Back in the 1850s, an American who made it into his or her 40s was doing fairly well as far as life expectancy was concerned. Nowadays, while not boasting the highest life expectancy in the developed world, an average American can still expect to make it into his mid- to late-70s, or her early 80s — depending on race and a few other factors. Not bad as far the triumphs of science and doubling the human life span go. But what’s going to happen to the state of human affairs in the future as people live well past 100, and maybe even scoot past the 200-year mark? As Homo sapiens are slated to live longer and longer through advances in technology and medicine, what will that mean for our ideas about monogamous relationships?
Monogamy, if divorce and infidelity rates are any indication, along with declining marriage rates, is already something a lot of people have a hard time wrapping their heads around. Could you imagine meeting someone in your 20s or 30s, getting hitched and then staying together for the next 150 years? Could be bliss, or it could be a very long sentence in a repetitive hell. “Oh, he’s told that story once a week for the last 99 years. If I hear it one more time, I’m gonna murdered the bastard … I mean my soulmate.”
As more and more centenarians are set to live among us, and if drugs, genetic research and genetic treatments break through the human age barrier further, many people could be living more than 100, 200 or even 300 years. With contests out there, like the Palo Alto Prize (offering a cool million to anyone who can “crack” the problem of the aging “disease”), the ever-increasing trend of rising life expectancy (since the 1800s) is set to soar. A lot of us, depending on who we are and where we live, might be around for a really, really long time.
While the purpose of life and what we do with our time on Earth will be questions with answers that will likely change as we live vastly, longer lives, who we do our “time” with (sorry for all of the prison analogies here) and how we do that time could change as well. The romantic stories we cherish, telling us that love will last forever and perhaps even transcend death, just might fade away. Eternal love is an easy claim to make now because most of us won’t have to spend our lives attached to the same person for 100 years or more. As that possibly become a reality, our ideals and stereotypes of what true love is, and is not, are undoubtedly going to shift.
Perhaps no one will get married before the age of 50, and even that will seem a tad young. Sow your wild oats until you’re 60? Why not? Or perhaps it will become a tradition to divorce after 60 years, because what the hell else are you going to do with all of that extra time?
Maybe, if people live to 200 and beyond, the whole idea of monogamous relationships will be thrown out the window altogether. For people who want to stay with the same mate for an entire life, but get a little bored after 150 years, maybe partial memory wipes will become a valuable service that helps make old relationships seem new again.
While the potential to live past 100 is increasing for many, a lot of folks aren’t thrilled about all of those extra years. A Pew Research Center poll found that more than 50 percent of people asked wouldn’t want life-extension treatments if offered. It could be that they imagine years of extra pain, disease and ailment without the benefit of youthful bodies, or it could be that a finite limit to life makes work and love more valuable, because both are relatively ephemera. According to the survey, a life that last about 90 years seems to be the sweet spot as far as desired lifespan goes — for the time being, at least.
Yet we measure our expectations about life by what we see around us. If the neighbors end up hanging out with their great, great, great, great grandkids, maybe more of us would want to do the same. And if it becomes the norm to have at least six spouses over a period of several hundred years or to stay with one partner because a few hundred years just aren’t enough (lucky you), then the love, relationships and family paradigms we’ve all become so accustomed to will alter considerably.
If a 25-year anniversary is silver, and 50 years together is gold, and 75 years is diamonds, what would 150 years be? In the future, some lucky, amazingly matched couple just might be able to find that out for themselves.
Carl Pettit is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.