19 June 2014

The Pure Young Men

by Eve Fisher

"Squeamishness is not a woman's virtue."  - Colette, Earthly Paradise, p. 92

File:Robespierre.jpgOne of the main differences between men and women is that men are far more fastidious.  There is nothing quite so pure as a pure-minded man: but then, he can afford to be.  It's women who have to deal with a constantly recurring emission of blood and other fluids, and when the babies come it only gets worse.  Men can ignore all that and turn up their noses.  Men can insist on ritual purity.  And there have been a lot of pure-minded men, most of them very young, who have made an awful lot of history:  Bernard of Clairvaux, Maximilien Robespierre, Henry David Thoreau, and John Muir, to name three.

File:Henry David Thoreau.jpgAnd we've all known them.  The pure young man is usually attractive, with a childlike air of freedom and joy that's almost irresistible.  He is generally obsessively clean.  He often does not swear, smoke, or drink - or, if he does, only a little, and always enjoys giving it up.  (There are also those full moon nights when he goes on a binge that could, he dimly hopes, ruin his life.)  He often likes to go out "into the wild" to pit himself against the forces of Nature, which he sees as a Great Pure Force.  (See Thoreau and Chris McCandless.)  Most women know that Nature will swat you down like a gnat if she gets the chance, and then wild animals gnaw your bones.  But a Pure Young Man sees his death-defying walks into the wild as an initiation, in which he will, somehow, wring from Nature her imprimatur, and he will be made whole and eternal by his quest.  (Sir Galahad was also a Pure Young Man.)

To go back to that childlike air of freedom and joy - it's so attractive.  Except it's too childlike.  It's all self-centered, in a way that isn't clear to those around him until they try to hold on to him in some way.  Then he leaps away, like an animal from a trap, and that's the way they see human intimacy - and I'm not talking just about sexual.  But, with regard to sex, they often don't do that, either, except on full moon nights in leap years.  I always pity the young girl who falls for one, because 9 times out of 10 he will be Hamlet to her Ophelia and throw her away with nothing but words to remember him by.  (Hamlet was another Pure Young Man.)


Anyway, Pure Young Men seem to see emotional intimacy as being as messy and defiling and unnecessary as sexual intimacy.  They make wonderful friends - if your definition of a friend is someone who will stay up all night talking with you, and put up with whatever food and drink you provide.  But if you want someone who will be there when the chips are down, someone who will help you out of a jam - you are going to be in trouble.  IF they're still around (they have a nose for trouble and often disappear overnight), they may or may not try to help.  But they also may simply not care, and tell you that your concerns are ridiculously petty.

The irony is that I think that they think that they are being a good friend, but they have no idea what that entails. They'll give their money, their material possessions, at the drop of a hat - but usually not to a friend, usually to some homeless person - but they will not give themselves on any terms except their own.  They often lie or completely stonewall any questions about themselves, their past, their family, who they are.  They are often very lonely.  But since their loneliness is an elemental choice, it doesn't reek of that desperation that drives people away.  Instead, it can be very attractive. Maybe you'll be the one who will finally crack the barrier, and become their perfect friend. Don't count on it. Their perfect friend is a dog.  Or a genie in a bottle with a strong stopper, you can be their friend. The fact that you might need more will never occur to them; and if you bring it up, you will suddenly become possessive, manipulative, violating. You will be canned. Read Into the Wild, and see how often Chris McCandless abandoned friends who loved him.

And yet they're so likeable, so loveable.  Probably the very best literary analysis of a Pure Young Man is Peter Pan.  Children's story my ass.

16 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Your article reminded me of one of the most charismatic and frightening guys I’ve ever known. He worked as an intern at a company I consulted for and I never forgot him.

In his early twenties, he was charming, blond and very good looking, not very tall but with a way that attention focused on him. He was very much the quintessential evangelizing Fundamentalist Christian with a capital F and C. Not cruelly but with a touch of affectionate wariness, the gang there nick-named him Bible Bob.

