As an avid reader of The New York Times’ weekly “Modern Love” column for the past five years — and yes, I’ve read all the earlier published columns, too — I appreciate the perspective the various writers have offered.
The topics range from familial love to love-that-never-was to happily requited love. The writers range from middle-aged romantics to skeptical Gen Y’ers, from college students whose boyfriends experiment with homelessness to wives whose husbands change genders mid-marriage.
There are, to date, 373 columns. Somehow, I have a “favorite” column. It’s about making the leap to marriage, and it takes my breath away the same way a plummeting roller coaster does… in a good way. I guess that just makes me a romantic.
Last week’s column didn’t take my breath away, but it did make me stop and think about my own love life. The column, titled “Guns, Ammo, Romance?”, chronicles college student Charlotte Alter’s attempt at an old-fashioned (but not “meant to be”) romance with a West Point cadet after she compares her generations’ love lives to those of generations past:
The men my mother and grandmother met at political campaigns and jazz concerts seemed more charismatic than any of the generic “screen names” that kept popping up on my computer.
Although the romantic rituals of my generation (late-night texting, loaded e-mails, Facebook stalking) may expedite courtship, they make for exceedingly dull love stories.
Will our tales of digital courtship capture the imaginations of our daughters? Will they be impressed when we tell them about that time the text message was misinterpreted, or how the cute boy re-tweeted our Vampire Weekend reference? Will they care?
The column made me think. And then it made me sad.
I’m in the midst of my own long-distance relationship with a boy — which, in a generation or two, might be a deeply romantic thing of the past. But right now, it’s hard to see the romance in spending an ungodly amount of money on plane tickets and hotels, in talking every night via iChat bubbles on a computer monitor, in worrying whether he’ll join me here in a month or six.
But my love life prior to this three-year relationship is hardly the stuff of great romance, either. It started out blissfully, with my first kiss under a starry, summer night sky in the New Mexican mountains. A few whirlwind weeks later, that boy gently and pragmatically told me that our summer romance couldn’t be any more than just that.
The following year was my freshman year of college, and it was so full of ups and downs that I swore off dating and romance for my sophomore year. Then, halfway through my junior year, Jeff and I started dating. But even our transition from editor-and-photographer to friends to best friends to boyfriend-and-girlfriend is best chronicled by months of instant messaging transcripts. (Disclaimer: No, instant messaging was not the only way we communicated… it was just the most prolific.)
Compare our technology-dependent romance to the handwritten letters that my parents and thousands of others in their generations exchanged, to the smarmy war-romance movies of the 1950s, to almost anything else. How will Gen Y’ers’ idea of romance translate to future generations? And, as Alter asks, will they even care?
I’m obviously in no position to answer either of those questions. But while the forward-thinking, techno-nerdy part of me is excited to see what trends develop further down the road, the romantic in me is already mourning for the love lives of future generations.