[Before I get into this, an editorial note: Last time I unleashed a broadside at the manosphere in general and Dalrock in particular, I was spoiling for a fight after watching Dalrock's readers flood into the comboxes of Patheos in response to a post by Elizabeth Duffy and behave pretty badly while doing so. (This ranged from garden variety rudeness to calling the author a c***.) So when I stepped in with a response post, I was in the mood for a fight. When one of Dalrock's readers started propounding the idea that regardless of repentance any woman who had sex before marriage was "a slut" and could never get married, I grew tired of dealing with the situation, banned him, and closed the thread. Since I'm responding to Dalrock again, I'm permanently lifting the ban on that commenter, and will leave the thread open to any manosphere types interested in engaging in conversation. That said, I want to make it clear that the standards around here are different from those in the manosphere, and so just in case anyone is unclear, being generally derogatory towards women (or men) is unacceptable behavior around here. So, in general, is the use of terms like "slut", "ho", "c***", etc.]
Now, to respond to Dalrock's post, the first very odd thing is a conviction Dalrock seems to have about how what he terms "trad cons" view marriage and sexuality. He's his summary:
Most Traditional Conservatives are obsessed with creating and enforcing rules of the road for fornication. There is an unspoken assumption that young women engaging in uncommitted sex have a right to swing from man to man on an ultimate path to marriage. Once the woman tires of the carousel, Christian and secular Traditional Conservatives ride in on a white horse and start demanding that whichever man the woman is having uncommitted sex with now must do the honorable thing and marry her. However, Trad Cons go a step further and also create elaborate rules of the road for fornication in their desperate attempt to make the carousel as pleasurable and rewarding an experience for women as possible.Now, I'm pretty used to the fact that the circles I move in are a very tiny portion of the US population. The Catholic sub-culture in which we live is radically different even from the more mainstream Catholic culture that tends to show up in surveys (you know, the one in which only 25% of people go to mass and the majority don't follow the Church's teachings on contraception). However, with that proviso: I certainly have never heard traditionalist conservatives (a group in which I number myself) say that sex outside of marriage is fine so long as you follow certain social norms. The message that we keep putting forward is that sex belongs only in marriage. If you are not married do not have sex. It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, if you think of yourself as an "alpha" or a "beta", if you think you are deeply in love and committed or if you are just out for a good time, sex does not belong outside of marriage and violating this moral law is not only a sin but (and for those with an understanding of moral law this is an obvious corollary) it will also end up causing short and long term problems for your current and future (if any) relationships. While I'm stating the unpopular, let trot out the point that really gets scorn heaped upon us traditionalist conservatives: Not only should you not have sex outside of marriage, but sex itself is inextricably linked with procreation. So even after you're married, if you don't want to get pregnant at the moment, there are going to be periods of time when you need to abstain from sex even though you're married. In accordance with the Church's teachings and natural law, we traditionalist conservatives use Natural Family Planning and reject artificial birth control and the contraceptive mentality that goes with it. What's the difference between these two? Put briefly, NFP involves not having sex during the fertile part of the wife's cycle, while artificial birth control involves taking fertility out of the woman's cycle so you can have sex whenever you want.
Yet Trad Con moral angst is directed almost exclusively at the men in the fornication market who they feel aren’t playing by the rules. It isn’t that these men are fornicating, it is that they aren’t doing it the way Trad Cons want them to do it. As I wrote above, this comes from a generally unspoken assumption that fornication is the logical path for women to follow to marriage. Therefore their partners in fornication need to live up to a set of high fornication standards. With seemingly no discussion this idea has somehow become sacred, something which must not be challenged.
If all this sounds a bit dour, it's worth pointing out that married couples using NFP report higher sexual satisfaction, better communication, and a 5% divorce rate -- staggeringly better than the population in general. As the Skeptics point out, some of these studies on the benefits of NFP are not as rigorous as one might like. This is one of problems when you have small and poorly funded groups. On the other hand, the studies line up pretty well with my personal experiences. Of all the couples our age (mid 30s) we've known living our kind of life in the Catholic sub culture, only one that I knew personally has gotten divorced. That would be highly unusual in most other parts of society.
