Last week I read a little article about the biological reasons behind divorce. Turns out that while we’re designed to be monogamous (well, more or less) it used to be the average lifespan was like 35 or so, so long before a couple got tired/bored with each other, one of them had probably died. (This was back when we all lived in caves, wore skins to cover our nudity and lived off whatever we could kill)
Actually, I’m not all that sure I buy into the above. Yes, we died young when we lived in caves, but for the last thousand odd years most humans who made it beyond the first ten years or so lived well beyond 35 years. (Assuming one didn’t die of the plague, or typhoid, or gangrene, or childbirth, or … ) And in many societies, people got married in their late teens and lived together well into old age. The biological theory above would indicate these were very dreary marriages.
“How long have we been married?” he says.
“I don’t know…” she peers at him from the other side of the fireplace. “Twenty odd years?”
“God’s truth! That long?” He looks at her, thinking its too bad she didn’t die three winters back when she was struck with the sweating disease. He could do with a new, hot wife, someone to warm his bed and maybe give him a couple of children – the ones he has with his wife are a rather disappointing bunch.
“Yes,” she sighs. Personally, she wouldn’t mind if he dropped off a cliff somewhere. She’s tired of his carousing ways, of how he farts in bed and complains about their sons. And being a widow … she smiles, drifting off into an agreeable daydream where it would be her, Mistress Wilcox, who would call the shots. Huh; it’s not as if it would truly change things as it is she, not he, who does most of the work in the haberdashery downstairs.
Of course, this couple don’t even consider divorce as a way out. (It isn’t; this is London in the year 1617, and divorce may be something those wild, uncouth Scots approve of, but it is most certainly not an option in England) And assuming Mistress Wilcox doesn’t resort to poisoning her husband, or him to having her offed in a dark alley, they’re stuck with each other, for better or wore until death do them part.
This state of affairs was the reality for most married couples until well into the twentieth century. (That divorce wasn’t an option, I mean. I sincerely hope that most marriages were okay, with some vestiges of tenderness and respect surviving to the bitter end) In the last fifty years or so, the permanence of marriage has been completely eroded in the Western world, with people slipping in and out of relationships, marrying, divorcing, marrying again, divorcing … you get the picture, right. But hang on; not ALL marriages end in divorce, do they? Nope, they most certainly don’t, but a depressingly high percentage do. But hey; according to the biologists behind the article I read last week this is just to be expected, it’s just man succumbing to instincts or something.
“The average length of a relationship is eleven years,” the article stated, “which is in line with the fact that in prehistoric times most couples would at most have fifteen years together.” Hmm. What does this say about us, the couples that are still together (and enjoying it) after well over twenty years? Are we some sort of biological anomaly? Or were we just lucky? Or are we simply refusing to give up on each other?
Look around you, people. There are actually quite a few senior couples out there who have been married for eons and still seem to enjoy each other’s company. Many years ago I was on the Canary Islands and due to a variety of reasons we ended up on a nudist beach (it wasn’t mandatory to lie around stark naked, as otherwise the younger family members would have thrown a fit). I will never forget the elderly English couple who came walking over the dunes, hands clasped together. Infirm, yes, old definitely, in love absolutely! They undressed and slowly they waded into the water, still holding hands, still with eyes only for each other. At one point she stumbled, and with a splash they both went under. (I was about to do my life saver routine!) Up they came, she was laughing, he was holding her close. And then he kissed her – passionately.
That’s how I want it to be, thirty odd years from now. A blue, blue sea, the sun making the water glitter like silver, and my husband and I walking hand in hand through the surf. And yes, I want him to smooch me as thoroughly as the English gentleman kissed his wife. Until then, I guess we’ll just have to keep on working on our kissing technique. After all, succeeding in your relationship has a lot of similarities to excelling in sports – tenacity and practice pays off!
So, in conclusion I don’t believe human beings are predisposed to becoming bored after eleven years of relationship. But living in a world of instant gratification, of attention spans the size of a napkin, it’s easy to confuse momentary lust with a failing relationship. Now that I find really, really sad – don’t you?