Never mind what brought this to mind, but it occurred to me a few days ago that a trend that threatened to blossom into a full-scale movement has literally vanished off the social screen without so much as an obituary. This is all the more remarkable because this was a trend that appeared to be taking hold among the Yuppies, whose penchant for chronicling every experiment in self-knowledge and fulfillment would put Italian monks in 13th century monasteries to shame.
The trend popped up in the late '70s and was first spotted by The Village Voice, which has always been on the cutting edge (or is it cusp, now?) of these matters. Subsequently, it came into full flower as a viable, honest-to-God phenomenon -- something that was really actually happening -- in The New York Times. (This is the kind of trend that usually starts in New York or California.) The Times interviewed real people who let the reporter use their real names (no pseudonymous fakery for this trend) and who said they were into it. Then The Washington Post took note of this in a couple of columns -- critical, I might add, which speaks volumes for the sorts of people who work here -- the last of which, according to our library, appeared in 1980 and revealed that the trend had taken hold to such an extent that it had even turned into a book. Then, silence. Not a word about it.
It didn't even stay around long enough to be surveyed by USA Today.
By now, all those still reading must be scratching their heads in wonder, wracking their minds and searching their memories, trying to figure out what trend I am talking about. At least I should hope so, after this kind of buildup.
The envelope, please.
The trend to which I am referring was none other than "the New Celibacy." For those readers who are still with me, that was a life style whose adherents took a vow, if not of chastity -- it was usually too late for that -- of abstention for very long periods of time. At the time "the New Celibacy" flourished, it was widely viewed as next logical trend to replace the flagrant promiscuity that raged across the land in the '70s. For mysterious reasons, however, it never took hold, although there were some sporadic attempts on television and in magazines during the past year to declare that the sexual revolution had come to an end.
I wanted to know what had happened to "the New Celibacy." As is customary in this business when beginning one's reporting for a column or story, I consulted the library to find out what we had on this phenomenon in the clips.
"What's that?" said the librarian who answered the phone.
I figured she hadn't heard me.
"Celibacy," I said. "I want the clips on celibacy."
"What's that?" she repeated.
(I think I mentioned earlier what kind of people work here.)
This all occurred in the morning, a time when I'm usually not up to such tasks as explaining esoteric facts of life. I thought quickly. "It's when people decide to abstain from sex."
"How do you spell it?"
My editor arrived in my office just as I was spelling out the word. Her eyes got wide. I hung up the phone. A worried look beclouded her face. She put her hand on my shoulder, much as she would had I told her of a death in my family. "Don't do that," she said, earnestly.
"Don't you remember the trend to celibacy?" I asked.
She shook her head. Then, after pondering a moment, she said: "What caused that?"
"Herpes, a backlash to the sexual revolution, people found they were more creative if they abstained," I said. "Sex saps your creative energies, you know." I was beginning to sound rather convincing, I thought, not to mention very high-minded. Celibacy started sounding good enough to resurrect: After all, if it was good enough to be a trend once, it would be good enough again, and besides, I'd always wanted to start a trend.
She walked out of the office. The phone rang. "There's a big file," said the librarian. I headed toward the library, past the city desk. "There's a big file," I told my editor.
Her voice rose in amazement. "On celibacy?"
Another editor turned around sharply. "On what?"
"Celibacy," said the first editor. "She's writing about celibacy."
Well, as luck would have it, the library files didn't reveal much about whatever happened to that trend. It fizzled, and while there are no doubt some voluntary adherents to that life style still around, it is probably a good thing it never took hold.
The backlash to that would have been really something.