Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Praise of the Single Man


It's become fashionable lately to bash single guys as slacking, media-obsessed slobs who live in a haze of extended adolescence. These young men feel that the rise of the educated career woman who snuggles up with a good IVF treatment to get her maternal fix (because all the single guys out there are slacking, media-obsessed slobs unworthy of fatherhood) takes them off the hook for any kind of accelerated maturing process, and so they revel in their lack of commitment while drinking beer and developing bromances with their best buds.

Anyway, that seems to be the thesis of Kay Hymowitz's article in today's WSJ, entitled Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

What explains this puerile shallowness? I see it as an expression of our cultural uncertainty about the social role of men. It's been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers. Today, however, with women moving ahead in our advanced economy, husbands and fathers are now optional, and the qualities of character men once needed to play their roles—fortitude, stoicism, courage, fidelity—are obsolete, even a little embarrassing.

Today's pre-adult male is like an actor in a drama in which he only knows what he shouldn't say. He has to compete in a fierce job market, but he can't act too bossy or self-confident. He should be sensitive but not paternalistic, smart but not cocky. To deepen his predicament, because he is single, his advisers and confidants are generally undomesticated guys just like him.

Single men have never been civilization's most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with "Star Wars" posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn't be surprised.

Relatively affluent, free of family responsibilities, and entertained by an array of media devoted to his every pleasure, the single young man can live in pig heaven—and often does. Women put up with him for a while, but then in fear and disgust either give up on any idea of a husband and kids or just go to a sperm bank and get the DNA without the troublesome man. But these rational choices on the part of women only serve to legitimize men's attachment to the sand box. Why should they grow up? No one needs them anyway. There's nothing they have to do.

I find this kind of blanket condemnation irritating. I will never deny that I live in a Catholic sub-culture, but I get out of the house every now and then, and I want to state for the record: I do not know these guys.

I know a quantity of single guys from various backgrounds. Some I knew in college, some are old friends, some I know through online connections, and some are my very own brothers. These guys aren't jerks or slackers -- they're some of the hardest-working people I know. (They party hard, too, but who exactly is going to begrudge that of someone who can get away with it? I myself would party more if I had the opportunity.) All of them are highly educated and gainfully employed. They're looking for the right girl, but they don't participate in any kind of hook-up culture. These men are intelligent and fairly pleasant to look at and generally free of complexes or issues.

Don't give me any of this "Why are they still single, then?" guff. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a high-school sweetheart or meet the right girl in college. Marriage isn't just an abstract concept -- it involves a particular other person. Education, employment, personality, and smarts make it more plausible that the right person will be attracted to the possessor of these virtues, but they can't conjure up a mate when no existing candidate is simpatico. These guys are single as Darwin or I might still be single if we hadn't happened to meet.

Incidentally, my single male friends are practicing Catholics, which likely puts them head and shoulders above the crowd in terms of responsibility, morality, and respect for women.

I'm sure that these slacker dudes exist -- Darwin notes that he knew some guys at his previous company, a big tech concern, who met some of Ms. Hymowitz's standards for pre-adulthood males. But I don't see it, and I'm tired of most unmarried males being lumped into this uber-jerk category. Just as I'm tired of the "women today are so educated and discriminating that they don't need guys" trope -- these easy stereotypes seem to be literary contrivances that don't address the cheapening of sexual standards which make it so hard for men and women to pursue and find true value in members of the opposite gender.

(And let's bust another myth: the lazy gamer single guy. The hard-core gamers I know are mostly married men whose wives are very tolerant. The single guys know that girls aren't impressed by a man who's glued to a game console, and act accordingly. Some of them are even that rara avis, a guy who doesn't game at all. Ladies, take note.)

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a high-school sweetheart or meet the right girl in college. Marriage isn't just an abstract concept -- it involves a particular other person. Education, employment, personality, and smarts make it more plausible that the right person will be attracted to the possessor of these virtues, but they can't conjure up a mate when no existing candidate is simpatico."

Hear, hear!

Big Tex said...

Just as your husband has noted, I too know some of these guys who refuse to grow up. Yet, I also know some who have and haven't met a woman to whom they could be wed.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Two former hard-core gamers in this household, and it was killed off by arrival of a female... our first daughter. ^.^

By the standards of the surveys I've seen, we still count as "hard core gamers"-- we spend an hour or two most days in-game.

