“A friend of mine joins the cast of Up In The Air for a visit to a psychic . . .”
Sounds like a good joke opening, doesn’t it?
Up In The Air I find to be a very thought-provoking movie. I don’t find it a great movie (neither did the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. No Oscar wins), but there are aspects of it that stuck in my mind, churning away under my conscious thoughts, until the light began to glow. Then I saw what I needed to see.
To establish my premise, I need to briefly present Ryan Bingham (George Clooney), a man who makes his living depriving thousands of theirs. He complains at one point in the movie that he’s on the road (his desired environment) ONLY 322 days a year, forcing him to stay home and not collect frequent flier miles (his personal means of achievement) for the other 43 days. His success as an employment terminator has led him to suppress his humanity, so much so that he makes side money giving seminars to others on how to achieve the same separation from one’s own humanity.
While between stops, Bingham meets Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga), who is able to play Ryan’s status games on a level equal to him. She warns him up front, as they commence a fairly intense flight-based affair, that she is very much like he is, detached from humanity and safely behind a defensive barrier to block emotional attachment.
“Just think of me as yourself… only with a vagina,” she advises.
I won’t reveal that much more about the two of them in case you want to check out the movie, but she did warn him.
Now that (I hope!) I’ve established Clooney’s character, I bring him to the scene where the pertinent action of my post happens. His younger sister is getting married, and the groom, Jim Miller (Danny McBride), comes down with a case of cold feet. His older sister pushes Ryan to “Do something”, as if a guy who has detached himself from human emotion to enhance his career prospects is the right man for this job. After all, as he tries in a different scene to explain to a new hire he’s been entrusted to show the ropes:
“We are here to make limbo tolerable, to ferry wounded souls across the river of dread until the point where hope is dimly visible. Then stop the boat, shove ’em in the water and make ’em swim.”
That doesn’t sound to me like the right qualifications for a pre-marital crisis counsellor! But this IS Hollywood at work, not real life. So Hollywood gets Jim Miller talking:
“I was thinking about the wedding and the ceremony and all. Us buying a house and moving in together. Having a kid… Having another kid… Thanksgiving, Christmas, spring break, football games, all of a sudden they’re out of school, getting jobs, getting married, And then, you know… I’m a grandparent. I’m retired. Before you know it – I’m dead… and I just kept thinking… “What’s the point?”
As I interpret this scene, Jim Miller is for the first time looking at the price marriage will extract from him. It’s WAY too late at this point. This should be the very first thing a man considers when he decides he’s ready to wed, even before he begins to audition potential wives. Those who didn’t bother examining what matrimony changes in a man’s life prior to committing are the prime reason the divorce rate is so high, and why even women are giving up on marriage. (The topic of a future post)
By definition, marriage means a man gives up interacting with all other women for the attentions of just one. For lots of men, that alone is a difficult step. As a wise man once told me, every married man lives with 28 different women every month. One must, as the ancient Crusader advised Indiana Jones, choose wisely. Too few men do, and the statistics support this.
Buying a house, whether married or not, is another major correction for a man, as all that party money dries up paying the PITI (loan principle, interest, taxes, and insurance) of his castle. Women aren’t willing to settle for feathering a rental nest. They always want one of their own. White picket fence optional. He WILL provide her with one, even if eventually through his death benefits.
So here is Jim Miller looking at giving up his social and economic freedoms in trade for a wife. It’s traumatic. It will be more traumatic. We still have the rest of the list to go through.
As any parent knows, kids are a HUGE investment, both in time and money. They are the top priority no matter what else is happening. Everything a parent does takes any kids into account before any plans can be made. Jim Miller sees this in his listing of holidays and school breaks, time periods he might once have used to hang with old buddies doing guy things. Now, they are mere pauses in the employment processes exclusively used for “quality family time”. These are the only moments when the kids aren’t in school and the parentals [a term my own kids coined, so far as I know] are off work.
Then (he assumes), his offspring become their own adult persons, with lives of their own. He doesn’t see this as an achievement, despite the significant numbers of descendants who end up dead or in jail. All he sees is that his life was spent on making this graduation happen, and he feels like he got nothing in return by the time the Grim Reaper arrives to collect him. To him, it was all cost and no benefit. For the man who doesn’t make these choices as an informed participant, that is exactly what it is.
This is why young men need to be made aware of what society expects of them. Unlike our fathers, my generation doesn’t see much value in continuing the traditional arrangements through our silence. We are actively sharing our revelations so that -just maybe- those who follow us can have a better experience. IF they then choose to marry, they will know why they are doing so, and will be better prepared to negotiate more optimal conditions.
If I can see signs that this is happening, I won’t feel like it was all take and no give when my wounded soul is ferried across cross the river Styx. And -just maybe- I won’t get thrown overboard by Charon once hope is in sight and have to swim the rest of the way.
But what of my friend and the psychic? Out of curiosity, she accompanied a friend who believes in that stuff. From what she later related, it was the usual blarney about dead relatives checking in to see if those left behind are doing OK. Somehow, the conversation turned to current relationships. My friend has had a long-term casual relationship and has no plans to make it more formal. “Why not?” exclaims the outraged seer. “Are you not worth HAVING IT ALL?” (Caps my emphasis) The answer? She went through one divorce and is not interested in experiencing another.
What this poignant vignette illustrates is that women go through a great deal of social conditioning and overt pressure to conform to the matrimonial norm that men do not. There is no good excuse for a woman not to know what is expected of her. Men don’t get this external interaction, or at least haven’t up until recently. All we knew when faced with this choice was that everyone else did it. That isn’t enough anymore.
Men now want something else, something better. They need someone to go “Why? Are you not worth KEEPING IT ALL?” when they announce matrimonial plans. And if making this more of a common occurrence is all I can ever expect to accomplish with my life, I will aid that effort so that my sons won’t endure the slings and arrows of my outrageous fortune.