The armchair economist in me wonders if marriage will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing.

If you look at marriage the way an economist might, it is an exchange of services. Every marriage is different, but at its core you have two people who are choosing to provide one basket of services in return for a different basket. Historically, that meant the man provided protection and financial stability while the woman provided children, childcare, and household management. In modern times, the picture is more smeared, but in all cases the parties are getting something while providing something, including the emotional benefits.

Marriage made sense when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met. It made perfect sense in the pre-Internet age.

But today you can arrange for any of your individual needs via Internet. You can find lovers who don't want a commitment. You can find people willing to trade sex for travel experiences. You can find surrogates to have your baby, or you can adopt from another country. Then you can find a nanny who is willing to work primarily for room and board. You can find an intellectual partner, a business partner, a tennis partner, you name it. The Internet provides all.

For the first time in history it is feasible to create a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. And each would be optimized. Instead of dragging your spouse to the opera or a baseball game, you go with someone who loves your hobbies as much as you do.

You might assume the virtual spouse doesn't give you the "soul mate" connection you seek. You can still have a special connection with people, but you don't have to drag that person to your monster truck rallies. You can be in love with one person, enjoy activities with another, and find another who is a good listener. And the good listener might be putting up with you because you provide some other sort of benefit in return.

In other words, the Internet allows us to have a barter economy of relationships, as in I'll do this for you if you do that for me.

You might reject this line of thinking if you have a religious or romantic view of marriage. But I think economics always trumps those things in the long run.

With the current system, in which half of marriages end in divorce, you end up with tremendous economic disruption and hardship. With virtual marriages, you never have a big divorce with one person because your relationship is diversified. You could lose your massage therapist, your running partner and your "work spouse" all in one month without feeling especially sad about it.

Anticipating your objections, assume traditional marriage stays a popular option forever, but it moves from being the default arrangement to one of many options.

Do you think marriage as a societal norm will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing?

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Nov 14, 2013
The internet doesn't trump 2.3 million years of human evolution. People developed a biological urge to form the family units they do, and the internet can't undo genetics.

If you disagree that genetics can easily override economics you've got some heavy redaction ahead of you for the next edition of your book.
Nov 14, 2013
" You could lose your massage therapist, your running partner and your "work spouse" all in one month without feeling especially sad about it."

Scott are you that cold!? You don't get sad when you lose a friend, even if you have others. Is your sadness to the loss of people in your life only tied to how much it inconveniences you? Do you really reduce interpersonal relationships to nothing more than an exchange of services!?

Scott I highly recommend you read the Little Prince. There is a very good quote about relationships. The prince comes from a planet where he has spent his life raising a single rose that he is in love with. On earth, he finds hundreds and is dismayed that something he thought was so unique is so plentiful. A fox tells him this:

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”

Nov 14, 2013
I must have the opposite problem from you scott. I already have way too many people in my life. I have too many friends that I can reasonably interact with every month, too many activity partners, too many people pulling my time. I'm not being a kurmudgeon either, I'm actually very extroverted.

And guess what? I didn't find a one of them on the interweb you keep harping on about.

But you miss nuance as you often due. If a relationship is about fulfilling a contract or about s*ex, then you are doing it wrong. It's about exclusivity, it's about favoritism, it's about sharing values, it's about connection, it's about stability, and it's about having one person who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them.

Maybe that's not efficient or rational, but nothing we do really is, at least not anything of entertainment. We are apes who have emotional needs. You can't avoid that. The only reason we need efficiency in our lives is to circumvent our necessities as quickly as we can, so we can get back to all the irrational emotional desires of our human nature.

Scott, have you ever sat on a couch cuddling with someone special? Not doing an activity. Not fulfilling some need. If you think that feeling is something you can find on the internet, you're too far gone.
Nov 14, 2013
I think marriage should be about marrying your best friend. It is about having a good relationship and working together to have a better life. You can have a good marriage and have other partners for activities. That is what friends are for. The problems come from having a needy, insecure partner.

There is a desire for a commitment such as marriage because of a deep appreciation and attraction for another person that supercedes relationships where someone is just providing a service. The commitment also happens because of ignorance. If you knew where your marriage would end up, you might not want that commitment. Better to keep your options open and use multiple partners to service your needs.
Nov 14, 2013
My mind immediately went to the poor kids raised in the hypothetical environment. Kids crave stability and the security of familial bonds. Imagine the screwed up kids that will come out of this scenario:

Scott buys/adopts one kid from South America and another from Asia. They have no ties to biological family. He raises them with a parade of nanny's and sex partners. Every day he sends the message that you trade-in someone that no longer meets your needs, or if you find an online coupon for someone who can do the same thing cheaper.

