Want to ‘upgrade’ your partner? Why the modern approach to love is killing it

A quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds want the opportunity to treat their relationship like a phone contract, a survey says. Perhaps the commoditisation of life is to blame

If you thought you could leave the blue-sky thinking of business-speak in the office, there is bad news. According to a ComRes survey, a quarter of 18- to 24-year-olds want the opportunity to “upgrade” their partner, with marriages offered on a rolling basis, a bit like a mobile-phone contract, shedding their promise of love and devotion until death us do part. The poll was organised by the Coalition for Marriage – a group that campaigns for “traditional marriage ... between a man and a woman” – so we should approach with caution. But the results prompt intriguing questions about the way we view relationships.

Business principles govern almost every area of our lives, including romance. Dating apps do not help – the potential for human connection is there, but after a while there is a glum efficiency to our left and right swipes. One morning, I found myself going through Tinder matches and sending off messages in a batch, allocating myself a set amount of time to do so. Rather than filling me with hope or possibility, the app had become a chore, like answering an email or typing up minutes. It had become a lot like work.

Even the language of apps is brisk and productive. On Tinder, you can “maximise” your chances by purchasing a “super like” that will apparently make you three times more likely to meet someone nice. Here, tentative intimacy is not natural or instinctive: it is a product. Meeting someone stops feeling like beautiful serendipity – it becomes a task on the to-do list. Elsewhere, countless articles urge people to treat their relationship like a business – discussing goals, treating love as an investment and considering it “mutually beneficial”. Some of the advice makes sense, but the language is pernicious, robbing relationships of their uniqueness, flexibility and joy. An article by an HSBC executive that went viral last week explained how she and her boyfriend like to reflect upon “our key wins” together. And they say romance is dead.

So, the survey’s results may be depressing, but they do not really come as a shock. In late capitalism, we are all just cogs in a well-oiled machine – and our partners are commodities. Is it any surprise people want an upgrade?


Emily Reynolds

The GuardianTramp

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