Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Mending Wall. Robert Frost.
Pheromones are faff-and-nonsense. That’s sex – rather than aggregation or alarm – pheromones that I’ve weighed and found wanting. The reason why it’s virtually impossible to think of them, any longer, as the indispensable physical component in attraction between the sexes is, naturally, the explosion in romantic relationships on the internet.
In its first two paragraphs on the subject, the Wikipedia wobbles between the Greek phero = ‘to bear’ + hormone = ‘to stimulate’ – and pherein = to transport + hormone = ‘to stimulate’ for an etymological breakdown of pheromone.
I’m sticking my neck out to suggest pixemone for a replacement. I decided that we really do need this neologism last Christmas, after a razor-sharp twenty nine year-old friend neither a reader nor writer but a rancher, photographer and restorer of old cars and houses — who mostly behaves as if computers had never been invented — found a girl absolutely perfect for him on MySpace. (Well alright, his little sister found her, technically – since she designed his page there and wrote his profile, without his permission.)
The arrow of the small, fat Greek god is no longer a metaphor for the transporting of chemical secretions between humans but – more and more – for digitally-mediated signals conveyed in pixels.
As far as species-perpetuation goes, the question of the hour is surely this: is all the hand-wringing over relationships formed on the net, rather than between people in their flesh-and-blood states, warranted? Most interesting is to consider whether communicating in this medium might be superior to embodied conversations, for the early stages of friendship and love. I mean, could it be a more reliable guide to deep compatibility, and a finer-grained filter of character and integrity, without the distractions of chemistry – which notoriously changes, and has a notoriously poor record as a foundation for relationships that last?
I found a good, searching, wide-angled discussion of the subject in Are Cyberspace Relationships Underrated? — but my own interest is more specific. It’s in connections between people in the only parts of the blogosphere I know well, which are text-based discussion and debating sites, rather than Facebook and other e-spaces designed for socialising. Three things in combination could give them an important advantage over real-life meetings – from the point of view of anyone who, like me, believes that serious relationships should only be entered into when over-determined and inevitable, in the sense of not merely ‘certain,’ but ‘that which cannot be avoided, evaded, or escaped.’
Relationship-hunting is not their primary raison-d’être. This means that behaviour is likely to be natural and closer to people’s everyday selves than to the best-foot-forward — with appropriately artificial window-dressing – of ‘dating’ encounters, and their social networking equivalents. On the contrary, the idea of giving up the relaxation of conversations unburdened by expectations or responsibilities for ones laden with risk is close to anathema.
They spark involuntary revelations of What Lies Beneath from debating under pressure, especially when the arguments strike sensitive spots or trigger psychological complexes. Talking through screens and keyboards can make some people more inhibited and others less so. But even with wide gaps between blogging and real-life personae, debating sites give everyone a chance to observe behaviour in extremis that they almost never get in contexts specifically designed for romance or relationship-building.
I once heard from a worldly-wise old matriarch a horror-story involving a mutual friend who had had to flee a brief marriage to a man with a Rhodes Scholar’s educational profile and a ‘gentle-and-unworldly’ persona that fit his profession – because he had turned violent soon after the wedding, and was found to have a history of domestic violence that went a long way back. The matriarch said that the only way our friend could have uncovered this aspect of the man was to have deliberately created pressure-cooker conditions in the courtship phase of their relationship, and see how he reacted.
I’m not sure I’d recommend going that far – but it’s worth considering that debating sites create such pressures naturally.
They expose sexism in its ugliest forms – particularly the kind directed against women, because men rather than women or bloggers who choose gender-neutral roles tend to dominate mixed-gender debating sites.
Many, reading these words, will be part of a group of us who blogged together at a British newspaper site for a year or two. Even if I supply just Limerick, Kuwait and Berlin as clues, some of these comrades will know precisely which incidents in our joint history I’m thinking of when I say that one male blogger linked to each of those places was distressed with the course of an argument – about facts, not opinions — with a gender-neutral comrade, an argument that he most certainly wasn’t winning, when he chose to refer to this comrade as ‘she’ in a last-ditch tactic.
Okay, I am that comrade. The effect of their wishful, gender-focused unmasking on my estimation of those fellow-bloggers — who have no way of knowing which sex I belong to in real life — was something like, ‘from hero to zero in ninety seconds flat,’ where I don’t actually mean hero as much as something like, dear old funny old bean.
I know I’ve upset some fellow-bloggers with my frostiness towards the Limericker, ever since (what is the right word for a denizen?) – but that was because of everything deducible from, and offensive about, the particular form of attack:
monumental obtuseness — for imagining that it would hurt, and for failing to realise that I’m as delighted to be taken for female as male. After all, in this medium, where — as the saying goes, any of us might actually be a dog – I could choose to blog as male, if I were a female unhappy with her gender.
atrocious manners . . . basic netiquette frowns on violating anonymity or any other form of privacy related to identity
a tendency to passive-aggression . . . to mention a style of hostility of which I myself have been accused (unsuccessfully: see Marginalia on this site)
hypocrisy of a most childish kind: the man from Limerick is fond of advertising himself as a ‘feminist’. How is that supposed to square with effectively shouting, ‘Woman!’ as a furious parting shot?
misogyny … a fighting word, I’ve discovered, so chosen with the greatest care. That’s another obvious implication of my last point.
. . . If I’ve emphasised the negative possibilities of relationships it’s only because these text-based conversations have created ways to uncover what’s usually well-hidden that didn’t exist for us, the masses, before the last decade or so.
The very best thing about friendship on the net, even the romantic kind, is that it need never progress to anything heavy-duty, such as a real-life commitment.
To how many can we promise all of ourselves in a single lifetime, anyway? Earth is a place of limitation, as I once read in something old and Chinese. But now we have the ether, too. We can admire and cherish facets of fellow-humans the way we do masterworks – a painting locked behind glass, or a marvel of ancient statuary in a case – only, good grief, the work of art is alive, and reacts to things that we do and say.
Such, such . . . are the joys of pixemones.