I first thought about this when I was a young woman exploring my sexuality. So many stories I'd read hung breathlessly upon young women's virginity -- who was going to get it, and what will happen to her when that happens? I came to the age of sexual expression when virginity wasn't what determined the rest of one's life. If one were educated and / or determined, neither did having a child -- and raising that child oneself -- without a husband define one's social status. Rather than being Ruined and condemned to prostitution and an early, miserable death, a pregnant single woman family, these days many parents even are nearly pathetically grateful that their child has chosen to reproduce. Two plots gone right there! (Unless, of course, you are a poor, resourceless girl, raped and abused by whomever -- but we don't like those stories. We like stories of promiscuous, careless, lustful girls who fall by their own stupidity. We still do ....)
Married the wrong man? You can get divorced. There were even lawyers and law students who would handle your case pro bono! Anne Bronte Tenant of Wildfell Hall conditions no longer in place Neither would there have been an impediment between Rochester and Jane, for he is allowed to divorce his mad wife. (Sadly,for people without funds, this is not true in most cases. Extricating oneself from an unhappy -- and particularly from an abusive marriage -- isn't that straight forward, easy, and inexpensive, particularly when your abuser prefers to kill you and then himself rather than lose his power over you.)
Finally, there are all the historical fictions of the future, what happens with them? No desperate Queen Catherine of Aragon faking pregnancies in vain hope of extracting Henry VIII from his obsession with the younger and presumably fertile Ann Boleyn. Corporate power dynasties can clone themselves, as well as employ many other technologies to reproduce themselves -- perhaps, even digitize their consciousness -- literally making the legal fiction that corporations are persons reality.
Science fiction has been writing stories about these last matters for decades already; I edited Not of Woman Born, an anthology of such stories before the turn of the 21st century.
So, now what?
A novelist and film critic discuss the future of story-telling's ubiquitous marriage plot in The New York Times, here.
Dana Stevens describes it this way:
This past year alone, in the world of film — which, as the dominant popular art form of the last century, can be said to have picked up the marriage-plot baton from narrative fiction — we’ve seen movies like Richard Linklater’s “Before Midnight,” the third installment of a two-decade-spanning trilogy that treats long-term romantic partnership (not marriage — significantly, the character played by Julie Delpy resists that step) as a permanent negotiation involving countless small compromises, disappointments and, often, self-deceptions. More radically, Spike Jonze’s man-meets-software romance “Her” imagines a very near future in which love breaks down not just traditional gender binaries but the line between human and nonhuman itself (and in which the familiar “love triangle” becomes a complex love polyhedron involving hundreds of simultaneous human and digital paramours).
Whatever form the marriage plot assumes as it continues to evolve, it seems clear that the richest and most ambitious love stories will be those that aren’t afraid to call into question what we mean both by “love” and by “story,” whether by opening up the closed temporal loop of “happily ever after” (in the style of Michel Gondry’s mind-bending, time-shifting sci-fi romance “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) or acknowledging the impermanence and imperfection of all relationships (like Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall,” which could be seen as an early turning point in the reinvention of the contemporary rom-com). The freeze-frame kiss that’s marked the end of so many Hollywood romances — the image of a man and a woman joined forever in changeless heterosexual bliss, the ultimate teleological goal of all love — is coming unfrozen, and what happens after those two pairs of lips separate is ours to decide.