The sad state of contemporary male-female relationships is best told with a sense of humor, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily funny. The latest entrant in the popular culture to render this idea humorously is the movie "Ruby Sparks," which creates a contemporary myth of Narcissus in which the male star is a boy/man, the kind who seems so much with us these days. Calvin Weir-Fields, played convincingly by Paul Dano, is a novelist who loves himself to the point that he has to create a woman out of his imagination before he can fall in love. Fortunately, he's a novelist trying to shape a work of fiction, but the woman he creates on an old-fashioned Olympia electric typewriter becomes so real that he can relate to her only when he likes the way she acts toward him -- so he designs her behavior as a postmodern Pygmalion. When he loses creative control, he loses her, and the relationship is over.
While gays concentrate on seeking monogamous relationships and, in the ouch words of Kinky Friedman, exercising "a right to be as miserable as the rest of us," young heterosexual men such as Calvin seem to be avoiding that specific trap. As a result, many women in their 40s are sad and single without children or with fatherless children. In the 1970s, 1 in 10 women passed childbearing years without having a child. Today it's 1 in 5. More than half of women younger than 30 have what we used to call an "illegitimate" child. The New York Times calls it "the new normal."
Although "Ruby Sparks" looks superficially like an old-fashioned romantic comedy with the witty dialogue of a '30s movie starring Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable, it quickly darkens to reflect an edgy sensibility. A young woman goes up against an educated and talented young man who has been psychologically wounded by a woman's assertiveness. You could say it's our Everyman, a morality tale.
"Ruby Sparks" gives us a funny narrative that offers shape, form and poignancy to the new heterosexual male in a story that lacks the vulgarity and glibness typical of Hollywood's movies and sitcoms about "relationships." Calvin, who was challenged by a real woman, prefers to imagine her literally instead of engaging in a living, breathing relationship. Underneath this fictional story is a homegrown truth: Men have become the second sex, and this is the masculine mystique. Betty Friedan might cry.