Much like kids, crazy people say the darndest things.
In was on Feb. 5, 2007, when astronaut Lisa Nowak traveled nearly 900 miles to “talk” to her lover’s lover with the aid of a steel mallet, diapers and latex gloves. While being interrogated by the police, Nowak described her affair with fellow space cowboy William Oefelein as “more than a working relationship, but less than a romantic relationship.” I’d found my muse—“the crazy astronaut lady”—and started writing a book.
She became the awesome crazy I measured my own bizarre love life against. If I came up not smelling like dirty, astronaut diapers, I was good—sort of.
Now exactly three years later, a guitar-strumming superstar that shoots from the hipster has stolen the love scene. Despite being more than an idiot, but less than a lunatic, in his interview with Playboy magazine John Mayer had some pretty salient points to make about voluntary social segregation, why “good guys” dodge commitment and something weird but explicable about ninjas. Unfortunately, all of that got lost in Mayer’s careless attempt to “intellectualize” race relations way beyond his paygrade, temporarily alienating a fraction of his fan base and clouding the genius of quotes like this:
“My ability to commit and be faithful is old soul. But 32 just comes roaring out of me at points when I don’t see it coming. I want to dance. I want to get on an airplane and be like a ninja.” Granted, admitting to the world that you entertain fantasies of being ninja-like is eccentric and somewhat self-indulgent. But Mayer’s broader implication is about the disconnect between what others (read: women) expect of him, what he expects of himself and his natural 32-year-old inclination to do dumb shit.
We prolong adolescence in this country, but expect commitment from men (and women) who ought to be committed. In a 2004 USA Today article, “It's Time To Grow Up—Later,” sociologist James Côté, who coined the term “youthhood,” declared, “the traditional adulthood of duty and self-sacrifice is becoming more and more a thing of the past.”
But Mayer’s comments suggest that in 2010, “youthhood” doesn’t so much supplant “adulthood” as it romanticizes it, creating a tug of war between what one thinks they should be doing and what one actually does. For Mayer, there seems to be a tension between wanting to be a 32-year-old ninja warrior and wanting to be a nice white boy who sings songs about love and stuff. Which would explain this piece of Mayer Yoda-ism:
“If you say I’m not adult and stable, it sounds as though I’m someone who’s watching football and playing Xbox …. It’s not like I wanted to be with somebody else. I want to be with myself, still, and lie in bed only with the infinite unknown. That’s 32, man.”
And how many men do I know like that?
Problem is no one wants to admit to their inherent and sociologically supported “immaturity” on the record. It’s always on background, especially once someone hits the big 3-0, the new millennium’s magic number. So kids raised on Schoolhouse Rock!— “A man and woman had a little baby. Yes, they did. There were three-ee in the family. Now, that’s a magic number”—now have a grainy picture of being a grown-up. Marriage and babies—or “the infinite unknown.”
My best friend went on a Mayer rant last week, calling him a “self-centered, grown-man asshole” and a product of “the generation of over-sharing,” which she see as an epidemic among the supposedly enlightened. “This is the random associative shit you say in college,” she wrote me in an e-mail, “not as a grown-ass man.” That’s fair. But is it destructive?
Because this is the same woman who got me hooked on Lisa Nowak. We became obsessed with Nowak's story, identifying her pain (who hasn’t been jilted at the launch pad?) and her gut reaction (who doesn’t need a mallet to “talk”?). We knew all too well what it was like in a more than/less than emotional equation. Stuck in the in-between where nobody’s happy; nobody’s leaving—and everybody thinks you’re settling.
How many times had we convinced ourselves of someone else’s potential while ignoring our own, giving each other great advice that we never follow (girl, he just might not be right for you)? Crazy astronaut ladies and fabulous 20-something black chicks are in the same spaceship: They’re aliens among men blasting off to who knows where.
But what about men? Another friend said recently, “You don’t have to understand all men, just yours.” Not that I would want a man like Mayer, but his temporary insanity (much like Nowak’s) definitely gave me clue into what drives folks to an airport in Florida or to being branded a douche-bag man whore—incoherent expectations. Mayer went on to tell Playboy that he makes his conquests breakfast in the morning because he loves “a girl loving” him despite the imminent “instant relationship.” This is problematic, obviously, but important to know. Perhaps if astronaut Oefelein had given Nowak less hope and more hard pills to swallow, she’d be up in space.
Some kid on the Internet once compared love to an avalanche: “You have to run for your life.” Funny that even children know love can be scary. That to be committed can mean either loyalty—or lunacy.
Helena Andrews is a regular contributor to The Root. Her book, Bitch Is The New Black, will be released this summer. Follow her on Twitter.