Saturday, August 8, 2015

Intimacy, or No Texting at the Dinner Table

Some words, when used as replacements for other words or concepts, are called euphemisms.  One such example is passed away for died, an indication that many of us are uncomfortable with the concept of death, therefore the words to make it sound less inevitable and final.  Euphemism takes the sting out of the uncomfortable by making it sound less blunt.

Other forms of euphemism reveal no less discomfort attached to familiarity and its spectrum of degrees.  Somewhere within the time you were moving through teens, into twenties and thirties, the euphemism "togetherness" reached a wide usage, encouraging such synonyms as affinity, closeness, and rapport.  Togetherness was the Post-it note of relationships, extending from such coming-of-age rituals as casual dating, into steady dating, engagement, and marriage.

For those already married and with one or more children, togetherness became a meme for yet another euphemism, quality time, which meant hanging out, doing things together, forthright, inclusive conversations at mealtime, and, because this was the time well before the advent of that arch enemy of togetherness, the iPhone, togetherness meant no texting at dinner.

Enter another term, itself a euphemism while at the same time a trigger or cusp point for an entire series of euphemisms.  You're not sure when you first noticed; probably the connection began to seep through as a result of your interest in motion pictures taking you farther away from the action-based dramas of your earlier years and into the more romance-based narratives of your burgeoning interest in relationships.

A little background:  You were avid of a relationship, yet conflicted by the possible outcome, by which you understood to some degree the consequences of togetherness and relationships.  You'd already seen some of your friends, fast-tracking marriage, and in some cases fast-tracking parenthood not as a result of choice so much as a result of negligent birth control behavior.  

Much as you'd have liked the opportunity to go directly from the university to steady employment and income from writing, you saw with some clarity the possibility of marginal living until you had sufficient ability to make steady income a reality.  The options were spread out before you.  

Writing was the number one priority.  A relationship was number two.  Of course there was the alternative possibility you could have both simultaneously, but you saw that as a serious confrontation with the probabilities of being able to do well at both.

The euphemism you've been skirting here is the word "intimacy," which you believe began to decode itself to you as you watched the relation-based American-made movies when they were in the thrall of various types of censorship, and in contrast when you were drawn to French and Italian films, where you began to understand that the word intimacy meant more to you than the word togetherness.  Even though togetherness might well involve sexual activity, intimacy was sure to contain a rich palette of sexual implication, including that most dramatic presence of all in context, sexual jealousy.

Intimacy became a euphemism--or cover-up--for sexuality.  "Were you intimate friends?" could have only one meaning.  And so, too, could the response, "No, we were only friends."  As one evaluated one's own sexuality and, indeed, as you began to investigate your own, you began to gauge the behavior of persons you knew in terms of intimacy rather than friendship or compatibility or yet another euphemism, infatuation, which is often the code word for lustful interest.

How did couples you knew behave at parties?  Did they remain close or did they wander?  Did they check in on one another at frequent intervals?  Did they touch.  One youngish couple you in the high school and slightly beyond years seemed to you to do nothing but come to parties, find a place in some comfortable corner, then indulged another euphemism, which is to say they "made out," which at the time meant kissing, fondling, clothes on, little or no acrobatics.  They seemed to have nothing in common but their interest in making out, which led you to wonder if their attending a good many parties was the extent of their sexual activity and, in fact, a mutually agreed-upon limiting factor.

Intimacy and infatuation had their way with you at one point in your university years, when you began a similar type of relationship.  Steady enough to be invited to call her parents by their first name, yet strange enough in its way that between bouts of making out, you mostly discussed opera, the Schubert lieder, and medieval choral music, all of which were of greater interest to her than you.  What was of interest to you?  Books, drama, irony, and, of course, intimacy.  "Would you say," you asked her after a particularly energetic spell, "that we are intimates?"  She replied, "We have a lively potential for intimacy.  But first--"

You knew where that was going.  Attractive as it was, you heard the voice of your choice of priorities.  Years later, you saw her again, every bit as attractive, every bit awakening what was at the least infatuation.  By then, you'd realized how long it was taking you to learn things about writing you believed you needed to know.  She could doubtless see it in your face, your posture, your words.  By then, she was married.  "You really ought--" she began.  You put a finger to her lips, then kissed the tips of her fingers before you moved on.

Since then, you have, as the narrator in Ernest Dowsen's lovely poem, "Non sum qualis eram bonae sub regno Cynarrae"

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind,
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
    Yea, all the time, because the dance was long:
I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

Since then, you've had a better time of understanding the intimacy that comes on occasion when writing a sentence, a paragraph, perhaps even an entire page.


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