Of course, we don't watch TV, rarely watch Netflix, don't go out for dinner more than once every few months, and a lot of what we do in game is just socializing... we were up for hours last night talking in a voice chat system with two married gamer guys and a single gamer guy who's basically given up on women. One of the other gamer-couples has a gamer wife, the other doesn't.

nathansward said...

Thank you for this post! Catholic sub-cultures (in which I definitely run) often harbor a what's-wrong-with-him mentality for unmarried men in their thirties and late twenties. They chalk it up to over-commitment to a career, over-enjoyment of puerile pastimes, or fear of commitment. In any event, there is a suspicion of irresponsibility.

However, these men, while searching for the right woman, are able to enrich the community in unique ways. They have more time to commit to the edification of their friends, teach CCD, etc. What's more important is that this state does not prevent them from growing in holiness and seeking perfection in their state. The freedom they enjoy allows them time for study and prayer, deepening their relationship with Christ. (Admittedly, this path is easier than waking up with crying children multiple times a night!) If they are called to marriage, this time will help form and prepare them.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

(Oh, forgot to point out-- my dad was thought too old to marry before he even MET my mom, who was in the same situation...true, it was some 30 years ago, but it's funny. ^.^)

mrsdarwin said...

Foxfier, your parents' story is lovely.

I don't think gaming itself is the sign of arrested development; it just doesn't happen to be something that interests me, so I wouldn't consider it a positive attribute in my own spouse. But more power to you if you enjoy it together!

Clare said...

mrsdarwin, are any of these wonderful single Catholic men you know in the college/young adult bracket? :)

I go to a prestigious and very secular college, and while it's been a great place to make friends, for some reason that particular combination seems to breed neurotic and misogynistic gender dynamics. I didn't realize how frustrated I would be with the lack of any kind of real dating/romance scene.

Kevin J Jones said...

The original WSJ article strung together a few inconsistent stereotypes.

Young single men are not "relatively affluent," but actually earn less than young single women, especially in places like New York City.

Also any man with Star Wars posters will not be dating enough women to have the luxury of treating them as disposable goods.

There's an interesting flip side to the WSJ in the essay The Misandry Bubble. Feminist social engineering, easy divorce, and contraception have left many young men with poorer jobs, no clear role in life, and no prospects for stable marriage to a virtuous woman without the baggage of previous sexual relationships.

In this scenario, playing video games instead of dating makes a lot of sense. And it's possible that unmarried, upstanding young bachelors now outnumber unmarried women who didn't trash themselves in high school or college.

Mrs. Zummo said...

Most of the men I know, Catholic or otherwise, eventually want to settle down and start a family. Some may take longer than others, but I think most men do the mental cost benefit analysis and figure that marriage and family comes out ahead. Unless you're George Clooney or Tiger Woods you're going to get more "action" being married and faithful. The food is better. The house is cleaner. It's a pretty good deal. You have to be really into World of Warcraft to think that cutting down on your gaming time is an unacceptable trade for more food and sex. This is without taking into account love and companionship, which I think most men want too even if they come to value it a little later than women.

mrsdarwin said...

Mrs. Zummo -- my thoughts exactly.

Clare -- maybe I should start "MrsDarwin's Singles". :) Likely, though, I'd be about as successful in my matchmaking as Emma.

Kevin -- Your comment came through, but I don't see it now. Do you want to re-post it?

Kevin J. Jones said...

Hmm... If I had saved it, I'd repost it.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

Thank goodness for gmail's trash-search.

Below is the full message:


Kevin J Jones to me
show details Feb 20 (1 day ago)
Kevin J Jones has left a new comment on the post "In Praise of the Single Man":

The original WSJ article strung together a few inconsistent stereotypes.

Young single men are not "relatively affluent," but actually earn less than young single women, especially in places like New York City.

Also any man with Star Wars posters will not be dating enough women to have the luxury of treating them as disposable goods.

There's an interesting flip side to the WSJ in the essay The Misandry Bubble. Feminist social engineering, easy divorce, and contraception have left many young men with poorer jobs, no clear role in life, and no prospects for stable marriage to a virtuous woman without the baggage of previous sexual relationships.