Having made the claim that we traditional conservatives are all for fornication so long as it's on terms that the manosphere doesn't like, Dalrock then tries to diagnose the real problem:
Why do the Darwin Catholics and Pastor Driscolls of the world look at women engaging in the hookup culture and see marriage material? At the same time, why do men like FFY see these same women as good for a good time and nothing more? I think the answer to both questions can be found in the shift from a dating/courtship/marriage Sexual Marketplace (SMP) to our current hookup/serial monogamy SMP, and this is closely related to the changing age of marriage...He then does a little bit of pop sociology in which he points do the increasing age of average marriage over the decades from 1950 to the present and engages in some imaginative reconstructions of how these average marriage ages indicates changing attitudes in women towards men and the "sexual market place". Here's a sample:
Fast forward a decade to the 1960s. As you can see, the trend has continued but the fundamental SMP hasn’t changed; the median age of marriage has increased by only a few months. If you are an 18 year old young woman, you still find that your peers just a few years older than you are very likely to already be married. The pressure is on to find a husband. Screwing cads for sport might be enticing, but there is no time to waste, and developing a reputation would harm your near term goal of finding the best husband you can attract.Dalrock keeps this up until he reaches the present, with an average age at first marriage of 26.5 for women, and from this concludes:
Since the women are still looking for dads and not cads, as a young man the signal is still strong; work hard and prepare to act as a provider. Young women will spot the young men with the best potential and want to be with them.
Skip ahead to the generation that survived Y2k. Women are marrying roughly an additional year later than they did a decade ago, and 7.5 years later than they did in the 1950s. An 18 year old woman’s peers aren’t looking for a husband, and neither are the women 2 and 4 years older than her. The women who are looking for husbands are in a very different life stage than she is, so this removes her sense of urgency. The only thing holding her back from fully embracing the now raging hookup culture would be a strong moral belief that sex shouldn’t occur before marriage. For the rest, why not go after the hottest men they can find? There will be time to paper it over with stories about college boyfriends later. Besides, everyone is doing it.So, the clear conclusion is that telling people not to have sex until they're married doesn't work (and according to Dalrock, we Trad Cons aren't doing this anyway) and the solution to this is to get back to where the average marriage age for women is 20 so that women will want "dads not cads".
As you can see, the trend of women having “relationships” with men for an extended period of time has continued in the most recent years data is available for. Unfortunately, Trad Cons are so obsessed with the rules for the road of fornication they can’t focus on bringing us back to a truly moral situation.
There are a couple basic problems with this analysis which Dalrock may or may not be aware of. One obvious weak point is that there's a limit to how low the average age of marriage can practically go. (Well, unless you wear white robes and carry an AK-47.) 20 is pretty low, especially for those of us who expect to go to college. There are those who advocate getting married in college, but since a man isn't able to support a family while in college, and a woman finds it difficult to finish a degree while having children, I advise against it. MrsDarwin and I chose to date chastely for nearly four years after meeting a couple weeks into our Freshman year and got married seven weeks after getting our degrees. I continue to think that was the right choice even for people who met at 18. It's also why I personally have a low level of sympathy for the argument that it's impossible to remain a virgin a long time for marriage. I personally waited four years, despite knowing very quickly that MrsDarwin was the person I was going to marry. And I know good Catholic guys (and also good Catholic women) who are in their late 20s or early 30s, still looking hard for the right spouse, and still saving themselves for marriage. We are not ruled by averages -- we rule ourselves through moral choices. Moreover, a big part of the problem is that in the sexually permissive society that has sprung up in the wake of the "sexual revolution" the average age of first pre-marital sex has steadily gone down. In the 50s it was 20.4 but now it's 17.6. We can hardly tell people that they should all be married by 17. Rather, the correct message is that they shouldn't be having sex before marriage at all, whenever that age is.
Secondly, by starting in the 50s, Dalrock misses a fact I imagine he's not aware of: the 50s marked a low point in the average marriage age in the US. This table shows median age at first marriage (rather than average), so the numbers are very slightly different from what Dalrock's quoting, but the trend is very clear: the median age at first marriage fell steadily from 22 for women in 1890 to 20.3 for women in 1950. It didn't rise to the 1890 rate again until 1980. Was 1890 a racy period of constant pre-marital sex in which alphas ruled and betas suffered? No. Indeed, from what data we have pre-marital sex was significantly less common in the 1890s than the 1950s (in part, no doubt, because contraception was less available and abortion more dangerous, not to mention that morals had not degraded as far in this area as they had by the '50s) and divorce was far less common then than in the 1950s. Nor was 1890 a fluke.
Here are three papers that deal with the "European Marriage Model", the way in which Western Europeans tended to regulate fertility by marrying later, and by more people never marrying at all.
This one gives average age at first marriage in 1600-1649, 1650-1699, 1700-1749, 1750-1799, and 1800-1849, the results for women are: 26, 26.5, 26.2, 24.9, and 23.4 respectively.
Here's one that gives the average age of first marriage for women in 1790 for several Western European countries (see Table 2 on page 9):
And finally, check out Table 5 here and the percentage of women aged 25-29 who had never married in these countries in 1890-1900:
Great Britain: 42%
Again, these were not, in 1900, hotbeds of sexual immorality. People could not afford to get married, or they couldn't find someone to marry, and so they just didn't marry and (in the main) did not have sex.
The US in the 1950s was not some sort of world norm for what age people marry at when they're not being sexually promiscuous prior to marriage, it was the product of a particular time in which affluence was reaching unheard-of heights, birth control was becoming available, and sex before marriage (while increasingly common over the last 50 years) was still socially disapproved of. However, once again, we don't marry averages, we marry people. There is not a perfect age to marry that will guarantee you a faithful spouse. Rather, there is a right person to marry, who shares your beliefs about marriage, who is willing to join you in a happy marriage.
Third and lastly, Dalrock's amateur sociology by decade leaves out an obvious problem: People who divorce in one decade probably got married anywhere from 5-20 years before. Take a look at this chart of US divorce rates since 1860 (with some historically significant events marked as well) and note that far from guaranteeing marital stability divorce rates were already relatively high in the 50s compared to the past (in which people married older) and when they shot up in the 60's and '70s, it was often as not people who had married 10+ years before who were getting divorced.
In other words, marrying a 20-year-old woman is no guarantee you won't get divorced. Lots of those women who married young in the 50s and 60s proceeded to get divorced in the 70s and 80s.
Does this mean you shouldn't marry young? Obviously, we don't think so, since we married at 22 (well under the average marriage age in 2001.) But it is true that all data these days suggest that those who marry young are more likely to divorce than those who married older. That didn't worry me, because I wasn't marrying "woman aged 22" and I wasn't marrying 100 women and hoping to get the maximum percentages of those marriages to last; I was marrying one woman who shared my beliefs about the nature of marriage (as taught by the Catholic Church) and who had been in a faithful and chaste relationship with me for the last three and a half years.
Alright, so I've spent a lot of time shooting down Dalrock's explanations. Clearly the open question is: If you're a guy who wants to have a happy and lasting marriage in this day and age (when that's certainly not the norm), what should you do?
Have a Reason
I recall a while back listening to one of the EconTalk podcasts where host Russ Roberts (who is a practicing Jew) was observing that while many people talk about how they want to forgo aspects of modern technology and follow a simpler life, one of the few groups of people that do this with any regularity is the Amish, who do it for religious reasons. He speculated (analogizing Jewish religious practices, particularly Orthodox ones) that when you have a lifestyle which has some attractions but is very, very hard to stick to, in general it's only going to be people who have a religious-strength reason for following that lifestyle who are going to follow through.
In this day and age, not having sex till marriage (which these manosphere types seem expect of women, though I'm less clear whether they expect if of themselves) and remaining married until death after marrying is very, very countercultural. Why would you go through the work? For us, it's because we believe that acting otherwise would be a mortal sin -- a sin for which, unless truly repented of, one goes to hell.
If you believe that too, you're a good part of the way there. Now just find a woman who shares that belief just as deeply as you do. It is, to my mind, far more important that a potential wife truly shares your deepest beliefs about what marriage is than how old she is or what her sexual history is prior to reaching those beliefs -- if you are dealing with a woman who routinely violates her own stated beliefs, as opposed to having had a history prior to reaching those beliefs, you may well have a problem on your hands and should do some very, very serious thinking.
If, on the other hand, you don't hold these kind of beliefs, if you just think it would be more pleasant not to get divorced and to have a wife without prior history, but you don't think it is wrong for you yourself to have sex before marriage, don't think it's wrong for you to divorce, etc: In that case, you need to start looking at your expectations and ask yourself why you expect something out of your potential wife that you don't adhere to yourself.
Move Among People Who Share The Beliefs You Want To Live By
You would think this would be a no-brainer, but people violate this principle with surprising frequency and don't understand why it causes them problems. I recall one of my parent's single friends complaining to my mom (many years ago) that the girls he went out with never seemed to want to get married. "You only go to meet women in bars," Mom pointed out. "How about you start going to church again and meet a girl there?"
Now, I know some very nice girls who go to bars at times -- and not just for Theology On Tap, but also just to have a drink once and a while -- but it's true that if you move primarily among people who aren't interested in marriage, or who have a view of marriage as something you might do after cohabiting for a number of years, unless you too want to follow that path, you need to find a new social set. If you never spend time with people who share your beliefs about marriage, no amount of ranting on the internet about your lack of prospects is going to hook you up with someone who does.
Be The Sort of Man That The Sort Of Woman You Want Would Want To Marry
(And that her father, brothers and brothers-in-law won't veto either.)
This is not just a matter of: "I have a good job, male genitals and am not bad looking." If you want to marry a woman who has saved herself for marriage, and you've spent some time realizing that these sorts of women are not exactly thick on the ground in the United States in 2012, it's worth asking yourself: Are you the sort of man that woman is going to want to marry? You've essentially admitted that such women are rare, and rare commodities are precious. Are you worth it to her?
Have you yourself remained a virgin? Have you avoided porn and masturbation? If you haven't done these, or worse yet have no intention of refraining from fornication, porn, masturbation, etc. from here on out, it's time for a reality check. You may not want to compete with theoretical future wife's past lovers, but why should she want to have to compete with your past lovers, your online porn habit or your wanking?
Have you shown that you're a steady guy who's ready to provide for a wife and family? Are you able to be someone that a woman actually wants to be around? (Hint for manosphere types, from a guy who's been happily married for a good while and has a lot of close female friends: Most women do not find locker room behavior attractive, nor do they find guys who go around saying things like "The smartest woman is dumber than the dumbest man," a turn on. Don't delude yourself that because you don't say it to her face, she won't pick up on your attitude.)
Do you share the religious convictions that your future wife has? And, see above, are there many women with your religious convictions, or lack thereof, who are wanting to live as you want her to have lived and have a marriage such as you want to have?
If you're coming down on the wrong side of a lot of these questions, it's time for you to do some serious thinking about your desires versus your actions.
Realize That Good Things Are Worth Waiting For
Too many people, whether it's apparently secular manosphere types like Dalrock's readers or strongly traditionalist Christians talking about how everyone should be doing "Christian Courtship" rather than dating seem to think that finding a spouse is something that can be done rapidly with sufficient force of will, and that anyone who isn't succeeding quickly must be being too picky or not really trying. Maybe I'm an odd one to disagree with this, since I met my wife when I was 18, but I've always considered that to be quite the piece of luck. Among my friends and relatives, I know a number of people who also married right out of college. But I also know people who, though honestly searching and wanting very much to get married, took a long time to find a spouse, or haven't found one yet. This summer I'll be crisscrossing the country to attend the weddings of three good friends, all good Catholic guys in their early 30s who've been honestly searching hard for the right woman to marry, but didn't succeed until quite recently.
