One thing that a lot of people seem to agree on is that one of the major reasons that marriage rates are down is because men are stuck in a period of perpetual adolescence and are putting off marriage with the old addage about cows and free milk. Phi takes objection to this interpretation:

Stop, stop, STOP! A pox on both your houses! The premise as stipulated by both Kay and her interlocutors — that men are deciding to put off marriage — is utterly and completely false as a generality applied to all men!

But to know this, Kay would have to open her eyes beyond their currently narrow field. For she is guilty of the same error as the men for whom women of less than car show model attractiveness are invisible. Like them, Kay only sees men in the top 5% of the status hierarchy, the same 5% being pursued by 95% of women, the same 5% for whose attentions women bid in an arms race to the bottom. Of course those men don’t want to get married: in the immortal words of Kelly Bundy, why buy the cow when you can get the eggs for free?

But what about the other 95%? You know: the ones standing on the sidelines looking desperately for some sign of encouragement. The ones with no idea how to talk to a woman because, well, none of them have. The ones without game.

Phi is undoubtedly correct that this phenomenon as it pertains to all men is considerably overstated, but so is the notion that it only applies to men in the top 5%. There are at least two things to consider here. First, that while lower marriage rates is certainly true, I think we really need to keep in mind that in proportion to the entire population they are overstated. When a lot of people talk about how this phenomenon or that phenomenon is “destroying marriage” or somesuch, they’re overlooking the fact that nothing has changed the fact that most people do, at some point in their life, actually get married.

But marriage rates are down and I agree with Phi that it’s not just men that are causing that. It’s often caused because women have decided that it’s better not to get married than to marry to wrong person. I think that this is overall not a particularly negative development. Women should not be socially coerced to get married to someone that does not make them happy just so that there are enough wives to go around. The same is true of men. At least one place where Phi and I disagree is whether these men “aren’t good enough” because women are holding their standards too high or because they simply haven’t met a man that meets reasonable standards. He seems to view the problem as one of women’s standards. I view it primarily as being related to the collapse of a lot of social institutions and conventions that make it a lot more difficult to meet people than it used to be. Women’s standards are an issue, but so too is prolonged adolescence on the part of men.

Phi takes that view that pushing off getting married is the province of men with easy access to sex with a lot of different women and that composes of 5% of the male population or so. I have no opinion on whether easy access to sex is limited to the top 5% of men or not, but I really think that he’s overlooking something that really does apply to a significant portion of the other 95%. To be blunt, I think that he is transposing his own perspective, that as a former young man in search for a wife whose efforts were blunted by women exhibiting particular behaviors, to most men. At the very least, it is far from clear to me that what most young women want is to find a nice young woman to get married to as was (presumably) the case with Phi when he was younger.

First of all, it’s not solely the province of the top 5% to have sexual access to women. Most of my male friends (that I’m close enough to know this kind of thing) had somewhere between 3-15 sexual partners. That’s not a lot by the standards portrayed by the media today, but it’s enough. Enough for what? Enough to believe that if they don’t get married, they will have other sexual partners and thus they are paying an opportunity cost for their monogamy and more importantly, by marrying that they will permanently forego any other opportunities.

But it’s not just sexual access that forestall’s a man’s decision to get married. In fact, all the man really needs is the belief that the current state of affairs with a woman or women is better than a married state of affairs would be with a woman that makes herself available to him to get married. With the exception of Station Fours, any man can relatively easily come to this conclusion. It may be easier for him to do so corresponding with the number of options that he has, but relationships and partnering up are extremely relative in nature and this applies more-or-less across the spectrum.

Added to this is the fact that men (and women) have to make the active decision that they are unlikely to do better than permanently partnering up with the woman that they’re with (or that would be with them) to marry. Putting off that active decision, or failing to make it altogether, defaults to “no marriage”.

More to the point, with the social pressures of marrying lower than they’ve ever been, the ability to kick the decision down the road in perpetuity becomes more possible. As it stands now, men are able to – without consequence – stall confronting this tough decision until he runs the risk of losing what he has now because she’s telling him to fish or cut bait or if he’s not able to get something that he wants from the relationship until he makes the decision to take the relationship to the next stage.

