HOW WAS THE AD DISTURBING?
For most of these young educated Californians, the ad seemed to strike a raw nerve. How did it do this? First of all, it disturbed many students that a familial role was shown to be divisible into slivers, a whole separated into parts, as the student quoted above referred to the “beautiful intertwining of loving, caring, spiritually connected partners in love-making." Second, it bothered the students that this taken-apart wife-mother role was associated with varying amounts of money. Traveling together was to be worth $300 a day; managing home affairs, $30 an hour. Both the divisibility and the commercialization were offensive. But perhaps they were doubly so because the separate tasks were then implicitly associated with more diffuse personal characteristics apparently unrelated to the tasks. As one person noted: “It seems like he’s looking for a personal assistant [to do these tasks]…. Yet he is specific about the kind of woman he wrants—he mentions the word ‘sensual’ more than once. She needs to be attractive, young, in shape, sensual, bright (all marriageable qualities). If he just wanted these tasks done, why couldn’t an old, fat man do them?” Another observed that the millionaire wanted someone ready to hear confidences, someone available to travel, and thus orient her time around his, which, even more than looks and age, implies a diffuse “intertwined” relationship.
The students were also disturbed, perhaps, by what often comes with monetization—a cultural principle of giving that characterizes market deals—short-term tit-l’or-tat exchanges. Commercial exchanges often also provide a shortcut around other principles of giving—decadal or generational tit-for-tat exchange, or altruism. One person remarked, “ The man wants a wife, but he doesn’t want to be a husband.” He wants to receive, but not to give—except in cash. In other words, by offering money as the totality of his side of the bargain, the man absolves himself of any moral responsibility to try to give emotionally in the future. As one put it, “For him, money took care of his side of the deal." The students did not congratulate the man on his monetary generosity, though they understood the sums he offered to be high. Indeed, one woman commented, “He is taking the easy way out. He doesn’t want to have to deal with what a partner may need from him emotionally and physically. So he is just looking for the benefits without the work.” Another said, “He’s advertising for a sexless, no-needs wife. While I do not object to this on principle I do think it sad that he would have no need to give in a relationship. It seems lonely and false” (emphasis mine). A few others also pointed out that the man stood to lose, not gain, through his financial offer. As one person put it, “The man’s losing the chance to give. He’s cheating himself.”
Students were also disturbed by a closely related issue: the absence of emotional engagement. Here they focused directly on his emotional capac-
ity and need. One complained that the man was emotionally empty, detached, invulnerable: “He has a strong desire to be in total control.” Another young woman remarked, “He must feel very unloved and unable to give love.” They thought he should feel something for the woman who does what he has in mind. The man who posted the ad said he had a “need,” another observed. But what is his “need" for these services? “I find it amusing,” he said, “that [the man] calls this a need.” In later conversation the student explained, “The man mentions luxury items he doesn’t really need, but what he does need, emotionally, he’s not asking for or setting it up to get.” Another commented, “It is so fascinating to me the things men will do to avoid emotional attachment”
Not onlv was emotion missing, so was the commitment to think about or work on one’s feelings in order to improve the relationship. As one put it, “He wants to hire someone to fulfill his needs but without the hassle.” Another complained, “I was disgusted [that the man is buying] the grunt labor of a relationship,” In a sense, the students were observing the absence of an implied inclination to pay any allegiance to familial feeling rules or to try to manage emotions in a way mindful of them. He was buying himself out of all this.
Finally, lor some it was not the splintering of the wife-mother role or the commodification of each part that posed a problem so much as the fact that—partly because of these—the potentially enchanted experience of being together was disenchanted. For a couple to feel their relationship is enchanted, they must feel moved to imbue the world around them with a sense of magic that has, paradoxically, power over them, the magic now coming from outside. In an enchanted relationship, not only the relationship but the whole world feels magical. And it does so through no apparent will of one’s own. The individual externalizes his or her locus of control. This sense of enchantment is similar to Freud’s notion of “oceanic oneness,” which some associate with religion, and all, Durkheim argues, associate with the sacred.
This dimension of experience is here curtained off—not as it impacts the worst part of a close relationship but as it impacts the best. As one student observed, “It almost seems like the man wants to pay a woman to do the fun things couples do together.” He was disenchanting fun.
Or, rather, he was gaining apparent control over any obligation to have fun. He exempted himself from family feeling rules. He doesn’t want to even have to have fun. He wants to feel free to have a relationship—impersonal or personal—as he wishes and on the terms he wishes. Money liberates him, as Georg Simmel observes. But as the respondents noted repeatedly, he is also using money to narrow the relational possibilities. In the end, they felt that the options he was free to choose among were themselves stripped
of meaning (a) by the separation between exclusive sex expression, intimacy, and affection; (b) by the attachment of money to each part of what is imagined to be whole; (c) by a noncommittal stance toward the emotion work and feeling rules that often apply in intimate engagement; and (d) by the implicit disenchantment with the whole complex they associate with adult sexual-emotional love. In a sense he seemed to them as he would to Simmel, as if he were trapped by a supposed liberation. The man was creating for himself a context in which he would be called upon to employ a mechanism of ego defense—depersonalization.5