Thursday, October 13, 2011
Is the Decline of Men Killing Marriage?
Glenn Reynolds forwarded this column by Kate Bolick from The Atlantic magazine, and it is truly a comprehensive look at gender relationships and marriage in this country. There's something for everyone here - personal tales, statistics, racial breakdown, gender-based modern behaviors, and, most importantly and predictably, the typical indictment of marriage.
If you are going to read the entire article, I recommend that you set aside enough time to do so. This is no little ditty. If I had to guess, I would bet that it is Bolick's magnum opus, a personal tale of her own life intertwined with enough research to take months, if not years, to organize.
I had so many reactions regarding this column that it's hard to properly write about them. It is obvious to me that men ain't what they used to be. Bolick doesn't really get into the cause of this greatly; yes, she does state that the collapse of the manufacturing and construction industries in this country have something to do with the collapse, but it does seem to me to be more than that. Perhaps it is my obviously different background from Bolick, but the statistics she cites are the result of men not being men - the feminization of America. It can be seen everywhere - from the schools to entertainment options to the workplace. It is protected by Main Street and by Wall Street, by educational institutions, by the belief of "popular opinion," and very much so by the courts. Men are supposed to be softer, more in touch with our feelings, and nothing like the Neanderthals that our fathers and grandfathers were. You know who they were - men.
In the end, it seems that Bolick is embracing her single status and hitting the snooze button on what she terms as "marriage o'clock." I suppose that she would believe that I am about to resort to some singlism here, but I feel awful for Bolick in every respect throughout the article. That likely is because of where I am in life. I am very happily married with two wonderful boys. I suppose that I am successful in my career at age 35; I believe that my peers would say that I am respected in my field. My wife, who quite admittedly has a better academic pedigree but has similar degrees as I do (both having a JD, her BS being from Vanderbilt in Human ad Organizational Development, my BS degrees being in Chemistry from East Tennessee State University and Biological Sciences, my consolation prize from where I left medical school after 2 years), is also successful in her career. I suppose that is what is curious to me about Bolick's article - why does there have to be so many differences between individuals in a relationship? Why do we have to resort to my 3-year-old son's mentality, where we are constantly measuring ourselves against everyone in the room as soon as we enter? Why can't both pieces of a marriage be equal? Isn't that the goal? My wife and I are a team, and we must work on a team or we will fail at achieving our goals in life.
Who married down in my marriage? (Friends are going to have a field day with that one...) I have always said that Angela did, but isn't that what I'm supposed to say? Isn't that what I should say? I adore my wife, and if I thought that I was marrying down, how would that marriage have any chance of surviving? And how do we measure that? My wife has a better academic resume than I do, but I make more money than she does and have more clients. However, she has more responsibilities with the boys than I do, in that she gets them ready for "school" in the morning. But that is another problem I find with Bolick's column - why does she assume that only one party runs the house? Angela and I share the responsibilities in the house. She tackles laundry, dishes, and cleaning. I handle grocery shopping, all outside and lawn maintenance, garbage, and the cooking. But even that is subject to alteration as the need exists. The same division of labor occurs in our law firm. It's OK that she doesn't have as many billable hours as I do in a given month as long as I do, and vice versa. Again, it's a team concept.
The problem is that Bolick seems to be be stuck on this elitist thought that folks are defined by the cumulation of their resumes and demographics. It seems that she does not believe that changes when folks get married; she doesn't believe that "two become one."
Since there are lots of people inventing their own terms in this social science field, I will do so, as well. It seems to me that Bolick (to a lesser extent) and many of the women referred to in her work suffer from Yankee Mental Illness. This is a far-reaching psychosis that effects those in the metropolitan areas of the Northeastern United States to believe that they are unique, special, and monumentally different from all others who have come before them. When they realize that they are not, they become jaded, depressed, and crestfallen until they come to the point where they remember that they are unique, special, and monumentally different, which justifies their continuing on the same path. Yankee Mental Illness extends well beyond the topic at bar, but it does have some relevance here. In regards to Bolick's article, it means that these unfortunate women all think that they are characters in a bad "Sex in the City" episode (or, even worse, one of the movies based on the show that were without a doubt two of the worst things to ever be filmed - EVER). They keep having sex with the same guys who have no reason to settle down, and then they are shocked when these guys don't want to settle down. (Maybe they forgot to set the alarm on their "marriage o'clock.") They then run to their group of friends that are having the same troubles, give it a good cry, and then go out repeating the same behaviors until they are simply too old to do so. Then they give advice to other younger women going through the same situation, but it doesn't appear that they would ever encourage them to take a different path.
I legitimately feel bad for Bolick. When push comes to shove, it is apparent that she made a mistake when she chose to end the only relevant relationship of her life because she felt that there was "something else out there" (which may be as believable as the X-Files). Now her life is irreparably different because of that one choice. And, while that is not the message that Bolick tries to convey in her magnum opus, it is the one that I take away. Choices have consequences. Your life can be incredibly different based on one choice you make. Youth and innocence are not excuses; they do not provide "do-overs" so that you can make a different choice when the realization occurs that you made the wrong choice. Sometimes you realize when you are at the crossroads (Bolick likely should have before she broke up with Allan at 28, although she states that she assumed that another relationship was just right around the corner), and sometimes you do not. I suppose this goes along with some sort of "the devil's in the details" mantra. You need to treat every decision as if it were important, even if on the surface it is not. The course of your life could be at stake.