Updated: Jan 21
A joke is told about how easy it is to share a bed with someone, explore all they would rather hold secret, and yet elicit a diligent restraint from trespassing on the other's mobile phone. Although men are usually faulted for their tendency to hide, mobile technology is a growing private domain for both men and women today. And complex passwords are walking their way through to them as fast as mobile companies are making them more secure. The need for discretion is growing among many individuals, tearing apart the notion of unity, willful intent and transparency that define the traditional marriage.
This article shares a few insights based on anecdotal observations that are perhaps frequently responsible for tearing apart modern relationships – including marriages – even in the absence of the conscious will to derail oneself off course.
The contemporary working class lifestyle is increasingly rendering marriage an obsolete social institution, by altering the basic norms that govern interdependency between parties to a relationship. These lifestyles are empowering individuals and softening the impediments of leading independent lives. The aid of affordable technology, beyond the smartphone, is certainly allowing the untamed man to rely on laundromats (more a Western phenomenon) or casual labour (much closer to home) to perpetually live a worry-free life in as far as this domestic chore is concerned. The same goes for women who are earning more and better education (a good thing) and accessing better employment, and demanding less from men as primary providers. Or the other way around. The need to have to commit to another human being who provides for basic needs, and all the safeguards that come with that package, is slowly dwindling.
Normally, marriage will thrive under mutual consent and the coincidence of a deep longing for a mate one commits not to share with the world, while nurturing the energy to guard it with a paranoid disposition till death does two part. There are some who will not establish the boundaries of faithfulness, where all that matters is whether a spouse comes home to them at the end of the day. Regardless of this rare phenomenon, fruitful matrimony ultimately concerns the search for freedom within certain constraints that would not change for one’s entire lifetime, for the love of sanity. One must come to terms with eras of tolerance for one too many annoyances of a being whose mind is conspicuously independent from one's whims at many turns.
Sometimes, undesirable outcomes can be triggered by the unpredictability of usually unpalatable news if you happen to have a pretty or handsome friend. All a third party must possess is an overload of charm and an easygoing outlook that welcomes the spontaneity that an wandering soul is searching for. Furthermore, the prospect of obnoxious in-laws, or a spouse’s old time camaraderies, to whom they feel the perpetual obligation to behold, may well be the extra coal to the fire.
Among several factors, and for many, marriage does not seem to be the perfect fairy-tale experience any more. Regardless, weddings are at least a MK2 billion industry in Malawi (see our article on this here) that is becoming adorned with fancier exposés as we move with the times, and continue to dig a hole in the guest’s budget as one commutes from one wedding to the next in a single Saturday afternoon. Yet, while 50% of all weddings are surely going to end up in divorce sooner or later in Western countries (Belgium boasts the top spot at 71%), the gut to let go of an intolerable marriage is slowly finding its place in Malawi too. In fact, more and more incidences are taking place in the early marriage years. The industry that’s seeing better days is that of family and divorce lawyers.
To reiterate a point made above, an important ingredient to a successful marriage is for two people to want to be together, to forever tolerate the differences beyond one’s control, and to – as much as possible – see the inalienable unending beauty in the other person. This, all in the face of the forces at work that have to be contended with.
The modern working life is modeling individualism, an inward-looking view of self that absolves personal needs above all others. Modern life increasingly demands full and uninterrupted dedication to specific goals that, especially, employing institutions are driven by. And incrementally, business dominates marital needs under a new reality where neglect for professional excellence cripples economic prospects of marriage and family, the very aspirations anticipated when signing a contract for employment. But more importantly, individualism makes separation less painful, and marriage more dispensable.
There are some practical examples. When you are a banker in Malawi, you devote to balancing the ledger before everyday ends and a new one appears before you; the program expert at an NGO has to complete proposals under strict deadlines with their team; and the government officer has to work late at Capital Hill to submit that consultancy report s/he worked on for much-needed supplementary income. These factors are making workers busier and more committed to a life of work in compliance to varying professional needs.
The unseen effect is how new working arrangements are enabling the significance of co-workers. After all, workmates are more likely to lend an ear to peers' fears, anxieties and excitements – over lunch in the cafeteria; they are more likely to provide advice on a wide range of matters while sharing the afternoon tea. They empathize, from the exigencies of the discomfort of visiting mothers-in-law, to the inadequacies of the relationships at home, to providing free advice about birth control.
In time, one learns about their preferences between biscuits and muffins, their hobbies and indifference between Nali’s Abale Samalani and Mary’s Kambuzi. In turn, these reshape the circles of trust that increasingly bind humans to a new cadre of people in their lives, all without the interference of one's significant others. For some, the conditions are ripe to start opening suppressed dimensions of longing for the new people and experiences their lives have to interact with during extended periods of time…mostly the comrades at the office.
It is perhaps caring to point out that the presence of unhappy couples, at whatever stage of their relationships, does not help matters. Here, reasons vary from finding the wrong mate to mere adventurousness for experimentation. A fertile opportunity to explore and yield to temptations that are encountered in the workplace comes to life.
In some cases, combining marriage and professional growth (or the aspiration to it) is an oil-and-water situation. And collaborative professional goals wedge in as a variable of attraction in highly demanding working spaces. Single professionals who see no visible boundaries – in spite of a 'visible' wedding ring – will usually be unhindered to pursue relationships that are profitable and destined to provide security and status. And the same goes for married individuals, who, with time, may grow to cherish shared professional goals with workmates more than they fancy the achievement of social achievements at home.
Office interactions are abetting reasons for the working class to keep their smart phone a private space, if we are to borrow the above example. On the surface, it is covering up the optimal conditions for extramarital relationships taking place in the work domain, for men just as much as women. Although the world view holds men to account for their fallible nature when exposed to temptation, a persistently present listening ear to a woman is probably most potent to catalyze her falling in a similar trap.
There are usually no excuses to infidelity, at work or at home, other than the existence of at least an insatiated party to a marital union. But the modern employer may be partly to blame for creating the enabling environment in which unfaithfulness will flourish. Casting aside the impact of high unemployment, the young are justified when they increasingly agonize about saying “I do.”
If society will continue to hold marriage in high regard as a coalescing factor for communities and nations, then it must rethink the conditions under which the working class marriage – as an institution – has the best chance to endure the modern work space.