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The armchair economist in me wonders if marriage will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing.

If you look at marriage the way an economist might, it is an exchange of services. Every marriage is different, but at its core you have two people who are choosing to provide one basket of services in return for a different basket. Historically, that meant the man provided protection and financial stability while the woman provided children, childcare, and household management. In modern times, the picture is more smeared, but in all cases the parties are getting something while providing something, including the emotional benefits.

Marriage made sense when the world was inefficient. You married a person nearby who could provide most of your important needs while hoping your lesser needs could also somehow be met. It made perfect sense in the pre-Internet age.

But today you can arrange for any of your individual needs via Internet. You can find lovers who don't want a commitment. You can find people willing to trade sex for travel experiences. You can find surrogates to have your baby, or you can adopt from another country. Then you can find a nanny who is willing to work primarily for room and board. You can find an intellectual partner, a business partner, a tennis partner, you name it. The Internet provides all.

For the first time in history it is feasible to create a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships. And each would be optimized. Instead of dragging your spouse to the opera or a baseball game, you go with someone who loves your hobbies as much as you do.

You might assume the virtual spouse doesn't give you the "soul mate" connection you seek. You can still have a special connection with people, but you don't have to drag that person to your monster truck rallies. You can be in love with one person, enjoy activities with another, and find another who is a good listener. And the good listener might be putting up with you because you provide some other sort of benefit in return.

In other words, the Internet allows us to have a barter economy of relationships, as in I'll do this for you if you do that for me.

You might reject this line of thinking if you have a religious or romantic view of marriage. But I think economics always trumps those things in the long run.

With the current system, in which half of marriages end in divorce, you end up with tremendous economic disruption and hardship. With virtual marriages, you never have a big divorce with one person because your relationship is diversified. You could lose your massage therapist, your running partner and your "work spouse" all in one month without feeling especially sad about it.

Anticipating your objections, assume traditional marriage stays a popular option forever, but it moves from being the default arrangement to one of many options.

Do you think marriage as a societal norm will someday be seen as a pre-Internet thing?

 
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Nov 15, 2013
I don't think traditional marriage will go anywhere in the next 100-200 years. Too closely tied to religion, and religion's not going anywhere anytime soon.

I strongly believe that any model that pushes us further away from intimate, solid and long-lived personal interaction between parenting persons and children is a model destined not only to fail, but to fail much to the detriment of all involved. Our current model is one of these poor models- both parents working, kids in daycare, kids babysitting themselves with TV and video games, less and lacking parental contact... bad thing.

Commodifying the aspects of traditional marriage might work in some magical future where people will truly and honestly commit to these kinds of relationships, but right now this model is not unlike most Libertarian world solutions: a great idea, but we lack the magic wand needed to get reality to the place where it could happen.

Possibly a good idea, but there's no road to get us there.
 
 
Nov 15, 2013
I know some people who live an early version of your idea, and it seems to work fairly well for them. I can see it refining over time and evolving into a heuristic approximation of your vision.

But as with most of your ideas, I don't think it will work for the majority of people, and will therefore never be the dominant form of partnership. See... You're an "exceptional" person. If you catalog your strengths and flaws, you have a staggering collection in column A, and your column B would make sense only in the successful circles you're likely to run around in. I wouldn't say that you're a good-looking celebrity, but if you stand Scott Adams in a lineup with 10 totally random people from society, there's a good chance you'd be the 10-out-of-10 guy. You seem to portray yourself as socially awkward, but if you're among mere mortals, you'd do better than normal. There would be much incentive for attractive, intelligent, and fun people to trade their companionship for yours.

The arrangement you propose doesn't work so well for fat, ugly, stupid, lazy people with no skills, marginal employment, and no money. Because such people represent huge numbers in our society, both politics and religion will cater to them. The I-can't-do-better-than-you marriage trap is their best bet for companionship, and I expect deviation from traditional marriage will continue to be demonized for the foreseeable future.
 
 
Nov 15, 2013
I think you are taking reductionism too far by equating marriage to a series of microtransactions.

This reminds me of Jake sitting in a French cafe at the end of "The Sun Also Rises" and thinking that he can buy all the affection he needs - by tipping well. This is one of the bleakest moments in Hemingway's fiction.

