It's Valentine's Day again. Girls and boys, children and teenagers, men and women of various sizes, colors and ages parade sentiments about what they wish, think, enjoy, reflect or remember about this crazy thing called love.
It's a day named after a saint who lost his head, a strange if iconic symbol for falling in love. Cupid with his bow and arrow pierces hearts with hope, mixes memory with desire, aggression with passivity, pleasure with pain. Name your cliche and you can capture the moment that suits you. Democrats can even love Republicans; conservatives can fall for liberals. It's a day for fantasy.
In real life, as opposed to fairy tales, heroes do not capture heroines to ride off into the sunset of marriage to live happily ever after. How you see love and sex today may depend on where you live and what you do for a living. Politics can be more eloquent than poetics.
The French, who are credited with inventing the rules of l'amour, surprise us with their blase indifference to President Francois Hollande's unceremonious dumping of Valerie Trierweiler, his titular if synthetic first lady. On election night he declared that she was "the love of my life," but the light soon shorted out. When he began to secretly visit actress Julie Gayet, his first lady became a flawed "second" and checked herself into a hospital with "un coup de blues."
Washington's sympathy extended to the lady until her estranged partner arrived at the White House state dinner as the coveted single man. Place cards can be easily rearranged when the "significant other" becomes insignificant. C'est la vie.
Our own first ladies are not so easily dismissed. When Hillary lived in the White House she despised her husband's behavior with Monica Lewinsky, but she was too ambitious for suicide, politically speaking. Instead, she capitalized on misfortune. In a new book, "HRC" by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, we learn that she wrote a sympathy note to Gen. Petraeus when he was forced to retire after a bedtime misadventure became public. "I have a little experience," she said, looking from the other side of an adultery scandal. He remains a good and useful friend.
The French, long practiced in such matters, can stay above fraying affairs of the heart, but politics in America is of a rougher sort. Sen. Rand Paul, weary of hearing Republicans accused of waging war on women, made an effective pre-emptive strike against candidate Hillary with a reminder that her "first man," if she returns to the White House as president, would have new opportunities as a "sexual predator." That's over the top, but no more than the accusation that Republicans are "anti-woman" because they think the Little Sisters of the Poor shouldn't be forced by Obamacare to pay for the lady's birth control devices.
Sen. Paul not only reminds voters that President Clinton was impeached for lying about Monica Lewinsky, but recalled that Bubba paid Paula Jones, an Arkansas state employee, $800,000 to avoid a date in court.
"If (Democrats) want to take a position on women's rights, by all means do," Sen. Paul told a C-SPAN interviewer. "But you can't do it and take it from a guy who was using his position of authority to take advantage of young women in the workplace." Feminists were once furious at Hillary for standing by her man, but she calculated that it was in her interest to do it. Politics makes estranged bedfellows.
Double standards abound in matters of sex and love. When the curtain was lifted on private behavior in the public culture, the "culture industry," whether reflecting life or fantasizing about it, recognized fewer taboos than when boomers first rocked 'n' rolled. Now there's a fuzzy line between prurience and pornography, self-love and loving another, between being edgy and falling off the edge.
We once laughed at the Hollywood movie code, which required one participant in a horizontal love scene to keep one foot firmly on the floor. Pretzel positions produced lots of slapstick humor. Today the movie "Her" reduces a "love affair" to a man and a sexy voice in his laptop. This is not such a far-fetched scenario. Some millenials crave the passion of an Internet commitment without sex. Technology redecorates the romantic landscape.
In rebellion against loveless "hook-ups," some cautious college students seek sexless "soul mate" commitments. But estrangement can happen online, too. When cyber intimacy bytes the dust, a lover's quest hits a dead end, courtship disconnects, and mating is again at the mercy of a heartless search engine. Dare we ask: "What is this link called love?"