Shrinking worlds, not hearts in a new age

February 10, 2000

THE STOCK market is booming, making a dozen roses suddenly affordable. The Internet turns the girl in New Zealand into the girl next door.

In an era of radical change, we wondered whether the heart remains the same.

So we asked a group of unofficial experts this question: As we move into a new millennium -- one in which technology and prosperity are transforming the way we relate -- what will happen to marriage, commitment, dating and romance?

Retro romance

Kathryn Pearce, Baltimore romance novelist:

People are ready for more old-fashioned romance again. I see that in the books I write. The ones that are most popular now are returning to the Cinderella theme. A lot of my readers really like that fantasy -- the ordinary American girl who finds love with a prince, in effect. I think they acknowledge there is a difference between fantasy and reality, and the chances of being swept off your feet and running into a multimillionaire who will sweep you off your feet is extremely unlikely. But theyre looking for the noble elements in men -- dependable but extremely romantic.

[The economic boom] is making it hard for relationships to work, whether in marriage or not. We get into that trap of wanting everything now. We lose sight of our priorities. -- I think its very, very important that we just settle down and think: For my love life, for my happiness, what do I really need?

Not great expectations

William J. Doherty, professor of family social science, and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program, University of Minnesota:

We have the highest expectations for marriage of any culture in history -- for friendship, gender equality, intimacy, personal happiness -- and we are not equipped to make it work.

The face-to-face company of others will become increasingly important in the new world. I believe that the decline in community is an under-recognized factor in the decline in marriage. We expect too much of isolated married couples, most of whom have no one with whom they can discuss their relationship.

Longer lasting

Dr. Thomas Culbertson, rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Baltimore:

The shift during my [30 years] as a priest has been really interesting. Older people are being married. From what I see, the older people are, the longer their commitments tend to be. I just have a sense that there are a lot of marriages that are lasting longer. People are much more independent, and they bring to relationships a great degree of independence.

I think a lot of couples have recognized the church is one of the factors that help them make long-term commitments. Its more than a promise at the altar.

Return to values

Joel Fedder, lawyer and real estate developer from Pikesville, married 43 years:

I think we are taking on more responsibility and are realizing as a society its important to take care of ourselves.

I think its good that the husband and wife work. It gives both partners the opportunity to be out in the world and try to come together around the problems of the world and solve them. I think when you look at that and you take that home, you realize youre going to have problems the same at home as in business. Where are you going to go? Someone elses bed? It isnt going to be any better.

We have great freedom of movement. People establish great relationships. -- Families are a mirror of society. We have a great society right now. Take a look at our great, roly-poly, feisty society. Ninety percent of the time, were able to settle our differences.

Move toward civility

Sheila Sachs, Baltimore divorce lawyer:

People are inordinately consumed with money and data. I think theres a value system we have that is more driven by economics than by love.

The one thing I do project is I see more people trying to be more civilized in their divorces. Im not saying all succeed. Im seeing one set of people worse than anything Ive ever seen, alienating the children from the other parent. The other extreme are people who really want to be civil, and of course thats because there are many more children of divorce around. They have very clear memories and feelings about how their parents divorce affected them.

I think people are very stressed out. I think they have a lot of anxiety about the choices theyve made in life. Everybodys working very hard, and they dont have as much downtime to spend with kids and the other person. And when the whole thing collapses, they feel not so much guilt but that they failed. It produces anger at themselves and then they project it onto others. So at the millennium -- theres a lot of talk about spiritualism, but not a lot of good rule behavior.

Different unions

Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington and an expert on relationships:

[With technology], the boundaries of who you would fall in love with -- are really gone. The ability to be in constant contact with people all over the world, at all income levels, is going to be limitless.

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