In this scenario, playing video games instead of dating makes a lot of sense. And it's possible that unmarried, upstanding young bachelors now outnumber unmarried women who didn't trash themselves in high school or college.

Post a comment.

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Posted by Kevin J Jones to DarwinCatholic at 2/20/2011 4:14 PM

Julia said...

Hi Mrs. Darwin,
I am single in Chicago. Can you send some of those men you know my way?

mrsdarwin said...

Single men I know: represent!

Kevin, I read the article you linked to, and I sat up the other night chewing on it. It's really the most pitiable thing I've seen in a long time: these young men who are (rightly) bitter at what divorce hath wrought -- and possibly because they are children of divorce themselves. And yet they want to have it that women are both so conniving and nefarious that they have bent the laws in their favor and nobody can say them nay, and yet are so gullible and senseless that any "beta" can "game" them with the "Venusian Arts".

I recognize the cri de coeur, but frankly, for all their clever machinations, these guys are the first in line to get divorced because who'd want to live with 'em?

Walker Percy's novel Lancelot has a protagonist who feels (after being cuckolded) the same way as these gents, but expresses himself much more literately. He wants to divide women up into Virgins and Whores, so that it's obvious which females are marriage material and which females are for screwing. Real life just doesn't work that way. I don't doubt that there are lots of unhappy women out there ready to sleep with anything that compliments them, but the Futurist guys ain't the upstanding bachelors we're speaking of here.

All this makes it very clear to me that I need to be praying overtime for my children's future spouses.

Maiki said...

Most single men I know (tech-oriented guys) are workaholics...

Lucas said...

As a single guy in his late twenties, I find it difficult to find a motivated woman who is not focused primarily on advancing her own career. While I don't have a problem with women in the workforce, marriage vs career has become a one-or-the-other proposition for a lot of single women.

That's not to say that I don't enjoy the perks of being single while I still am(and believe me, I enjoy the heck out of them), but I would gladly give up the extra-curricular activities for the right woman - she just hasn't come around yet.

My personal position might be because I'm also immersed in a Catholic sub-culture, but there's plenty of other men I know who could speak to the same.

Suburbanbanshee said...

That's the whole exciting conflict of Pioneer Woman's romance-style retelling of how she met and married her husband. Besides Woman vs. Insecurity and Woman vs. Headgames with Self and Woman vs. Ex-Boyfriend She Doesn't Want to Tell Sad Things Straight Out, you get a huge helping of Woman vs. Vague Feeling That She Should Get Job in Big City. She doesn't really have a plan or an ambition or any overriding reason to earn money besides to spend it, but she almost gives up her guy she's in love with because she has this Vague Feeling.

To be fair, the lady had had an overriding ambition to be a great dancer and was still floundering after giving that up, which doesn't come into the story. But it's a fairly accurate, albeit very self-deprecatory, look at the crazy things that sometimes go through single women's heads and drive their behavior. There's a lot I gave up out of a vague feeling that I was a female bum if I had no paycheck.

Foxfier, formerly Sailorette said...

There's a lot I gave up out of a vague feeling that I was a female bum if I had no paycheck.

Amen.

mrsdarwin said...

There's a lot I gave up out of a vague feeling that I was a female bum if I had no paycheck.

Suburbanbanshee, I've been happily married and busy at home raising kids for the last ten years, and I still have this feeling. I don't know exactly what it would change if there were a monetary figure attached to my efforts, and yet I wish there were some kind of outside objective recognition of the fact that my work has worth as well.

Kevin J. Jones said...

Mrs. Darwin writes: "Walker Percy's novel Lancelot has a protagonist who feels (after being cuckolded) the same way as these gents, but expresses himself much more literately."

So true! I hadn't made the connection between the two.

The "anti-misandrists" have a lot of problems, and I certainly don't endorse any of their activities, and few of their ideas.

A destructive feminist ideology is nigh-mandatory at most levels of society, but the anti-misandrists don't think they have any options other than hedonistic despair.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this blog post. As a single guy in my late 20s, working hard toward my professional degree, committed to the Church, and active as a leader in my community, it means a lot to me to read that I'm not single because there's something wrong with me, but just because I haven't met the right woman yet.