It's a great big world out there and very rarely does a single approach work best for everyone. From education to financial matters to wardrobes, there are many different philosophies that work well for different people. As people travel on their path through life they select the approaches that work best for them. Some people are cut out to be mathematicians and other people musicians. Some people enjoy both. Humanity varies in size, physical ability and mental acuity. We are raised and educated by disparate methods and philosophies that offer similar results. This is what makes people interesting- we are amazing in our diversity.
So it seems odd to me when a society imposes a single stricture on all people. We don't think all people should be pet owners, or commute a certain distance to their job or only shop at a specific store. In many matters society is very accepting of variations. Accepting of many approaches that is, until it comes to adult romantic relationships. Most societies on this planet have very strict definitions of what an adult romantic relationship should be. People who don't adhere to this norm can be ostracized or worse.
In the first world we are raised in our youth to believe there is a single way to find fulfillment and happiness in a Relationship. (capital "R" intended) One day we will find our prince or princess, the only person in the world that is right for us, a soulmate. We will fall in love and enter into a lifelong committed monogamous relationship and live happily ever after. We see it in stories for children and adults, in movies, in school and religious teachings.
Except this almost never works.
First world divorce rates are around 50%. It seems a lot of the marriages that don't end in divorce contain a fair bit of unhappiness, infidelity or both. It seems to me a lot of married couples stay together just because they are afraid of being alone. The initial passion and love sours over time and they grow bitter and old together. The fairy tale also doesn't accommodate gay people, and neither does the law in many states.
That's certainly not the idea we are sold in our youth.
Recently US society has become more open to the idea of gay marriage. It's nice to see them get a bit of parity in the eyes of the government. I'd rather see all marriage laws be repealed and allow people to join together based on their personal beliefs and/or the traditions of their culture. It's not really the place of government to tell me who I can and cannot have a romantic relationship with. But that's a topic for another day!
It's obvious our "one size fits all" approach isn't working. I mean, from a strictly mathematical standpoint it's garbage. If there really is only one perfect person for us in the world the chances of meeting that person are close enough to 0 to make it virtually unachievable. So we end up settling for someone who is good enough at the time and then try to turn that into a lifelong commitment. The initial love fades and we have the expectation it won't. We learn that "Love conquers all!", when in reality we need to learn and use skills to make a marriage work. Marriages that work are more about commitment and communication than love.
Other demographics that are poorly served by this model is anyone who isn't cut out to be in a lifelong straight monogamous relationship. There seems to be a lot of scientific evidence suggesting that we aren't genetically pre-disposed to this sort of arrangement, so it's reasonable to expect that some people won't desire a traditional marriage. But again, if a person chooses that path in life they are viewed with disdain or even ostracized from polite society.
When we go looking for transportation to work, we are encouraged to consider a variety of options. Maybe a bus pass or taking the train makes the most sense. Maybe an affordable sedan. Maybe a SUV or a mini-van or even a convertible. When I was 14 I knew I wanted a sports car, a truck (since they are useful) and a motorcycle in my garage. I love cars and I rather enjoy options. At the moment I've actually got 2 motorcycles in my garage, in addition to my car and a truck my wife and I use. That's the right move for me, but certainly not the right choice for everyone. I wouldn't look on the person who uses public transportation or a station wagon with less respect because they didn't make the same choices I did.
But if I had desired options from a relationship perspective in my youth it would have been considered aberrant behavior. But as much as I love vehicles I love people more. Why wouldn't I want relationship options as an established adult? Why is that something people are discouraged from aspiring to? I wouldn't own more vehicles than I could maintain and neither would I keep more relationships than I could properly attend to.
Something which has always struck me as odd as well is our concept of love in the first world. We're taught that no matter how many children we have we certainly have enough love in our heart for them. We have this ever-expanding pool of love we can tap for children and family. Except our spouse. That love is supposed to be unique and finite. The man who loves more than one woman is called a player or a dog. A woman in a relationship with more than one man is labeled a slut or worse.
Seriously, what the hell? Why do we embrace these standards? They don't make any sense. Why assign negative labels to someone who doesn't have the same desires as others? I know people in open relationships and poly relationships who are very happy and fulfilled in them. I think if that sort of thing wasn't relegated to a "fringe" status more people would find fulfilling relationships outside of lifelong monogamy. I'm not saying marriage isn't without it benefits and charms, only that I think some people are poorly served by the concept. Until we become more accepting of different ideas as a society traditional marriage will continue fail more often than it succeeds. It's like taking an artist and telling them they have to be an accountant. Not only are they not going to do very well at the job, they are going to be unhappy.
A friend of mine is fond of saying "no one can be all things to another person". That's contrary to the concept of a soulmate or a "one and only" or a "love of your life" concept. But I think it's a more realistic outlook.
So how do we fix it? Simple- education. Just as we have discussions with our children about career options we should have discussions about relationship options. We should be more realistic with our children about what makes Relationships work. We should discuss the skills and habits needed to maintain relationships. We should discuss the importance of defining selves before defining ourselves through a partner or an institution. Marriage may be the best option for lots of people. A romantic relationship is one of the most important and impactful facets of our life, we should spend a lot of time learning about them and working on skills that will help us be successful. Too often these concepts are only presented after a relationship has gone bad, when people seek counseling. That's a terrible time to try to learn new skills and embrace new concepts. We should be doing this with our children as they approach dating age and continuing conversations and encouraging research into concepts as they begin dating. It's far too important a topic to leave to mystery and trial and error.