Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Some thoughts on a new article about how people are more single than they've ever been

Every so often someone (but usually The Atlantic) features a massive article about the state of dating, relationships and marriage. A few years ago it was that now famous piece about settling (Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough). Today they've shifted the pendulum to the opposite side with a piece from Kate Bolick called All The Single Ladies.

This one is essentially about the fact that we've never been so single as Americans. More people are opting against marriage. More people are adopting children without a partner. And those who are choosing to be in a committed relationship are redefining what that looks like.

I never know what to think about these articles. I read them - all - and in OCD-style detail (there's a highlighter involved) combing the stats and stories for some kind of thesis statement I can get behind. Something like, "being single until your 30s leads to a significantly happier marriage." Or, "adopting a child alone will render you miserable; just settle for a 75% good-enough guy." Or even, all of this talk of independence is great now, but ask any 80-year-old woman and she'll tell you a life-long partner makes for the richest life."

I know these writers aren't looking to make grandiose statements. I know many of them don't have the answers themselves. This Single Ladies article is written by a woman who left a man she had thought she'd marry because something just didn't feel right. To this day they are the best of friends despite him marrying another woman. If anyone is qualified to question this whole issue, it's her.

So today instead of agreeing or disagreeing with Bolick's piece I thought it would be safer to highlight the most interesting parts (to me) and explain why I find them so interesting. This way it's like we're reading the article together while I discussing all my highlighted thoughts in detail! (no, it's not easy to date me).

Here we go:

"Bolick says, "Do I want children? My answer is: I don’t know. But somewhere along the way, I decided to not let my biology dictate my romantic life. If I find someone I really like being with, and if he and I decide we want a child together, and it’s too late for me to conceive naturally, I’ll consider whatever technological aid is currently available, or adopt (and if he’s not open to adoption, he’s not the kind of man I want to be with)."

At some point in our late 20s we all come to the realization that the biological clock is a known and the ability to meet the right person to have children with is an unknown. It's a terrifying realization (that is, if you want children and to marry a person you truly love) and one that deeply affects our frame of dating from, oh, 28 on. Someone should write a whole article about that.
"If, in all sectors of society, women are on the ascent, and if gender parity is actually within reach, this means that a marriage regime based on men’s overwhelming economic dominance may be passing into extinction."

If by "economic dominance" we mean "superior stability to women" then I couldn't agree more. I don't have one girlfriend who is twiddling her thumbs while she waits to marry for money. Now, if it came down to a struggling comedian who is a 10 versus a stable professor who is a 7, which would most women choose? I don't know. I think my friends would choose the comedian, but I do live in L.A.
"America as a whole currently enjoys a healthy population ratio of 50.8 percent females and 49.2 percent males. But our shrinking pool of traditionally “marriageable” men is dramatically changing our social landscape, and producing startling dynamics in the marriage market, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent."

But wait - if "traditionally marriageable" men (who are now disappearing) were economically dominant then doesn't that just open the door for women to be more dominant, and isn't that a good thing? We have the men, they're just a different breed leaving women more - for lack of a better word - in charge. Why is that bad? Because women actually want traditionally marriageable men despite it all?

"One might hope that in low-sex-ratio societies—where women outnumber men—women would have the social and sexual advantage. (After all, didn’t the mythical all-female nation of Amazons capture men and keep them as their sex slaves?) But that’s not what happens: instead, when confronted with a surplus of women, men become promiscuous and unwilling to commit to a monogamous relationship. (Which, I suppose, might explain the Amazons’ need to keep men in slave quarters.) In societies with too many women, the theory holds, fewer people marry, and those who do marry do so later in life. Because men take advantage of the variety of potential partners available to them, women’s traditional roles are not valued, and because these women can’t rely on their partners to stick around, more turn to extrafamilial ambitions like education and career."

Oh. That sucks.
"I kid! And yet, as a woman who spent her early 30s actively putting off marriage, I have had ample time to investigate, if you will, the prevailing attitudes of the high-status American urban male. (Granted, given my taste for brainy, creatively ambitious men—or “scrawny nerds,” as a high-school friend describes them—my sample is skewed.) My spotty anecdotal findings have revealed that, yes, in many cases, the more successful a man is (or thinks he is), the less interested he is in commitment."

Ugh, that definitely rings true in my book too. But wait, there is some hope -
"Indeed, another of my anecdotal-research discoveries is of what an ex calls “marriage o’clock”—when a man hits 35 and suddenly, desperately, wants a wife. I’ll never forget the post-first-date e-mail message reading: “I wanted to marry you last night, just listening to you.” Nor the 40-ish journalist who, on our second date, driving down a long country road, gripped the steering wheel and asked, “Are you The One? Are you The One?” (Can you imagine a woman getting away with this kind of behavior?)"

It does feel like there's a shelf-life on a male's desire to be a bachelor, and that its expiration date is somewhere around 32.

The article goes on and one for three more pages, but I'll leave it at this final observation and encourage you to read on your own and comment.

"When I embarked on my own sojourn as a single woman in New York City—talk about a timeworn cliché!—it wasn’t dating I was after. I was seeking something more vague and, in my mind, more noble, having to do with finding my own way, and independence. And I found all that. Early on, I sometimes ached, watching so many friends pair off—and without a doubt there has been loneliness. At times I’ve envied my married friends for being able to rely on a spouse to help make difficult decisions, or even just to carry the bills for a couple of months. And yet I’m perhaps inordinately proud that I’ve never depended on anyone to pay my way (today that strikes me as a quaint achievement, but there you have it). Once, when my father consoled me, with the best of intentions, for being so unlucky in love, I bristled. I’d gotten to know so many interesting men, and experienced so much. Wasn’t that a form of luck?
All of which is to say that the single woman is very rarely seen for who she is—whatever that might be—by others, or even by the single woman herself, so thoroughly do most of us internalize the stigmas that surround our status."


  1. There ARE an unbelievable number of competing messages (and yes, like you said, most of them seem to end up in the Atlantic). This is partly the fault of psychology research (of which I am a huge, nerdy fan). Research can be designed to support nearly any hypothesis, particularly in the subjective gray areas of love, happiness, and success. So naturally we have academics telling us that self-actualization aka career success = happiness, and we have other academics telling us that long-term compatibility with one mate = happiness, and then we have grandma telling us something else entirely. And then while history does repeat itself, we are also entering an entirely new age of communication and massive amounts of information, which is changing the way we perceive our relationships - with anyone! There's really no precedent for this.

    I think societally we're going to run into a problem though, where women who DO want a traditional family aren't going to feel that biological clock when they "should". Most of my friends think the ideal age to start a family is in their late 30's ('s New York). When science progresses to the point of us living into our mid-hundreds, and we can safely have babies in our 60's, that will be fine. But we're not there yet physically, just emotionally.

  2. Ha ha aha ha very funny pictures! Have to fun.

    Sample Leases