The ideal used to require that he consents to taking the marriage path in order to have sex. Now a man can get even more. He can live as husband and wife without having to make that level of commitment. They can live together, share expenses, have one another to come home to, and have regular sexual access to one another without having to make the tough decision of permanency. This is one of the reasons that I consider premarital cohabitation to be a barrier rather than a prelude to marriage.

None of this is solely reserved for men with game. The example in my life that I was closest to, Julie and Tony, involved a man that had no college degree, made less money than her, had fewer romantic options than her, and to my knowledge had only one sexual partner before her. All he really had going for him was a good heart, a steady (though not substantial) income, and a degree of personability (but only once you got to know him). In other words, the typical “Beta Male”. Despite all this, he put off marriage, took up four years of her life, and left her exhausted and embittered.

The mistake that she made was not holding out for an Alpha, but rather for indulging him a way of life that gave him the benefits of marriage without having to confront the costs of it. It was only when she took a stand (needing a darn good reason why they shouldn’t get married) that he confronted it and determined that she was not right for him. Had she forced this decision earlier, I don’t know that the result would have been any different at the end, but it likely would have taken a lot less out of her and would have freed her up to find somebody that she’s more compatible with.

I’m certainly not saying that it always turns out this way, but I find the notion that women can avoid these fates by avoiding a specific kind of “wrong” guy to be problematic. I think that Hymowitz has a point that the current state of affairs has made too many guys wrong in this regard.

I’m also not saying that the decline in marriage is all or mostly the fault of men. It’s the product of a lot of things. It’s not entirely a negative phenomenon except to particular segments of the population (men and women that value marriage above more than their society does). But it’s definitely not the product of “alpha men” and the women that acknowledge no other.


Category: Coffeehouse

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15 Responses to Forestalling Marriage

  1. Peter says:

    One issue I’d like to Google if I had more time today is whether marriage rates actually have declined. If I’m not mistaken, while the average age at marriage has risen in the last couple of decades, the percentage of people who never marry at all hasn’t changed much. It would be interesting to see if the statistics confirm this belief.

  2. Linus says:

    I have a hard time reading complaints by single/unmarried people that pin blame on anyone other than themselves. Not that there aren’t plenty of good people that haven’t found “that special someone,” but I think they would help themselves more by looking inward than outward.

    I may have had an easier time dating than some, but I most certainly did NOT “have game.” Acknowledging my weaknesses, doing what I could to overcome them, and putting myself in situations where I could meet people are what led to me meeting and marrying my wife.

  3. abel says:

    The ideal used to require that he consents to taking the marriage path in order to have sex. Now a man can get even more. He can live as husband and wife without having to make that level of commitment. They can live together, share expenses, have one another to come home to, and have regular sexual access to one another without having to make the tough decision of permanency. This is one of the reasons that I consider premarital cohabitation to be a barrier rather than a prelude to marriage.

    You hit the nail on the head. Research shows that people who cohabitate are less likely to get married to each other than those who don’t.

    As the old saying goes: “Why buy the cow when you can have the milk for free.”

  4. Becky says:

    Living in Seattle has given me an interesting perspective on this, for there are a lot of single people here — both male and female — and they’re perfectly content with that. I think some of it also has do with teh fact that women are now earning more and are able to be independent, while in the past, they often had to rely upon the men to provide for them. I also think that fewer people (or at least my peers in Seattle) feel compelled to have kids so they don’t feel like there’s a rush.

  5. trumwill says:

    Peter,

    It’s hard to measure “women who never married” as a statistic since its a measure of, among other things, women who simply haven’t married yet. However, I did find this graph that tracks the number of women that get married each year (over the age of 15). The number has fallen from about 78 in 1000 in 1970 to 50 in 1000 in the late 90’s. That still doesn’t account for the delays, though, that create a larger pool of unmarried women from ages 21 to 25 (the increase in average age of marriage over the same period).

    It seems pretty likely that overall marriage rates are down. Most of that, however, is probably not attributable to white middle class (and above) people that the discussion fixates on.

  6. trumwill says:

    Linus,

    I think that it is noteworthy that finding a mate is a lot more difficult for some people than it is for other people even if they’re thrusting a lot of energy at it. I had a lot of sympathy for the single non-LDS guys I knew in Deseret, for instance, or black women in the city.

