I don’t expect that many people read both The Atlantic and Christianity Today, but I’m one of them. These two publications don’t agree on much, so when they do, I pay attention: particularly when the topic is as explosive as love, sex, and marriage.
(In fact, one of the most popular posts on this blog is (Arranged) Marriage and the Modern Girl, which highlights the similarities between the marriage advice dispensed by Lori Gottlieb at the Atlantic and devoutly religious families negotiating arranged marriages for their daughters.)
My new issue of The Atlantic arrived in my mailbox last week with a 39-year-old woman gracing its cover, proclaiming “What, Me Marry? In today’s economy, men are falling apart. What that means for sex and marriage.” The short answer: nothing good.
Statistics indicate that males, as a group, are in decline. Author Kate Bolick discusses how this decline (as measured by statistics on income, education, and unemployment) is creating what she calls a “new scarcity.” Women typically want marriage more than men do, but a “marriageable” man is harder to find than ever. And that disrupts what sociologist Mark Regnerus (in an interview with Christianity Today) calls the “traditional marriage economy,” which looks like this:
Most men want sex more than do women and have traditionally gained access to sex via marriage. In turn, most women have given sex for marriage, which has brought economic security and commitment.
Does that description make you cringe? You’re not alone. Regnerus explains, “People will cringe to listen to it, but when they think about it, it’s remarkable how accurate it can be.”
But the economics of sex is changing. The minority gender has more power, and as the supply of “marriageable” men decreases, “women [are] competing for men rather than the other way around,” says Regnerus. When women outnumber men, Bolick says, “social norms against casual sex will weaken.” But it’s not casual sex marriage-minded women are after. They want a real relationship, but too many women “feel they have little choice, that to delay sex puts the relationship at risk. That’s how male-centered relationships have become.”
These authors aren’t describing how things ought to be, but how things are. Regnerus says, “I’m optimistic about individuals’ chances. Always. But collectively I’m not optimistic.”
I got married at (almost) 22. 11 years later, I have friends who are in the marriage market, trying to find a good man who isn’t (as Bolick puts it) a deadbeat or a player. And they’re asking: how much should you compromise? Sacrifice? Settle?
I know my answer: I do think there’s a time to make realistic compromises: go on and marry the guy who doesn’t love tennis, or dogs, or the theater. If an otherwise good guy is too short, or too tall, or bald, or wants 2 kids instead of 3, go for it. But don’t let anyone force you to into a script you don’t want because you don’t see any other options. You won’t do yourself any good, and you won’t be doing women on the whole any good either. Don’t settle for that.
What’s your experience? Do you see these dynamics playing out in your own lives? In the lives of your friends? What do you think this all means for women today?
Ironically, I was reading The Atlantic article on my front porch, watching the kids play in the yard, when my next door neighbor popped over to say hello and tell me she’d gotten married. This long-divorced, 40-something woman with two college-aged kids found a “great guy” and they’d just returned home from a month (month!) in Napa. What would Regnerus and Bolick say about that?