Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

Hard Times for Lovers

Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

Hard Times for Lovers

Article excerpt

IT'S 1958. MY parents are showing some friends the latest batch of home movies of the big Fourth of July get-together at the beach. The camera jerkily pans the shoreline, moving first too fast and then too slow. It settles on the clumps of aunts, uncles, cousins, who start showing off for the camera my uncle sticking his big toe in the water and jiggling all 300 pounds of him in an exaggerated shiver; a chorus line of children running up to the waves and back again for what seems like eternity; one of my 40-something aunts imitating Marilyn Monroe, puckering her lips and swishing along the beach in her new, lime-green bathing suit.

Then, the camera meanders away from the beach, up toward some slash pines, finally stopping and closing in on an elderly couple in their late seventies. They sit on either side of a picnic table, their backs to each other. The man, with feathery tufts of white hair, is looking down, watching his left foot kick the sand as he slowly swings his leg. His wife, wearing round, rimless glasses and a loose, gray, cotton dress, sits with her hands folded on her lap, staring off at something beyond the camera's frame. Both look exhausted, bored, depressed.

"And these happy folks," my father says, "were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary." For some reason, everyone in the room chuckles.

I come across an old Judy Collins album, circa 1979, entitled Hard Times for Lovers. In the title cut Collins sings about her married friends who are breaking up "No one stays together anymore, everyone just wants to be me." There's no anger in her crystal-clear voice; the song is more a lament, tinged with regret.

I'm having lunch with my friend Alan, a burly 34-year-old computer-game designer, father of two. soon to be ex-husband. "It's just not working out between me and Terry; we've just run our course," he says, as he bites energetically into his BUT. He sounds matter-of-fact about it all. Like a tourist who's seen the sights and feels it's time to move on.

To talk about couplehood in die latter days of the '90s is to imply that this decade carries its own particular scent, that the relationships now rounding the turn into the 21st century have some distinguishing marks that make Alan's story somehow different on the beach or those that Judy Collins laments. This is the macro view of relationships, the big picture of the sociologists and historians, who stack one generation alongside another, one decade next to another, to assess the changing panorama of American family life. When social historians look at those '50s movies of the family on the beach, they see beneath the happy days of postwar calm, the domestic Cold War of that decade. Just as our government and the Soviets secretly stockpiled their vast stores of nuclear weapons in the '50s, husbands and wives of mat generation stockpiled their lost dreams and quiet resentments. World War IIs tough and independent Rosie the Riveter was gone overnight, replaced by a quiescent June Cieaver the Homemaker. Back at the plant, her war-hero husband fared no better. Driven by memories of a Great Depression childhood, he scrambled to fulfill the postwar American Dream of television sets, suburban houses and a new Chew. The only true measure of success was how much he could acquire.

These relationships, coping with the deadly combination of loss, boredom and distraction, turned into psychological pressure cookers. It's not surprising, perhaps, that the children of these relationships coming of age in the late '60s finally gave vent to this repression and tension, advocating free sex, disdaining the work ethic and dreaming of social revolution. They were merely releasing steam and acting out the unconscious wishes of their parents.

Just as the Love Generation succeeded in having the sex their parents never had, the Baby Boomers of the '70s succeeded in getting the divorces their parents fantasized about. The social revolution of the '60s gave way to the '70's personal quest for self-identity and self-realization. …

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