Saturday, February 4, 2012

On being single

I have been thinking a lot about being single at 27 in the context of my friends, my acquaintances, and even in the greater society. This article from Time kind of shows that I am not alone in my ambivalence towards marriage and commitment.

The article states that in a large survey of Americans, 40% said that they weren't sure about getting married with another 27% saying "a wedding is not in their future". This means that over 50% of the respondents, Americans 21 years and older, are not intending of going into a marriage.

However, since we are a rational and logical blog, I think we can make some conclusions based on what the article is telling us. Firstly, this survey doesn't necessarily mean that people are "happier" as single and they don't want to enter a relationship at all. Secondly, 5,000 Americans is not a very large study. Thirdly, the survey was done unscientifically by Match.com.

However, in the sister article at US Weekly, one young gentleman has this to say:
Jeremy Klein, 26, of Fort Lauderdale says he's not seeking a relationship but may try online dating. "I am thinking about it now that I'm out of school and working a lot more," he says, because he doesn't have the "time and energy" to meet new people.
This is fascinating to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, Jeremy doesn't have the time and energy to meet people. I think this is very representative of contemporary society right now. Thanks to the sheer onslaught of work that people are subjecting themselves to in order to afford all of the ridiculous debt that we have incurred, relationships are taking a backseat. We are more focused on our careers than we are on our interpersonal relationships. We have replaced many face to face interactions with online or text or what have you. This is due partly because of time and because of ease of communication. There is not enough time in the day to see all of the friends that we want to see, so we compromise by using less effective and less emotionally consuming methods of interaction.

The other reason that this is fascinating to me (the article, not just Jeremy and his online dating) is that this ambivalence towards marriage is merely symptomatic of greater changes in human interaction. I don't think it is crazy to say that we are delaying the onset of adulthood to a greater extent more and more. The bigger trend seems to be that we are waiting longer and longer to vote, have kids, leave our parents' homes, get married, finish school, get a career, buy a house, etc etc etc. I don't quite have the numbers, but the age at which young people are leaving their parents' home is increasing. I think it's somewhere in the mid to late twenties at this point. Here is an article that says one third of UK men in their 20s are still living with their parents. The reasons given are mostly financial.

So we have two things happening in society on a large scale: the delaying of adulthood and the increasing debt load individuals are asked to carry. Is one affecting the other? Of course. We look at marriage with skepticism because of the financial problems that could occur, such as the wedding itself (average cost in Canada: 23,330) or the inevitable divorce, which is sometimes ruinous for one of the participants.

To bring this back to myself for a second, I will show that I am a perfect representative of the current North American male. I am 27 years old and I live with my parents. I am soon to be in graduate school because you cannot get a job with simply a Bachelor's Degree. I have a car loan and a car that is slowly falling apart. I am single and at this point, I see no reason to get into a relationship.

This warrants further examination, I think. Why do I want to stay single? Number one is pragmatics. There's no point falling in love with somebody when I know that I will have to move across the country for school and eventually for a job. I can't afford to date somebody because dating is ultimately costly. Also, it is increasingly hard to meet new people and maintain those friendships when I can't even maintain the ones I have right now thanks to work and school.

Another reason is because of fear. Fear of the inevitable break up, emotionally and financially speaking. I don't want to go through that so I avoid getting emotionally attached.

Alright, so let's extrapolate further. If we agree that I am a good representative of North American males, then I have sketched out the motives for the rise of the "hook up" culture. Fundamentally, the reason why hooking up has become the primary form of relationships is economical. This is a bold statement, I know (get it?) but I think this is true. Young people today are ambivalent about marriage because of economic reasons and emotional reasons. They see hooking up as an easier thing to do.

Hence, the rise of the "friends with benefits" situation. For proof that this is a tension being worked out on a national scale, look no further than two competing Hollywood films exploring this phenomenon. The FWB situation is often seen as mutually beneficial. Both parties engage in sexual intercourse, ultimately for the pleasure, but agree not to partake in the negative aspects of a relationship such as fights, breakups, meeting parents, living together.

There we have another proof for my thesis. People are increasingly living alone. There is a nonfiction book coming out this year that attempts to explore the rise of the single domicile. In this article at the Huffington Post, the author of the book lists the reasons why people are living alone. This will sound familiar: "it's hard to live with roommates" "freedom" "solitude" "rite of passage" and "flexibility" among others. The idea of flexibility is rising in valuation among young people. Not only because of society's increasing individuation, but because of economic reasons. It is more important to stay flexible for our careers than with our relationships.

A friend with benefits is easier to "break up" with than somebody that you are a) living with (an end goal in relationships) and b) emotionally attached to. We are shifting the balance of relying on our hearts to relying on our wallets in order to guide our life decisions. This means that macrocosmically speaking, as a society, we are moving further away from long term monogamy and into some sort of more mammalian "free for all".

This makes sense. Marriage is an artificial institution. Life long monogamy occurs minimally in species other than humans. We have created marriage as some sort of patriarchal safety system in order to keep an eye on our errant spouses. The whole idea was to protect your spouse from procreating with other people. Social Darwinism tells us that we enter monogamous relationships so that we can always be sure of the paternity of our child. Ambiguous paternity in a smaller community can lead to the greatest genetic crime of all, incest. Therefore, we get married to make sure our wives are having our children and not the mailman's.

But this is ridiculous. With the rise of birth control and access to abortion, there is less procreation in North America and more fucking for the pleasure of it. Therefore the need to be stuck with somebody in order to protect the paternity of your child is not useful anymore. We are less likely to have multiple children, or even one kid, than before. If we aren't having kids (the whole point of life) then why are we forcing ourselves to stick with the same person for the rest of our lives?

