In Praise of Sentimentality

There are only two sorts of people: those who put the cutlery blade-down into the dishwasher and those who don’t.

My research has generally shown me that those who put the cutlery blade-down are more in touch with their feelings.

They know that when you take the cutlery out of the dishwasher again you take it by the handle, not the blade. This is clearly more thoughtful and hygienic. They are therefore clearly more likely to be sentimental.

I gave birth to those three marginally gratuitous paragraphs in order to discuss what can be a touchy subject: feelings and how we express them through symbols and events.

I was enjoying a very fine meal last week, when my digestion was interrupted by a curiously pimple-free youth lecturing me on sentimentality.

To him, this word represented all that was utterly pointless in the world.

The mere idea that one might give an additional emotional value to a piece of clothing, jewelry or art received from some significant other person seemed to him as contemptible as wearing a Lacoste shirt three sizes too big.

“Why value something that’s just a thing?” was his haughty view. “It’s just a thing. Some things are more expensive, some are cheaper. The more expensive ones have more value.”

Yes, brands have more meaning than gifts. Unless that gift hails from an expensive brand.

I have always been marginally suspicious of those who claim they have an old head on young shoulders.

Often, this old head belongs to their parents. It weighs upon them like box wine around breakfast time.

It constantly presses upon their collar bones, asking questions, demanding answers, and, worse, instructing certain behaviors.

“My parents were sentimental, I don’t like them, so I won’t be,” seems to be the train of this prematurely adult thinking.

Some parents are, indeed, ogres.


Rich fool, too.

Rich fool, too.



But Larry Lacoste isn’t the only member of Generation X, Why? or Zzzz whom I’ve found to have no concept of the meanings that exist in gestures, gifts and kindnesses.

It’s as if life, to them, is transactional, a business to be navigated. Like a career, only with sex that’s a little more leisurely. If you’re lucky.

How odd, though, it is to find people who don’t understand that the smallest of touches — a card, a message, a gift with genuine thought standing behind it (i.e. not rational) — can have the largest and most powerful of emotional effects.

In the present, a thoughtful gift can alter one’s often skewed view of what is important and what isn’t.

It can reassure just when you weren’t even aware you needed it.

When time has done its dirty deed, it can bring back not merely memories, but feelings that were genuine, important, and helped one rise above the mild daily disgust one can sometimes have with life’s ugly habits.

Sentimentality — expressed in tears, thoughts, feelings or symbols — is the appreciation that something truly mattered and still matters. Even if in a different way.

It’s accepting that some moments, some people, some relationships, some hopes deserve more respect that the daily business of life. Even if they went awry.

You might weep at a movie that reminds you of a love lost or a hope whose flame still lingers somewhere inside.

You might look at a shirt, a dress, a cufflink or a necklace and — every time you decide to wear it — you’re subconsciously acknowledging its meaning. Even if that meaning might not seem entirely real at that moment.

Yet, some brighter, younger things think that such feelings are dispensable, nothing more than the concoctions of a sad mind and a weak constitution.

To them, tenderness is to be valued as much as much as the ashes after a barbecue.

In discussing this with my ceiling, I wondered why this might be.

With suspicious serendipity, there appeared an Business Insider article entitled: The Stunning Fall Of Generation X. 

Could it be that some young things aren’t sentimental because they think they can’t afford to be?

This fine article suggested that no generation has been poorer in recent times that those whose all-knowingness isn’t yet matched by its all-moneyedness.

Over time, they are losing value. Their stock isn’t rising.

Yes, there is the (very) odd Zuckerberg. But too many are watching others have what they cannot. They are seeing the older and uglier types hoard their cash and plunge younger generations into a future of hideous uncertainty.

As if life wasn’t a hideous enough uncertainty.

Relationships, therefore, have to be more businesslike.

Just as government is now supposed to be run like a business, we must all be brands competing in a market, acting with a strategy and accumulating profits.

Those profits might come in the form of gifts, but every year we must make more profits than the last. If we don’t, our stock will fall.

One cannot be sentimental about the profits. One cannot be soft. The competition never rests. You can fall behind further at any given moment.

Love used to be battlefield, a place where all was fair, but the feelings were pure. The rewards and losses were taken to heart.

Now it’s more about self-worth, where that worth has a number. There is no room for the faint of heart. Because a faint heart is never wealthy.

It makes me weep. Almost.


Flatlands/YouTube Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk