In my last post, I talked about the 100 year life and why we are mostly unprepared for it.

In this post, I want to focus on how the idea of the ‘100 year life‘ will change the way the 20 year old of today approaches relationships and institutions like marriage at a fundamental level. Not for everyone, not across cultures, but as a general trend over the next few decades. Of course, it goes without saying that each person will walk a different path.

Let us start by recognising that while people in middle age are sleep-walking into the 100 year life, today’s youngsters know they will live that long. That very realisation changes everything.

At 50, your memories outweigh your dreams (for many of us). At 20, it is the reverse.

But even at 50, the knowledge that we have 50 years more to live, can throw a different light on every aspect of life. Imagine then what it will be like to be 20 and know you will live ‘forever’.

The corollary to this is the realisation that systems and mind-sets geared for a life span of 35 years (the Middle ages) to 70 years (the late 20th century), will just not work anymore, in the 21st century, where 100 year lives will be routine.

Here is what I predict will happen to relationships (both assertions matter):
Today’s 20 year old will have 4 ‘marriages’ in life. In a series of planned transitions.

Each of these ‘marriages’ (or relationships) will be based on a unique mix of their human and personal needs (biological, mental and emotional) for that stage of life.

Here are the four stages and their relationships.

1. The Climb Every Mountain phase:
The first serious set of relationships. When people are in their 20s to 30. They will explore different partners – mentally, interest-wise, sexually, across cultures and even races. The fundamental driver here is not to discover the ideal partner, but to discover yourself.

2. The Selfish Gene phase:
This phase starts around the early 30s. And lasts till age 55 or so. This is the Darwinian phase where one finds the partner you want to propagate your genes through. The choice of partner, as today, will be based on romance, on sexuality and on compatibility. But the lens through which the partner will be evaluated will be the need of the selfish gene to find the strongest possible mate. A long phase, one that starts with raising kids all the way till they go to college and you experience the empty-nester syndrome.

3. The Do Things Undone phase:
Around the end of phase 2, most people will recognise that the partner they propagated through, may not have been the the best fellow traveller in the journey to their dreams. The Selfish Gene phase is about sharing, but also about adjustments and giving up some aspirations in search of a larger common future. Now, in your 50s, the need to actually discover those lost moments, chase those unfulfilled dreams of youth, will overtake the need to share. And when you look at your partner, you will not only realise what you have sacrificed, but also that the person may not be the ideal co-traveler for the next phase. This applies to both parties. And both will start the search again. For a mentally stimulating partner who helps rediscover lost interests, one with whom they can go back to doing the dreams sacrificed during the Selfish Gene phase.

4. The Comfortable Pillow phase:
Eventually, the need for rediscovery will fade, as time and tide take their toll on bodies and minds. And we will come back to the last refuge we all seek. To the idea of comfort. A bolster. To a spiritual, physical and mental comforter. To the idea of your partner as your best friend / sibling rolled into one. The one to spend your last decades with. The one who brings a wistful smile, in whose presence we feel a warm happy glow.

These then are the 4 “marriages” I predict the 20 year old of today will live through. To be clear, I do not state with definiteness that these 4 relationships or marriages will be with different people. Some of us will be lucky that this is the same person in all 4 phases.

But here’s the thing: Today’s youth will not find it abnormal, that leading a continually happy and fulfilling 100 year life, will likely involve 2 or even 3 different partners. And they will do so without any of the moral ambiguity and equivalences that accompany these transitions today. It will in fact be the new normal.

They will also create more formal language and mores to acknowledge, celebrate and communicate these translation {Yes, Facebook or its successors need to create some new buttons ;-)}.

To be fair, we do transition through these roles in some measure today. But it is an unconscious and in many cases, unrecognised passage. Some of us recognise and celebrate these moments, most just observe their passing. Some bear witness with joy, others with a wistful moment pondering what an alternative universe could have been.

But for today’s youth, their lives will include a more formal acknowledgement of these transitions. In fact, these passages will likely become awaited moments, and planned journeys.

If this does come to pass, then societal norms, individual mind-sets, legal systems, will either evolve to cope with these trends, or will become fossilised.

In my next post, I will cover some of these norms and systems and how I foresee them changing.

Meanwhile, I welcome your views and contributions to the debate. Please use my blog post to comment, if it is not too much trouble, as it is difficult for me to collate the comments on FB.

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