If anything, I see the internet as a problem for marriage, with people plugged in to other people all the time - instead of their spouse. Most people would serve their relationships better if they paid more attention to one another and turned the internet off.
 
 
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2013
One person was never meant to be your everything. That's why you have friends for playing sports, friends from work, friends for going to the theater, whatever. Expecting one person only to fulfill all your needs is a romantic notion (I blame Harlequin romances) that leads to much unhappiness.

I can live on my own just fine, but I choose to live with my husband because we enjoy each other's company. I suspect that's a stronger bond than one of pure necessity.
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2013
Trouble in your marriage Scott?
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2013

Yes, it will change. The computer age will change everything. We are still in the zygote stage of that change.

If you find your soul-mate at 21 and are still with them at 60, "You chose wisely". Or maybe both of you happened to change in the same way over the years, or maybe never changed at all.
But what about the rest of us? As more people realize they are not forced to stay together for the next 100 years, they won't. Just as more people learn they don't have to commute into work anymore, they won't.

She doesn't need to stay on my healthcare plan anymore, she doesn't need my social security anymore, she would get half or our net worth if she left, add a strong social safety net, and remove societal pressure to keep having sex with me, she's out the door. Plus, she finally learned how to pick the lock.

I predict there will be 4 typical stages of marriage. Couples. Families. Lifestyles. Retirement. Your partners will change every 50 years as life progresses. There is no way people will stay with the same person for 250 years. People choosing life partners will be like the Amish. Religious choices based on the old ways.


I read recently that marriage is not for you. You don't get married for you, you get married for the other person. You get married to be there for them and spend your life with them. That's an interesting perspective.

Wife: Would you risk your life to save me during a typhoon?
Husband: Yes, of course.

Wife: Would you sacrifice your life for me if necessary?
Husband: Yes, of course.

Wife: Then why won't you put the toilet seat down?
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 15, 2013
DilgalLives points out probably the biggest reason why this wouldn't work.
But for a moment, lets ignore the children.

I think the very concept of a "virtual spouse" appears to contradict itself.
Scott, you write "emotional benefits" as one of the services you could shop around for.
But the thing with such benefits is that emotional benefits can only blossom after emotionally investing yourself. Showing trust, engaging in conflicts, trying to resolve them via difficult compromises without undermining your identity, etc. Marriage is one way of demonstrating your commitment to this journey.

If you found someone with whom you could exchange this emotional service, I think you'd quickly discover that that person would evolve to become the equivalent of an actual spouse.

However, if your need for emotional support is tiny, then I actually do think that decentralizing these services kinda makes sense.
 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
Make me happy, keep me happy, or give me half your stuff.
As a woman, I support the institution of marriage.

Men SHOULD support marriage.
It means they'll have hot sex all the time for the rest of their life.
(hee hee)
 
 
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
This seems like a fantasy for introverts who have a difficult time interacting with other people.

If you fantasize about ways not to interact with other people..., you probably need them the most.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fPlQ6EtArSc
 
 
Nov 14, 2013
Not sure what internet changed. Most of the things you list were even available before
internet really took off. You just had to go looking for them and may be try a bit hard
for some cases, but they were all available.

It is still the same set of folks looking for same set of stuff now just through internet.

I think the people who see and accept marriage as most logical way to live a fulfilling life
will still keep going for it.

The economics of it are just irrelevant.
 
 
Nov 14, 2013
Not sure what internet changed. Most of the things you list were even available before
internet really took off. You just had to go looking for them and may be try a bit hard
for some cases, but they were all available.

It is still the same set of folks looking for same set of stuff now just through internet.

I think the people who see and accept marriage as most logical way to live a fulfilling life
will still keep going for it.

The economics of it are just irrelevant.
 
 
Nov 14, 2013
Hey Scott - totally off topic - but have you considered making God's Debris available on Kindle?

[Working on that now. Thanks for asking. -- Scott]
 
 
Nov 14, 2013
Part of it is man being a social animal, instinctively looking for a mate and/or pack. People in dangerous occupations or situations tend to bond strongly; marriage can be viewed as two people who have each other's back against a hostile world. Note that most vows are less about affection or reproduction than pledging allegiance to a two-person nation.

