How to Pick a Lover

Yet all experience is an arch where through
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
—Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Ulysses”

Many people spend most of their time interacting in the confines of rather narrow social boundaries. They stick to their own kind and are expected to do so. They interact in ghettos of one kind or another, perhaps not so much because of prejudice as because the kind of people they are most likely to meet turn out to be, by and large, much like themselves.

Several dimensions are involved. White women, for the most part, interact with other white people. They tend to spend time with people of the same social class—be it upper, middle, or lower—that means people with the same levels of education and wealth and with many parallels in terms of lifestyle. Whether or not religion per se is very important, Christians tend to spend time with other Christians and Jews with other Jews. Add to that an expectation of age stratification, which creates almost an age ghetto. Except for one’s own parents or one’s own children, the young associate with the young, the middle-aged with the middle-aged, and the old with the old however these life stages are defined. People in the workplace may interact with various age groups in the course of carrying out their jobs; but at the end of the workday, when socializing outside the workplace, they are likely to do so with those relatively close to them in age.

When you look at your friends, most likely, they will turn out to be a homogeneous group. Most are in the same general age group, most are of the same race and religion, and most have about the same amount of education and money. Often, they are in the same line of work and live in similar neighborhoods. They are people like yourself.

There is nothing wrong with friendships with people like yourself. You understand them easily, you can empathize with their problems, you can make yourself understood. There is nothing wrong with such friendships—except that they can become very predictable. You know these friends so well that they seldom surprise, seldom outrage, seldom enlighten you. The hazard of such homogenized associations can be serious in a friendship and fatal in a love affair. It is the hazard of boredom.

The Graduate Original Soundtrack album cover.

The Graduate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A man who is different from you is exciting because he provides a contrast to you, a new perspective. The exotic man is mysterious, and you are challenged to solve the mystery. He has the additional appeal, and danger, of forbidden fruit. He may be considered too old for you, too young or too married. In a white community, a black man is exotic; in a black community, a white man is. The exotic lover may be, in some way, unpresentable by virtue of what he does or who he is or where he comes from. He is certainly not the boy next door. The contrast between you, the sense of being different, is simultaneously a source of delight and a source of problems.

In future posts I will talk about the pros and cons  of various kinds of “exotic” relationships.

Comments on: "New Horizions in Contemporary Relationships" (4)

  1. I am 25 my friends range from the ages of 17-36 an these are the people I enter act with on a daily basis. They are mixed races Asian, White, Mexican an Black. All from different social classes also. I said all this to say this, I am the exception or your research is limited. While I can’t speak on the side of white families, white men aren’t considered exotic in a black community, they are generally considered the enemy depending on a mans edge.

    • I appreciate you taking the time to read and share your thoughts and feelings about my post. .Your points are well taken. While we unfortunately still don’t live in a color-blind, non-sexist, non-age bias, and classless world, we are moving in that direction. People such as yourself are more likely to live in large urban areas. Also, I would point out that the age range of your friends cluster within a fairly limited range; 7 years younger to 11 older. You don’t have friends from the full spectrum of all ages.

      I also want to explain my use of the word “exotic.” Apart from using the term to describe dancers (in which case it merely means strippers and has no bearing on what we are talking about), “exotic” has two related meanings. It can refer to something which is foreign in origin and which has not yet been assimilated. For example, in our culture, the Japanese dish tempura is foreign and exotic; but the ubiquitous pizza, although Italian in origin, has become as all-American as apple pie and is therefore no longer exotic. It is the second meaning of the term that I’m referencing. Something exotic is striking or unusual in effect; it is glamorous or exciting by virtue of being different. Thus, when two individuals come together from very diverse backgrounds (racial/ethic, social or a significantly different age group) the relationship can be considered exotic. While an exotic man may be acceptable as a lover, he may not be acceptable as a husband by a woman’s family and friends – or vice verse. Marriage is always a public arrangement and is everybody’s business, right down to great aunt Matilde who you haven’t seen in twenty years. A love affair, however, can be a private concern and is assumed to be nobody’s business.

      Hope that helps to clarify what I was trying to say.

      • This is true sadly because my older friends have passed on. But yes that does clarify what you was saying. I comment because I believe people work hard to write these blogs so I try to comment on the good ones.

  2. […] New Horizions in Contemporary Relationships ( […]

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