As is sometimes the case, I would like to tell a somewhat rambling story that relates to current affairs with some digressions . It was probably about twenty years ago at this point that my mother and I watched a show that was set in Kentucky in the period after the Civil War. The show, Legacy, only lasted a single season, but it was a show I remember fondly as a fan of the Civil War. In thinking about the contemporary crisis of manhood relating to the problem of power rape, this particular show came to mind because it related to one of the main plots of the story. The eldest brother of the Logan family was involved in a secret love with a mulatto young woman who was certainly cultured and spirited and intelligent but was obviously not considered to be a suitable attachment for the heir of a family like the Logans. While the show portrayed the relationship as a secret love, formed in large part through the trust and intimacy built up between the two since childhood, a less sympathetic reviewer could easily see the relationship as showing a power rape where a young man who will likely marry within his own race and class pursues a doomed relationship with someone whose mixed race heritage makes her beautiful and exotic, and simultaneously available and forbidden, which has always been a draw for men of a certain romantic inclination.
I happen to be a sympathetic viewer, as a single man whose romantic inclinations have been nothing short of disastrous for myself and for the ladies I have been attracted to, especially over the course of the last few years. Not everyone is so sympathetic, even though this show only lasted one season and is likely not very well remembered even by those who are fond of the history of the middle of the 19th century and how it is portrayed in film, television, and books as I am. Moreover, I believe that this particular show and the issue of this forbidden but positively framed romance hint at something deeply relevant in our contemporary society relating to the crisis we are having among political and cultural elites and their problematic courtship behaviors. This is obviously a subject of considerable personal interest and importance, and something that has troubled my existence and will likely continue to do so so long as I am a single man with spectacularly difficult issues in the area of love, relationships, and physical and emotional intimacy. Without wishing to discuss my own personal history and issues in this matter, I would like to discuss the context of these issues in relationship to our current phase of lynch mobs and unpleasant scenes and scandalmongering where people far more famous and influential than myself seem to show remarkable degrees of awkwardness in how they deal with fulfilling their own needs for love and intimacy.
So, be prepared. It’s about to get awkward in here, if it isn’t sufficiently awkward already. Many of the sorts of relationships that have been founded throughout the course of human history have been based on a dynamic that features a rough equality on the one hand and a stark inequality on the other hand. We see the wealthy businessman or successful entertainer or the political leader who is older and not particularly handsome or possessed of gracious and winning manners and charisma using their wealth and power to gain the sexual interest of younger men and women. It should be noted that we usually see this with men, but certainly powerful women in history like Elizabeth and Catherine did precisely the same thing, if less commonly. One the one hand, we have people trading access to power and influence and money for those who have beauty and youth but lack money and power on the other hand. Those who control resources use those resources to gain love and intimacy, being the sort of people who might struggle to find those things on a level playing field, while those with youth and beauty trade love for the money and power that they lack. Sometimes, such situations may be a matter where both parties are using each other openly and knowingly with a certain degree of mutual respect and at other times such situations are exploitative and the taking advantage of the vulnerable by those who simply use what they have got to get what they want.
What is the difference between the two? How do we tell the difference between a relationship that is problematic because there are notable inequalities between the two partners in terms of age, class, positional power, but that are marked by mutual love and respect and those relationships that are merely the exploitation of those who are vulnerable by those who are powerful? If we look merely at the status of the parties involved in a relationship, we may not be able to tell the difference. Anywhere we see marked inequality in some factor, we will be quick to label the interaction or the relationship as exploitative and predatory, regardless of the intents of the parties involved. Yet we should, even in these particularly sensitive days, be able to tell the difference between interactions and relationships that are problematic from those which are predatory. We may not be able to tell the difference from a superficial or cursory analysis of the parties involved, but we should be able to tell the difference through a better understanding of these parties and their motives and perspectives. After all, where would romance literature be as a genre if we did not believe that the wealthy aristocrat could genuinely fall in love with and respect the shrewd and comely but impecunious servant girl or governess? Indeed, a great part of what makes something genuinely romantic is the triumph of mutual love and respect over what are seen as impossible barriers between two people who are genuinely well-suited to each other despite their differences. It is the triumph of compatible hearts and minds and spirits in the face of the gulfs and distance of qualities which are merely the accidents of birth and circumstance.
I have known people whose entire strategy for obtaining love was to gain a certain degree of wealth and social influence to make themselves appear attractive to potential spouses for the purposes of starting a family. These were people who had a rough awareness of their lack of native charm and charisma, a desire for partners who were way out of their league from the point of view of emotional intelligence and physical beauty, and a not-unreasonable belief that obtaining wealth and power was the surest way they would have at persuading some (un)fortunate woman to marry them and raise children with them. It is not easy to be or to find the right kind of woman, regardless of how wealthy and powerful you are. If one wants a woman with a certain degree of grace–certainly enough grace to put up with us, as well as a commitment to remaining in a marriage with a highly imperfect person and not trying to simply take the money and run as is the case so often these days, one is looking for a very difficult thing. One needs every advantage one can get, and if one did not have the chance of forming such a fortunate attachment in one’s youth, the odds get increasingly grim as one gets older. If it is illegitimate to use money and power to obtain intimacy and love, even if only the power of an able mind gifted with education and at least some experience in the world and the potential of gaining more wealth and power through one’s wits and hard work and native talents and abilities, how else are people supposed to obtain love and intimacy in the first place? Sometimes these things are the only currency people have to work with. Should we not pity rather than condemn those whose limited interests and somewhat difficult struggles in areas of interpersonal relationships lead them to attempt to make use of the only currency of the realm that they possess? By the time a man is in middle age or older, it is very late to be getting started on the business of being a polished and charming man, if one indeed has the raw materials to pull something like that off in the first place. If it is to be viewed as a fatal social error to be a person of awkwardness, few of us are safe from mobs of peasants with pitchforks seeking to destroy all that we have worked so hard to attain in an unfriendly world. I can think of few tragedies more likely to draw upon my limited stores of compassion and empathy, nor many more that hit closer to home.
 See, for example: