Are Men Settling?

by Karin on February 23, 2012 · 3 comments

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We often examine marriage rates, patterns and trends with a focus on the implications for women. For example, earlier this month, I wrote about an op-ed in the New York Times, The M.R.S. and the Ph.D. Usually, one of the main questions in articles about young women and marriage is, “are women settling?”

According to a new survey, we should be asking the same question about men. Jessica Bennett at the Daily Beast summarizes the survey:

Rather than living up to the stereotype of commitment-phobic bachelors, modern men reported that they fell in love just as often as women, were just as likely to believe that marriage is “forever,” and scarcely bit when asked whether they’d prefer to “just date a lot of people.” But most shocking was how many of the single men wanted to settle down—and how willing they were to lower their standards to make that happen. A whopping 31 percent of adult men said they’d commit to a person they were not in love with—as long as as she had all the other attributes they were looking for in a mate—and 21 percent said they’d commit under those same circumstances to somebody they weren’t sexually attracted to. The equivalent numbers for women were far lower.

“Give me a friend I get along with, have good sex with, and is willing to compromise, and I’ll build the love over time,” one man, a Colorado computer instructor, told me. It was as if he was echoeing the advice given to many-a-young-bride by the village matchmaker.

Bennett argues that men are a victim of the success of women when it comes to marriage:

Until, perhaps, now. Modern marriage economics have catapulted women into the role of breadwinners in many households, and as more women have entered the workforce, financial freedom has meant independence in other spheres, as well. Women now have the ability to choose a mate for reasons other than his pocketbook; many are in fact choosing to reject having a mate at all. Where this leaves men? Well, as women’s independence has increased, it seems, romantic opportunity for men has suffered the opposite fate. “And that problem is bound to be worse for poorer men,” says Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, who runs the blog Family Inequality. “I don’t think there’s any way to avoid that.”

And she paints a bit of a sad picture:

“At the end of the day, most of us just want someone who is supportive and sane enough to have a family with,” a journalist friend tells me. “I think men have always been willing to settle.”

Says Thomas Fant, a private health-care consultant in New York: “The idea of being alone in life can be so overwhelming. Soul crushing for some. Men certainly aren’t immune to it.”

Or, as one middle-aged guy puts it: “We all marry our second or third or fourth best choice. It is just life.” (Ouch.)

But perhaps there’s a more realistic way to look at it: that single life for men can be just as challenging as it is for women. “When we are honest, when we rid ourselves of the fantasy, being a single guy is f–king horrible,” says Nick Soman, the 32-year-old founder of a social dating site called LikeBright. “People start looking at you and thinking, ‘You seem like a decent dude. Where’s the woman?’ You’ll go to these weddings, and you’ll be at the increasingly declining table of the singles. There’s, like, three guys and a girl. You’re all kind of looking at each other like, ‘Wow, these odds are pretty bad.’”

I am glad to see coverage of the mariage issue from the perspective of how men are impacted by changing trends. We should be thinking about how later marriage impacts both men and women.

I look forward to discussing men more during the Gentlemen’s Showcase, starting in one week on March 1.