WHAT IS COMMITMENT?
I saw a play last night called ON THE ROCKS with the tag line, “boys, beer and broken relationships.” Well, I know a bit about all three of those things and I was curious to see how much the modern take on what it’s all about has changed since I was initiated into the game women played way back in the early fifties. And wow! I couldn’t believe these young women on the stage were talking about the boys, the beer and the broken relationships I remembered.
Let me take you back to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1950. I had a blind date with a college MAN and I was almost hysterical with excitement. I stayed with my cousin Sandy at her sorority house and it was the first time I had ever been around girls decked out in bobby socks and tight pegged skirts with matching cashmere sweaters who gathered late at night after curfew, at 10:30 pm drinking hot cocoa topped with marshmallow fluff, gobbling the leftover desserts from dinner and indulging in endless talk about the guys they wanted to date, how far to let them go and how to trap them into making a commitment. Those college women had only one goal in mind: getting a proposal BEFORE they graduated lest they were forced to either live with their parents or actually earn a living.
My guy’s name was Tommy Harris and he was from Dayton, Ohio which sounded very romantic to me. He picked me up at the sorority house and we went his fraternity house for a party. Everyone drank a lot of spiked punch and then disappeared into darkened rooms to explore each others’ bodies, careful to keep all the exploration peripheral. I had no idea why everyone vanished or what they were doing, but I was a nice Jewish girl and my mother had made it very clear that you hold the guys hand and the next thing you know, you’re pregnant.
I sipped a coca cola stayed right where I was. I knew all too well what happened to Dottie Cohen when she guzzled a whole punchbowl full of that drink. She threw it all up on the way home and got expelled from Monroe High.
At midnight, Tommy and I walked through the diagonal to the “house” and I tried not to stare at a lot of couples doing a lot more than holding hands and I smiled at my escort. “Thank you very much,” I said. “I had a lovely time.” I took a determined breath, ignored all my mother’s warnings, stood on my tip-toes and kissed his cheek. I was blushing so hotly I didn’t notice the fall nip in the air and when I was gulping cocoa and chewing cinnamon streusel in the safety of the dining room with my cousin, we discussed at length if I had been too forward.
I realize all this sounds like Victorian England to anyone under thirty, but that was the way the American middle class handled their boys and their alcohol. Broken relationships were another matter and I didn’t grapple with that problem until my sophomore year at Michigan when I was dating Bob Yen, a sizzling number who drank to excess and wore lederhosen at dances to shock the chaperones and show off his wonderful knees. We had been dating long enough to be called a couple but he had said nothing about exchanging pins, or planning a future together. In fact, I suspected him of taking out other women in a different sorority and that settled that. No way would I sacrifice my degree for a womanizer. He was dismissed over coffee before he had a chance to ask me to the spring formal. I wasn’t wasting my late curfew on a fly-by-night. I didn’t care that he was attractive to me. I didn’t give a tinker’s thimble that he was an English major who carried on delightfully interesting conversations. My social life had a very clear goal, and he didn’t meet the requirements.
The play I saw at the Off Market Theater was written by Dina Laura and Mina Radhakrishnan, two up-to-date young ladies who know how everything works in today’s fast moving, demanding yet loosely defined society. It followed the journey of four people who were trying to discover what love really means. Each character is forced to come to terms with his emotional hang-ups and each deals with his broken heart in a very different way. After all, they had already slept with a lot of people besides each other and not one of them needed a marriage. Yet they all were seeking the one special person they could come home to and smile at across the breakfast table every morning.
Well , we wanted that too, back in the fifties, but we did our choosing without testing so many waters first. We did the dating, meeting the parents, choosing the ring, the china, the silver and then the sex. We didn’t always love the act, but we loved the idea of it. Once that ring was on our fingers, we didn’t always wait until we had marched down the aisle, but what the hell. We had registered at the departments stores and bought the dress. It was a done deal.
I spoke to Dina Laura who not only co-authored the play but was one of the stars and she struck me as an idealistic, lovely, clear thinking woman with faith in the ultimate goodness of the universe. In the program, she quotes Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.”
That gutter has changed for us all and I think it is a good thing. Women don’t think all is lost if they have a career. They do not consider sex a commitment. We all want connection…a person who is traveling the same path we are seeking. But the truth is that I got married because I wanted to get laid and the marriage lasted barely two years. The four characters in the play were not necessarily going to marry. That had little to do with their malaise or their ultimate goal. They cared a lot more about figuring out who they were and taking responsibility for themselves. Maybe all they really wanted was to get up each morning and make the day work. Besides, who wants to be shackled to someone who isn’t a friend as well as a lover? No one. Not in the days when I was looking and even more so, not today.
I say hooray for 2008 and the way we love each other. And I say hooray for a production that sets its priorities on being true to yourself instead of marrying the first one who gets it on with you. That is a commitment that will last! And that is life style we earn by coming to terms with ourselves first of all.
About Lynn Ruth
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