Forecast 2018: Relationships


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A future lens on how we date, romance and marry

IT IS OFTEN said that speculative journalism is the worst kind of journalism. Reporters are not soothsayers, reportage is not astrology. But when the tea leaves present themselves, it is hard to ignore the patterns that emerge. At a recent gathering of friends, the conversation turned to an incident where a male colleague had molested a female colleague after an office party. While all the ‘facts’ rested on hearsay, opinions were impassioned. The anatomy of the case was laid bare. Everyone had a version and a stance on who did what when and how; who made the first move; how did the situation degenerate; was there a yes, a no, an implied yes, a feeble no; was alcohol involved; so what if alcohol was involved; were there eyewitnesses; were the eyewitnesses men or women; what action did the employer take; was this action too extreme or too tame; what is the future of the man and woman in question; how did their respective partners react? The discussion quickly (and expectedly) cleaved into two groups, men on one side and women on the other. With the men whispering amongst themselves and declaiming, “Post 2017, we can’t say what we feel.”

And therein lies the rub. For the first time, even in drawing room cabals, men are censoring themselves in the company of women. In urban elite circles, one consensus has been reached— it is far better to be safe than sorry. It is not okay to side with the perpetrator—at least in public—even if your sympathies might lie with him. Men would rather remain mum than be accused of being troglodytes. With the shadow of Weinstein looming over city conversations, no one wants to be perceived as siding with the beast. So what does the future hold when it comes to gender relations, whether it is in matters of love and sex, or simply male and female interactions?

In urban scenarios, there are a few reasoned guesses we can make. For one, artificial intelligence is going to start playing a role in our dating lives. As Dale Markowitz wrote in Gizmodo in October 2017, the future of online dating will be ‘unsexy and brutally effective’. Netflix uses an algorithm to recommend shows for us depending on what we have already watched (as opposed to what we promise to watch). Similarly, dating apps will now use our online behaviour to match us with people we might have more in common with than we wish to admit. Many dating and marriage sites rely on in-depth surveys. But really, how honest are we in these surveys? Everyone claims to be a ‘sapiosexual’ who is ‘into photography and marathons’. But dig a little deeper and these claims are as hollow as a nostril. Markowitz elaborates, ‘Dating apps promise to connect us with people we’re supposed to be with—momentarily, or more—allegedly better than we know ourselves. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But as machine learning algorithms become more accurate and accessible than ever, dating companies will be able to learn more precisely who we are and who we “should” go on dates with. How we date online is about to change. The future is brutal and we’re halfway there.’

When it comes to dating swayamvars, we never say who we actually are. We hide the crazies within us. We pretend to be all rainbows and literature. Dating apps of the immediate future will probably be better at matchmaking as AI has the power to suss us out from our online behaviour. Algorithms that monitor our YouTube will know that we prefer Katy Perry to Chuck Berry, that we spend more time watching videos of ‘goats screaming like humans’ than we do over the Colbert Report.

If dating of the immediate future is set to change, then the idea of love is also likely to shift. One of the biggest differences between millennials today and an older generation is that millennials believe that their options are unlimited. If our grandparents relied on the good offices of their parents to find them a match, our parents relied on both family and friends. But with the internet, the sea of prospective catches seems truly endless. Every swipe holds the possibility of something ‘better’. With the infinity of options there also comes a broadening of roles and definitions. Millennials insist that it is impossible for one person to fulfil all their needs and desires. So they look at different permutations and combinations.

‘Friends with benefits’ is now a passé term. These days in certain circles, men and women are proud to claim that they are polyamorous. In 2017, leading publications devoted their weekend cover story to the rise of polyamory in India. Online videos where young people identify themselves as polyamorous (defined as ‘having multiple partners with the informed consent of everyone around’) are shared fervently on WhatsApp groups. It is seen as way of ‘sexual autonomy’ beyond the shackles of traditional male-female relationships. It allows for freedom and experimentation, explorations and discovery, which monogamy denies. Those who subscribe to it believe that if there is complete honesty among the main partners, then the relationship can be fulfilling. Of course, how the fallouts of jealousy, insecurity, attachment (and more mundane matters like scheduling) play out are a different matter altogether. If in 2017 one saw the rumblings of these new formations, it is certain that in the future, privileged urban couples are going to be more open to carving out equations that work for them and which have not been the norm for generations.

Less than one in 1,000 marriages end up in divorce in India, but again, one can see more and more instances of marriages dissolving, often within a year or two. Adultery and incompatibility are the most cited reasons. With women more financially independent than before and with both men and women believing that their options are plentiful, they find less reason to stay stuck in unhappy and unfulfilling alliances.

In a developed country like Japan, nearly one in four men and one in seven women are yet to be married at age 50. The numbers in India are not anywhere that high, but there is a shift in demographics: 74.1 million single women in India (having never married, divorced, separated, widowed) comprise nearly 12 per cent of our female population. Between 2001 and 2011, there was a 39 per cent increase in the number of single women. As Namita Bhandare wrote in 2017, ‘Women are marrying later, marriages are breaking up faster and we now have the largest population of single women in the history of our country.’ With these societal changes, the future is also going to wend and wind in unexpected ways. More women (and a few men) will choose to have children without an active partner. Marriages will get delayed and some will decide to put it off completely.

An article in The Atlantic by Kate Bolick titled ‘All the Single Ladies’ describes the present scenario of women with finesse: ‘The implications are extraordinary. If, in all sectors of society, women are on the ascent, and if gender parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction. As long as women were denied the financial and educational opportunities of men, it behooved them to “marry up”—how else would they improve their lot? (As Maureen Dowd memorably put it in her 2005 book, Are Men Necessary?, “Females are still programmed to look for older men with resources, while males are still programmed to look for younger women with adoring gazes.”) Now that we can pursue our own status and security, and are therefore liberated from needing men the way we once did, we are free to like them more, or at least more idiosyncratically, which is how love ought to be, isn’t it?’

In the future we will see relationships between men and women that follow individual philosophies rather than ancient courtship rituals. Women will not choose partnerships which pivot on ‘marrying up’. Who we date and how long we date will change with technology’s tightening grip. And with people determined to find their own truth with their partners, they will forge their own paths less travelled.