The terrifying part was when the rest of us abhorred the current war-du-jour and the latest terrorist strike, he welcomed them, he cheered them on. Torture, pain, and heartache were immaterial: He considered mass death a good and joyful thing because it brought humanity closer to the Apocalypse, which Bible Bob welcomed with open arms. The Rapture was made for him.

I pray he didn’t go into politics. Don’t misconstrue my words when I say he scared the hell out of me.

D. said...

Well, I once fell for one, too. First he admired me, because I was lively, bold & brave. But this also scared him to death. And yes, the sanguine nature of women scared him nearly to death: http://dalaruan.livejournal.com/7911.html

Fran Rizer said...

Eve, you've described several young men I've known through the years. Fortunately, that wasn't my type so I wasn't at risk of any romantic attraction on my part.

The most recent is a fairly talented writer I was mentoring, but he refused to believe that having a "way with words" isn't enough, and I gave up on him.

Then one afternoon, he told me, "My mom says I'm her Peter Pan son."
I asked, "Why?"
He replied, "She says I'll never grow up."
She's right.

Janice Law said...

Maybe their real era was the monastic middle ages!

Eve Fisher said...

I think we've all known a few, because they are common. Janice, the monastic middle ages were a boom time for them - for one thing, they got called saints! And Leigh, you were well-advised to be scared of him, because they do have a taste for pain and death. St. Bernard of Clairvaux preached the Second Crusade with great fervor; and he almost starved his monks to death, rebuking them for their weakness. And they never grow up...

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the Narcissist and the Sociopath are not mixed into this somewhere, if there's not just a single Type described?

Dixon Hill said...

In response to Anon, I'd suggest that a sociopath normally wouldn't fit the bill, imho, because this type of guy is usually of the opinion that he knows what everyone else needs to do. In fact, I suspect this type of personality is capable of being a "great" charismatic leader at certain times, or in certain circumstances for this very reason. And, this idea may have something deep to do with our constitution requiring a president to be in his/her mid-30's. The framers may have been trying to prevent such a person from taking the reins of power, until he had outgrown some of his "youthful exuberance" and could make wiser decisions.

On the flip side, this sort of character might make a very good protagonist for a highly-successful literary novel imho. Or, perhaps that's already been done to death (but not contemporaneously, surely).

Just a thought.

--Dixon

Eve Fisher said...

I have used a PYM as a central character - he was Connor, the victim in "Death of a Good Man".

David Dean said...

Wow, these pure, young men have a lot to answer for! I suspect in many cases (most, I hope) that they are simply immature young males who will grow out of their self-absorbed "purity" given time and hard knocks. Those that don't risk ending up being shunned as odd, unpleasant people.

As for St. Bernard, there was more to him than that. He was certainly a man of his time, and as such, an easy target by today's revised standards. Who from that era wouldn't be? But he was also complex and gifted; one of the great counselors and arbitrators of his day, consulted by kings and popes, and greatly revered by the common people.

Herschel Cozine said...

David, is that why they named a dog after him?

David Dean said...

That was another St. Bernard, Herschel. The dog breed was named for St. Bernard of Montjoux. It was his order in the Alpines that apparently bred the dog for rescues there.

David Dean said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Eve Fisher said...

Oh, I know there was a lot to St. Bernard, David, and have read a good deal of his writings - but I still don't like him much, and I am very glad I was never a monk at his monastery...

David Dean said...

I'm sure that I wouldn't have fared well in any monastery, Eve--I'm too given over to the life of the flesh. Wicked me.

Stephen Ross said...

I've always thought there's a better story hidden in Peter Pan. Something dark and Gothic, and definitely not for chill-dren (to use the Robert Mitchum pronunciation).

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Wow, Eve, where did that come from? I was going to write that I've never met one, and then I remembered a night I spent sitting on the steps of my off-campus apartment in college, fifty years ago, talking all night with a young man who'd just come back into the world from a Trappist monastery. I'd sure never met anyone like him before. We might have held hands, or maybe we only talked about it, though I was not such a pure young woman myself by that time. Luckily, he was too unworldly to ask me for a date, so we never met again.