In the Name of Love

A philosopher looks at our deepest emotions

Darling, Would You Like to Live With Me For 100 Years?

Dream as if you’ll live forever

"Dream as if you'll live forever, live as if you'll die today." James Dean
"Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live."

The average life expectancy today is 45 years longer than it was 150 years ago and our lives are now a great deal healthier than they were then. There are scientific claims arguing that a life expectancy of 130 years is no longer a matter of science fiction. How will such extended life influence romantic relationships?

When people know that their life is very short, many take the attitude of "Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die." Nothing is meaningful since death is around the corner. But if life is extended and people know that they are likely to be alive for 130 years, we can anticipate that human beings will try to make their lives more meaningful and interesting.

A lengthier life does not necessarily mean an increasingly bored one. There are endless possibilities for pursuing intrinsically valuable activities in which the value is in the activity itself. Thus, whether one loves to read, write, dance, or immerse oneself in a highly complex job, one can derive unending satisfaction and pleasure in such activities. Our writing or thinking, our capacity for searching out new interests or new ideas is never complete. On the other hand, extrinsically valuable activities are more likely to become boring over time as we do not value them for their own sake; we merely value the goal that we hope to achieve at the end. Even now, there are an increasing number of people who work not merely or even mainly because of the money they earn, but because they enjoy doing so. For those people, a larger portion of their life is spent doing fulfilling, intrinsically valuable activities. With extended life more such activities are likely to become available to us, ensuring that our lives are not boring -- or certainly no more than they are now.

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Longer life will present long-term romantic relationships with increased challenges. Even now, for many, the obstacles to dissolving long-term relationships such as marriage have been significantly reduced; this includes religious, moral, financial, and social obstacles. Divorce is easier and less socially stigmatizing than ever before, and there are many tempting alternatives to remaining in an unhappy or unsatisfying long-term relationship. Thus, relationships are both easier to get out of and easier to get into. One reason is because we live longer lives, we are healthier, and so we can undertake more activities, including sexual ones, at old age. A consequence of this is that people care more about the sweetness of their relationships -- that is, the depth and extent of the love they share with their partner. They consider that since they are likely to live longer, and since they are more easily able to get in and out a relationship, they want to be in a relationship that is truly meaningful and loving.

In the past, when a person's life was on average about 45 years, more short term issues governed their considerations about the future of their romantic relationships. Issues such as having children and raising them to young adulthood were more significant to most people than considerations about the nature of the partner with whom they would like to spend their middle or old age. If at the age of 30 a man felt bored with his marriage, he knew that he probably only had about 15 more years to live and an unsatisfactory marriage could be borne for such a period. But now, when many people expect to live till 85, such a person might think twice before agreeing to stay in a dull relationship for the rest of his life. It was said of someone that he died at age 35 but was buried only at the age of 75. There is a site in the Internet whose motto is "Married but not dead." The feeling of missing out on a genuine life becomes stronger when a person's life is longer.

Moreover, now that the moral, religious, and practical obstacles to remaining in one's existing relationship are of less weight, it is easier for a person to seriously reconsider whether it is worthwhile to continue in his current situation. If this tendency we have to break down boundaries and surmount obstacles continues, even more difficulties will arise in staying in one place. The greater flexibility of modern society gives people less and less certainty and security, not only concerning their own attitudes but also those of their partners as well. This is another factor that threatens long-term romantic relationships. I think that in the future, one major problem facing us will be our mental ability to live with ever less rigid boundaries.

I believe that in many cases, longer life will make it harder to sustain long-term relationships, but the relationship that will prevail will be more meaningful and involve more profound love. We have already begun to see a surprising comeback of love (see here). Out of the crisis of long-term romantic relationships, a situation has emerged in which love plays a greater role in romantic relationships. We can say that if you have more time to live, then you'll want to spend it in a more meaningful way. Equally, life will become more meaningful and significant since it will provide more opportunities to develop our abilities and to engage in more meaningful experiences.

For most people in the past, there was less sense in them living longer lives as poor health and the infirmities of old age would have severely impaired their activities. Better health and medical care, together with the variety offered by modern life, ensures that we will be able to pursue many activities during a healthy long life. The complexity of modern life ensures that we shall have so many activities to do in our long life. In terms of the romantic field, an extended lifespan will enable people to explore more interesting and diverse romantic possibilities.

The above considerations can be encapsulated in the following statement that a lover might express: "Darling, as we are going to spend so much more time together during our extended life, can you please let me watch football whenever I want? There will still be plenty of time to go to the opera and to discuss the environment and the future of the planet."

 

 

Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., former President of the University of Haifa, is Professor of Philosophy. His books include: In the Name of Love: Romantic Ideology and its Victims.

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