I think you've got a recipe for a generation of sociopaths.
Nov 14, 2013
I believe most of the preceding commenters are confusing the somewhat ambiguous concept of lifelong love (with the attendant commitment and emotional/financial support) with the rigidly defined legal contract of marriage.
There is no functional requirement for a legal contract in order to pursue a life of committed love with another person, just as there is no legal requirement to show proof of love in order to form a marriage contract. In the strictest sense, the marriage contract primarily provides legal recourse in the event of a dissolution of the marriage. It acts as a safety net to protect each person's interests, including finances, real estate, childcare, et cetera. Other benefits of forming a marriage are primarily ceremonial.
According to the US government's National Center for Health Statistics (found at cdc(dot)gov), the provisional 2010 (most recent data available) US marriage rate is 6.8 per 1,000 total population. The divorce rate is 3.6 per 1,000 total population). That gives us a 52.9% divorce rate.
While the 52.9% divorce rate statistic does not account for length of marriage at the time of divorce, it does give us a rough estimate of the probability of a new marriage lasting for the life of the partners. That probability, based on readily available government statistical data, is...less than half.
I believe that the institution of marriage is supported primarily by cultural, societal and religious values, all of which provide large perceived incentives for a couple to convert their emotional bonds into a tangible contract. A contract which is celebrated by the culture, enforceable by the society (State), and sacrosanct to the religion. These perceived incentives are mutable, and seem to be shrinking as we gain education, mobility and technology.
So yeah, traditional marriage is becoming less viable, but unlikely to divest itself from the culture anytime soon. People just love the idea of, "till death do us part."
Nov 14, 2013
One of the driving factors of divorce is that each partner is in the relationship to get something from the other person. While I would agree that getting nothing from a marriage will surely cause it to end in failure, the approach that you propose takes the 'it's about me' focus to a new level. In my experience, marriage is about the person that you marry. You are entering into an agreement to cherish, love, accept, compromise with, enjoy, experience, and live life with the person you are committing to. You are giving them the guarantee that you won't be the one to walk away and if they try to walk away you will be faithful while you seek to make things work. What you propose is a short term, ‘me first’ approach that just asks what I have that can be traded for what someone else has that I want. The lasting approach has two people who place each other first living life together. This is a challenge and difficult to do every day. I have found that there is great joy in being married in this way. It comes down to what you value in life. Check out the life of Jesus - what did he value? Others over self, giving over receiving, etc. The irony of this is that it WORKS. Marriage based on loving the other person over yourself is a joy. What you propose would be empty. Even if you were able to get exactly what you wanted from every relationship you would be empty knowing that the only important person in your world is you. I look forward to growing old and knowing that my wife benefitted greatly from my love. Her life was made better because I took the time to know her, to give to her, to serve her, and to live life together. She is doing the same for me and I can say it's a joy that cannot be replaced by using the internet to find relational exchange partners.
Nov 14, 2013
I think you fall into the same trap as traditionalists in taking for granted that 'traditional' marriages have been the historical norm for a very long time. I'd say they've been the 'norm' for maybe a few centuries at the most.

I think the by far more prevalent norm historically have been the so-called 'common-law' marriage, where people cohabitated and shared resources, as you state, and were considered 'married' by matter of convention. It was an unwritten contract, which was convenient when most people couldn't write.

I can't see the internet making these arrangements (which are once again becoming prevalent anyway) more formal. Instead I think marriage will become, as it always was, a social convention - rather than a formal contract.

About the only thing that I can think of that makes formal marriage special - from a legal standpoint - is the treatment of spouses as a sort of confessor, meaning a spouse has the right to keep complete confidence, even when they would be obligated to testify against their partner otherwise.

I don't mean to downplay my views on the importance of marriage. As a social convention I happen to think it essential for a well functioning and sustainable society. But I don't think the 'traditional' view is the only way to look at said convention.
Nov 14, 2013
"And do you, Mr. Groom, promise to have her and to hold her in good times, rich times and health, and do you promise to outsource the rest to the most efficient service provider available?"
Nov 14, 2013
Geneticists can make glow-in-the-dark goldfish, but unfortunately they haven't perfected the Golden Retriever with a human v a g i n a.

