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 hunter-gatherer days.
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 average life expectancy in the 30-40 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 dwellers.
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!