It was only until relatively recently that marriage became about chosen love, soul mates, joint happiness and mutual sexual fulfillment. For most of its history, marriage was a political or survival strategy. You got your love, happiness and great sex where you could, if you could. Never before has marriage – or long-term partnership – looked like we want it to look now. Never before have we lived as long as we do now: the average span of “until-death-do-us-part” used to be about 10 years, and now our unions could last upwards of 60. Never before have we expected daily domesticity, child-rearing, financial decision-making, social and familial compatibility to merge seamlessly with erotic, sexual, intellectual, intimate, religious and spiritual fulfillment. Never before have we placed such pressures on one person to satisfy all of our needs, a burden too big for most of us to hold.
We are hard-wired biologically to be attracted to multiple people, as long as we have a pulse and hormones flow in our endocrine systems, and this doesn’t always magically go away when couple up with just one. Often the closer, more comfortable, familiar and cozy the long-term relationship gets, the less the sexual spark, attraction and erotic fire. Desire, longing and arousal are fueled by newness, otherness, and even a bit of the unknown. It’s hard to find newness in a partner you know completely and it can become harder and harder to want something you already have.
Ever a realist, I’m not excusing infidelity. Ever a free-thinker, I’m not saying open relationships are always the answer. And ever a romantic, I’m not convinced that enough love, enough effort, enough faith – or the vows of marriage – can inoculate us from the very real contradictions of all relationships, let alone those facing the specific pressures of the 21st Century. We grow and change, and our world grows and changes, at alarmingly fast rates. The question becomes how can our relationships grow and change with us? Like buildings in earthquake zones, the structures of our relationships desperately need to be retro-fit for flexibility, pliancy and pragmatism – and right quick.
What sits before us all, and what I wish had shown up on Arnold's agenda, is that now more than ever we have the opportunity to embrace the paradoxes of partnership – and they are many. The alternative to asking the hard questions of ourselves and our lovers is to bury our heads in the sand, and wonder, outraged, when cheating, lying or infidelity – or the general decline of our relationship – rears its head and makes a statistic out of us.