Are We Staring at the Death of Love and Marriage?

Social Commentary

Are We Staring at the Death of Love and Marriage?

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Iam, what is considered according to social norms, an anomaly. I have never been in – or wanted to be in – love. I don’t want to marry and I certainly don’t want kids. This worldview was, of course, dismissed as the fantasies of a child for the longest time. More lately, as I flirt with the end of my 20s, the dismissals have turned to concern, given that the marriage market rapidly runs out of supply by the early 30s.

It’s not easy to convince my well-wishers that I’m not worried about the marriage market supply. I really do want to live and die a childless bachelor. While it would be dishonest to deny my biological and social impulses, what gives me strength is the belief that humans of the future will adopt a lifestyle increasingly similar to mine. In the years to come, I think love will be a far weaker force than it is today. Marriages – if they happen at all – will happen much later in life, and expire after a predetermined period. Children, too, will come to mean something completely different from what they do now.

Not surprisingly, this is often laughed off.

In this day and age, falling in love, getting married, and procreating completes the holy trinity of the human life experience. Nevertheless, I believe that this trinity, no matter how ubiquitous it seems currently, will not stand the test of time. Advancing technology will either crumble or change the trinity’s form to the point of non-recognition.

To a certain extent, I’ve already been proven right. The empowerment of women, birth control, abortion, and online dating have significantly shaken the traditional roots of the trinity. To add to this, there are upcoming technologies set to disrupt the trinity beyond anyone’s wildest imaginations: Things like the lifespan increase, creation of artificial sperm and egg, and ectogenesis (pregnancy outside female body).

Let’s start with increasing the lifespan. When it comes to marriage, the tacit understanding behind the “right age” is predicated upon the duration of female fertility and the fact that human life is finite. But for the finiteness, there would be no “happily” in “happily ever after” – but the “ever after” is now around the corner. As per conservative estimates, life expectancy by 2100 for those with access to good healthcare will be a mind-boggling 160+ years, coupled with much longer sexual shelf life for both genders. The number could be much, much higher if certain technologies come to fruition. In such a scenario, I am curious to see who would be confident enough to proclaim someone as the “love of their (entire) life” and take the marital plunge by 30 – the cut-off age at which concern for the unmarried turns into derision – and stick to the same partner throughout. Can people imagine living with one person for 130+ years?

The impact that this will have on human society as we know it, is impossible to gauge.

The other two technologies – creation of artificial gametes and ectogenesis – are far more radical than increasing life expectancy. To understand their impact, one has to go back to the evolutionary reasons behind love. It is well established that sexual attraction – nature’s tool to make us lose our minds so that we make babies – is the progenitor of love. But what happens when humans know that, by forsaking sexual reproduction, they have a chance to have made-to-order babies, whose physical and possibly even psychological traits can be determined as per their preferences? Would people let go of an ideal offspring in favour of endlessly worrying, as they do now, about their partner’s receding hairline, small breasts, anorexia or obesity, and countless other blemishes – all of which mar the quality of offspring? The choice is easy to predict. In time, asexual reproduction would probably deal a death blow to sexual attraction, and consequently to love itself.

One can argue that despite babies being made to order, men and women will continue to love and marry as long as women carry babies in their womb. Here’s where the genius of ectogenesis – childbirth outside the female body – steps in. It puts an end to the idea of men and women being “fathers” and “mothers”. The impact that this will have on human society as we know it, is impossible to gauge: the combination of several forces – asexual reproduction, women no longer hobbled by pregnancy, their increasing economic ability to raise children alone – would mean the predominance of single parenthood. Becoming a parent simply means sponsoring a made-to-order baby. The resulting children, knowing they were fed not by their mother’s umbilical cord but by a test tube, would hardly carry the level of attachment toward their sponsors.

Shorn of the burden of childbirth, women will finally have a chance to compete with men on truly equal terms. On the other hand, men, unencumbered by their love for women and by their need for women to procreate, might try to ensure their control over resources while they still can. This could mean hot tinder for a gender war the likes of which haven’t been seen.

Present-day humans, and possibly some future ones, might balk at the idea of relinquishing motherhood and at the thought of their children not being truly “theirs”. Sure enough, even with these technologies in place, millennia of evolutionary and social training won’t disappear overnight. Love and contemporary methods of marriage and procreation will put up stiff resistance before they are finally choked to death. After all, what is human desire in the face of convenience, favourable economics (ectogenesis will eventually become cheaper than pregnancy), and the lure of a fair-skinned, blue-eyed child?

I don’t know about you, but I’m excited by the possibilities of this future.

Part of my enthusiasm stems from the possibility of my vision coming true, the rest stems from the desire to respond to everyone – from parents to friends to random strangers – who questions, pillories, pities, and dismisses my life choices. Blissfully ignorant of the lurking future, they relentlessly lecture me on how “natural” and blissful marriage, love, and procreation are, the right age to take each of these steps, and the minimum number of children to bear.

It’s not that I don’t see reason for their angst. As things stand today, I am a regret of evolution, for I have overcome its most fundamental impulses, love and procreation. But my point is, these impulses are hardly as fundamental as they’re thought to be. Like all else, love, marriage, and procreation are nothing but stepping stones to a rapidly evolving future.

What lessons does this radically different future hold for the present? For one, the fact that this future isn’t too distant means that changes are already afoot. So, if you are looking to make an early purchase in the marriage market to cash in on its liquidity, be very sure of your choice for you might be stuck with it for the next seven to eight decades – a good two or three decades longer than what conventional wisdom dictates. Once you have kids, be ready to plead with them to marry until they make you cry, and consider yourself lucky if your grandkids marry at all. And just in case you live to see your great-grandkids, don’t despair if they look nothing like you.

If all of this seems overwhelming, let me make a humble suggestion: begin by being more accepting of those whose choices differ from the current norm. Because people like me may no longer be an anomaly.