There are also forms of symbiosis, complementary personalities, successful partnerships, etc.: The egotist and the worshipper in need of a god. The couple whose gifts and deficiencies mesh to form a single above-average entity. The problem and the problem solver. The narrow genius and the generalist who enables him/her to function in the world. The sadist and the masochist. The couple so similar that their love is really a form of narcissism.

In short, the need and/or desire for a relationship is there even without the presence of sex & sentiment, for a broad spectrum of reasons.
 
 
+10 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
kissing serves no useful function. it basically seals your fate to the health of the other. if you or they get sick then you both die.

when you marry someone they gain the power to inflict massive damage on you by their choices. they cheat, you get AIDS. they gamble, the mob can come after you. they get bored with relationship, they get 1/2 your wealth.

and those are just a few cases where they are hurting you unintentionally. VERY OFTEN women ending relationships are in a state where they make choices solely calculated to cause damage. IOW on purpose.

there are supposedly 7 degrees of separation between every (of the 6 billion) persons. if you are having a turnstile series of 12 relationships in parallel to get your needs met then your exposure to whatever is out there (disease, social idea/cult, crime of coincidence) is very high.
 
 
Nov 14, 2013
Sign me up!! Although I'm a 34yo white male, financially free. An endless supply of 23yo female "travel friends"? Oh GOD YES!!!1

The two factors working against your idea are:

1) the limited supply of eggs inside the female ova; and
2) the erosion effect of time on a female's greatest asset, her looks.

You can f*ck yourself if you think I'm going to trade s*x with a washed-up crow-eyed 32yo lol. Use them out for a few months (just short of having your relationship enter the dreaded "de facto marriage"-zone) then trade them in. A 23yo's eggs are less predisposed to autistic children etc too.

Unfortunately Blind Freddy can see this inevitability, and the feminists are already working round the clock to make sure the law catches up and this utopia never happens. Fortunately in my lifetime I can't see the world's jurisdictions all catching up. And if they do it's just a matter of avoiding having your relationship labelled as a "de facto marriage."

"O brave new world that has such people in it"

 
 
Nov 14, 2013
Conventional marriage will always exist.

By the way did you see the new 'One Card' they are coming out with? Right up your alley. Check it out... onlycoin.com
 
 
Nov 14, 2013
Yes, yes, yes ... you can fulfill all the needs of your inner sociopath... errr, umm, I meant economist, in exactly this way. You can do it right now! Why couldn't you?
 
 
Nov 14, 2013
"You might reject this line of thinking if you have a religious or romantic view of marriage. But I think economics always trumps those things in the long run. " - And that's EXACTLY why you are wrong. Well done, Scott!
 
 
+18 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
None of the things you mention factored into my decision to avoid marriage. I just think its become a very bad deal for men to get into, and most of the reasons for that predate the internet
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 14, 2013
On further reflection, a couple things pop out from Scott's post. He begins by saying "The armchair economist in me wonders..." and while he puffs up the virtues of a virtual spouse, he never quite comes out and says HE would prefer one. He even leaves a little wiggle room by saying traditional marriage would probably still remain a popular option. So let's leave aside our assumptions about the health of his own marriage, since Scott is famous for advancing ideas he himself does not subscribe to, just for the sake of wrestling with them.

To deal with the situation he hypothesizes, take out the emotionally charged word "marriage" and just call it "a bunch of people you hang out with", including at least one "friend with benefits" and it actually does sound like something becoming more popular among singles of the millennial generation, less the child-rearing. It's true that less people are getting married, and part of the reason might be that they feel like their needs are adequately met in some other way, and the internet might be part of how they do that. I know that marriage is the right state for me, but I'm not going to presume it's right for someone else. So maybe, crazy as it sounds, Scott's on to something.

As for the comments here, I see a surprisingly high quality of writing here. Not that the comments here are usually bad, but some of the ones getting posted today are unusually well-thought-out and written. I can't help but wonder if Scott wrote this primarily to provoke a lot of people into writing their best defenses of traditional marriage, just to see what people would say. Once upon a time he would've ended such a blog entry with "DMD". Haven't seen that in a while.
 
 
 
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