    I’ll grant a lot of leeway when the complaint is that there is an actual shortage of single members of the opposite sex, but it runs much more thin when it’s a shortage of people of the opposite sex that will date/marry them and it’s all their fault. It gets spotty when there is some elaborate theory that has to explain why it “looks” like there are available people but they’re really actually doomed.

    * – By “actual shortage” I mean a statistical shortage or unmarried individuals of the opposite sex. Examples of this would include man-heavy Alaska or man-light eastern cities. Beyond skewed numbers, I would also include here cases where one is in the demographic minority in a place where cross-dating is uncommon. In other words, the mythical “woman shortage” (and its inverse, which I have heard similar complaints about) does not apply.

  7. trumwill says:

    Abel,

    I’m unfamiliar with any studies that suggest that couples that co-habitate are less likely to marry. It’s honestly difficult to see how that would be since so many unserious relationships end prior to cohabitation. Maybe if they controlled for the duration of the relationship. I am familiar with studies that have said that people that cohabitate before they marry are more likely to divorce, though. I’ve been mulling over a post on that subject.

  8. Peter says:

    By “actual shortage” I mean a statistical shortage or unmarried individuals of the opposite sex. Examples of this would include man-heavy Alaska or man-light eastern cities. Beyond skewed numbers, I would also include here cases where one is in the demographic minority in a place where cross-dating is uncommon. In other words, the mythical “woman shortage” (and its inverse, which I have heard similar complaints about) does not apply.

    Being in a demographic minority doesn’t necessarily hurt your chances of marriage if the gender balance among your minority group is reasonably even. You’re just fishing in a smaller pond. Our trip to San Antonio a couple months ago made me think of this point. San Antonio is predominately Hispanic, but if you’re part of the white minority you’re probably not at a disadvantage compared to men in a mostly white area, assuming that the white minority is fairly evenly divided between men and women. You’ll have to deal with a smaller number of available women, as compared to a predominately white city of equivalent size, but there are fewer men competing for them and it probably all evens out.

  9. trumwill says:

    If San Antonio is like Estacado (and I suspect it is), Hispanics cross-dating is not as uncommon there as it is between whites and blacks. At least disregarding Puerto Ricans in the northeast and recent immigrants.

    But your general point is correct. Live in a big enough place and it doesn’t matter if you are in the minority. I can, however, give the deceptive appearance of having options that you don’t have.

    I should point out that “minority” doesn’t necessarily refer to race or ethnicity here. It can also relate to class or religion, to name two other examples.

  10. Kirk says:

    Somebody wrote:

    “Acknowledging my weaknesses, doing what I could to overcome them, and putting myself in situations where I could meet people are what led to me meeting and marrying my wife.”

    Hmmm… This sounds vague, and somewhat self-aggrandizing. Couldn’t it be that you just got lucky? After all, I’ve done everything conceivable to meet my significant other, and absolutely nothing has ever happened–and I’ve been trying for over twenty years now. When all is said and done, I might have just as well stayed home.

  11. Linus says:

    Will,

    I’m sure you’re right that it’s legitimately tougher for certain groups in certain areas. But if finding someone to marry is so important and you’re in a tough spot, why not move?

    Kirk,

    You’re right, my statement was absolutely vague and possibly a little self-aggrandizing. I realize that it’s awfully easy for me to make such statements, and I may have just gotten lucky in finding and wooing my wife. I was a frustrated single guy for a while, and my statement would have ticked off “that me” too. So I’m not trying to be accusatory.

    But whether I’m wiser now that it’s been about 5 years since I was last single or I’ve just forgotten how hard it was, the substance behind my statement is still how I feel.

  12. Barry says:

    Something I’ve wondered since I started reading your blog – it seems a good number of your posts (maybe even 25-30% of them) have to do with either Evangeline, Julie, or (of course) Clancy. Or another woman from your past. While that’s all well and good, and certainly interesting (if a bit bewildering) topics for a blog, I wonder if you find your mind also dwelling on them (25-30% of the time) when in wander mode. Or maybe not them specifically, but those times of your life and the effects they had on you. And more to the point, what does Clancy think about you somewhat existing in the past where those two women (at least) continue have a good deal of influence on you?

