Lonely is the Night …. By Robin Sydney Wallace
“Unlike their male counterparts, female elected officials have produced remarkably few sex scandals,” –The New York Times.
There’s a mayoral race going on in New York City in which one of the candidates is redefining the issue of transparency in politics and giving the press another reason to keep showing up for work. When your job is to report the news, the daily litany of crime, corruption, despair and hopelessness can be a real downer— even when you’re not forced to report on Congress. So it’s always refreshing to see a story about someone out there living his life with such purposeful joy and abandon.
The backlash against former New York congressman—and soon to be former mayoral candidate—Anthony Weiner—has turned against his wife, and I was going to write a thoughtful piece about private lives, and marriage, and the stones we throw from our glass houses. Because personally, I have never been able to muster up much outrage over what grown adults—and some not so grown ones—are doing during their quiet time. Life is short, marriage is long, people change, people don’t or won’t change. I live in the real world. Well, actually, I live in a New Jersey suburb where, if some of us don’t get a grip soon, the whole town is going to be starring in the “Real and Desperate Housewives of Essex County.” Seriously, I swear I wouldn’t believe half of the secrets and scandals and gossip and things that go on around here if so many of them didn’t personally involve me.
But then, while I was surfing the web for some updates on Carlos Danger, I was sucker punched by the grainy —but by far not grainy enough—image of a partially nude Geraldo Rivera, which the 70-year-old newsman tweeted of himself in the late, dark hours of a drunken, lonely night.
Hey look, we all do something now and then that we regret the next morning—if not long before that. But, most of us don’t get to conduct the post-mortem on our own radio show, with buddies like disgraced former New York (what was he again? Governor?) Eliot Spitzer calling in to say, “Dude. Been there, man.” The best I can expect from my friends is maybe a lame text saying, “I dnt thnk anyon notced.” Spitzer thinks Geraldo will survive the embarrassment (practice does make perfect) and be back better than ever, stronger than the storm! (sorry, wrong state, but come to think of it, let’s all say a little prayer that Chris Christie is into Mindcraft or Words With Friends, or sticks with sandwiches, for those downtime blues.)
But, the other Geraldo pal who called in to commiserate, the one whose name did not start with “Disgraced Former New York” was a total buzz kill. He wanted to know how Geraldo could be so stupid. STUPID.
Don’t you just hate friends like that?
Geraldo, explained Geraldo, was bored and lonely and knocking a few back because he couldn’t sleep, and decided to give himself a little boost by sharing his still-happening-at-seventy—according to him—Geraldo-ness. But you know he just had to be thinking, “Hey… if that Weiner from Queens can be getting cyber-busy impersonating Zorro…I…. am…. Geraldo Rivera!”
I mean, isn’t this exactly what you do when you’re bored and lonely and need a little pick-me-up? Have a few drinks and check out your naked body? I know it’s my go-to feel-good-about-myself strategy. Okay, so the only booze we ever have in the house is my brother-in-law’s home made wine, so I settle for a few spoonfuls of Nutella out of the jar instead—but then I head right on over to the mirror. I especially like checking out the backs of my thighs, and that little extra pouch of belly that my pregnancies left behind. Okay, so I don’t take pictures of myself. But that’s only because I don’t have anybody to send them to and don’t have a Twitter account. Whoa. It just occurred to me, right this second, that I might have someone to send them to if I had a Twitter account.
What does any of this have to do with parenting or motherhood? Nothing really, I suppose—other than posing a profound question about how we are supposed to teach our children to form and conduct real and meaningful personal relationships at a time when social media is dramatically altering not just the way we form and conduct relationships, but our perception of the nature of those relationships.
My husband and I don’t allow the kids to use social media. When we discovered our ten year old daughter’s Instagram account, we shut it down. Scrolling through her feed of goofy-faced fourth graders, puppies, cats and peace signs, I almost had second thoughts. It all seemed so sweet and harmless, and I liked that she was connected to this community of friends, logging on to say hi and make each other laugh. But was she connected? Were they friends? A lot of these kids have never invited her to a birthday party or a play date. She doesn’t eat lunch with them, or play with them during recess. Some of them don’t even speak to her at school. Yet, there was all this chummy activity on Instagram.
Then we found a shirtless picture of my six year old son, gleefully posing for his sister. Then we tried to explain the dangers of social media to my daughter. Her complete inability to grasp what we were trying to say—and this is a really bright, deep kid—removed any mixed feelings about shutting down the account. For me, however, the decision was based on more than fears of Internet predators or cyber-bullying. We’re raising our kids in a society that has embraced reach-out-but-don’t-really-touch-someone communication, where if you can’t say it in text shorthand, you don’t get to say it at all—where my daughter can lounge on our couch with her iPod and think she has friendships and a social life. We no longer have to risk the time, effort, disappointment, inconveniences or heartbreak of real relationships when our electronic devices allow us to have mess-free fantasy ones. And, of course, we are going to prefer the fake, because who are we ever going to find who can live up to the fantasy? The “friends” who ping me on Facebook are really just so much more pleasant than the people I have to deal with every day.
Remember when political sex scandals involved megalomaniacs like Bill Clinton who, when they reach out, actually touch someone? Now we get Anthony Weiner firing off texts to women he’s never met and “lewd self-portraits to strangers” (thank you, New York Times.) We get Geraldo—a man who once wrote a book about his in-person conquests—confronting his insecurities about aging in the midnight mirror, and having no one but his Twitter followers to turn to for validation of his virility. It’s all so sad and pathetic. Social media has revealed to us our loneliness, our desperate desire to share and connect, but it’s not a solution, it’s an enabler. We used to be forced to choose between putting ourselves out there or really being alone. Now, we can tell ourselves we’re connecting while hiding behind our texts and our posts. And what happens? Eventually we wind up alone, in the middle of the night, with just ourselves and our camera phones.
Gentlemen, we get it. You are lonely. You are insecure. Desperately, lonely and insecure. But don’t you get it? Your iPhone is never going to keep you warm at night, no matter what you program Siri to whisper in your ear. Please, for all of our sakes, get some real, live, human mistresses. The only reason you think that’s too boring and risky is because you insist on this parade of interchangeable, central-casting 22-year-olds who are only interested in a New York Post cover and the condo you can’t really afford to buy them in Chicago. You need to check out the suburbs. The supermarkets and yoga studios are teeming with bored and lonely women with a thousand more reasons than you have to be discreet, and with imaginations only 15 years of marriage and Disney and mommy-and-me classes can churn up. And, what with Cross Fit and Pilates, and forty being the new thirty, you’ll never be able to tell the difference in those cell phone text photos. And, it won’t cost you a thing, because we’re just looking for something to do in the middle of the night, too. Well, maybe you could send a landscaper over once in a while. That would be a big help.
Because, you know, everything may look fabulous on Facebook, but behind the 421 happy birthday messages from people you are not sure you even know, beats a million lonely hearts.
Tags: aging, Anthony Weiner, children, FaceBook, Geraldo Rivera, infidelity, instagram, internet, marriage, motherhood, New York City, parenting, raising a family, sexting, social media, texting, twitter