Wednesday, March 3, 2010

News Roundup: Destination: Marriage. Route: Anybody's Guess

We’ve been putting off posting on that book Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough because 1) we refuse to spend 20 bucks on a book whose title is already putting women in their place and 2) everyone else is doing it.

But a reader sent us an article from The Wall Street Journal (of all places) that talks about the relationship between dating and marriage in the aughts.

The author, Hannah Seligson (who seems to have published her own book called A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It's Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door), argues that women in our generation have trouble tying the knot because the dating world has become a lawless jungle, and there’s no clear path that leads to the altar.

Here are some highlights:

Society's messages to young women are so mixed that the path to that goal has been obscured and, at times, blocked. Those of us in our 20s and 30s know that dating—and getting into a relationship that leads to marriage—is at turns ambiguous, arduous, perplexing and often heartbreaking.

So why are "Marry Him" and "Committed" flying off the shelves? Because they do what all popular books on the subject have done over the years, decades and even centuries: They lay out rules, treating love, romance and relationships as if they are quantifiable and controllable. To be a young, single woman looking to settle down today is to be in the Wild West of dating history. Daters are ravenous for advice to order the chaos.

Ms. Seligson eventually concludes that there are no hard and fast rules that can help young women conquer the dating world, and that these books only emotionally berate their readers so that when a girl’s done reading the book, she’ll jump on the next penis that looks twice, and, viola, success story.

We agree with Ms. Seligson’s latter point, but on the former, she’s dead wrong.

In concluding that the rules have changed, she perpetuates a pervasive misconception: that human nature has somehow evolved in the last thirty years.

In Ms. Seligson’s world, things were easier for our mothers. When our parents were dating, guys always had one eye on the altar. Now they see marriage as the first day of the end of their lives.

Things may have changed, but it wasn’t because someone hit a magical switch when we entered the new millennium.

Before women’s lib, girls were expected to be chaste and virginal. They went on chaperoned dates. And while they may not have described their behavior as “playing hard to get,” that’s exactly what they were doing. Most guys made marriage a priority because it was the easiest way to get their girlfriends to have sex with them.

After women started staying in school and pursuing careers, they probably put less emphasis on finding a husband. Sure, they might have partaken in free love, but they were also performing surgery and buying expensive cars with their own paychecks, and this was all huge. Marriage isn’t going to seem like the biggest priority to a generation that’s consistently shattering glass ceilings on gender lines, and so they, too, were making guys work for it.

But now most girls enter kindergarten expecting to have a career, and suddenly marriage is a priority again. But because chastity isn’t (and because the media’s constantly telling us that the best way to win a man is to fall in love with him), men have it easier than ever before.

They can sleep with a woman without promising to marry her (and without fear of impregnating her). Girls rearrange their schedules to give them blowjobs. Sure, they might want to get married eventually, but marriage doesn’t provide the advantages that it used to.

And so the “rules” for navigating this new world are actually quite simple. And women do need to hear them. They need to do what women have been doing for generations: They need to play hard to get.

While the books Ms. Seligson discusses certainly seem to offer terrible advice, the concept of dating advice for women is far from flawed.

We just need better teachers.

1 comment:

  1. You say of our parent’s generation, when dating rules still applied: “Most guys made marriage a priority because it was the easiest way to get their girlfriends to have sex with them.”—Seriously? I would hardly say this statement applies to my father, or my grandfather, or any of my friends’ fathers for that matter. What a sweeping generalization to make, and a jaded one at that. There are men who are pigs, and there are men who genuinely love, care, and admire women, and want to find one to spend their entire life with, and not just their sex life- as if everything else were an aggravating extra burden. This is true then and now. To boil it down, you argue that since sex is now acceptable outside of marriage, men aren’t in such a rush to get married. While that may be true for Christian fundamentalist kooks, the issue for the rest of us is far more complex.

    You simply can’t put it all on the guys, or act under the assumption that their brains cannot be separated from their penises. I would argue that it has become more socially acceptable to objectify women, but half of that cheapening of women was done by women themselves. Women can be their own worst enemies, which you acknowledge by saying women “rearrange their schedules to give them blowjobs.” Who do we have to blame but ourselves? Promiscuity is such a widely accepted behavior, nay a “right” some women would call it, that if you decide to be the “cow” NOT giving the “milk” away, there is another “sexually liberated” female in line to take your place.

    You end your argument by pointing out our female generation’s shortcomings, and you make a good point. We need better role models; women who know their own value, and don’t give it away twelve times in college and while living “the single life” post-grad. The way a women's career may be a stumbling block to marriage is a separate issue entirely, but Ms. Seligson's article points out that a good number of women STILL WANT marriage, just not RIGHT AWAY. This doesn’t mean we can’t have sex or shouldn’t listen to our own sexual needs (the existence of which the sexual revolution helped acknowledge, awesome), just don’t be a flipping slut! There is sexual freedom, and then there is sexual promiscuity. Learn the difference, and stop trying to kid yourself!

    And if women need to clean up their act, guys need to recover a true sense of manhood, one that's not all about your kill count. But men will always do a considerable amount of thinking with their dicks, whether they act on it or not. And there are those "dickheads" that will do so the entirety of their lives. But as the logical animal, there are certainly those that can find meaning in relationships outside of biological urges. You can't throw men of our parent's generation under the bus, especially considering their courtships came on the tail of anything resembling a social adherence to chivalry. We are all to blame for the chaos. This is a link to a portion of a longer, very interesting article in the Hopkins magazine, one that goes on to give a good explanation for later and lesser marriages. It’s no longer formulaic in that you graduate, you get wifed up or find a husband, and start working. Marriage is now almost a social badge of honor, and one that you settle down to after the adventures of your 20’s—a time when our parents or grandparents were busy popping us out. We concentrate on building our lives individually, and once we have all the rest of our ducks in a row, now we deserve to share the best version of ourselves with another…’s an interesting read if you can find the entire article, and one more complication in the road to marriage.