The first time Hugo Schwyzer met his Eira she was a student. She was his student, and though that notion seems very cliché – the student teacher love affair – things didn’t happen that way. Theirs was a love that didn’t blossom on first sight.
It was many years later when Hugo was divorced, for the third time, that he met Eira for a catch-up coffee. “It was one of those things where you realize you are having such a good time together that you don’t want it to stop, he says. “I’d known her for a long time and I sort of realized that this was one of those moments where you sort of see an opportunity.” Impulsively he asked her to join him on a hike. “That was a way of guaranteeing we would get to spend more time together, rather than a walk around the block.”
They went to Malibu Creek state park, a place filled with dramatic rock outcroppings oak, sycamore woodlands, and rolling hills of tallgrass. Filmed during movies such as The Planet of the Apes and Pleasantville, it is a location often used by Hollywood. Hugo reminisces when they climbed up to the top of the hill. “I kissed her,” he says, smiling as though he is momentarily lost in the memory. “Where once the age gap seemed considerable at 35 and 27, it didn’t seem significant at all anymore.” Hugo began to see Eira in a new way.
It is an old axiom that love comes to us when we least expect it. “I remember being angry at the universe – very angry, because I was not ready to be in a relationship again. I was 35 years old and I had been divorced 3 times. I mean, who is divorced 3 times at 35?” He looks away from the computer and his jaw clenches slightly. It is the expression his face assumes whenever he speaks about something for which he has passion. “At that point you should be out of the relationship business and celibate for life or something,” he says. I wasn’t planning on being celibate, but I wasn’t planning on being serious either – and bam! I met this woman. And I didn’t want to be with anyone else.”
Hugo teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena Community College. We spoke about his own search for love, what love looks like as time passes and his views on love and young people – conversations informed in his gender studies classrooms. He is a popular voice on gender issues and his opinion on gender roles is sought out frequently. Most recently he was quoted in Cosmopolitan in an article about women increasingly going to strip clubs. He also writes for popular Gawker feminist platform Jezebel. Compellingly, every article in his genderal interest column makes you aware of what a polarizing force he is. There are people who love him, and people who love to hate him. He’s been very open about his past, and his missteps from love.
When Hugo talks to me through Google Hangout, he’s at home sick with the flu. Propped in a chair with pillows as a fluffy white backdrop, his voice is rough. He coughs, apologizes and coughs again.
I ask him if he is a romantic. “I can be. I have [romantic] moments.” He gives a half smile. As we talk, his wife comes in to give him medicine. He sips from a small plastic container and hands it to her, thanking her off screen. He seems a little sheepish as we return back to my questions. “[In my] first 2 marriages I didn’t have the tools to be married. I was deeply ambivalent about it. I was in love with the idea of marriage, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be married to those women. I wasn’t capable of sustained fidelity – either emotional or physical. I wanted to feel new things, but I also wanted to be married so I was deeply and chronically dishonest.”
Hugo has now been married 10 years and has 2 beautiful children. He is happy to report that his relationship was worth the wait.
There’s a wise saying from Eleanor Roosevelt that you should learn from the mistakes of others because you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself. Hugo has learned a lot about relationships, and he uses his writing and classroom to help young adults navigate their own. “I am really interested about how young people – the young 20 something’s – navigate adulthood” he said, looking away at the screen and resuming the expression of intensity.
How are we doing? I wonder, with New York Times declaring the end of courtship.
“You are navigating it better than we realize,” he says. “There’s this idea that somehow in the past, maybe even 25 years ago, we were a heavily monogamy-based culture.” He explains that while many people have nostalgia about the past, it’s primarily built up on pastoral ideals. “I can assure you it was not simpler in the 1980s. There was less technology, but in fact I think the technologies made relationships both more fluid and more possible. I think you guys [the younger generation] are fine. I think that you have every bit as many skills as we did and pretty much you want all the same things.”
So while gurls may sometimes feel textually frustrated amidst this modern dating scene, these dating problems aren’t new. Reassuringly, we seem to have made progress from the old ‘rules of dating’. “A lot of the rules young men and women lived with in an earlier era. “They’re gone,” he says. “They forced women to be passive.” You’ve probably heard whispers of the antiquated dating rules – the one that remains with the most tenacity is never sleep with a guy on the first date. “I think we are a lot farther down the road.”
As for the pressure that gurls feel to settle down and find Mr. Right before it is too late?
“It’s based on a distorted sense of women’s fertility decline, and on the false idea that women’s beauty (and thus the ability to attract a good mate) begins to decline rapidly after 30. The reality is that the fastest growing demographic of new moms are women over 35,” he says. “This is mostly a trope designed to make young women feel anxious about expecting too much from the men in their lives; it’s designed to get you to settle.”
You’ve heard it from Hugo, gurls: There is plenty of time to find love. <3