Wall Street.  The Film Industry.  The Auto Industry.  Manufacturing.  Retail Sales.  

Declining, destroyed, suffering, beleaguered sectors of the commercial American dream.  Surely, the depressed financial state is affecting everyone.

Walking around my neighborhood offers a sight that speaks to another lagging industry, and I realize:

This recession must surely be affecting condom sales; either that, or COBRA doesn’t cover birth control.

It is the only reasonable explanation I can come up with for why there are so many pregnant women.  On any given day, on any given block, signs of the Obama Baby Boom (Oba-bies, of course) are everywhere – bellies about to burst, pink, wrinkled newborn faces snuggly slung in a designer sling, nestled close to their gleaming mothers.  How terribly sad to not be able to afford condoms.  

I like children, I like babies, and hope to have one or some someday.  But recently, it’s begun to feel like an infestation – granted, a cute one.  Working in the bakery brings them out as well (I believe we’re a popular post-Lamaze class spot) – as harried husbands ask for as many Red Velvet cupcakes as they can hold while their wives ask for Whoopie Pies to be deposited directly into their mouths.  This is not a problem – until the communities of pregnant women, occasionally laden with another small child, join together and the place begins to feel like the La Leche League Headquarters, with buzz words like “episiotomy” and “placenta preservation” being as casually thrown about as baseball scores.

What’s interesting to me, and makes this an economically relevant blog, is that I’ve begun to see this Family Planning (planning for a family, that is) as a sign of Economic Stability – a showing-off of sorts that, even though times are tough, we’ve got enough to bring this new soul in to the world, and care for it for the next 18 years.  I don’t doubt that I’m seeing the world this way because lately I’ve been forced to budget the 50¢/day for cat food out from my daily tips, and spending any more on another creature these days seems downright absurd to me.  

Maybe this is just a latent jealousy – of romantic and financial solidity.  Maybe it’s just more fun to posit this jealousy as an Economic Recession Indicator, and thus pass it off as social commentary.  Maybe Trojan will be forced to consider a whole different kind of stimulus package…

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A few weeks ago, a regular customer at the bakery, more distracted than usual, asked me if I agreed that there is something seriously messed up with the New York dating scene.  Indeed, I agreed, wholeheartedly.  He inquired further – what irked me most about it?  Eeeek.  Where to start?  I immediately spewed out words and sentence fragments that I hoped began to communicate my feelings – “Casual” “Too picky” “Not picky enough.”  “Emotionally unavailable” “Expectations” “Too many people” “No one worthwhile” “Double standards” “He never even asked for my number!” “$*&@^÷¡*(@)!!!!!!!”

I mused on the topic for weeks, until a frustrating blip of an incident last week brought the true number one answer of that question to light:  These days, there is absolutely no precedence for closure.

No matter if the relationship lasts for one night or four months, not only do we covet that strange, innocuous zone of “seeing each other,” (which is singles-speak for “not serious enough that we ever have to discuss what we’re doing together”), but we also rely on the safety of the widespread societal acceptance that when we want things to end, we’ll just disappear and hope the other party gets the hint.  There is no explanation, no faux-apology, no “it’s not you, it’s me” – it’s just a slow death of a flame that had barely grown up from a spark.

I’ll be the first one to admit that – as early as 7th grade and as recently as six months ago – I’ve been guilty of occasionally avoiding closure at any and all costs.  By ending something, we’re forced to address that there was something there to end, and, sometimes, it’s just easier to instead treat our indiscretions as bygones… In fact, it may just be simpler to rename this part of dating “The Ellipsis Phase,” as it’s only a fragment of a relationship that ends without any definitive punctuation.

More often than not, The Ellipsis Phase can only be defined as such once it’s lost beyond repair.  Prior to that, if we’re on the losing side, we hold out hope that what’s a ‘casual relationship’ now actually may turn into something more significant, something more real. Then… nothing.  Then… the slow realization that although the story has seemingly ended, the book is filled with endless blank pages, waiting and waiting and waiting for The End which will never come.

I like to tell myself that this is some kind of Urban Devolution – that the dating game used to be more respectable, even One Night Stands bore more integrity than they do now.  But earlier this week, I watched the movie “John and Mary,” a film from 1969 starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow, as strangers who spend the day after their one night stand together.  Back then, it was touted as “Not Your Mother’s Love Story!…,” a scandalous must-see.  In 2009, I watched it with a nostalgic eye, envious of the days when a relationship with real, live feelings could actually evolve from a casual encounter.  (Not that I have proof this ever happened – but between the movie and my own romantic imagination, I like to think it did, once…)  In the film, the pair is headed for the wishy-washy “let’s pretend this never happened” fate that often befalls random one-night encounters, but (spoiler alert!) neither party is content to let their oh-so-short-lived relationship fizzle out.  But it’s the frantic, panicked racing through the streets of New York that Dustin Hoffman’s character John goes through, regretting that he let Mia’s character walk out the door without so much as getting her name, that tells me, here on my couch today, that for decades, men and women have been driven to such frustration because we’re practically conditioned to let these indiscretions fall by the wayside without a second thought.

More difficult than pinpointing this lack of closure as a problematic issue is trying to figure out why it happens, why we allow it to happen, and any possible solutions.  Is it cowardice that keeps us from talking to one another?  Is it shame?  Or is it some twisted form of kindness, wherein we fool ourselves that rather than risk hurting the other person’s feelings, we’ll just let this thing run its course… Of course, that’s just our own veiled fear that it sucks to break it to someone “thanks, but no thanks,” and so we return to ‘cowardice.’  We hide behind that ellipsis, as the relationship trails off into love story never-never-land; banished into romantic purgatory.

I’ve often wondered if there is some kind of karmic balance to the number of times I’ve noncommittally left the door to a relationship open, hoping it will disappear and waste away sooner rather than later versus the number of times I’ve been left, frustrated, wondering “Why, why, what the hell happened there?!  I thought things were going great!” versus then the number of times I’ve sighed with relief that, clearly, neither of us were that willing to put forth the effort to keep the fledgling ‘relationship’ alive.  We are each capable of hurting someone to the same degree that we’ve been hurt, but this seemingly wide-spread acceptance of “who needs closure?” manages to take the sting out of hurting someone else while pouring some nice kosher salt on the wound caused by the disinterested party.

I’d love to bring closure to this entry to embarking on some kind of campaign to make communication acceptable again, to take the stigma out of conversation.  Realistically, though, the best I can hope for is that I’ll be more mindful of whoever I’m trying to let down “easy,” and maybe even go so far as to tell them the truth (gasp!) and end things properly.  And perhaps in cosmic return, there will be men out there who will let me close, once and for all, the stories and chapters of Them + Me.  Or, maybe, there will be  that one story that does not close, but, rather than ending in a hurt and confused …? grows into a profound and lovely !