And obviously, each of those weddings has a similar story behind it for the woman: good Catholic girls who've been wanting to get married for years but didn't come across the right guy until recently. And there are other nice Catholic girls who are still searching.
If you have a highly counter-cultural idea of what marriage is, your pool of potential mates is far, far smaller than the average. Especially if you're spending a lot of your time moving around mainstream circles, most of the people you're meeting simply aren't marriage material for you. But even if, like MrsDarwin and I, you spend most of your social time in a sub-culture of like-minded people, who share your beliefs and desire in regards to marriage, finding someone you want to spend the rest of your life with and raise a family with (and who shares the feeling) is often going to take a lot of searching.
If, on the other hand, you're convinced that there are lots of women you could happily marry, but they keep turning you down, your problem might be that instead of a specific woman you're just seeing "a piece of marriage material". Time to slow down and actually get to know a girl. They like that. Trust me on this.
What About Those Who Haven't Been Living The Life Up Till Now?
Given what our culture is, there are obviously a lot of people (men and women) who have not always lived chastely who now find themselves wanting to marry happily and permanently. From what I can make out from the remarks made by Dalrock and his commenters, their solution to this problem seems to be, "If you're a man, dump the woman you're currently sleeping with and demand a virgin to marry, then everything will be fine. If you're a woman, forget about it; you're damaged goods and aren't worth marrying." Aside from the apparent misogynist double standard involved in this thinking, there's an obvious numerical problem. The number percentage of men and women engaging in premarital sex is pretty equal, and if all the men think they're somehow God's gift to virgin womanhood, there's going to be some competition going on that's not going to work out numerically to everyone's satisfaction.
Dalrock accuses me of being in the "man up and marry those sluts column". I suppose it's one of the contradictions of true Christianity that it scandalizes both those who hate the fact that we believe that the moral law exists in the first place (this would be the people who are always telling us we need to get out of their bedrooms and stop judging) and also scandalizes those who've endorsed a sort of post-Christian (or for the Christians, perhaps neo-Puritan) shame-society -- these folks are shocked that we actually believe in forgiveness.
However, it's important to be clear that when Catholics talk about forgiveness and conversion, we're not talking about the kind of tearful altar call feelings that many Protestants are thinking of. Remember, we Catholics don't accept Martin Luther's "snow on a dung heap" image of how forgiveness works. If you want to really see what kind of hard-asses we are when it comes to expiation of sins, pick up a copy of Dante's Purgatorio and read it through carefully.
It's not enough to just be sorry for past sins. Virtue is a habit towards the good. If your virtue muscles are underdeveloped because you haven't been living according to the Church's moral principles, the only way to get back into shape morally is through rigorous practice. Like any kind of strenuous training for those who aren't fit, it takes a lot of time, effort and pain. And it's not something you can just quit once you've gotten in shape if you want to stay that way.
If a couple has been sleeping together for a while, and they're now wanting to get married according to the Church's understanding of marriage, what I would advise (and to my knowledge what any priest is supposed to insist on unless there are very unusual circumstances) is that they completely cease having sex immediately, go to confession, and then successfully continue their relationship in complete chastity for a good solid while before scheduling a wedding. (The usual big exception to this advice is if they're pregnant, in which case they may well want to get married much more quickly, but again, any good priest is going to be very, very cautious about that kind of situation.)
If you're trying to decide whether to marry a woman who has engaged in sexual sin in the past, but who now says she shares your beliefs about sex, then the obvious question is: How long has she been living according to her new beliefs, and how successfully has she done so? Sexual immorality (like any other kind of immorality) is habit-forming, and breaking habits takes time and hard work. If you've had an alcoholic in the family or among your friends, you know that how much confidence you have in that person not relapsing is entirely a function of their level of commitment to staying out of temptation, and how long they've successfully been on the the wagon.
And of course, if you have a history of sexual sin, expect any woman considering marrying you to be asking exactly the same questions about you.
This post is so long already that I'm hesitant to pour more words into writing a conclusion. But then, no one ever said that living a counter-cultural life style would be easy or involve low word counts.