Future of relationships: changing views of monogamy and
By Dick Pelletier
Biological anthropology professor at Rutgers University,
Helen Fisher, who has
written five books on the future of human sex, love, and
relationships, says that marriage has changed more in the last
100 years than the previous 10,000, and it could change more in
the next 20 years than the past 100!
We're shedding traditions that have survived since our
culture began 10,000 years ago, Fisher says, and it appears
we're returning to the ancient sex and romance practices of our
Concepts such as, 'till death do us part, a woman's place is
in the home, and men as the primary wage earner, began
disappearing in the last half of the 20th century. Today,
relationships are undergoing huge changes. Divorce is viewed
more as a solution than a shame; working-women are now the norm;
living together without marriage is gaining popularity; and some
states have legalized same-sex weddings.
In addition, our concept of infidelity is also changing. Some
married couples agree that it's OK to have brief sexual
encounters when they travel separately; others sustain long-term
adulterous relationships with their spouse' approval. Even our
view of divorce is experiencing major transformations. Ending a
marriage used to be considered a failure; now it's often deemed
the next step toward true happiness.
Historians, however, tell us these trends are not new.
Anthropologists have uncovered clues to how our Paleolithic
ancestors lived. Before the advent of agriculture, humans faced
a short, brutal lifespan. Some survived to age 50, but most died
young or at birth, with
expectancy in the 30-to-40 range.
With such a short lifespan, ancestral children were likely to
experiment with sex by age six. Most couples lived in temporary
relationships, and being unfaithful was common for these cave
When our forbears found themselves in an unhappy situation, they
simply walked away and found another cave. Scientists believe
that most hunter-gatherers had sex for
fun, not just to reproduce.
In these ancient tribes, the females performed most of the
work, regularly leaving camp to gather fruits, nuts, and
vegetables; and returning with the evening meal. Double-income
families were the rule, and women were just as economically
powerful as men were. Throughout much of the world, women are
now regaining this equal economic and social power they once
held in our prehistoric past.
Researchers at Rutgers University's National Marriage
Project found that Americans are marrying later, exiting
marriage more quickly, and choosing to live together before
marriage; some couples are opting to remain single throughout
their entire lives.
As we wind through the 21st Century, new relationships will
challenge many of our traditions and social policies. Houston
futurist Sandy Burchsted, who recently spoke at a World
Future Society conference, believes that in the future,
most people will
marry at least four times and experience extramarital
affairs with little public censure. Marriage will be considered
an evolutionary process, not a one-time-only event.
The first marriage will be seen as the icebreaker, lasting
about five years, where couples learn to live together and
become sexually experienced; but once disillusionment sets in,
it will be perfectly acceptable for the couple to separate, as
divorce will carry little stigma in the future. Next, people
will marry for a 15-to-20 year parenting experience. Raising
children will be the primary purpose for this arrangement.
The third union, called self-discovery will be about partners
getting to know each other at deeper levels and better
understand what they hope to gain out of life. The fourth and
final marriage will be a late-in-life 'soul mate' connection,
filled with marital bliss, shared spirituality, physical
monogamy, and equality. With medical science extending lifespans,
this marriage could last indefinitely. The perfect, deeply
rewarding relationship that humans have always been pursuing,
seemingly forever, might finally become reality.
Today, we live in a sea of technological trends that reshape
our lives. To bond is human. Drives to fall in love are deeply
embedded in our nature, and with new aids to sex and romance;
such as Viagra and estrogen replacement; longer lifespans; and
growing acceptance of new ways to bond; we will have an
opportunity to create a more-fulfilling partnership than at any
time in our history. Welcome to the future!
This article appeared in various print publications and
on-line blogs. Comments always welcome.