A question about a perceived increase in divorces got me thinking today. I’m not really interested in doing research and finding hard facts about if the numbers are rising. It’s personal experience. When it happens more frequently in your circle of friends, it seems like it’s happening everywhere. And it generally all seems to happen around the same time, whether the marriage is 5, 10, 15 years old. It’s somewhat age-dependent, and even more experience-dependent.
Our modern culture allows us to experience so many things that previous generations could not. This allows us a much greater chance of finding things that we really want to experience that are not compatible with our partner. This can result in either a separation of activities or resentment if those activities are denied.
Our social industry is constantly bombarding us with messages to "just do it", "why not", and more to make us choose to not deny ourselves; to indulge every wish; to really live life. It’s no surprise that we respond to this by wanting to do more things. We can research online and find communities of people that enjoy activities that you enjoy or want to enjoy. You can build a bond with these people on a common interest that you don’t share with your partner.
A couple generations ago, there wasn’t a great amount of these diversions, especially among the middle class. You’d hear about some millionaire getting divorced on occasion. Maybe because the millionaire felt limited in his relationship and had many opportunities to do other things with different people. Average people would stick around their home towns, maybe travel one a year, had a smaller circle of actual, physical friends and stayed on the same wavelength without temptations of novelty.
And these activities are novelties. Sure there can be some long-lasting hobbies that form, but a lot of things are for the experience, and then you move on to the next one. It’s somewhat selfish and hedonistic, which are accurate descriptions of our current society as a whole.
The younger generations are proving the trend out. They are developing even more relaxed relationships, with brief intimate relationships forming between friends, then with friends of those friends. Even the new design of social networking shows this fragmentation of relationships. With Google+, some “friends” go in one “circle” and others go in another “circle”, with no intention of them ever meeting.
Certainly not to say that friendship used to be an “all or none” prospect. There’s always been “layers” of friendship, or if you want to visualize using the modern metaphor, it would be circles, but those circles would be concentric, as opposed to the modern star topology of friendship. For example, it used to be assumed that if you were going to have sex with someone, they would be classified as being in one of the most inner circles of friends, with the same trust level and access to emotions as family. But with the new, disconnected model, you could have a circle of sex partners that don’t have the same trust levels as close friends that you share your personal secrets with.
So to wrap this all up, as we discover more things we want to do, create circles of friends that share these activities, indulge our fantasies without recrimination because of the social barriers we define as circles, it’s no surprise that soon you have more interests that don’t involve your partner than interests that do.
And when that happens, you’re just friends.