Heaven knows, I am no sociologist, but it seems to me that the basic economic unit is a mother and child. Single motherhood has a bad rap for a infinite number of reasons, but it’s clear that the glue which binds mothers to their children is the strongest emotional tie there is.
This makes the notion of soul-mates pretty ridiculous, really. “Falling in Love” feels great, and usually lasts just long enough for lots of unprotected sex to be followed fairly rapidly by a well-supported pregnancy, and for the baby to get just mobile enough to toddle around and sustain itself on berries and worms which it will put in its mouth. We are descended from millennia of just such golden toddlers. (The ones who poisoned themselves had no descendants, of course).
But these days we don’t have unprotected sex. Of course we don’t. And if we do, we make darn sure that there’s a pill or a coil or an implant or something to prevent the patter of tiny child-minders’ bills from disrupting our hedonistic adult lives. As a result, the basic economic unit is 1, and coupling is for sex and not just for child-rearing.
The Christians probably have it right when they say that Marriage is For Children; where they have it wrong, of course, is the suggestion that marriage is better than any other form of relationship which two or more adults may enter into.
I strongly suspect that in the past mistresses, whores, courtesans, “seamstresses”, kept women, “actresses”, “artists models”, prostitutes, sex workers, madams and other working women vastly outnumbered their respectable married sisters. But the victors write the history books, and there is no doubt about it, the respectable folks claimed moral victories if no others. As a result, our view of what used to be normal is heavily biased in favour of marriage, as was demonstrated by the Tories’ frighteningly ironic commitment to “Victorian Values” in the 1990s. Yeah. Right.
The days when “confirmed bachelor” meant “as gay as a galleon” are over. A confirmed bachelor these days is as likely to follow a rakish and almost 18th Century model, but a heterosexual model nonetheless. He is just as likely to be a straight guy who prefers to play the field with independent and childless women than to settle down with a wife and 2.4 dependants.
These days we are free from those societal constraints and parent-hood is optional. As a result more and more varieties of relationship are being entered in to.
There is marriage, of course, which has explicit commitment and implicit family life; and some same-sex couples are forming relationships based on the heterosexual family model.
There are also couples described as “living apart together” who are in monogamous or mainly monogamous relationships but who choose to have separate living arrangements. They have separated their sexual and romantic lives from their domestic lives – and no reason why not other than their parents’ assumption that the family unit is the best one there is.
There is the traditional relationship of the kept woman, and there are still plenty of those out there. These are pretty women who have someone pay for their accommodation, pay for their clothes, pay for all sorts of things. They used to be called mistresses, if the man was married, or courtesans, if they were particularly successful. These days they are called girlfriends, or footballers’ wives.
Homosexuals have had a variety of pattern of relationship over time, depending on the place of homosexuality in the culture concerned. In the late 20th Century, after legalisation and before AIDS, male homosexuality was was basically one giant fuck-fest. Men’s preference for commitment-free sex has its ultimate expression in cottaging. This is not to deny the large number of devoted homosexual couples, whether they took on the Warrior model of Achilles and Patroclus, or the married model of so many Actors with their “life-long companion”s.
Some people are serial monogamists. Some people seek trophy eye-candy. Some people want a fuck-buddy. Others want a pleasure man.
What is unusual is that these different forms of liaison are now coming into the light. And the reason that there is space for them is that – in the West at least – it is possible and acceptable not to have children.
The Madonna is finally stepping over and giving way to the Whore. And do you know what? That whore is your sister and your girlfriend. She’s me and she’s you.