Discover more from Sunroom
The Economy and the Future of Relationships
How economic shifts make us more or less monogamous
Welcome to all the new subscribers. If you’re reading this and you’re not subscribed, I’d love to have you join this growing family of Sunroom people.
Hope you're all having a lovely start to the week. It's been an interesting time for all relationships recently. For singles, couples, poly families, roommates, friends — we all seem to be experiencing a more intense version of our relationship statuses. Not only are the physical constraints of quarantine altering our bonds, but I suspect the economic conditions are playing a part too. So I've found myself speculating on the future of relationships*, both near-term and beyond COVID. *Hetero relationships for the sake of this post.
Let's dive (slide?) in...
As we all know, monogamy is the prevailing relationship model of the Western world. But seeing as monogamy was a bi-product of a large economic shift about 12,000 years ago, I was curious to know what other economic shifts may change the default relationship style one direction or another.
So what happened 12,000 years ago?
Basically we were roaming around happy as Larry in these very egalitarian hunter gatherer tribes. Men and women had equal access to resources — everything was shared, including sex. Then our population grew, we invented agriculture and private land ownership. Women had much less access to food, protection and social support compared to men, so they bartered their reproductive capacity for the resources they needed to survive. "Get me a lifetime subscription to UberEats, and I'll promise with 100% certainty that you are my baby Daddy." Oh boy.
Throughout the ages, pockets of the population would adopt more polygynous relationship structures. Particularly in times of great resource inequality, where women were often better off sharing one cashed up king than having a peasant to call their own. Once resource inequality between men was small again, women tended to marry monogamously. We then introduced democracy, and men traded their vote in exchange for the outlawing of polygamy — guaranteeing themselves a wife. And so monogamy was established as the predominant legal relationship structure.
In recent years wealth inequality has been rising rather rapidly, a phenomenon that will undoubtedly become more pronounced in the COVID economy. Does that mean we'll see more women opt-in to polyamorous relationships? Maybe. Fortunately, women are no longer as financially dependent on men. We're busy baking our own bread — sourdoughs, ryes, gluten-free loaves. Actually though. That said, women have bore the brunt of coronavirus job losses, with an unemployment rate of 16.2% compared to men's 13.5% last month. We're entering a time where access to resources will be important for a decent number of women.
Marriage rates also typically decline in economic recessions. I've personally noticed the drop-off in engagement announcements (are people holding off until they can re-book that trip to the Amalfi Coast? Lot's of 1:1 quarantine time not conducive to "Let's do this forever?"?). Tanking housing markets, unemployment, and a simple inability to gather and celebrate are more likely reasons.
Even before all this, there were other important upticks developing that suggested a cultural pendulum swing toward non-monogamy. Women's education levels now exceed men's, making partnering up with someone of equal education level harder for women. Divorce rates are rising, our access to people via online dating is rising, Google searches for "polyamory" and "non-monogamy" are rising, and demand for Burning Man tickets and access to its free love and famed "orgy dome" is rising. All topped off by our collective movement away from traditional religion and its moral imperatives.
There's been some chatter about sex work as the next pin to fall in the decades-long liberalization of American mores — after alcohol, marijuana, and psilocybin mushrooms. If we can more easily access sex in this way, there's another case for the obsolescence of monogamous marriage. But then again, marriage is about more than just access to sex and money (right?!).
For generations X, Y, and Z, it seems like the American Dream slips further from our reach with each recession. The idea of the nuclear family unit and property ownership isn't as feasible as it was for our parents and grandparents. This, combined with the fact that we're getting married later, means that some are starting to experiment with co-living and intentional communities as we look to find support in other formats. We're circulating our clothes, furniture, homes, and cars in the sharing economy — might we be open to sharing our partners too?
This seems like the perfect storm from which non-monogamy can pour down onto the mainstream. Except for the fact that COVID has essentially cancelled non-monogamy and polyamory "unless every one of your partners lives with you". Oh.
So for now old mate monogamy triumphs. But I'd say I'm long on non-monogamy. It will be very interesting to how things unfold over the next few decades, obviously once we've come down from that post-'rona party we're all hankering for.
What do you think?
📒 Sunroom Diaries
Each week we feature snippets from the sex, dating, work, and personal lives of our subscribers. If any of the responses strike your fancy, please reach out and I’ll endeavor to do some matchmaking ; )
Ambitious Professor, 35M, NYC
I want to build:
A college alternative for new high school grads that places students directly in a series of structured internships as an apprenticeship-based replacement for the college degree. Anyone else?
People Pleaser, 28F, Single, Straight, NYC
Dating taught me:
That I need to hang out with someone long enough to get past my people pleasing compulsion. And to see them as they are without my need to be liked clouding my judgement.
Tumblr Turn On, 30F, Single, Fluid, NYC
The other day I masturbated to:
GIFs on Tumblr. I've never been into full-length porn, but the idea of short, silent, looping vids seemed more palatable to me. I read somewhere that porn GIFs are basically the last remaining content on Tumblr, so I cautiously downloaded. And they're surprisingly great 🙊
If you would like to submit a snippet, choose a prompt from this list and send me a few sentences!
👯 Sunroom WhatsApp Groups
We have 3 WhatsApp groups for people who are single, partnered-n-open, or generally open to making new connections. The groups are designed to get people meeting and connecting around 3 themes. If you’d like to learn more or apply to join, head here.
If you know someone who might enjoy reading about these sort of things, please hit the share button and spread the word : )
Lots of love,