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?
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.
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 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.)