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Sex and relationships: is partnering for life a realistic option?

By Aaron – Layout and Design Editor

In this article, Aaron explores sex and relationships, and wonders if conventional marriage is now obsolete. Still waiting to get married himself, Aaron has been a keen observer of marriage and divorce in family and friends. He wonders what goes wrong, and whether Star Trek has the answers.

Perhaps I'm not well-qualified to write this article because I'm one of the few lifelong single people on our editorial team. But hey, here we go anyway.

What is marriage? Who started it? How long has it been going on? We covered these questions and more in our edition on marriage in September 2021, so I won't repeat all of that here. But one thing is for sure: religion was shown to have had a strong influence on marriage, as has the state.

I grew up with parents and grandparents, aunties and uncles, who were either separated or divorced. As a child, I couldn't quite understand what was going on. Why did these people get together in the first place? I wasn't privy to all of the reasons for their relationship breakdowns but, in nearly every case, it was because one of the partners developed an attraction to a third party. Is this about love? Do you fall out of love with the person you married and develop a fresh new sense of love for someone else?

Humans go through their lives forming close relationships. We initiate new friendships with work colleagues, friends in social circles, hobby and fitness partners, and so on. These connections are often based on common interests, which bond people together from the start. If there is no sexual attraction involved, then things are likely to be fine. However, as is the way of the world, we don't know in advance who we are going to feel attracted to and fall for.

Lovin' you forever?

In my parents' and grandparents' generations, couples may have felt imprisoned in relationships which were underpinned by solemn marriage vows for life, no matter what – no matter how many arguments, sulks, weeks of silent fallouts, and evolving hatred towards each other. By sticking to the letter of their marriage contract in the eyes of God, you may be able to endure a lifetime of loyalty to your spouse. Or you can choose to leave. One of my sets of grandparents chose the former. They were not religious, but they couldn't afford to go their separate ways. I wonder whether, underneath all the arguments, they still loved each other?

Back in the 'black and white' days, few women could walk away from a marriage and support themselves financially. But today, with an independent income, and with or without child care responsibilities, most partners or spouses can just walk away. So if you fall out of love, should you stay or should you go?

Letting yourself go?

Maybe it's because people become lazy and complacent. I've seen friends get together in relationships and then let themselves go. The spark of energy that was once there is no longer firing. The excitement of being with a partner fades. The fact that they are no longer 'on the hunt' may result in their belly growing fat, because they simply don't take care of themselves or their looks anymore. Does their partner then become bored with them?

If you're still taking care of yourself and making an effort, then you're very likely to notice this decline in an unexciting partner. It might be a relationship that matures into a friendship or partnership, and that may be enough to carry you through the lack of sexual desire for each other. If children are involved, or if there's financial dependence, then staying together may be the line of least resistance. It's easier to stay together and share the burdens of life, and what you've built together, than to rock the boat and split everything up. Living the single life is becoming increasingly costly. Independent living involves compromises. With the cost of living crisis upon us, splitting up means that you will probably be living in a less comfortable home, holidays will be a thing of the past, and you may have to sell your car. Keeping a pet will be a luxury, as you will neither be at home to look after it nor have spare cash to afford it. Life will be tough. I'm sure some people wanting out right now have considered all these factors and decided to stay put.

Open relationships

Things could change for the better, however, if both partners are prepared to talk openly with each other. If this situation applies to you, you might both be feeling tired and unhappy with each other. You could attempt to repair what's broken. Alternatively, you could agree to an open relationship, giving each other permission to have other sexual relationships while still living with your married partner as friends. I have friends who have done this, and friends who started their relationship with this arrangement from day one. Things are a lot more fluid now than they ever were. Is this a good solution? Or does it set traps for the road ahead?

YouGov poll on male and female attitudes to sex

Human beings really struggle with staying faithful. Okay, let me rephrase that slightly. Men really struggle with staying faithful. I'm sure some women do too, but it does seem to be mostly men who wander down the path of extramarital liaisons. Television entertainment programmes have often been based on the assumption that men like sex more than women, that women lose their desire for sex after a time while men never do.

In the male gay world I've been a part of, it does seem that men vary in their sex drives, ranging from the need to have sex several times a day (and no, I'm not just referring to young people) to not being that fussed and once a month being enough. Perhaps if you meet someone who matches your sex drive from the start, your relationship might be more enduring than if your sex drives are mismatched. If one partner is passionate and the other is not, this is bound to cause trouble. It will need to be addressed somehow, or cheating will occur.

The Ferengi love their contracts

Star Trek solutions

In Star Trek (yes, I'm a fan, and yes, it often features marriage, relationships and partnerships in its themes), a couple of practical ideas have been explored. The Ferengi have a five-year marriage contract – an idea which, considering that humans struggle to maintain interest in the same partner for life, does seem to have merit. At the end of the five-year contract you can renew it for another five year term if you wish, and so on. This arrangement means that, at the end of the five year period, there's either an amicable separation or a renewal. There's no messy divorce. No yelling, arguments, fallouts, etc.

Leeta and Julian enjoy their Rite of Separation

The Bajorans have a two-day 'Rite of Separation', which is conducted at the end of their relationships. The two people spend time together, celebrating and remembering the good times they had together, and then parting amicably.

Both of these approaches seem like an answer to the messiness of divorce. But what if you can't last the full five years? If things go downhill early on, or two years in, and you fall in love with someone else, would you wait three more years just to change partners? Would it not be a waste of three years, just to save face and avoid a divorce, continuing to live a lie until a specific date in the calendar? Isn't life too short to waste on unhappy partnerships?

Living in sin

Perhaps the simplest arrangement is not getting legally married in the first place. Personally speaking, I think this would be a shame, as I've always fancied the wedding thing. My secular wedding ceremony is already designed in my head. But why sign up for a lifelong contract that we know, from the start, is likely to fail?

According to the latest census, the divorce rate in the UK is currently 42 per cent. However, you can see in the chart above that divorce is way past its peak. There was a big spike in the 1980s but a significant decline after that. Maybe we're just getting better at cheating! Or being more successful with open relationships. Or are we just knuckling down and getting on with it and not complaining?

The importance of marriage does seem to be related to responsibilities like children and mortgages. Imagine if you didn't have children with no desire to have them, and you just rented. Would there be any real need for a marriage or any recognised unions whatsoever?

As a final thought, I just asked Alexa if I should get married. She replied: 'That's nice, but I really like the way our relationship is right now'. So I guess that's a no from her.

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