Now this makes me sound like I am some sort of anti-marriage anti-monogamy nutter. Far from it. I want to be in a loving long term relationship with somebody, but not until I am financially secure. Those are my prerequisites for engaging in anything resembling a marriage and I am not alone in requiring this. There's a logical outcome to this, of course. As we live alone more and more, and we become more and more financially stable, we will like being alone more and more. We will become less enamored of the sacrificing that freedom and flexibility for another person, which is another proof of my thesis and another reason why people are ambivalent about marriage.

Another reason is the secularization of society. It's fair to say that the role of the Church is diminishing in Western society. This is not 1950s Montreal. This is a world where even the largest institutions of religion are regarded as dangerous and even farcical. The Catholic Church is forever tainted thanks to the sex scandals and the increasing irrelevancy in our technologically minded outlook. Previously, the Church (in general, not Catholic) had a vested economic interest in marriages. Plus, they tend to feel that they are the arbiters of morality. If our morals are changing on a macrocosmic scale independent of the Church, then their particular view of morality needs to either adapt or die. We are becoming more and more humanistic as a society. We tend to value the individual above all things (cf above my remarks on individuation) and we look at the Leviathan as a necessary evil. Therefore our viewpoint on morality is increasingly specific to the individual and not to society. We get upset when an old lady is beaten up in our neighborhood but thanks to the prevalence of rational skepticism (due to secularization) we understand that this is a symptom of crime and harsh economic situations, not angry deities. We no longer need the Church to tell us what is right and wrong because we are already doing it among ourselves. Therefore, we are free to enjoy commitment free sexual relationships with whoever we feel without the Church telling us it is wrong.

So where are we going then? I lazily pointed at some sort of utopian fuckfest where nobody is married and everybody is hooking up, but that's merely a piece of the overall puzzle. I am not 100% sure where society is going in terms of marriage. We are already seeing the trends of fewer children, fewer marriages, and fewer divorces. If the divorce rate is over 50%, won't people just eventually stop getting married?

What does this mean for me? Rationally, I understand that the odds of me getting married are getting smaller and smaller with each year. I understand that the odds of me even getting a girlfriend are getting smaller. Again, this is due to economic reasons and greater changes in social interactivity.

What do I think about this ambivalence to marriage as a moral thing? I'm glad you asked. One of my most popular refrains (which I learned from Barbelith.com posters) is that it is neither a good thing or a bad thing - it is simply a thing that is happening. There is no judgment on my part for the rise of the hook up or the rise of the HPV (50% of sexually active adults with have it). It is simply happening and the best we can is investigate and attempt to understand it. If we agree that our sense of morality is becoming more humanistic and secular, then we agree that there is no moral danger in people having sex freely and without commitment. There is physical danger, thanks to STDs and date-rape drugs, but there is no moral danger. People who are engaged in hand-wringing and pearl-clutching regarding this trend are wasting their time. Unless they have an economic solution for the load of debt we all share, then they should put up and shut up. They won't though. There always has to be arbiters of morals, which is why they won't shut up about pornography.

Is there a link between ambivalence to marriage and pornography? Possibly a correlation but certainly not causation. Some studies have attempted to analyze the brain's chemistry when confronted with endless porn and they have found a chemical dependence on it after awhile. Take a look around the Internet and you will find countless people claiming that porn has ruined marriages because one spouse ends up preferring the fantasy of sex to real sex. The pearl-clutchers then conclude that porn leads men to cheat because they will want to act out that fantasy.

Here's an interesting but anecdotal tidbit. On 4chan, there are a lot of informal surveys. List your age, sex, favourite book, whatever and then sometimes it's list your fetish. I participated, I listed my age, my favourite book, and my fetish. I was initially surprised when I began reading other respondents. You could graph it: the younger the respondent, the more "extreme" and highly specific their fetish was. Of course, in this "survey" we can substitute the word "fetish" for "sexual proclivity". 16, 17 and 18 year olds were posting rape fantasies, bestiality, foot fetishes, a desire to be peed on, all sorts of things. I said I was initially surprised but I can sort of work out why this is.

No, it is not due to pornography. It is due to the rise of moral inclusivity. We are more secular and more humanist. We focus on the individual. We then begin to accept the difference in people a lot more. Niche pornography doesn't create the fetishes in people. No, they provide the outlet for those with the fetishes to see it happening. To say that an 18 year old is aroused by feet due to porn is like the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. It implies that the fetish wasn't already there in the first place. The porn is simply capitalizing on the fact that this fetish already exists within people.

Alright, so what does this mean? We can agree that porn isn't corrupting or fundamentally shaping the sexual identities of individuals (although there must be some sort of effect, but I'm not sure how much of one). Porn becomes an outlet for the individual who doesn't want the burden of a relationship. It is morally the same as the hook up, which is to say that it isn't immoral.

I think it is time to wrap this up. Society is changing and there is nothing the individual can do about it other than attempt to understand it and explain. I think in the future, we are going to notice this tension of ambivalence to marriage get played out in mass culture on a bigger scale. Romantic comedies will no longer end with marriages but some sort of tentative hope that the couple will make it. I think we will also see the return of body-horror as a genre, but specific to STDs. As STDs reach epidemic proportions (this is not hyperbole, look at the CDC's stats page), this anxiety will get played out in films and television as horror. What is pop culture but a terrain to work out tensions within society?

What is this blog but a terrain for me to work out tensions I see within society?

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