How many times have you heard that statement? Hundreds? Thousands of times? A quick Google search of the phrase reveals 63,900 entries alone, often predicated with an exasperated, “Let’s face it…!” The makings of our capitalist society have wormed their way into our personal lives as well, and if we don’t want to “fail” at love, which has disastrous consequences (shorter lifespans for men, cultural rejection and alienation for women) then we better either get to work or enlist the paid services of someone else to work it out for us. Why is this? We all know that the more we work, the less fulfilling it is. Ask anyone who’s ever worked a double shift, or worked at “having an orgasm” or worked overtime without extra pay, or hell even WITH extra pay. No one says, on their deathbed, “If only I’d worked more!” Yet the notion that we should all be tirelessly slaving away at our relationships isn’t questioned by very many people. Laura Kipnis is one of them. Her book, Against Love, which I am rereading now, takes love to task for simple assumptions like the one that says relationships are hard work.
As someone who hates working, even when it’s something I immensely enjoy, like writing, I find Laura’s non-working argument to be pretty damn compelling. She quotes psychoanalyst Adam Phillips on this, specifically how, on the subject of desire, play is what works, not work.
“In our erotic life…it is no more possible to work at a relationship than it is to will an erection or arrange to have a dream. In fact when you are working at it you know it has gone wrong, that something is already missing.”
Kinksters, genderqueers, pervs and other so called sexual deviants know how important play is to erotic fulfillment, which is perhaps why they are so frightening to the mainstream. Or maybe the mainstream is jealous of all the hot sex they’re having, while they themselves are working round the clock to get their libidos back in “working” order.
The misguided notion that working more will solve our problems is uniquely American. According to United Nations stats, Americans work more than any other industrialized country, clocking in at 49.5 hours a week, with only two weeks of vacation. That’s 3.5 weeks a year more than Japan (who we took the title from), 6.5 weeks more than the UK and 12.5 weeks more than Germany.
Part of the reason we are working more is so we can buy more stuff, which theoretically we will use in our “down time” which doesn’t exist anymore because we are always working to pay off that stuff. And when we’re not working on our jobs or relationships, as Kipnis wryly notes, we are working on our bodies, also known as “working out.”
I work full-time at a pay rate that is barely half of what the minimum wage is in San Francisco. I also work out six days a week. If there’s anything I don’t want to “work” on, it’s my love life. Not that I’d have the time anyway if it really required the copious demands that society suggests it should.
If my many failed relationships have taught me anything, it is this: if I have to try really hard to make it succeed, then it is certainly doomed and most definitely a BAD idea. Of course, knowing that hasn’t stopped me from trying. I’m an American, after all. Struggle is what we do. But the bliss that occurs when we finally meet a person who slides right into our lives, whose effortless ease in loving suddenly jogs our memories about those other crappy relationship struggles we’ve had in the past and made us go, “What were we thinking?!” That realization is love. And it’s beautiful to finally see that yes, we deluded ourselves. We thought fighting meant passion! That drama meant excitement! We thought work meant love. When no, actually, that’s not it at all. When people say they are working on their happiness, it’s the same delusion.
So clock the fuck out, people. And to all you lesbians, stop processing everything to death and start enjoying yourselves and your relationships. Self-awareness is one thing, but to analyze every facet of our co-existence robs it of its meaning and its fascination. This is one reason why I could never be a scientist. Don’t tell me about how sunlight passes through the raindrops at a certain angle and is split into a spectrum – just let me enjoy the damn rainbow.
Go out then, be joyful. Honor your imagination. Rage against the machine and all that. Because in the face of our rapidly deteriorating work/life balance (and the fact that such an expression exists in the first place), our playfulness starts to seem like the only thing that has real value.