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Couples (2009)

All the comfortable, conceited couples in Brooklyn. Horrible, beautiful couples with black-rimmed glasses and little dogs whose chilly, codependent cuteness recalls all cloying indie rock romance of the late Ots: Away We Go, Eternal Sunshine and the Spotless Mind, Juno; oh isn’t it so sweet to see these occluded rom-coms where weighty loneliness is finally vanquished by a coy, ironic courtship—the sincere, bashful guy. The confident post-riot girl woman. So smart, so witty, so up on the latest television programs and Internet memes of the day. Cooking dinner together and their cocoon of sweet cuddliness, it’s enough to make you want to puke. As social bonds and community become increasingly fractured, torn apart and pulled by individualism, ambitions, financial pressures, and the American geographic wanderlust– “I’m not sure where I want to live”, the ready replacement, the couple, is waiting there like a womb to crawl into—a onesize-fits-all readymade community of two—everything shared, reciprocity established, but with none of the complicated, consent-based meetings about who left their dirty dishes in the sink. Why tough it out and throw your die in with a difficult, tentacled community when you could just have a partner? Being part of a couple is such a surreal, self-destroying experience that it’s hard to see what you’ve become–only by looking into society’s mirror can a couple get a glimpse of what you truly are. From the inside, love plays hallucinogenic tricks on the mind, turning ugly, cruel women into darlings of affection and jealous men into charmers and princes. The only way to know if it’s a bad pairing is from without—do the old men playing Dominoes on the street smile at them when they’re walking around holding hands? Are the waiters at cheap Mexican restaurants extra-friendly, bringing them drinks on the house? Or do they roll their eyes and grimace, finding the relationship sour and pitiable? This unconscious undulating movement towards adulthood: you look up one day to check your internet social networking utility and see that everyone has gotten married, had babies, and moved away. Within the couple, all of the identity politics fade into the background, along with ‘the community’ and its strictums: couples sin together, sleeping late, ‘splurging’ on dinner, walking around the apartment naked. Mornings are a regression to a kind of Saturday morning cartoon-watching childlike state: bowls of cereal, wrestling, reading the comics in the newspaper. The couple becomes like a pair of Siamese twins, a dialectic mind knowing each other’s very thoughts and coming to conclusions, staring upon the world with one Cyclopic eye. The paradox is that no one cares what a couple, the all-seeing eye, thinks, and people resent them—most of the community find these pairings alternately endearing and infuriating, constantly having the two-headed hydra of its sweet cuteness rubbed in its face. The couple is immanently hateable, more than anywhere in public, with their hand-holding and mutual protectiveness, the flabby elementary school fear of the cold, unforgiving world on their faces. A couple sitting beside me on the subway bench rub their noses together, giving each other little gnome kisses, cuddling in public while the rest of us commuters shiver and freeze—the couple only looks out for itself, not for the community.

 “What are we doing tonight?” one half of the couple asks, doe-eyed, probing her mate.

“The same thing we do every night sweetie…” the domesticated man answers jokingly, the “nice guy” who holds her and provides a portrait of comforting, reassuring masculinity. The cocoon of couply warmth as a temporary refuge from the world, a dulling of the sense. After a while the two parts of the one become bored of their diaper-wearing, regressive state—they begin to nitpick, begin to fight, begin to strain against their couple-leashes. They miss the cold, flinty edge of life that they have been keeping themselves safe from—the wider, meaner spectrum of emotions and experiences—long nights racked with pain and loneliness alternating with transcendent moments of joy, passion, and pure being when life coalesces and comes together. Suffering is what people can empathize with—not everyone’s happy and comforted but most everyone is suffering.



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