Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: Where has all the love gone?

The burning flame of passionate mutuality is burning out as people obsessively chase ratings in the mating game

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A 25th wedding anniversary party thrown by some dear friends on Saturday was a fabulous celebration of enduring ardour and affection. The husband, a musician, got us singing old romantic songs as he played the piano. But as joy filled the marquee, I felt a whit of unease and then the cold touch of melancholia.

My brother-in-law, who died recently, was devoted to my mentally ill sister for three decades. How many marriages of the future would have such perseverance and longevity? Why did the songs sound like ghosts from an era long gone, never to return? Completely by coincidence my first wedding in 1972 was on the same date, the 19th of June. It didn't last, couldn't survive the self-gratifying Eighties which led inexorably to our age of narcissism and commodification of everything, including intimacy.

Even Martin Amis, both an embodiment and chronicler of the Thatcherite culture, is somewhat unnerved by modernity, in particular, by the way sex today is severed from feelings. About the long sex fest in his latest book, The Pregnant Widow, he says, disarmingly, "it's pornographic sex. It's easy to write because the emotion has been withdrawn. It's cynical and recreational".

Before long, says David Levy, people will be able to get a robot to satisfy their sex needs and programme in the required doses of affection too. Levy, a successful computer chess programmer, wrote a book on the metallic objects of desire that will end unhappiness because "everyone can have someone" in their empty lives. He isn't crazy. You can already buy the Japanese made Honeydoll, a pleaser which (who?) emits orgasmic sounds when stroked. Perhaps next, boy dolls proving their manhood upon being touched by keen hands.

In 2005, brain researchers from New York University at Stony Brook reported in the Journal of Neurophysiology that sex and love produce different body responses and that romantic love is a more powerful force than mere sex drive. It is what makes us human. That precious, fragile, universal bond between partners may not survive long in the West. Men and women can copulate more imaginatively and freely than ever before; they just can't talk as well with lovers, care for them, and make love.

The burning flame of passionate mutuality is burning out as people obsessively chase ratings in the mating game. Loveless sex, aided by Viagra and other chemicals, is an anesthetised experience, unmemorable and futile. The internet is full of sex advice, addicts, positions, tricks, fantasies, costumes and porn. There is hardly anything on the emotional truths and gifts of love.

In the east and south, love is endangered by other brute forces. These countries have their tragic fables of impossible love. Films, books, songs and poems lament unfortunate and impulsive paramours who can't resist each other. Once people understood that wasn't real life. Now, as individualism and the idea of personal choice spreads across the globalised world, sensual love is awakened in these societies, threatening the old order under which marriages reinforce social and familial ties, maintain patriarchal control and involve clever economic calculations.

That is why there is a sharp increase in forced marriages, more murders of young lovers (as happened in Delhi this month when a couple were tortured and killed by the girl's family), veiling, ruthless state interventions too. Loving sex is banned. Meanwhile the use of porn and prostitution rises fast.

We can imagine what will happen if we neglect the environment, overpopulate the planet, fail to tackle inequality. More perilous still would be a future throbbing with heartless, instant, blanked out sex and no abiding love. We may find a way of coping with dried rivers, but dried hearts? That Stygian future is fast approaching. Those of us filled with foreboding fear it may already be too late.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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