Thursday, February 14, 2008

Men, Women, and Marriage

It's Valentine's Day, and in lieu of the usual cynicism and bitterness found in this space, I'd like to present a thoughtful essay, just to see if anyone's paying attention.

A topic that's always fascinated -- and frustrated -- me is that of relationships between the sexes. My interest has often been personal, as I've chronicled my longstanding and not always voluntary bachelorhood on this blog from time to time. Several years ago, I decided my dating difficulties did not necessarily lie with me, but with what I perceived to be too many women's unrealistic expectations about men and dating. (The posts I made about this decision still get lots of hits due to my friend Brian's cross-linking them to a more widely read forum.)

These days my views have evolved again somewhat, but one thing does seem for sure: The institution of marriage is in a deplorable state. In particular, the idea of a "marriage strike" existing among men has been gaining attention as more and more guys seem to be delaying or even totally giving up on matrimony.

The Penis Picket

Does such a strike exist? If it does, it's not a strike in the sense of a mass planned, organized, and purposeful behavior. But there's little doubt -- you can Google the numbers if you're interested -- that there's a growing legion of guys leaving the knot untied.

We can look at this phenomenon in different ways. From the point of view of some women, such as the Manhattan Institute's Kay Hymowitz, it's just more evidence that men are immature and unwilling to grow up. She sagely notes in her recent essay "Child-Man in the Promised Land":

Freud famously asked: "What do women want?" Notice that he didn't ask what men wanted -- perhaps he thought that he'd figured that one out.
But Ms. Hymowitz doesn't ask what men want, either. Instead, she goes on and on trying to support with statistics that which she's already assumed (single guys are immature "child-men") without asking any actual men why, for example, they might prefer playing video games to getting married. She cites some interesting numbers, but her analysis suffers from being too contextually limited.

What Men Do Not Want

Bend over and take it like a man!Others, however, have done what Ms. Hymowitz did not and surveyed single young men on their attitudes toward marriage. In 2002, researchers Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe formulated 10 reasons men were holding off on getting hitched, and right at the top of the list, after the ready availability of unmarried partners for sex and cohabitation, was fear of divorce.

This is telling. Divorce these days is common and easy to initiate on basically no grounds whatsoever. Everyone knows someone, if not their own parents, who is divorced. More to the point, everyone has heard horror stories of (or knows) divorced men who have been emotionally, financially, and psychologically devastated by the court system, aided and abetted by grandstanding politicians and malicious and legally enabled ex-wives. (Fathers -- AKA "deadbeat dads" -- may be the most politically maligned group, behind only smokers and child molesters.)

Message Received, Zero Distortion

I propose that the reality of these numerous tales of injustice is not lost on never-married men. They hear and absorb them, even if subconsciously, and begin to make decisions that result in them putting off marriage and family indefinitely or, in the case of some, permanently. I further propose that the apparent declining willingness of men to marry will not be reversed until the legal system is reformed in such a way that a man's family can't be ripped from him and his life ruined on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Sadly, I do not see this reform happening anytime soon, and so I think the ranks of unmarried "child-men" will continue to grow. The risk of losing everything in a divorce is just too great, and in the meantime there are plenty of women out there ready to "give it up" to any slacker or slob who catches their fickle fancies. Good times.

American Woman, Get Away from Me

Which brings me to a darker undercurrent of the presumptive marriage strike: the growing suspicion among a not insignificant number of men that American women in general are simply worthless as mates, owing to decades of feminist propaganda.

As a traditionalist at heart, I'm highly sympathetic to this view. Feminism has been an unmitigated disaster for both sexes and how they relate to one another. Far from being about supposed equality, feminism in the hands of the purveyors of pop culture has created this ridiculous and demonstrably false image of Woman as some sort of morally, intellectually, and physically superior being, far above violent, evil, incompetent, and stupid men. This is a subject for another essay, but suffice it to say, the delusional feminist image distorts how women view themselves and men as well as how men view women and themselves. The result is poisoned sexual relations.

What Has Two Thumbs and Likes Women?

Personally, if I do marry, it will be to a woman who doesn't need to believe she can "kick my ass" in order to feel a sense of self-worth. She will be a woman who can appreciate me for who I am, not for how well I match her Platonic Superman. She may very well have a career, but she won't be a "career woman" when the chips are down and our marriage is at stake. In short, she will complement me, not compete with me.

I know I'm not the only guy who feels this way. It isn't about being afraid of a "strong woman." It's about wanting to be with a woman in the first place, not some androgynous creature who really wants to be a man. Simply put, your average, ordinary single man is not looking to marry another dude. You know?

Moral of the Story?

Of course, the idea of a subconscious male strike is just one possible way to explain the delayed-marriage phenomenon. Statistics suggest today's women are often choosing to delay marriage as well. Ethan Watters proposed the idea of "urban tribes" in his book of the same name. The sexual revolution has embedded the "Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?" credo deep in the minds of men (and, honestly, women too). And so on.

There's no one factor that explains the anemic state of marriage; it is a product of many converging and complex social, economic, and political trends. And it's beyond the ability of a pissant blogger to explain. But I do believe that fear of getting hosed in a divorce plays a key role in the growing reticence of many men to walk down the aisle, and I definitely believe the atrocious bias against husbands and fathers in the American legal system needs to be corrected, like, yesterday.

And now that I've solved another social problem, I'll be off to enjoy an evening with my girlfriend, who always agrees with everything I say and at this moment is likely in the kitchen sans footwear preparing the elaborate dinner we will both feast upon before retiring to the boudoir for a night of freaky monkey love. Or, anyway, we'll watch Lost and snack on some chips.

But we'll be together, and that's really the point, isn't it?