A woman of my acquaintance declared herself ready to acquire a boyfriend. Having emerged from an emotional crash site, having brushed herself down, cheered herself up, adopted mindfulness and become a yogi, the woman confided, ‘I wouldn’t mind having a boyfriend.’ She meant me to understand ‘boy’ as a person in her own, non-juvenile age bracket. She comes, as she often reminds me, to a different – younger – generation.
The woman selected a promising candidate – fellow yogi, terrifically mindful, neither bankrupt nor lumbered with children, not a Trump supporter nor addicted. After the first date she favoured me with a report: ‘Charming fellow, good company.’ Yes, she’d see him again.
Following the second encounter I found her beaming. ‘He’s funny! And considerate. I like him.’
The woman saw him on a third occasion. Following this
I heard no report. In due course the woman and I bumped into each other. ‘Well?’ I asked.
‘How are things with Mister Right?’
‘What are you talking about?’ A bit frosty. Irritated.
‘You know, Mister Funny, Mister Considerate, Mister…’
‘Him! We’re not seeing each other. I’m over him.’
(That’s how she talks. That’s how Generation Alphabet talks.)
Nonplussed, I asked, was the matter settled, final? It was, utterly. Finally. Beyond redemption.
‘Nothing happened. He’s repulsive.’
‘Why?‘ I asked: ‘Bad breath?’
‘No. Something he did.’
‘Blew his nose.’
‘What’s do you prefer? Nosepicking?’
‘It’s not just that. He uses a hankerchief.’
‘He reached into his pocket, pulled out this square of folded fabric, buried his nose in it and blew.’
‘No. After he finished, he folded up that precious bit of rag – some heirloom from his grandfather – and put it into his pocket!’
‘What’s the problem. His technique seems sound. Copy book, in fact. What would you suggest?’
‘A tissue.’ 'Since when did snot become so important that you need to carry a piece of material around just in case you need to blow your nose? Do you carry toilet paper in your pocket just in case you need to shit? And if you did, would you use it and then put it back in your pocket?'
This woman is not a doctor. She does not interest herself in the absorbing topic of how macrophages make their way to pathogens, how they engulf, destroy and wash them away. For her, it is not immune competence that matters, but style. Aesthetics. As a result the woman has no time for snot. I offered to enlighten her about the secret life of the albumen-born macrophage. ‘It’s not glamorous, but it is marvelous,’ I begin. She turned her face to me, sneering. From a person of her non-judging, all-accepting, mindful, universe-loving, recently renovated nature, that expression was alarming. And enlightening.
I persisted: ‘You know, we all make mucus. The membranes that line our hollow organs are named after it. That’s why they’re called ‘‘mucous membranes.’’ Their cells secrete a smoothing film of pearly fluid to keep things moving. Your nose does it, your sinuses, your eustachian tubes, your lungs, your bowel. And if you’ll forgive the expression, so too does your vagina. Snot makes the world go round.’
‘Not my world.’
“You’d be shot without snot.’
‘If you say so. I say, if you’ve got it, blow it and stow it, don’t store it.’
‘So, blowing your nose on a tissue is more elegant? Every tissue user knows the moist warm feeling of snot overflow drowning the tissue. Is that glamorous enough for you? Hygienic enough?’
‘Look, don’t give me your science. I just don’t want to be close to a man who keeps a clothful of old germs, and cold slime and green crusts in his pocket.’
The voice had climbed a few octaves and grown emphatic. Sober discourse and factual analysis were not what my friend was after. Aesthetics were the thing. And, as in all matters of taste, consistency is not the prize. It’s the vibe. I did not invite my friend to consider the content of the nation’s gussets, where innocent slime thickens and dries, its macrophages dying content with a job well done.
Troubled by thoughts of the man’s unfair dismissal, I appealed to proportionality, an element of justice; ‘So you deprive a person – a good person by your own description – of the sunshine of your company simply for possession of flannel and mucus?’
‘Certainly. I could respect him, but inwardly I’d shudder. I could never be intimate with someone like that.’
'It's also a symbol of his mindset. Who of my generation carries a hanky? Deep down he is obviously conservative, boring and predictable. The hanky says a lot about him as a person. If lunch hadn't been spicy I may not have found out about the hanky until it was too late.'
‘What if he treated you with tenderness and respect?’
‘Tenderness and respect? That’s exactly how he treats his snot. Reaches into his pocket, pulls out his damask, which he’s folded and refolded into a fussy little square, unfolds it, takes a big breath and blows. You look away, trying not to vomit. You hear the flow. He sneaks a little sideways peek at his ejaculate, tries to hide his satisfaction, folds up the hanky and pops it into his pocket.’
‘So, if he carries a hanky – no hanky panky!’
Hilarious, I should send this to my stepmother, who feels the same way about my father’s habit, but thankfully saw the good and kind in him and married him anyway 🙂
The tacit criticism here is that your friend is irrational. The problem with that critique is that it’s obvious. We’re talking about a strong affective and aesthetic reaction — two domains of human experience which are famously not rational. In connection with… a matter of the heart. Having dated a bit myself, I can note that in the early stages, sometime one just gets a feeling — or doesn’t — and then, believing oneself to be rational, has to find a justification for it. The rider and the elephant, as Haidt puts it.
Thank you for writing
I know nought of elephant or rider
I will seek enlightenment: in particular is Haidt rider or mastodon?
Although thy blood be bad yet your faith is good
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Well, my dear body fluid c
Respondent, one YouTube and partial podcast later, I follow your elegant analogy
I find it persuasive because my elephant recognises it from personal experience, temperamental preference,
And happy prejudice
I don’t hate haidt
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Hey Howard. The hanky man reminds me of someone. Very funny story.
And can you guess the identity of the woman with snot phobia?
She’d never cope in some Asian countries where they deal with their snot by hawking gobs of it onto the footpath! They find our habit of using tissues or hankies very repulsive.
I have noticed the free dispersal of mucus by persons from Asia but you have enlightened me, Yvonne, with the news they find hankies and tissues disgusting
There’s a universal problem, Yvonne – Across cultures little respect and no love for snot
And as I pointed out, snot makes the world go ’round
Thanks for writing, Yvonne