I remember very clearly my thinking about all of this. I could see where we were going, and I was pretty jazzed.
I thought social media would be what saved us. The suspicion and antagonism about political-social issues would have to be lessened by the realization that we live and interact with people who look and seem pretty much like us, for all intents and purposes, and yet have different opinions than we do. Imagine that. We might have to just all get along.
So, here's the thing: That didn't really happen, obviously. In the U.S., at least, it appears to have polarized us even more, which created artificial ethical problems. Can I be friends with someone espousing views I find reprehensible? Does Facebook friendship count as friendship? Do I block, hide, unfriend, what? Ugh.
Here's the other thing: I think it's working out just fine, actually. Our interpersonal relationships might be troubling, but the mass effect is fascinating, and pretty clear. We got marriage equality in this country, and it feels as though we got it overnight, and that I'm going to place at the feet of social media. Marijuana legalization, too.
My opinion is that these are both good things, although I can see where reasonable people could have different opinions. But the rapid way they were swooshed into our system suggests that there was a herd mentality, or effect, essentially a large group of people shrugging their shoulders. There are more important things, they seemed to be saying. This isn't on my radar, and I think social media is probably largely responsible.
Which brings us to #MeToo, which I suspect is the most famous hashtag of all time, which isn't all that long (11 years). The linkage is obviously unmistakable, and the effect is staggering.
I also can't think of another social or political movement that's insinuated its message into our DNA so rapidly. Suddenly men (or, particularly men) are reassessing past behavior under a new and uncomfortable light. Assuming that people who take the time to question their personal ethics are the kind of people who care about, you know, ethics, that's a lot of spontaneous introspection by people who probably have to look harder than, say, Charlie Rose.
I've done my share. Of course.
It was tricky, since I last worked in an office (or at a place of employment other than my den) in 1988, the year I turned 30. I'd worked mostly with women, and for the past few years prior to leaving for home, it had been as their boss. I got along well with most of them, preferring women to men in a general sense when it comes to interesting conversations, but I'm sure there were inappropriate moments. I was in my 20s. I am a dude. A bit more than sure.
But I doubt I did any damage. Given the nature of that company, and the fact that my boss was a woman--and that I was an unusual choice as a manager, it having been a woman in the past--I'm pretty sure it would have come up. I probably just had some jerky moments, and I was probably forgiven.
It did shake up the sense I had of myself as a fairly enlightened man in this day and age. I knew all about sexual harassment, not to mention casting couches. I got my eyes opened early on by virtue of being married to a woman, as she had some stories. I heard others over the years.
But dude. The number of women I know who said #MeToo when it came to seeing genitalia they specifically did not want to see stunned me. Talk about clueless, or apparently. I had no idea this was a thing.
Now this all sounds naive, but I'm serious. And I'm not naive.
I get male preoccupation with the penis. It's hard to miss. It's functional, and alarming when it doesn't function. It's a socially private open secret, the penis, and surprisingly independent, which you would know if you have ever been a girl at a middle-school dance.
I just don't think of it as particularly attractive, and the idea of display is just weird. I have no idea what these guys were expecting.
"Oh, wow! I knew you had one, but I never imagined I'd get to see it!"
So yeah. That caught me by surprise. I'm pretty clean in that regard. I still have some issues.
When I was 20, I dated a high-school girl for the better part of a year. I didn't see it coming, had no interest in girls that age, and yet it happened and I was happy about it. I just didn't want anyone to know about it.
It was awkward. Looking back, a three-year age difference at that time seems pretty reasonable, given varying rates of maturity at that age. I never felt like I was robbing the cradle. And I was crazy about her.
I just didn't want to go to the prom with her, at the school I'd graduated from. I didn't want my friends to know she was an 11th-grader. I eventually distanced myself from her day-to-day, expecting her to live my life and ignore her own, and that worked out the way it should have. It broke my heart, which deserved to be broken. We all survived.
But it was a thing, and it got more prominent a decade later, when I was 30 and had small kids. Suddenly teenage girls were coming over to babysit, and one night in the car my wife started teasing me about showing off for the sitter. Whaaat, me? I was, too, playing superdad and being all funny and charming.
It's not like I was lusting after a 17-year-old. But I noticed her, and it occurred to me that maybe I shouldn't be checking out Tiffany's vital statistics, even idly. In a guy way.
And it stuck, somehow. It wasn't me being noble; nobility and sex rarely intersect in my life. Sex always wins. Distancing and unbreakable rules are the only answer.
So anyone a dozen years younger than I, or so, is off the grid for me. I've been married for 35 years; I'm not exactly on the grid, but I think you get it. It's just fantasy football, the casual observation in the mall, the thing we all do, pretty much. Look, assess, speculate, move on. I'm not in the market for anything, not even window shopping. I can't help but look.
I just don't look if they appear to be mid-40s or younger. That's not my arena, that's another group, another dating pool that I don't dip into it, even speculatively. It's become automatic. Again, it's not noble. I just figured it out when I was 30, and it works OK.
Yesterday, my son and I walked up to the grocery store, about a quarter-mile away. Our street has been torn up since October, a new water-drainage project, and it was pouring rain, so we didn't talk much. He's a constant companion, though, and has been for nearly 30 years. We're comfortable together, particularly now that he's grown into himself. He's nearly 28, and fairly independent, even given his difficulties. Over the past couple of years, too, he's made huge leaps in personal growth, including eating and exercise habits. He's dropped 70 pounds, turning into a lean, muscular young man, easily keeping up with me as we trudged along.
We did our shopping, and that's when I noticed something. A young woman, somewhere in her 30s, looked up as I walked by and gave me a glance. I know that glance, or remember it. It wasn't overt, just expressing mild interest. Interest of the man-woman kind. I was flattered, and kind of weirded out for a second.
And then, as we were leaving, it happened again. Another woman, in the same age group, looked up in passing with some interest. Again, nothing big or obvious, just a little curiosity, maybe.
I really feel as though I have a decent handle on where I am in life. I'm generally pleased with my health, and my weight and level of fitness, and just my general appearance, particularly compared to the past. I'm usually neat and smell OK. I try to be pleasant, and smile.
But I'm months away from 60, and I shouldn't be attracting looks from anybody. Maybe my wife if she's had a couple of glasses of wine, but even then. It's been 35 years. My day is done, I'm fine with that.
It's just funny, then. A nice moment to reflect on. I have been all of these men in my life, walked all of these different roads, imagined all of these varied futures, and here I am. I'm an older white man, not short or tall, not scrawny or jacked or obese, and I'm nobody's idea of a viable mating option this side of a retirement center. I'm good with this. I just pondered this weird moment in the grocery store, tried to find the right words so I could describe it humorously to my wife later, and considered mentioning it to my son, wondering if he'd understand my confusion.
Which is when I realized the thing about these women. It's not that they didn't have these frankly interested and slightly inviting expressions on their faces. I know what I saw. They had them. The thing I realized is, I may not be as secure in assessing my stage of life as I thought I was. The thing I realized is, I'm not the only one who's aged.
The thing I realized is, they weren't looking at me.