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State of (hetero) relationship play.

Namibia appears to have a relatively high divorce rate, with hundreds of divorce cases trundling through the courts on a weekly basis, according to reports. Now, a lot of things could be said about this, but one of the things that probably should stand out is that the institution of marriage is no longer as sacred as it once arguably was considered.

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Taking the same reasoning tack, we could similarly probably, and credibly, infer that the nature of the heterosexual relationship--between a man and a woman--could be undergoing something of a significant redefining, and that what divorce numbers are showing is that attitudes towards traditional relationship arrangements are changing substantially, along with social values.

In fact, if we consider unfolding Namibian trends as microcosmic of developments at a global level, we can get an inkling of the potential directions that some of the changes we're witnessing here could be taking us down. That is to say, what we are seeing playing out gradually here probably has played out a few degrees further somewhere else already--this is because much of the changes in relations between men and women are due to generally improved general health, educational and economic conditions at individual and societal levels, but given that regions and societies are at differing levels of development, some trends are at more advanced stages in some than in others. This is not to say that countries faithfully mirror each other in development and socio-economic progress, for we still have to account for national and regional cultural differences that impact demographic considerations. Suffice to say that there are areas where human beings share similarities and trends around these areas of commonality can be credibly assessed at a more globalised level.

And marriage and the general state of heterosexual relationships are some of those areas which have been subjected to considerable examination and investigation over the last decade or so, and even well before.

WHAT'S HAPPENING?

The short of it is that marriage rates are in a state of continuous decline in places--mostly advanced societies--where such things are comprehensively tracked.

All across most of the Western world and highly advanced countries like Japan and South Korea, fewer marriages are being recorded, while co-habitation is increasing. In regions such as Scandinavia--Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark --some have even gone as far as proclaiming an end to the institution of marriage altogether, as these countries record the most depressed marriage rates in the world. Interestingly, over the last decade, the attractiveness of marriage seems to be experiencing something of a revival in Sweden, but the increase is slight and comes off historical low levels.

Aside from the rate of co-habitation rising, there also appears to be an increase in the number of people, especially young people (or millennials), who remain single. This is an indication that the stigma that was once associated with singledom, especially attached to women, has long since lost its sting. On top of this, people, once again especially young people, in these places are having less sex or are having sex later than previous generations or are simply not interested in having sex it seems.

These factors, taken together, and the logical consequence is that fewer children are born across the more highly advanced parts of the world.

What has brought this about, you might well ask? Well, simply put, women's educational and economic emancipation is what is basically driving these developments--the fact that women now increasingly have the power to shape their own lives.

And for the most part, men in these countries appear to be fine with these developments, as they are also absolved of the burden of single-handedly or predominantly providing for families. This in turn has led to fewer men wanting to get married and have families, as modern bachelor life is becoming an ever more attractive proposition against the backdrop of generally relaxed social mores around sexual habits.

The bottom line is that the factors, both social and economic, that pushed people into and kept them in long term, steady (but probably mostly not stable) marriages have largely disappeared as a result of all around improvements in women's positions in these societies--these exponential improvements are coupled to technological, healthcare and legal innovations that have brought about a dramatic change in women's standing over the last century, accompanied by a decline in the influence of religious institutions and religiosity, which have generally been repressive gatekeepers of women's socio-economic and reproductive and sexual expressions.

But what can we read from this? Well, basically that the conventional heterosexual relationship--which has long held the man up as the primary authority and his needs as paramount--is quickly reaching its sell-by date because women are coming into their own as influencers and decision-makers at individual and communal, as well as all micro and macro socio-economic and political, levels. And make no mistake, this is busy happening in Namibia too, although certainly still at a much earlier stage than what is transpiring in more advanced climes.

THE EXTREMES

Of course, none of this is to say that the trajectory of these developments is all positive, because nothing ever is. Take Japan as a case in point: Large swathes of Japanese men and women appear to have no interest in long-term relationships, or even in having sex. In fact, studies suggest that growing numbers of Japanese women will not have sex by age 40--stoking what is already referred to as a "virginity problem". Many Japanese, by some reckoning fully one-third, are even disinterested in dating and long-term relationships and marriage are consequently in steep decline. This translates to an equally steep decline in childbirths, which has given rise to fears of a 'demographic timebomb' --the numbers of the old and elderly surging while children are ever fewer. In short, it appears that growing numbers of Japanese men and women appear to have no interest in each other as intimate partners. But people still need intimacy, which has led to the growth in what are called "cuddle cafes"--where people, men mostly, go to cuddle with a stranger--and other innovations that do not come with any sort of commitment or attachment.

At the same time, advanced societies appear to be recording, mostly amongst the young, heightened levels of disconnection and loneliness and an increase in social awkwardness--all driven by a variety of factors, including technological immersion--and not to mention the attendant mental distress that comes with all this. These societies also appear to show a general surge in visits to sex workers amongst single men and a growth in accessing online pornographic material and sources, by men and women.

In some parts of the developed world, educated and high earning women are also expressing frustration with the long-term-relationship-averse mindset many of their male peers have adopted--in favour of more fluid, transient and open arrangements --and are increasingly making use of in vitro fertilisation (IVF) to conceive, which in turn is driving growth in sperm-bank numbers. The single-parent household is thus becoming the norm across parts of the world and a child-out-of-wedlock is no longer a thing to be stigmatised for. So, it is increasingly clear that romanticised notions of love and family no longer hold sway amongst a great many people.

Against the backdrop of this probably all that can be safely said is that the evolution of the heterosexual relationship is ongoing and the potential outcomes far from settled, but one thing is surely certain: The heterosexual relationship of today and tomorrow is steadily moving away from what was considered conventional not so long ago.

And once again, make no mistake, this is busy happening in Namibia too.
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Title Annotation:RELATIONSHIPS
Author:L., Angus
Publication:Sister Namibia
Geographic Code:6NAMI
Date:Jul 1, 2016
Words:1275
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