For the Thirty-Somethings: The Marriage Issue

By: Judd Livingston

Recently I’ve had more and more women, all over 30, asking me where all the good men are. They want a husband. A husband who will then become a father. These women are all desirable and have excellent potential as mates, but they just keep digging up “duds”. They date. They date a lot. It just never goes anywhere. The first time I heard this, it was easy to write off: “You’re great! You just need to keep looking, you’ll find someone. Try online; join a recreational sports team to meet new people; keep the faith and stay the course” and all that jazz. I’m always sure they’ll find someone. But then they don’t. And it’s not just one person: it’s woman after woman after woman. I, personally, know of at least 15 immediate friends who are in this predicament. And they keep coming to me, as a man, to answer their question: where are all the good, marriage material guys? And when I really thought about it, I had to admit it: there aren’t many. Of all the men I count as friends, I realized that there were no more than 3 that I would willingly set up with a female friend of mine. The others are nice guys, great guys even, but I wouldn’t wish them on any woman I would call a friend. They’re good to have a few pints with; to go to a concert with; to watch a baseball game with, but by and large they all fall into the same category as the guys women are so often failing with: they have no desire or need to be in long-term committed relationships.

The biological reasons behind my female friends’ question are not a mystery: babies. There is a biological imperative in women towards reproduction, and when women reach their mid-thirties, there’s a biological imperative to reproduce NOW. And to get a baby, generally, one needs a man. This isn’t meant to be a comment on masculinity or feminism; I’m just speaking in a purely biological sense. Sperm + Ovum = Baby. I’d like to say here, that I’m well aware these urges don’t present themselves in every single woman in the world, and many women feel completely fine being single, and having no snot-nosed dependents whose diapers need changing. I’m painting a broad picture, hear me out.

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60 years ago an unwed woman in her thirties was relatively rare, what’s changed since then? Well, frankly, quite a lot. Let’s look a bit at the motivations behind marriage for a woman. The order here does not connote importance, merely what is relevant to our discussion:

  1. There’s the biological motivation: procreation. While one doesn’t need to be married to have a child, social convention is predicated on the idea that we should be. Those who have children outside of marriage have been generally shamed and ostracized from society, thereby lessening the future chance of successful procreation for the child itself. So, in a nutshell, up until very recently, you needed to be married to have a baby.
  2. We have the social factor: society looks more favourably upon “the family” and most families have more outside help with their offspring than do single-parent families. Also, for career-minded women, marriage is connected to higher salary (not a higher household income, but a specific higher rate of pay for married women in a position vs. unmarried women in the same position). Marriage is seen as socially beneficial, and we’ve internalized that, so it’s something many women strive for.
  3.  The notion of personal values: some people have been taught that marriage is desirable or “normal” and they pursue it for those reasons. I would say ‘love’ can fall into this category as well, as it’s less about social pressure and more about internal ideals.

Now let’s look at the motivation for men:

  1. The biological imperative for men is NOT to have a child, but merely to impregnate. That is our motivation: to have sex. Back in the day, before the pill, and when buying a condom in a small town when you were unmarried was nearly impossible, one of the best ways to guarantee sex was to marry. If a guy was lucky enough to get laid before he got married, God forbid her father should find out because you’d be married by the end of the week. Likewise, if she got pregnant, you’d be getting a suit jacket as an impromptu gift and a not-so-subtle hint.
  2. The social (career) implications remain for men in that they make a bit more if married, but 50 years ago marriage had a far greater impact on men’s careers than it does now. 50 years ago, if you wanted to move up the corporate ladder you needed to be married to prove you weren’t a homosexual. Back in the day, it wasn’t only the Church who was getting all up in your personal grill, but your company as well. Even if a guy was a swinging bachelor, the question, “why hasn’t he settled down yet?” would eventually be asked to his detriment. Today, while a 50 year old bachelor might lead management to question his stability, etc., it would not hold him back. Nowadays, your private life is yours so long as it doesn’t begin to affect the company. And if you could prove that the company passed you over for a promotion because of your sexual identity or proclivities, you could potentially benefit from a lucrative lawsuit.
  3. The third motivator we touched on for women, personal values, is still a significant factor today for men. In fact I would say it is now the most significant factor when it comes to the reasons guys want to marry. There are guys out there who want a family and kids and all the rest. And they generally want this because they’ve been brought up with notions that lead them to believe there is significant benefit to this type of life. So, ladies, there are good guys out there who want to get married, but their numbers are greatly reduced. And these reductions are a direct result of a changing social environment which has made marriage less necessary and, in many ways, less desirable, to men.

Back two generations ago societal pressure on women was also far greater than it is today and they were far less likely to engage in casual sex, which was a phenomenon that exploded with the sexual revolution. Don’t think people weren’t having sex back then, because they were, but not on the same level. Studies show that our grandparents didn’t have even close to the number of sexual partners our generation does today, and that’s factoring in that they may reduce the number for proprieties sake. Although, apparently we are having less sex than our parents. The number of sexual partners peaked in the late 60s, early 70s, those joyous years after the pill and before HIV/AIDS.

