let's go for the heart pounding thrill of caring for someone else. Who cares how old anyone is. Or what gender they are. Or what they look like on the outside? At the end of the day we all need love.
If someone offered me a hundred million bucks or a love to last a lifetime, I know what I would choose. Which would you choose? Be honest. Tell us why.
If only we had the collective courage to go after what our hearts really wanted deep inside for ourselves and the world. Justice, truth and the American way. Remember?
Not just for some. But for everyone. What the world needs now is love. Sweet love.