FIELDS: Love by the byte

The future of romance is almost here and nobody likes it

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The New Year explodes with dire prophesies for men and women and their mating patterns. If they’re correct, or even close to it, the lot of men will not be a happy one — or for the women who love them (and want one of their own).

That future, in fact, is almost here. In their failure to appreciate the biological differences obvious to most of us, second- and third-wave feminists have downsized men and denigrated their values, forging a radical imbalance in the way the two sexes relate to each other. Women surpass men in formal education, and the male and female elites of the upper economic brackets compete with each other in courtroom, boardroom — and, inevitably, in the bedroom.

The traditional divisions of labor among working-class men and women have gone from bad (and bed) to worse in the recession as service jobs favor women. Jobs that once required heavy lifting are gone with Detroit’s emblematic bankruptcy, and President Obama’s promised shovel-ready jobs never arrived in the numbers he said we could count on. Role reversals abound where PowerPoint dominates.

Camille Paglia, a prominent feminist critic and unhappy prophet of heterosexual doom, thinks we’re watching civilization commit suicide. She warns her sisters they must beware, lest they turn themselves into Komodo dragons, hammerhead sharks and pit vipers, who will have to clone themselves by parthenogenesis if they are to reproduce themselves.

“Is it any wonder,” she asks, “that so many high-achieving young women, despite all the happy talk about their academic success, find themselves in the early stages of their careers in chronic uncertainty or anxiety about their prospects for an emotionally fulfilled private life?” These questions have been asked before, of course, but never with such growing urgency as women debate male abdication of responsibility to them.

The metaphor of the popular movie “Her” is the stalemate in male-female relationships posed for the near future. “Her” is about a computer geek — the actor Joaquin Phoenix actually looks like one in the movie — who has a love affair with a highly advanced computer operating system. He gets paid for writing letters in purple ink for others. He’s tongue-tied to a machine when he’s speaking for himself.

The voice in the computer is called Samantha and belongs to Scarlett Johansson, conjured in imagination by Theodore, her geek lover. Her sotto voce voice is silky, smooth and sexy, and she reads Theodore’s emails and gains electronic omniscience. She straightens out his filing system, too. She confesses she has 8,316 other conversations going, and she’s in love with 641 others. She loves him most, of course.

This is an almost believable fantasy because nearly everyone in it is isolated by their computers from whom they seek friendship and love. Broad scans of the camera expose men and women walking and talking alone, speaking to the air, phone buds hidden in ear canals. That future, as all can see, is now.

When Theodore attempts a kiss with a woman of flesh and blood and their lips touch, she begins a monologue of instructions as if she’s the voice of a GPS — brake pressure on lips, move nose, turn left with tongue — until she bursts into tears to ask if he’ll be another one of those guys who only wants to take her to bed and will never call again.

If the disembodied computer voice is a fantasy of the feminized and passive man of the future, who seeks the perfect woman to respond to all his needs, the flesh-and-blood woman who tries to control the kiss is a real-life nightmare, aggressive and hysterical and terrorized by her ticking biological clock. There’s real-life urgency in their failure to connect. He has been emotionally neutered and escapes into a relationship with a computer that “reads” his every need. She has grown aggressively angry about the way real men have treated her in seductive encounters.

This is the inevitable metaphor for what happens after decades of narrowing feminist ignorance of the natural and enduring differences between men and women. Glib how-to books that tell women how to take control can’t teach them how to excite the masculine drive for creating and protecting a family.

In the movie “Her,” a computerized woman with a husky voice goes a long way to seduce a man, but ultimately it’s the feelings of a frustrated, angry human woman that leaves us questioning the direction for men and women moving into the new year and the future. The sequel is likely to be called “Him.”

Suzanne Fields is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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