Nov 14, 2013
I think even the view Scott presents is romanticised. Reproduction and sex are at the core. The rest is the complexity that arises from our developed brains and the need for a long period of upbringing. Hence we develop deeper links with the other person. I'm not saying love doesn't exist, just that it has an evolutionary basis.

So... the problem with multiple relationships is the risk of multiple sexual partners. This is an instinctive issue, not a social one. Supports the idea that some form of singular relationship will persist.
+35 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
What a dismal view of marriage! I can readily accept that human relationships are changing as a result of the internet, but I can't believe they're going to turn into the sort of fractured relationships you describe. Not trying to be mean here, but you sound like a sociopath from this blog post. You seem to see every relationship as a shallow exchange of services, but that's not how most people experience them.

For me, my wife isn't just providing a set of services, she's my co-pilot and navigator on a journey through life. We experience things together because we're building a shared story, and she's closer to me than any other human being could be. I'm not just providing protection and she's not just managing a house. We're together because we couldn't stand to be apart.

Your post-internet idea of marriage involves this painless idea of divorce, because "relationships are diversified". That's stupid. There's a damn good reason divorce hurts. Two people, who came together to build a life with each other, are tearing themselves out of something that they had poured themselves into. And as much as that sucks, how much worse to never have even felt the connection that only a commitment like that can bring?

In your idea of marriage, who knows your secret stories? Who holds your hand as you're dying and who mourns your passing? Who actually stays by your side when it's unpleasant or even dangerous because there's nowhere else they'd rather be? No one. And no matter how optimized the various "components" of a spouse might seem when things are going well, that's not the time that the value of a relationship shines through.
+21 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
A somewhat similar social situation has already been tried in the US in the 60's. It was called commune living. Guess what the most common reason for failure of a given commune was?


While we as a species might think we're superior to most other animals (partly) because we have very little pre-programmed instinctual behavior left, I think we have more than is usually admitted.
+31 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
Traditional marriage is for richer/poorer, good/bad times, sickness/health, etc. Your arrangement ignores the whole stick-together-during-bad-times part. For instance, is your running partner still going to talk about running with you after you injure yourself irreparably? You could argue that you could find a fellow injured runner, but then you're discounting the costs of starting and ending a relationship.

So, to use your economics parlance, traditional marriage provides a bundled package discount, insurance coverage and reduces onboarding costs.
Nov 14, 2013
If Scott's wife is reading this, he may soon find out what post-marriage life is like.
Nov 14, 2013
Gee Scott - if that's your understanding of Marriage I feel for you, and I suggest that you don't let your better half read what you posted. :-) Marriage also (and most importantly) gives you a compatible lifelong companion/partner who you can trust, love, and with whom you form a strong mutually supportive emotional bond. I would argue that such a relationship has a very positive impact on one's mental health in ways that cannot be otherwise achieved. (Don't long-term marrieds even live longer?) And Mugsofer is right, most divorcees are repeat offenders, with the large proportion of marriages being long-lasting and stable. Admittedly not everyone finds their match, and for them what you propose may be a reasonable Plan B, but it's not a replacement.

And sometimes dragging that special person to the monster truck rally (or being dragged antique-ing) can produce it's own unexpected benefit. For the frequent monster truck rally-ier, assumedly he has other friends on that wavelength - (i.e., other long-term mutually supportive emotional relationships (aka "bromances")) and vice-versa for his spouse.

So - nice idea, but not buying this one, sorry :-)

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
Scott: try an internet search for "polyamory". It's been around for a long time, but has definitely been growing faster since the internet became pervasive (if only for the online calendar sites that make synchronizing schedules an order of magnitude easier).
+19 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
I don't think hanging out only with people who agree with you on a very narrow slice of your world view would be healthy in the long run.

I mean... if I wanted to read a blog I always agreed with, I wouldn't bother with this site. Instead, I'd rather read a blog that might have ideas I don't have. So that's why I bother with this site.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
As long as (1) couples don't go into marriage assuming that their partner will be the one meeting EVERY single one of their needs and (2) there are such things as "friendships," I doubt people will turn exclusively to the Internet to do this. It'll just be a tool - to use your example, maybe there is a Monster Truck group on Meetup.com that someone could go to, but that hardly invalidates the practice of marriage. And you said it yourself -- people will want a special connection/intimacy. A parade of interchangeable strangers sounds a bit cold and unsatisfying - and doubly unsatisfying for introverts, who need a lot of time to get comfortable around people.
Nov 14, 2013
"With the current system, in which half of marriages end in divorce..."

That's actually an urban myth.
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