"The problems of love," says a friend who claims to know, "are problems of maldistribution."
As a statement of the human condition, early '80s model, that seems about as descriptive as we're likely to get for a while. Perhaps it's the recent turning of a year that makes checking the books suddenly so appealing. Perhaps it's the aftermath of Valentine's Day--another "holiday by Hallmark"--when more than just greeting card and postage rates get computed.
No matter the reason, the result is the same: Add up the column in the ledger of love and the numbers simply refuse to behave anymore.
Try your hand at this one: Johnny loves Mary, who "wants to be friends." Mary loves Ted, who "isn't ready for a serious relationship." How old will Mary be before she hears herself telling Johnny the very same things she hates hearing from Ted? How many nickels and dimes will Johnny need to get a decent explanation of why it can't be better than that? And at what time will Ted, traveling at a constant speed of three assignations a month, arrive at Carolyn?
It's not a love shortage, or so my friend reports--there's love enough to go around. The trouble is: It doesn't always go around. Instead, it bunches up, gets snagged in one or two prime locations--a bottleneck in the love canal--while apparently deserving others are left to fend for themselves.
Or equally distressing, one finds love going around in reasonable enough quantities, but in inconvenient directions, from improbable sources to unappreciative outlets.
To the traditional claim, "For everybody, there is somebody," my scouts would lately have to add "or two . . . or three . . . or otherwise engaged . . . or would have been until last week . . . or may not."
People have been missing people for years--ships, after all, aren't the only things that pass in the night. Much of what's happened, however, in recent years--socially, psychologically, even medically--has encouraged tinkering with the standard forms of contact and commitment. The result: hybrids all along the sexual frontier, not really one thing, nor the other.
Checking into these emotional halfway houses are men and women laden with bewildering stacks of mismatched baggage: differing wants and needs and capacities that motivate each of them. As the available options--the different levels at which relationships can be conducted--continue to increase (as seems likely) in the days to come, matters could get even messier. Progress, at what price?
"But," protests a colleague and occasional debating partner, surprised by this yearning for order, "you sound like you want . . . a balance." Exactly. Everything else being equal, as they say, why not? So much of the cutting and clutching, the hungering and hurting you hear about these days comes from a breakdown at just this point: two people who don't want quite the same thing, at whatever level, at quite the same time.
The difficulty, of course, is getting from here to there, at a time when one size no longer fits all. The vital balance may require instruments more delicate--and yet more durable--than we can ever devise.
Find yourself a scale that knows what it feels, and can measure it; that recognizes what it wants and can ask for it; that understands what it has to give and can offer it; that can calibrate the grams and pennyweights of human emotion and make it all come out even.
You watch enough television--30- and 60-minute lives in happy equilibrium--and you'd think it's pretty simple. From where I sit, it looks like all the fine tuning knobs are on the blink.