So, quick recap, men, back in the day, got married because:

a) better access to sex;
b) they were told to by society (careers, etc.);
c) they were taught it was the right thing to do.

Today, men don’t get married because:

a) they have greater access to sex and can do it without the commitment of marriage (marriage being an institution which actually inhibits the male’s natural proclivity for promiscuity);
b) corporate society has removed itself from our personal lives so long as it doesn’t infringe upon our professional lives;
c) less men are being taught or raised with the notion that marriage is something desirable to achieve (men from divorced or single-parent families are less likely to marry).

There’s been a paradigm shift in what men find to be a satisfying relationship and men tend to be on the more sex, less commitment page. Just look at the explosion of dating sites like Seeking Arrangment and Established Men. They cater specifically to the new needs of men. And this isn’t a bad thing. Many women are embracing it and taking their need to have children elsewhere. Adoption and in-vitro are on the rise, as is the use of sexual surrogates. The rate of single-motherhood is increasing in higher income brackets. Perhaps this shift will lead to a complete redesign of the notions of “the family” itself, or perhaps more women will embrace this change and become less tied to the societal pressures for long term relationships while at the same time finding other methods of fulfilling their biological urge for reproduction. Or perhaps women will simply be forced to become more competitive and hone their hunting skills to track down the men out there who are “good guys” and are looking to get married. And that is exactly what we’ll talk about next week.

8 responses to “For the Thirty-Somethings: The Marriage Issue

  1. Interesting post. I seem to have the opposite problem though. I know a lot of single guys who want girlfriends, but can’t seem to find girls that they connect with or think are girlfriend material. And maybe a lot of that has to do with how readily available casual sexual partners are nowadays. Maybe it’s easier for them to see women in terms of one night stands than futures.

    • I honestly think we could all afford to explore outside of our “expectations”. I think a lot of us look to narrowly at our options. Date a slightly bigger person, not of your race, “not really your type”. Who know what you’ll like, Not every person out there is going to be a model and let’s face it, odds are, neither are you! I think a combination of pornography and Hollywood romance movies have twisted everyone’s expectations.

      • I’ve been doing some learning about behavioural economics, and one of the things they’ve found wrt men and women and relationships is that while men *think* they value looks (physical attractiveness) most and women *think* they value earning power most (according to surveys of what the “ideal partner” would be), when asked the same questions after the fact (i.e. what do they value most about the partner they found), both men and women equally value looks over everything else. There’s a strong biological imperative there. So while it sounds nice to want to “think outside the box” when it comes to relationships, chances are, you’re going to end up with someone who fits your definition of physically attractive, and if that’s set ahead of time by biology, culture or whatever, you don’t have much of a say in the matter.

        To connect that to the main post: I wonder if another reason people (men and women) say they are having trouble finding someone to settle down with is that societal beauty norms have been influenced first by mass media (creating unreasonably high expectations) and then by the internet (homogenizing and spreading these high standards across the board). Maybe it’s not marriageability that’s lacking, but that we’ve priced ourselves out of our own market.

        Full disclosure, I’m on my second marriage, and it’s going just fine. 😉

  2. Definitely an interesting concept. I have the same issue re: setting people up. I have a lot of buddies and a fiance with a lot of female friends but it seems there aren’t a lot of ‘matches’ between the two, despite all of them being absolutely lovely people.

    Also, for the record, I would (mildly) dispute the statement about male motivation for marriage where you say ‘And they generally want this because they’ve been brought up with notions that lead them to believe there is significant benefit to this type of life’.

    I was raised in a household where my parents got divorced (when I was 4) but were on good terms. I had a happy childhood. My dad’s second marriage lasted a lot longer but ultimately wasn’t successful, if success can be defined as ’till death do us part’… and yet even though I’ve seen a lack of success firsthand, I’m still engaged and happy to be where I am. That said, I also went the online dating route, just to give it a shot, and that’s where I met my fiance… so yeah. I don’t know where I fit in exactly haha.

    Looking forward to next Friday.

  3. @johnlofranco, absolutely, the physical imperative always takes precedence, I speak to that in the next piece. Psych 101 says that we generally find someone of equal attractiveness (what they use as benchmarks, I don’t know) as a partner. But because of that instinctual motivator, sometimes we’re with someone who is attractive but is a dick and we avoid the signs of dick-ishness because of the attraction. What we’re trying to do is find a way to weed out the hot douchebags and leave the ladies with the hot awesome guys.
    @Dan, no two divorces are alike. No two relationships are alike. The stats show that, on average, guys who come from divorced families are less likely to marry. That doesn’t mean all guys from divorced families. Also, one of the most important factors in a child’s future relationship is how they see their parents dealing with one another. Sounds like your parents were relatively civil and mature, which says a lot about them as individuals, and might also be a factor influencing your own personal views on relationships. None of this is set in stone, it’s all painted with a rather thick brush on a large canvas. I’m just trying to over some generalized insight to a specific demographic of women. I’ll be sure to mention your comment in next week’s post.

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