If I sound shocked I supposed I shouldn’t be, really. Being in what I consider the final third of my life span I know that my kids evidently regard me as beyond help in terms of modern life and technology but I have always thought that some aspects of the human condition remain universal and constant.
Like sex, for instance.
Now maybe I’m not so sure.
At the weekend I attended a local football match of little consequence simply for the hell of it. There were a few hundred present, mostly congregated in a single stand along the side of the pitch. When I first arrived, the bulk of spectators had naturally taken up seats close to the half-way line and eventually I found a suitable seat for myself, sitting immediately in front of a mixed-sex group of six youngsters, i.e. kids in their early 20s or possibly late teens. (When I say ‘mixed-sex’, I mean to refer to the fact that they were of both genders, not that they were transgender individuals – specifically the line-up consisted of four boys and two girls).
Although we were all notionally watching what was happening on the pitch – a match that ended in a 2-2 draw – said group in the row behind me were plainly all close friends and took the opportunity to catch up upon each other’s news and chit-chat or gossip. As far as I could tell, the bulk of them were still at some university or another (its identity never became apparent) but at least one of the males was plainly a year older – or ahead – of the others because he had graduated and was now working.
Sitting where I was I could not avoid ‘ear-wigging’ in on their conversation(s), even if that had been my earnest desire.
Not that they seemed to care, mind you. I cannot say whether this was because of either some ‘lost in a crowd’ syndrome by which small groups (or even individuals?), finding themselves in a large crowd, become prey to the conviction that they are anonymous and/or that whatever they do or say tends to ‘disappear’ in the context of a sea of humanity … or, alternatively, whether in this case the issue was my own, in the sense that, like anyone over the age of about 53, I can testify to the blunt fact that, to all intents and purposes, (as far as the rest of society is concerned) I have become invisible. Long gone is the time when I would habitually walk down a street making occasional eye contact with attractive, or even non-attractive, women in what I would describe as a quasi-flirtatious manner (but not in a bad way in the sense that little or no intent was intended on either side) that would hopefully leave both parties with a semi-smile and a sense that all was well with the world. These days – okay, tubby, balding and often sporting a day-old stubble – there is not a woman on the planet between the ages of 18 and 80 who doesn’t either look ‘straight through me’ as if I didn’t exist and/or only takes note of me in the context of deciding whether or not to take pity and offer to help me cross the street when the traffic lights change and the ‘green for go’ pedestrian light begins flashing.
However, let’s get back to the purpose of this post which is to report upon the content of this group’s conversation.
I can only describe my situation as being akin to that of a police detective or psychologist sitting in a tiny room behind a one-way mirror looking (or perhaps in my case ‘listening’) in on a police interview under caution, or possibly a spy being interrogated before being taken away for torture or incarceration.
Dear reader, the entire flow of said social intercourse was to do with inter-gender relationships and specifically sex.
During the match I involuntarily heard my group discuss the sexual relationships of everyone they knew who was at their university, whether they were first-year newbies or fifth year post-grads.
Quite early on, one of the young men referred to a female undergraduate (let us call her ‘A’) who was now dating ‘B’, a mate of his. First responder to this comment was one of the girls who stated that, of course, there wasn’t anyone on her course in her year that A hadn’t slept with. This was news to B’s friend who had first brought A’s name into it and he idly wondered whether he should let B know.
There followed a bewildering cornucopia of reports upon who was – and wasn’t – bonking who. One male hardly ever saw his pal C these days because he was now firmly ‘under the thumb’ of his girlfriend D. A different girl immediately chipped in with the fact that, whilst this might be true, C was in fact having sex with two girlfriends of hers, neither of whom knew about the other. (At this point I managed to stifle a brief pang of envy for C by reassuring myself that, at my age, I was far better off no longer being personally involved in the human sexual relationships game).
One male member of the group eventually brought up the name of E, another male. Surely he was gay, he asked, clearly anticipating confirmation. However, another male denied this. E definitely wasn’t gay, and he knew this because the last relationship E had been in was with one half of a lesbian couple. In fact, far from being gay, in effect he’d converted a lesbian back to normality (well, that is the gist of what he was saying).
By the time a vociferous last-minute on-pitch penalty claim was controversially turned down [actually, it was about two minutes into overtime] I was reeling with the complications of processing the endless list of relationships and sexual preferences being detailed in the row behind me.
Thinking about the above episode since the weekend, I alighted upon three conclusions.
The first was that I don’t think I have previously ever ‘had a window’ onto a such a sex-and-sexual relationships-obsessed group of people in my life. It seems that sex, lubrication gels, ‘morning after’ pills and indeed constant changing of partners is just part and parcel of all twentysomethings’ lives these days. I guess one could argue that these aspects of life being so open, transparent and – perhaps thanks to the internet, porn, dating websites, social media, ‘sexting’ etc. – ‘out there’ generally, is actually a good and healthy thing for both men and women and probably makes for a safer, happier and more balanced and rounded world.
The second was that I felt inwardly comfortable about the fact that I am over sixty and as a result no longer actively involved in such pursuits in any real sense. It all sounded so horribly complicated and – as with any situation in which ‘any old how will do’ is the governing theme of any part of life – it would probably be quite stressful for anyone of my age in 2015 to suddenly be transported back being say 20 again and trying to find some reference point, or rock, of principle upon which to anchor one’s social life.
The third was that, even when I was 20 years of age, I’m not at all sure that I was as ‘sex and relationships’-obsessed (or indeed would have wanted to be) as this group of youngsters that I was given an involuntary chance to ‘spy upon’ last weekend. I don’t think I ever was. Maybe because of my personality or public school upbringing, I was never that bothered. To be honest I was primarily concerned with pursuing my hobbies or interests. Of course, if I met some girl to whom I was attracted well nature might take its course, but frankly this was an incidental, never an end in itself.