I read Rod Dreher of The American Conservative because he‘s always bumping up against the negative consequences of movement and social conservatism, but is always pulled by his fanatical devotion to the church, with all the anti-porn, anti-trans and fetus-obsessed politics that come with it. He’s been vacillating like this for over a decade.
The comments section may be the most interest thing about his blog, since it’s not the usual cavalcade of name-calling you get in spaces where liberals and conservatives meet. They’re actually willing to call out their own side and have internal debates. It’s a window into a world you don’t see here. This is why I was so interested in the commentariat’s view of this article about women unsatisfied with unambitious and immature modern men.
It’s a concern shared by left and right for different reasons. The right is obsessed with family formation, birthrates and raising men who are successful enough to let (make?) women stay at home. The left is concerned that unsuccessful men are a burden and annoyance to women.
Dreher also gave readers a prompt:
I’m curious to hear from readers of all generations about their own experiences on this front, and their experiences with their adult children. What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? What advice would you give to parents in the middle of raising kids, who want to raise them to be desire marriage and family?
Interesting responses after the jump:
(Bold is an actual comment. Non-bold is BBOCD’s commentary.)
Predictably, we get some MRA stuff at the outset:
And women today have almost interest in committing during their prime years. I can count on one hand the number of women I know who married before the age of 25. Without exception, every woman I know has had flings and multiple long-term relationships.
What guy wants to be fifth or sixth in line at a begging game?
Fix our daughters, fix our sons.
Young men now keep their options open because they understand that even in marriage these days women forever “keep their options open”—and once their wife exercises such an option, they will be expected to foot the bill for it indefinitely.
Then a commenter takes Dreher to task for missing the root causes of this supposed epidemic of lazy young men:
I think this generational critique is profoundly misguided. The fact is, in today’s economy it takes longer for educated people to get set up in a stable environment where a long term relationship can develop. And that’s true whether you’re male or female.
Not that the biological clock arguments are invalid. But there is a tendency among religious conservatives to overlook the economic realities and to implicitly assume that the woman will instantly pop into mom mode. That isn’t realistic, and to my mind it’s not desirable either.
Unless you come from a family with money, or are a tech wiz, this post-Reagan economic system (which supposed pro-family conservatives voted for) is deeply hostile towards the creation of stable families and communities. It’s easier to have the conservative stereotype of ‘big house, three kids, husband+wife, and dog’ if the either parent, or both, is making decent wages.
Which for the most part they aren’t anymore.
Another comes with data in hand.
It is important to remember the divorce rate has dropped (~39%) from 1979 high (~49%) which was coming right 15ish years after the low point of first marriage. So it does not appear very young marriage is advisable to society.
But another things it’s culture’s fault that we aren’t having shotgun weddings:
While failson men surely do deserve moral blame for not pulling the trigger, there are significant cultural norms that have mutated to make it even more difficult. How many marriages, throughout history, that grew into a state of love and commitment began with a shotgun wedding and a full belly? In a culture where birth control is available, few expect marriage before cohabitation, and sex is free and easy, how much blame are we assigning to the men? Of course they are behaving this way. They are living out what was taught to them.
So these sons are failures in the way that 99 percent of men throughout human history would have called them Gods. Men who have independence, money, and access to ready and chemically contracepted sex.
Bread. Circuses. Sex.
You can call that failure. But I am sure it does not feel like failure to them. And those who DON’T want to go down this path don’t exactly have young, attractive successful girls beating down their doors.
The right-wing conception of family formation hasn’t been reconciled with the availability of birth control or the yolk of supply side economics into a package deal with social conservatism.
Then there’s this:
Advice to my 23 year old self? Don’t get a videogame machine. It sucks up money and more importantly time. It creates the illusion of friendship with those who share in the game, it creates the illusion of work in that you spend time in the games, especially multiplayer games, leveling up. This tickles the brain, but it isn’t work and it isn’t productive. Absolutely there are people putting a 40 hour work week, at least, into a game. That can’t not have an effect. It’s tempting to compare video games to other things like books, tv, or movies, but it is fundamentally not like these things.
