the science and soul of an innocent world

Modern Love in the Age of Lead

By Eric Dovigi


My girlfriend and I never sleep together. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve occupied the same bed plenty of times. There is nobody I’d rather occupy a bed with. Lots of things two people can do in a bed. But we don’t sleep together. We tried once: fifteen excruciating minutes of odd arm-twisting and uncomfortable weight distribution and hair-in-the-mouth and too-loud nose-breathing, before she and I agreed that neither of us were going to sleep a wink. We kissed, she went home.

couple silhouette

The last thing I saw before falling asleep1 was a quasi-dream image of a couple I’d seen in the park earlier that day: a huge brawny hulk of a man with a tiny woman in his arms, walking tenderly into the grass along a gentle slope—they weave their legs oddly together, and droop into an intertwined reclining posture in the grass, effortless and comfortable. They watch the clouds, peacefully. I watch the clouds, angrily. I feel like a kid who can’t tie his shoes watching someone else do it: looks easy enough, quick enough, imitable enough, but bending down to my own shoes I have no idea what to do.

Kid solution: Velcro.

Grown up solution: dismiss as stupid, try anyways, dismiss as stupid again, give up.

Writer’s solution: write an angry essay about Modern Love.

I tried all three of these, and though they decline in order of effectiveness, they incline in order of vindication.

Arbitrary Aside #1


Yes, you got the above implication correct: the writer is neither a child nor a grown up. The writer occupies some kind of middle ground that runs parallel to adolescence, but is arrested and unchanging: the writer is that oddball with the perverse need to articulate their feelings on a page2 in order to prove to themselves that they do indeed have feelings after all. At least, that’s how I feel.

I felt the need to vindicate my frustration about the seemingly perfect couple intertwined on the grass because such perfection seems like an anachronism to me. The couple existed in their very own exclusive remnant of the Golden Age of Relationships 3; the very definition of a Golden Age of course is such that one can never be in a Golden Age. And there is always the Et in Arcadia ego caveat: “I too am in paradise,” sayeth the angel of death. No paradise is without its serpent.

Your coffee is hot.

Thus the Golden Age, which never existed because it always has only ever existed in the past, is a forever-anachronism—the serpent was always in the garden. Anything or anyone that tries to be in the Golden Age now is foolish and distasteful. Even if they are two really hot people reclining beautifully on a grassy slope. With their legs intertwined. Oh, the intertwining can still be done, I suppose. But I don’t want to look at it, for Christ’s sake. It’s an anachronism. If my girlfriend and I ever pay a visit to the grassy slope we’ll probably sit a good two feet apart, we will each bring books, and every so often I’ll lean over to her and kiss her on the cheek, and it will probably startle her and she’ll flinch and we’ll both feel awkward and not be able to concentrate on our books until she leans over and kisses me.

Modern Love is gritty like that.

Modern Love is not attractive. Modern Love makes no blanket statements. Modern Lovers make blanket statements. Modern kisses are unexpected and startling. Modern loving happens in twin beds. Modern Love is shy in the daytime and aggressively present after sundown, with brief dawn and twilight periods of wobbly grace. Modern Love is wet. Modern Love is sometimes too drunk to perform but tries anyways. Modern Love goes to each other’s art showings and actually has a sincerely good time. Modern Love is happy, mostly. Modern Love is one clause, mostly. Modern contemplates Golden Age Love with despised admiration. Modern Love thinks the music in the coffee shop is too loud but stays because the coffee is third wave, and really, really good. Modern Love is picky. Modern Love is common. Modern Love is sorry not sorry. Modern Love apologizes for the previous sentence. Modern Love wants you to Love Modern Love, Modernly. Modern Love is not cynical about Kanye West. Modern Love turns off the auto correct on its word processor. Modern Love is nt attractive. Modern Love repeats itself. Modern Love plays with the form. Modern Love has a shelf life.

unicorn meat

How long is the shelf life? It’s difficult to say. In fact, it can’t be predicted with any certainty; one must let it run its course to find out. People, after all, are on their way to and fro, state to state, pursuing degrees, chasing dreams, raising children, finding better music scenes, finding better literature communities, exploring, being outside. People today move around like keys in a backpack. People aren’t often in the same place for long. Not nowadays.4

Some Modern Lovers don’t even have keys in their backpacks. Maybe car keys. Mobility is often thrust upon the young person, these days. Employment is a scarce commodity. These people practice a Modern Love that strikes briefly in the night and is gone in the morning. Such Modern Lovers are not often welcome to join cliques. Modern Love thrives primarily in towns between 40,000 and 150,000 in population, and forms little bubbles we call cliques, whose members guard each other from the outside world, and interbreed much like royal families once did: exclusively, bitterly, and contemptuous of talk about gene-pools. Members of these cliques often will wear the similar clothing. Usually dark tones. Dark pink is favored.

Arbitrary Aside #2

Dutch Golden Age master of light Jan Vermeer is noted for his use of the expensive and beautiful pigments ultramarine (made from ground lapis lazuli stone) and lead-tin-yellow. Lesser known fact: he also expertly utilized madder lake in hats and dresses and roofs—a quite beautiful sort of darkish pink like ruby catching sunlight. Painters Love to employ it; writers Love to write about it*.

*It’s true.

Your coffee is warm.

Many Modern Lovers eschew some of the more visible trappings of Modernity. People often mistake this for shallow exhibition, but the truth is less cynical. Let me explain that in this handy chart.


1 Which took all of thirty seconds, now that I had the tiny twin bed all to myself and could breathe through my stuffy nose guilt-free.

2 Out-loud is a distasteful non-option.

3 Such a thing never existed, but one imagines some vague period in American history filled with Fitzgeraldian romances between cabaret singers and Harvard alumni that burst and fizz with charm, vivacity, attractiveness, and ubiquity.

4 The white-picket fence is no longer a dream. People dream of making enough money to buy a drink every night, so they can unwind after working hard enough to buy a drink every night. All towns have bars.

page 1 2 >

Did you like the article? Subscribe here to our New Article Email Alert or RSS feeds.

Sharing is caring! Don't forget to share the love, and keep the conversation going by leaving a comment below: