A new humor book, How Not to Act Old, strongly suggests that only Old People use terms like “making love” and “sleeping with.” Young People say “having sex,” and “f**king.” Yikes. And that’s how they think, too. It’s just sex to them. Not love or romance.
The book, by Pamela Redmond Satran, includes a guide to how different generations approach disclosures about their sexual behavior. For instance, teenagers and college students typically share online and on Twitter all the details of their sexual encounters (yes, all). The older the generation is, the less is shared.
This is a broad generalization, to be sure. I can remember a girl in college who insisted on having a discussion with me about nipple color. (I guess she was ahead of her time.) And over the years, I have known people whose sexual behavior was far wilder or far more restrained than the supposed norm of my generation. So it is reasonable to assume that whatever your sexual behavior and your habits of sharing or not sharing, you might not match exactly what Satran claims your generation does. Come to think of it, I had a chat with an older woman years ago about the difficulties involved in performing oral sex when you wear dentures.
Oh, ick. But we’re safe now. According to Satran, people under thirty never read past the third paragraph of anything, and they hate details. So let’s talk about romance, shall we? No matter how many times people claim that romance is dead and love does not exist, only sex, we know that is not true. Hollywood celebrities may not bother to marry, because there’s a lot of money at stake each time they do. But normal people do. And we don’t do it to have someone support us, thank you very much, or cook for us, or whatever. We do it because we are in love. While it’s probably true that every generation has its touchstone romantic gestures (passionate billets doux having given way to passionate e-mails), basic romantic behavior does not change. And a gift of flowers still seems charming and even unusual today.
But what about romance? How can there be romance when people might meet and have sex that very night? Obviously, the romance is all in the relationship growth, as it always has been. Relationships are made before, during, and after sexual behavior. Eye contact across a room, in a repressive society. Or a formal visit, chaperoned, and a few guarded words that express so much more. A date that ends with both people still liking each other and wanting to see more of each other. That could be the first night, or the first morning after. And then there is always the transcending power of lovemaking itself. Oh, call it sex, it’s a shorter word. My point is that anyone who has ever had sex will tell you (if you don’t already know this, and I hope you do) that there can be a moment during sex when something happens that goes way beyond one’s nerves getting a shot of excitement. It transcends the physical and crosses over to the emotional or spiritual. (I’m not picky about labels.) And the major purpose of romance is to find that person with whom the sex has the potential to be more than just sex, so that every day of your life, you are living happily with an added dimension of intimacy between you and that other who is also part of you. It’s called love.
Oh, sure, romance is customarily supposed to end in marriage and babies and perpetuating civilization. But people would not look for romance so desperately if they were not aware on some level that it is possible to achieve a bond with another human being that goes beyond exchanging rings and bodily fluids. So here’s to romance, which can never be merely the province of Old People or Young People, but is always the hope of All People.