Herewith, an extract from a piece I did for the current issue of my beloved Viewpoint magazine, for those not willing or able to pony up £45 for the glorious printed version. The brief was “the death of romance”, but i think there’s hope for romance still…
The rise of mobile communication, greater gender equality and growing financial insecurity are having a greater impact on 21st-century relationships than hundreds of years of love songs and romance novels. Independence – or is it selfishness? – is giving the pursuit of love a new sense of practicality and control.
Online dating has undoubtedly introduced new behaviour patterns, but even though it has made meeting people easier, more people are staying single longer. In fact, singledom seems to be the new normal in relationship status. In the US, the married and single populations are nearly equal, while in Europe 46m people now live alone. The number of singleperson households in Britain has risen 31% in the last 10 years. In Italy, the number of singletons has risen a massive 10% since 2007. Single status is being seen as a lifestyle choice instead of being simply left on the shelf. In Germany, a third of women and nearly 40% of men will stay single for life.
For those who do want to find a partner, online dating is the go-to source for meeting new people and broadening options outside increasingly tight-knit ‘urban families’. Dating sites have become a viable, practical and fun option for those looking for love: according to match.com, one in five relationships now start online. While dating giants like Match claim to have generated 5% of all US marriages, other websites have more specialist goals: Tastebuds matches people based on their music taste; TrekPassions helps Captain Kirks find their Uhura; AdopteUneCougar helps young bucks find older women; Cupidsplay unites casual gamers looking for love. Services such as ExRated let users offer reviews of previous dates: ‘You wouldn’t go to a restaurant that hasn’t been reviewed,’ says ExRated founder Tom Padazana. ‘ The site’s motto is ‘forewarned is forearmed’.
Smartphones are an increasingly important weapon in the romance arsenal, with location technology and social networks helping to bring people together. Lovestruck aims to help urban professionals find interested parties nearby, so that they can fit quick dates into hectic schedules, while users of French app ShakeCoeur simply shake their phone to generate a list of their Facebook friends’ most eligible friends.
It’s not just the way people meet that’s changing, it’s also the way relationships unfold. According to researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia, ‘stayover’ couples are a growing phenomenon: couples who stay over at their partner’s house, but retain their own home to stay independent. ‘Stayovers served as a stop-gap measure between casual dating and making more formal commitments,’ finds the study. Cohabitation remains an acceptable alternative to marriage. Julia Scirrotto, senior writer at You & Your Wedding magazine, says, ‘Couples are increasingly buying a house and maybe even starting a family before walking down the aisle.’
There’s no doubt that relationships and romance are on changeable ground and the institution of marriage is adapting accordingly. Future brides and grooms are increasingly keen to safeguard their finances and their futures through prenuptial agreements. According to a survey by British law firm Mishcon de Reya, 17% of men under 45 earning over £100,000 have a prenuptial agreement, compared with only 5% of those over 45. In the US, 52% of divorce attorneys reported an increase in women seeking prenups.
UK luxury department store Harvey Nichols has even introduced a ‘prenup package’ for brides-to-be. Along with personal shopping and beauty treatments, the package also includes advice on prenuptial agreements from Dennison Greer Solicitors. But, as many celebrity divorce cases have proved, prenups do not always secure divorcers’ wealth. Mishcon de Reya has introduced Protect Pre-Nup, insurance to cover any problems arising from a poorly drafted prenuptial contract.
For those who would rather have a bit on the side than get a divorce, there are a number of services that encourage – or at least facilitate – infidelity. In the US, Ashley Madison, ‘the world’s leading married dating service for discreet encounters’, created controversy when its Super Bowl ad was banned. European dating service for married people Victoria Milan claims that 30% of members registered on dating sites for singles are not telling the truth about whether or not they are married or in a relationship: so why not ‘Relive your passion. Have an affair!’?
The intertwined nature of urban families seems to be another risk factor for married couples. According to a study by academics at leading American universities Harvard, Brown and the University of California, the divorce of one couple in a close social circle increases the risk of divorce among other couples in the group by 75%. This phenomenon has been dubbed ‘divorce clustering’.
With every aspect of relationships now analysed, apped and commercialised, it is no wonder that many are sounding the death knell of romance. But perhaps the advent of practicality is in fact a testament to the age-old pursuit of love. The boom in dating sites shows that there are as many people who believe in finding ‘the one’ as there ever have been, but with the benefit of matching algorithms, dating services for every taste and even the targeted ability to find a quick encounter in the meantime, people are better able to find what they really need. No longer forced to settle, practical lovers are creating a new definition of romance, whether fleeting, illicit or super-niche.
Image by Brian Rea, from the New York Times’ excellent Modern Love column