    Not that I ever had any particular experience with anyone before I met and eventually married my wife, but the few women I was involved with in college that I do bring up from time to time rarely get a warm reception from my wife for their being mentioned or remembered. Not that she’s jealous – they’re all long gone – but that part of you continues to live with them and never really left, since they’re so much still a part of your and your wife’s lives…

    Not really the point of your post, I know, but something I’ve always wondered. Since I certainly didn’t have anything like your history or those of your friends, that’s all I have to offer here 😉

  13. trumwill says:

    I think that the blog sends a pretty distorted picture of what I spend my time thinking about. I spend a lot of time thinking about politics but rarely post on political things. It’s not just politics where I censor my thoughts but a lot of things. Sometimes I have philosophical posts where I just can’t quite nail down a point enough to post about it or I can’t post about it without inviting an incendiary discussion. Or I decide that it’s something nobody cares the slightest bit about so it’s not worth my time.

    The thing about my posts on relationships is that they face the lightest censorship. The subjects don’t read this site. It’s not something that requires much in the way or research because I was there at the time. It’s also pretty easy to tie these posts in to some larger point or narrative. Basically, it’s the same sort of reason why, of all the subjects out there, something like 75% of the most popular pop songs at any given time deal with relationships or lack of relationships or expired relationships with the opposite sex.

    I spend more time thinking about the imaginary relationship histories of characters that I plan to write than I do about my own :).

    One other big reason is that once a week I write a Ghostland post that involves some specific experience in my past. About half of those string back to a relationship of some sort. In addition to the above, another major reason for that is that relationships took up an absurd amount of my youthful energy and focus. With the warped priorities of youth, it was as much as anything else what I cared about and what I was paying attention to. That makes it particularly easy to write about.

    The last big reason is that this is the blog that my parents don’t read. And that ex-girlfriends and people that know them (except through me) don’t read, for the most part, don’t read. And that future employers don’t read. Back when I was not so pseudononymous, I held back on a lot of things that I wanted to write about. Now I don’t have to!

    If I got the sense that Clancy was uncomfortable with it, I’d stop. If my marriage weren’t on such sturdy ground, I certainly wouldn’t be writing about other women. I don’t write about things that make her uncomfortable. I think that a lot of the lady-folk that I write about here are particularly unthreatening because she knew how I felt about them because we had a pretty full disclosure before I started writing this blog and I’ve not expressed much sense of regret when talking about them. Except, perhaps, for the wasted time and energy.

  14. trumwill says:

    After all, I’ve done everything conceivable to meet my significant other, and absolutely nothing has ever happened–and I’ve been trying for over twenty years now. When all is said and done, I might have just as well stayed home.

    You spent a pretty significant amount of this time in the military, didn’t you? I’d imagine that didn’t help.

    More broadly, I think it’s the case that experience begats experiences which creates more experience. As Ray Charles says, “Them that gets is them that got and how you get the first is still a mystery to me”.

    Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I’d never found BBSing. The first nine girls I asked out turned me down. It’s possible that would have been the ongoing pattern for the rest of my life had I known been thrown into a situation where I could get to know a lot of girls and at least get remotely caught up on all the socialization that I’d missed.

    When I was young I always feared that I would turn into the uncle I have that never married and never seemed to even seriously date.

    None of that is to say that you’re un-socialized. My uncle isn’t, either. But it seems likely that when it comes to the specific type of socialization involved in courtship, that boat unfortunately left the dock and once you’re behind it can be hard to catch up.

  15. ? says:

    To be blunt, I think that [?] is transposing his own perspective, that as a former young man in search for a wife whose efforts were blunted by women exhibiting particular behaviors, to most men. At the very least, it is far from clear to me that what most young [men] want is to find a nice young woman to get married to as was (presumably) the case with Phi when he was younger.

    ‘Tis true, my perception has been formed by experience participating in the “singles” groups of the churches I have attended — my “subculture”, in Spungen’s word.

    On reflection, I suppose it is true that of the young men I have known who identified as secular, most aspired to PUA status rather than early marriage.

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