Culture Wars/Current Controversies

Why are Relationships in Developed Countries so Ephemeral and Fragile?

Have you noticed that almost every time you log on any social media site, you will run into evidence of some person you know or have heard about have relationship issues. These range from ruinous divorces and serious breakups to simple ghosting and all other sorts of relationship drama. And these issues are not restricted to relationships with a sexual component. We all know tons of people with no real connection to their parents, siblings etc other than sporadic phone calls, texts or family gatherings. Even our popular culture depicts such a dismal state of affairs as normal and every teenager in movies and shows always moves away from their home to attend university or later move across the country to get a job. The thing is- this “state of affairs” is not normal, never has been normal and is uncommon outside North America and some European countries. It gets more interesting when you realize that this type of behavior was not common even in those countries as late as the 1950s.

This normalized behavior becomes even more peculiar when you look at the historical context. For thousands of years, people were able to maintain long-term relationships in a world that was far more unstable and harsh. Marriages routinely survived when faced with sever hardships which are unimaginable today such as the premature death of multiple young children due to disease, accidents and other natural disasters. These relationships routinely survived droughts, near-famines, famines, epidemics, wars and hardships that are unimaginable today. We know, from both written and archeological records, that most families in the past were able to function, survive and even thrive under conditions which would be seen as impossible today. As I wrote in a previous post, multigenerational continuity of families persisted under conditions ranging from multiple bad harvests, pandemics, civil wars etc.

There is also a lot of evidence from official records as well as personal accounts that the interactions between people living in the same village, town or city were usually quite friendly and rarely antagonistic. To be clear, I am not suggesting that the past was some utopia and everything was perfect. Far from it.. but it is also hard to ignore the fact that the general quality of interactions between people who shared the same living spaces or areas in the past seem to have been much better than today. Notably, something similar can be readily observed today in most parts of the world that are not very poor and not the West. Even some parts of peripheral western countries such as the southern parts of Italy and Greece have a rather different culture than atomized countries such as USA or Sweden. You can this mindset also survive in most Asian countries (rich and poor) and pretty much everywhere that is not the West.

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