Everything Gen X Learned About Dating They Learned from Alex and Ellen

Apologies to Chuck Klosterman and his notion that the Say Anything character of Lloyd Dobbler ruined dating for all of Gen X but I think there is a deeper influence on our relationship building. It all happened in 1987 on an episode of Family Ties. In that episode the main character Alex planted a now famous kiss on his love interest Ellen while the Billy Vera and the Beaters song At This Moment was playing. This week in 1987 that song hit #1 on the pop charts on the backs of that scene. The kiss sent a rocket of emotions through Gen X. Alex was the guy every girl wanted to bring home and to marry and raise a family with. Ellen was the girl next door who every guy wanted to meet. Smart, funny, and beautiful she was the archetype for who we wanted to spend our lives with.

The scene and the song set us all up for a lifetime of searching. And this is not by accident. Gen Xers are the children of divorce. I had very few friends whose parents were not divorced. For many of us we had no examples of love in our lives except for the love we saw on screen. Our parents were constantly fighting over weekend custody, child support payments, and then abandoning us for a date with the new mom or dad. We were alone to figure all of this out for ourselves. So all we learned about when it came to love was learned on TV. And Alex and Ellen were the gold standard. Ellen played hard to get, the relationship was complicated, and the love shown was passionate and real. Even more so because we found out later that the actors who played Alex and Ellen; Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan were actually in love and got married for real. This was not an illusion. They have been married for 29 years, have four children, have battled Fox’s Parkinson’s Disease together and are Hollywood’s least controversial couple. They were everything we wanted form a relationship after living our lives not sure who was going to take us to school in the morning.

And the song itself made the moment. The line “And I’d subtract 20 years from my life” sums up how Gen X kids love. We put in the work and we stay loyal. I met my wife in 1992 and we have been together ever since. Our marriage has had ups and downs but the idea of divorce is unthinkable. We are an item. Like Alex and Ellen our first kiss was while dancing (albeit under different circumstances) and I get the feeling I will never kiss another. Gen Xers have a divorce rate of about 35% versus 53% for Boomers. Of course most of us still have kids at home so who knows in coming years. But the bottom line is when we saw Alex and Ellen we knew what we wanted, a lifetime of love. Gen X, we are hopeless romantics. I kind of like that.

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