Author of “Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited”
The ancient institution of monogamous marriage is ill-suited to the exigencies of modern Western civilization. People of both genders live and work longer (which renders monogamy impracticable); travel far and away frequently; and are exposed to thousands of tempting romantic alternatives via social networking.
In an age of malignant individualism, bordering on narcissism, men and women alike put themselves, their fantasies, and their needs first, all else – family included – be damned. And with 5 decades of uninterrupted prosperity and feminism/ women’s lib most of the denizens of the West have acquired the financial wherewithal to realize their dreams at the expense and to the detriment of collectives they ostensibly belong to.
Owing to the dramatic doubling of life expectancy, modern marriages seem to go through three phases: infatuation (honeymoon); procreation-accumulation (of assets, children, and shared experiences); and exhaustion-outsourcing (bonding with new emotional and sexual partners for rejuvenation or the fulfilment of fantasies, needs, and wishes.) Divorces and breakups occur mostly at the seams, the periods of transition between these phases and especially between the stages of accumulation-procreation and exhaustion-outsourcing.
With marriage on the decline and infidelity on the rise, the reasonable solution would be polyamory: households with multiple partners of both genders all of whom are committed to one another for the long haul, romantically-involved, sexually-shared, and economically united. Alas, while a perfectly rational development of the traditional marriage and one that is best-suited to modernity, it is an emotionally unstable arrangement, what with romantic jealousy ineluctably rearing its ugly head.
The question is not why there are so many divorces, but why so few. Surely, serial monogamy (in effect, a tawdry variant of TLM) is far better, fairer, and more humane than adultery? Couples stay together and tolerate straying owing to inertia; financial or emotional dependence; insecurity (lack of self-confidence or low self-esteem); fear of the unknown and the tedium of dating. Some couples persevere owing to religious conviction of for the sake of appearances. Yet others make a smooth transition to an alternative lifestyle (polyamory, swinging, or consensual adultery).
Indeed, what has changed is not the incidence of adultery, even among women. There are good grounds to assume that it has remained the same throughout human history. The phenomenon – quantitatively and qualitatively – has always been the same, merely underreported. What have changed are the social acceptability of extramarital sex both before and during marriage and the ease of obtaining divorce. People discuss adultery openly where before it was a taboo topic.
Another new development may be the rise of “selfish affairs” among women younger than 35 who are used to multiple sexual partners. “Selfish affairs” are acts of adultery whose sole purpose is to satisfy sexual curiosity and the need for romantic diversity. The emotional component in these usually short-term affairs (one-night stands and the like) is muted. Among women older than 60, adultery has become the accepted way or seeking emotional connection and intimacy outside the marital bond. These are “outsourcing affairs.”
Human psychology dictates that in any modern, adaptable variant of marriage monogamy must be preserved while allowing for emotional, sexual, and romantic diversity. How to square the circle?
Enter “time-limited marriages” (TLM). These are marriage contracts with expiration dates: one to three years for childless couples and a minimum of seven years for those blessed with children (to allow the parents to provide a stable environment during the child’s formative years.) These contracts can be allowed to expire and then the parties are free to look elsewhere for the fulfilment of their sexual and romantic dreams and wishes; or they can be renewed and renegotiated.
Within the TLM, partners would have little incentive to cheat: they could simply wait for the contract to lapse. The looming expiry would also keep the intimate partners on their toes and on their best behavior by generating a sempiternal environment of courtship and positive sexual tension. The periodically renegotiated marriage contracts would reflect changing economic realities, shifts in romantic sentiment, and other pertinent new data. Of course, TLM would eliminate the need for divorces (except in extreme, emergency cases.)
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