Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Walks at the Beach as a Cultural Emblem

The classified advertisements in which seemingly all sexual orientations reach out for romantic contact have appeared over the years in the literary journals such as the London Times Literary Supplement, the London Review of Books, and our own redoubtable New York Review of Books.  You have followed them with the same devotion some individuals favor TV series, even to the point of using some of the circumstances or motivations in short stories, and rarely fail to skim them when a new issue arrives.

At times when you are stuck somewhere waiting, as in a barber or doctor or dental office, you wonder how successful the advertisers have been in their search for the romantic life, whether in fact some of them have been disappointed severely and thus disillusioned, as a dear friend of yours has become after engaging the online dating services such as E-Harmony and OK-Cupid.

After merging your in-print findings with some investigations of online services, one trait seems to emerge with great regularity, not only on both sides of the Atlantic but on this side of the Pacific.  It is a rare applicant who, in filling out his or her personality and attributes questionnaire fails to refer to herself or himself as "Enjoys walks at the beach."

You would think from this popularity of walks at the beach that there is some multicultural agreement that walks at the beach equals romantic activity which in its turn has become the beau ideal of romance.  Being fond of the beach and seeing it as an opportunity to walk dogs, you have presented yourself on numerous occasions over the years.  While it is true that you have seen some couples walking shore side, you did not see that many and those you did see did not seem to be enjoying themselves in any way you would call notable.  Equally true, you saw some attractive persons walking at the beach but with the few exceptions where you were stopped to be asked for directions, your walks at the beach provided you many things--ideas for stories, opportunities to conduct tricky conversations in rehearsal, working out lectures, working off the annoyance at rejection slips that seemed to you to have completely missed the point in their comments--but nothing even vaguely romantic.

It is natural to put one's self into the text of some of the classified adds, using attributes that were by all accounts accurate, neither guiding the metaphoric lily nor engaging in false modesty.  Tall, weather-beaten writer, editor, instructor, for instance; even tall, funny, weather-beaten writer, editor, instructor, Pygmalion in search of Galatea (but that was an extreme reach), yet never once did it occur to say loves walks at the beach.  Dislikes reading galley proofs, but sees the practice as a necessity.  Dislikes reading student papers on principal but has had so many gifted students that he has become unprincipled--that surely would get a notice in London.

This is by no means an abandonment of walks at the beach or, indeed thoughts of romance, but in so many ways it does not pay to advertise.  Walks at the beach, romance, writing--they are all things you simply do, take for granted.  Something either comes from them or it does not but in any case there is the pleasure of all three when they happen.

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