Isn’t it a bit strange how inconsistently modern western culture approaches the topic of feelings?
On one hand, in the societal and political arenas, feelings seem to be more important than facts. Being offended is having won the argument, no further discussion allowed.
Yet, when it comes to relationships, feelings are suddenly a sign of weakness. Isn’t it amazing we have become accustomed to phrases like “catch feelings”, as if feelings were a sort of disease to be avoided or cured?
The truth is, young western people today are learning to approach their sexuality in an incredibly strange manner. It all begins with an open embrace of online dating as primary (hello Tinder) and the subsequent alienation and real-world awkwardness that occurs. Then it all continues with a manipulative fascination with power. Who will message first? Who will message last? At what time? How much time before the next message? How much time before you text him/her after the first date?
The non-sense doesn’t stop there. What was essentially a good intuition against avoiding overly dependent people has been turned into a cold insistence that whoever shows (catches?) feelings has lost the game. Young people mostly live in a world where feelings are something you just don’t do. Worse yet, if god-forbid someone was a normal human being and developed an affection to you after sleeping together for weeks, then that’s a red flag that you must leave them fast. Of course, the next step is to fetishize and fall for (or rather, simply go back to) somebody else who doesn’t give a damn about you — as long as there are no feelings, things are going alright.
Naturally, few dare to ask where any of this leads. It certainly doesn’t lead to stable relationships. If no one cares about the other (or cares, but doesn’t want to show it?), then there is neither a functioning relationship nor a point to it in the first place. The only other alternative, the one that this modern culture seems to welcome the most, is an endless cycle of unemotional short-lived sexual affairs.
Now, as my articles on the topic suggest, I am far from a sexual conservative. Yet, I find it hard to argue that this modern promiscuity-without-feelings lifestyle is any saner or healthier than the paranoia of sexual abstinence. It’s disappointing to see the supposedly “sex-positive” movement deny much of the essence of good sex — the emotional connection, the non-indifference, the desire to please. I already suggested that sex for me doesn’t stop with the mere act, but the popular culture today seems to disagree.
It’s hard to know the hearts and minds of others. Yet, I will venture out and suggest that the proponents of the anti-emotional school of thought are mostly deluding themselves about how sustainable their approach is.
Now, it’s only like every sexual act leads to feelings or that one will inevitably fall in love with each one of their lovers (although the chemicals released during sex are not to be ignored at all). One probably won’t. After all, once sex becomes decoupled from feelings, it’d naturally become easier to numb oneself to it. And then it might well feel good to “win” the game of staying as indifferent as possible to the other. But all of that just seems perverted. Not simply because of the repulsive way it sees and integrates feelings and sexuality, but also in the way it sets one up for great pain later on.
The point is, this modern way of approaching sexuality is a lot like playing with fire with little chance to come out the other end unburned. Over time, the very same indifferent promiscuity that brings so much sexual pleasure now is inevitably going to invite the same response in others. And unless one is planning to spend all life in short-lived sexual relationships with little emotional content, that’s no good. It means that when one of the many sexual partners finally feels right (i.e. when inevitably the internal battle to stay indifferent gets lost or no longer feels meaningful in light of the potential for something more than sex), the odds are the party will just leave, having been scared away by the sudden wave of unwelcome feelings. What might feel right, pleasurable and individually empowering ultimately creates a culture that brings the misery of meaninglessness as soon as one reaches for a little bit more than mere orgasms.
Now, maybe many are comfortable staying in the chaotic and judgmental dating world forever. To be fair, I too sometimes like the challenge of it. And besides, feelings are not always necessary, speaking purely as a matter of fact. But the intellectual fetishization of cold-heartedness seems misguided to me. It doesn’t serve for a greater sexual liberation (for it narrows down sexuality). Nor does it counter to the conservative accusations of turning sex into a meaningless pursuit (for, at least in that case, the accusation stands justified). For a more sexually liberated society, one that actually works, the bridge between the physical, the emotional and the meaningful must always stay open.
Yet, it’s hard to make such a nuanced case for sexuality these days. In popular culture, anything sexually conservative must be based on a religious desire to satisfy the gods’ arbitrary injunctions. Anything sexually liberal must deny emotions and feelings and artificially separate the sexual act by idealizing it in itself.
Yet, most people would rather be at neither of these extremes. Intuitively, young people feel that both the old conservative and the new liberal sexual morality are taking something valuable away from the human sexual experience. Sadly, seeking to express their sexuality, many end up confused by the current cultural trends that I began this article with.
It turns out, blind ideology is a poison not merely in the realm of politics, but that of sexuality as well.
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