coupling off over time: good or bad? necessary or not?

i touched on this the other day, but my friend, miriam, made a really good point in a conversation we had last week.

her point was that as people get older, they tend to couple off. this thends to shift the locus of their decision-making. people go from prioritizing their friends and community to prioritizing their romantic relationship. 

now, for her i think the emphasis was on the increasing importance of maintaining strong friendships in the face of diminishing connection with people who were previously close friends. for me, though, the shift from outward to inward focus on relationships is where her insight takes me…

now, as a single person, my gut reaction is against this transition. i can’t even remember how many people i once considered good friends that i literally never see anymore. well, except for when they post pictures of them and their spouse and their children on instagram.

if i take a step back, though, two things come up for me. first, is the shift from outward to inward necessary? i think not. i think the patriarchal model of nuclear household that we have in the west makes this so. the goal of buying a residence and living there with just you, your spouse, and your kids, makes the inward focus for a relationship seem natural. but i don’t think it is. in fact, i think it’s really destructive, mostly because it’s not resilient. people of past times raised their families in robust, interconnected communities. extended famiiles lived near each and also local community was much more important (because travel and moving far from home wasn’t really a thing like it is now). i could go on…

the second is, whether or not the shift is necessary, is it bad? i think so. one of the major pitfalls i see people falling into literally all the time is expecting their primary romantic interest to be their all. it’s a secretly insidious trend, in my opinion. as our society modernizes, we search for more and more from our primary partners. we want physical, mental, emotional, friend, family, and career support all from the same person. what’s crazy is that we don’t even hold our friends to those standards. we know that some friends meet some types of needs for us and other friends meet other needs. so we put all this expectation into our primary relationship which can have all sorts of negative consequences. codependence is one of them, but also when things go bad or wrong in that relationship, we have almost no resilience because all the energy has been going into one place.

i’m convinced that this is a piece of why modern dating is so bad. i’m also convinced that this is a part of why divorces are so ugly. it’s not just ending a relationship, it’s ending like 8 relationships simultaneously and it’s even harder because strongly-bound couples under-invest in the other relationships in their lives that could help them weather the turmoil of a breakup.