MIDWAY: Tyranny of choice

It’s hard to legislate for hearts, and impossible to schedule attraction. That’s what is so liberating about love. But it appears that fate is no longer working in couples’ favour. One in two believe that it is becoming more difficult to meet som-eone to start a family with.

Of course, the increase in single-person households and divorce is well documented. But it is interesting that in the incessant chatter about fertility anxiety, the fact that people are finding it harder to hook up is seldom discussed as a cause rather than a symptom. Does modern life make it harder to fall in love? Or are we making it harder for ourselves? Women no longer rely upon partners for economic security and a man doesn’t expect his spouse to be in sole charge of running the household.

But perhaps the knowledge that we can live perfectly well without a partnership means that it takes much more to persuade people to abandon those modern absolutes of autonomy and independence.

Finding a partner should be much simpler these days. Only a few generations ago, your choice of soul mate was constrained by geography, social convention and family tradition. Now those barriers have broken down. When the world is your oyster, you have a better chance of finding a pearl. But it would seem that old conventions have been replaced by an even tighter constraint: the tyranny of choice. There has been debate about the commercialisation of sexuality and the manner in which the expectation of sexual availability leads to outsource the role of a seducer to media culture. Is the commodification of love a logical extension of this?

We are encouraged to think of relationships as perfectible and, when they prove not to be, disposable. The premium on self-determination insists that we inoculate ourselves against heartache. Of course, this is compounded by structural realities. Twelve-hour stret-ches at the office do not lend themselves to relaxed after-hours flirtation. Our culture dictates that no experience is valid unless it’s shared. But it seems that faux-connections we use to shore ourselves up against solitariness serve to erode intimacy. While it seems harder to meet someone to start a family with, it doesn’t mean people have stopped trying.