Each of us has a natural state, a place we’re most comfortable inhabiting. We don’t necessarily stay there, and that state can change over time, but we all tend to lean toward isolation or company at various times in our lives and even at various times in our day.
Introverts enjoy their time alone while extroverts find greater happiness in the company of others. But overall, we are a social species. We seek each other out because we derive joy from our interactions with others.
Most of us marry or cohabit for at least part of our adult lives. Even those who forswear that kind of life, like nuns and priests and monks, tend to live in a community, sharing meals and other activities.
When we do so, we seek out those who are similar and avoid folks we perceive as different. We are tribal. That’s how we survived for a million years, by tying our futures to fellow creatures we trusted.
Marriage and cohabitation are an extension of that tribal attraction. They allow us to create our own tribe, our own little group with which to face the harsh world. Some of us, however, live alone – an increasing number in fact.
Many years ago, when friends or family would marry, I would find myself the object of questions regarding my plans. “When do you plan to get married and start a family?” “Does this make you want to settle down?” “Are you dating anyone?”
With the passage of time, those questions have dwindled to a paltry few. Partly, of course, that’s because I’m no longer young but it’s also because society has changed. There is very little stigma associated with being alone today compared to 30 years ago.
Back then, people who chose to be single into their forties and beyond were looked at as strange, probably gay/lesbian, somehow damaged goods.
It’s refreshing to see this evolution of attitudes, this acceptance of new ways to live our lives, but we still have a ways to go. The single life, I submit, ought to become the more prevalent lifestyle.
Yes, the family structure has been the dominant social unit for essentially all of our history. It has been necessary to further the goal of procreation, and has fueled the anthropocene epoch.
But just as you can have too many cupcakes, you can have too many people. Third World countries want our First World lifestyles. But if everyone were to live that way, we would need another planet or two to support them. One isn’t enough. We’re already putting unsustainable pressure on the world.
In as little as one generation, many fewer people will be able to live on the coasts; certain parts of Earth will become nearly uninhabitable due to drought and excessive heat; and the amount of arable land will decrease drastically.
All these pressures will force a change in our lifestyles – a change that will likely come with violence. Even now, efforts to mitigate the harm are met with protests and riots although the protests in France, for example, have become about more than just a repudiation of a fuel tax.
Still, we can either make incremental progress now or wait until drastic measures are necessary later.
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