The Relationship Agreement

Preoccupied with the portents of the end of life as we know it, I miss a lot of trends. For example before reading the recent New York Times piece on “relationship agreements” I didn’t know that was a thing, as the kids say. Apparently this new means of sealing the deal on the serious relationship was initiated by the guy who owns Facebook (I can never remember his name) and his intended (never heard of her before) prior to their getting married. Anyway even if they weren’t the first to enter into one of these agreements, by virtue of how rich they are they seem to have set the standard. According to the Times article, couples like the Facebook guy and his now wife set out in writing, before the wedding, the things that they would require of the spouse to whom they are to be married—I figure there’s a lot of language like that in a relationship agreement.

The power couple already know all they want to about each other; they need not go through the business of getting to really know each other – you know, arguing, negotiating, asking questions, compromising, and growing (things you’d think they’d be really good at, considering those skills are ostensibly the ones necessary for success in the corporate environs on which they’re modeling their relationship). Instead, the neo-couple lays it all out in black and white beforehand, thereby eliminating in the proposed marriage the need for demonstrating learned behaviors such as patience, while limiting the potential for disappointment or something even more diabolical, wasting time.

Presumably, any inclination toward annoying behavior on the part of either cosigner can be avoided, as all he/she needs to do is refer to the written agreement when he/she is considering any form of deviance. No surprises then. No unpleasantness. One can only wonder if it’s all such a bother, why get married? But of course—the couple wants to have children. The same children on whose behalf the future parents will work tirelessly to ensure that the most qualified nannies are hired and the most prestigious pre-schools and universities are gifted with computer labs and gymnasiums.

The Times article treats the relationship agreement with a wink—describing it as a seemingly kooky cultural trend that has practical value—evidenced by quotes from matrimonial lawyers.

I don’t see it that way. This is not because I don’t have a sense of humor. I do. Or, I did. But things are becoming less funny. The fact is relationship agreements cannot be considered a cultural trend because we no longer have, or are, a culture. Culture describes a web of complex relationships that have evolved and exist in a particular society at any one time. What we have now, at least in the United States, is not a web of evolving relationships but a series of spontaneous actions that are initiated at the direction of the super-rich and imitated by first the rich and then the almost rich, and so on. It is the cultural equivalent of trickledown theory. Just as there is no economic basis for trickledown, there is no cultural basis for it.

The idea of formulating a marriage according to the dictates of the corporation is abhorrent to any thinking, feeling person. But it is in perfect keeping with the corporatocracy that America has become. The workplace—when there is work—subsumes every aspect of our lives. As Chris Hedges has pointed out, not only do we work in increasingly inhumane conditions to produce commodities, we are ourselves commodities. Corporate oversight of our lives is so pervasive, so entrenched in America that when the superrich conduct their personal lives in ways that are demeaning, first we giggle, and then we emulate them. In effect, we allow them to alter our perception of ourselves as complex human beings, and in the absence of horror and watchfulness, we become as pathetic as they are.

Susan Goldstein lives in California.