Marina Meat Market
For those of you who are not familiar with the Marina, it is San Francisco’s premier meat market, teeming with young, beautiful, twenty- and thirty- somethings, dressed to the nines like peacocks in search of a mate. Every night, the restaurants, bars and clubs are filled to the brim with happy, drunk and sexually eager patrons, providing a fertile mating ground for those who are looking. Even the local Safeway supermarket, or “Dateway” as many call it, is chock-full of singles not only shopping for groceries but also for mates.
So while exploring the Marina one Friday night with some out-of-town friends, I was informed that “Nurses are the worst. They’d do anything for a cigarette.” The statement came from a very intoxicated nurse who was dressed as a civilian in a shorter-than-short black dress. I watched this nurse drunkenly stumble her way through the throngs of men and women, groping and being groped. After several rejections, she found a fellow smoker who, in exchange for a cigarette, claimed her as his property. He wrapped himself around her, fondled her breasts and buttocks and ushered her off into a nearby club. As we witnessed this exchange, one friend commented, “I’m so glad I have a girlfriend.” I wasn’t sure what he meant, but I couldn’t help but wonder what triggered his reaction to the scene. Perhaps he was glad he had his girlfriend who was very different from this nurse or perhaps there is something much deeper.
As I had mentioned in The Gibbons, we live in a world where the social boundaries of class, race, ethnicity, religion and nationality have faded, expanding our options outside our social group as well as geography. This produces a set of problems for communicating and expectation-setting in relationships. However, it also poses a problem for singles. Like commerce, where globalization continues breaking down borders, competition increases as we are no longer competing against our countrymen: we are now competing against other countries and foreign organizations. In the meat market, we are competing against members of different socio-cultural groups that transcend class, ethnicity and geographic boundaries. Though this expanded sphere provides for more opportunities, it also intensifies the competition. In reaction, we become more creative and daring in the way we market ourselves. So we go out; we join Match.com; we volunteer for charities; we join singles clubs; we attend mass dating events just to build up our network of prospects. For those sitting on the periphery looking in (such as my friend with the girlfriend), tucked safely away from uncertainty, disappointment and rejection, the flurry of social games in the meat market may seem overwhelming and frightening, especially if one is out of practice or inexperienced.
Perhaps this is why those who are unhappy in their relationships choose to stay. Like a job, many of us do not love what we do. Yet we don’t go out to find a job we do love because there may not be any, especially in today’s unstable economy. The potential disappointment and rejection seems unbearable. So we stay with what we know, what we are comfortable with as much as we dislike it. It becomes the means to an end: to pay the bills. In terms of a relationship, it is the means to avoid loneliness. So we hang on as hard and as long as possible for fear of re-entering the meat market. In this “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” life, as Thomas Hobbes put it, relationships as unhappy as it may be do provide a form of sanctuary in which we feel safe and loved. Our partner confirms we exist in this large world, that we are not just another face in the crowd. But is that enough to hang on to an unhappy and unfulfilling relationship?
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