I’m not going to gold-plate this, but the brief, ‘Gold Digger’ made me shudder, to the point of complete writer’s block. I had an instinct for the angle of this piece, but every beginning was like scratching the losing block of a lucky Lotto scratch card. I don’t play the Lotto or scratch cards. I consider myself lucky enough as it stands and do not wish to push my luck. Living in South Africa, where extremities of rich and poor are obscenely displayed, we often become desensitised and accepting. I feel extremely uncomfortable displaying any form of wealth in the presence of those that cannot afford to eat. Ralph Waldo Emerson said ‘The desire for gold is not for gold. It is for the means of freedom and benefit.’ I understand my privilege, my freedom. I also recognise that my richest seam of gold lies beneath the skin of those I love and who love me.
I have empathy for pragmatic humans that have prioritised financial security over physical attraction. Maybe it is generational, and they seize any opportunity to break a cycle of poverty. Social climbers. Gold diggers. I find less tolerance for the concept of arranged marriages, where riches are used as leverage and the ultimate measure of suitability. I won’t be engineering partnerships for my own children. I suspect that our offspring will find it harder than we did to navigate the next stages in their journey to adulthood; specifically, finding a partner. Finding THE one.
Generation Z are so scared to make mistakes in a world that is constantly watching, switched on. Singles prepare their filtered and idealised profiles for Tinder scrutiny. Swipe left or right. Uncomplicated hook-ups. Emotions and vulnerabilities buried deep within. Hell, some of these people aren’t even actually singles, and honesty is not part of the policy. Layers of lies, veneers of aspirational perfection, and still to learn that to uncover the gold within another human, requires total vulnerability and trust. In a digital age, kids seeking dopamine thrills may find a level of nakedness that is just a click away from catastrophe.
Introverts of this generation have hypothesised all of the theoretical possibilities, with none of the real life experience, the highs and lows of successful connection and its flip side, rejection. Through the pandemic, they withdrew into a fantasy world of Netflix series and social media. Everything they know – or think they know – is an illusion. High school dramas add to the anxiety, presenting a social structure where the rich are popular but morally questionable, and the weird loner nerd needs to overcompensate to be accepted. Social experiment game shows like ‘The Circle’ and ‘Love is Blind’ rely on exhibitionists to carry the story and players eventually break under the spotlight, struggling to maintain their masks under the scrutiny of others. And that is when the magic happens.
Discomfort foments growth. The most adaptable, the most resilient, come out on top precisely because they allow the cracks to form and then heal stronger. The Japanese art of kintsukuroi involves the repair of pottery with golden ‘seams’ which only serve to make the object more beautiful. In a society that places value on physical perfection, most would see scars as a mark of damage, where I would argue that scars frequently tell a story of survival, often against the odds. Scratch the surface and the gold lies beneath. Patching up with plastic surgery may prove to be a risky fix. The outer facade can only contain unhealed inner torment for so long before other fracture appears. “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” Leonard Cohen.
I found the most relatable dating series on Netflix is about people with autism who want to override their own social awkwardness and find a companion. ‘Love on the Spectrum’ features a group of humans that society has marginalised and regarded as ‘differently abled’. They are unanimously the most self-aware young adults that I have seen on television. Often highly functioning and all absolutely stifled by the infinite ‘what-ifs’ of any dating scenario. This fear prevents them from focusing on the present, one hour and one day at a time. I think that most kids could identify. All of the people that are featured are new to dating, and one profoundly states: “if a monster like Donald Trump can find a partner, then it should be possible for me too”. I can’t fault this logic. People with autism learn about social cues by watching others, and embark on this challenge methodically, asking rehearsed questions to reveal common ground with any potential partner. The conversations are excruciatingly uncomfortable, until, occasionally, a natural match is made. Then both parties seem to relax into the moment, laugh at their own bizarre quirks and stop trying so hard. Relatable.
Gen Z kids need to put down their devices, leave the house, and meet real people. Get busy living a life so full that meeting someone that you really like is an inconvenience. Someone you must rearrange your schedule for. Until then, make connections, not judgements. Enlarge your community of friends. Take time to find out about other people. Listen, and you will learn more about yourself. Initial sparks of attraction either fizzle or catch fire, and our children will be burnt a few times. There will be heartbreak, and there will be growth.
“Anyone can find the dirt in someone. Be the one to find the gold.” Proverbs 11:27