I don’t know a lot of guys who have been lost to obsessive gaming, but I’ve also known a lot of guys with whom I’ve lost touch, and at least some of them are down that particular rabbithole.
Then there’s the mirror-image version of “dick is abundant and of low value”:
The advice I give young men is simple. Don’t even think about marriage and children. You have no obligation to and ignore anyone says otherwise. Women are for entertainment until you find the right one and that probably will not be until you are in your 40s. Marry late and be comfortable in your old age.
In the end, the most important thing is to do what you want to do, not what any self-righteous, degreed buffoon thinks you should do. It is your life, no one else’s and no one else has any say in the matter.
But some turn the lens inward to the failure of conservative culture to build an alternative model:
One thing that’s not mentioned here is that in some close-knit ultra-conservative Christian communities the “failson” is actually considered to be the ideal.
Except for the masturbation, living at home with no independence, drive, or responsibility was considered to be a sign of ideological purity and nonworldliness in a man. There were countless books and seminars given about the dangers of even letting your kids get part-time summer jobs. I saw many guys who wouldn’t have a chance in the dating world get married young due to their sheltered purity.
I once tried courting a girl who’s father is a professor at a nationally renowned college. I was in my mid-twenties, but he wanted to make sure I was still living at home with my parents. His daughter ended up with a kind of man you describe but who was very well-versed in [memorizing the correct] theology. Her father once admitted to me (for reasons that I never could tell) that the couple couldn’t even afford their cell-phone. This for the daughter of a man who was a dean at one of the nation’s most prestigious Christian universities!
There’s only one approach that has a reasonable shot at working: for the parents to have a happy marriage themselves. If the parents have a loving, respectful, solid relationship, it will imprint a desirable model in their children. If not, any advice on instilling the desire for marriage in their children will be a long shot at best. I am very fortunate to have that in my own marriage, and we never had to advise our kids on the subject; a loving relationship in their own lives seemed like a very natural thing when they grew up. On the other hand, almost all the children of our divorced friends seem to be having trouble getting or staying married. This is not the kind of thing that can be instructed. It has to be shown.
Add to that about a dozen comments about putting down screens, unplugging, consuming less media, etc.
Then, there’s denial of the problem as presented:
In recent years, I’ve increasingly encountered a curious phenomenon: I assume that the young ladies aren’t married because the worthleses guys are shiftless, but then discover that the guys have jobs and are actually the ones who want to get married, while the ladies are the ones refusing to tie the knot.
I don’t know if this is any kind of representative sample, or just an artifact of the particular blue-state world I inhabit. But I can’t help feeling that something is going on… I worry about future of the family.
Someone plays the hardass and comes out sounding a bit like a whiny Jezebel commenter:
I really don’t know how younger women put up with the perpetual adolescence of failsons. Men in their 30’s with boys hobbies like video games is as sad and pathetic as a woman in her 30’s playing with Barbie dolls. We’ve lost an ‘ethic of contempt’ for lack of a better way of putting it.
Yes, women read this blog as well:
60% of college students are women. 61% of regular church-goers are female. So it’s just actually not possible for each nice, college educated, church going girl to find another college educated, church-going man to marry. Also, in those venues it’s traditional for the man to take the initiative. Meanwhile, in the churches of my youth the young men were reading things like “I kissed dating goodbye” and mostly didn’t know how to date very well or ask girls out. So there were girls who would have liked to have been courting or whatever, but just couldn’t find anyone.
I’m a woman in my mid-forties who was married at 41 (first and only marriage). I would tell my 23-year-old self exactly what Rod said about how quickly time passes and how much more difficult it can be to look for a husband in your 30s. I would say that dating can be difficult, especially for a shy person like me, but to look at it as an investment, with greatest potential for returns happening in my 20s. But I would also add that as a woman looking for a man that shares her faith, the road will be much more difficult, especially with age.
And (TW, sad AF):
By the time that I was 23, I was sure that I never wanted children, because I did not want to pass on my family’s “bad genes” (tendencies towards substance abuse and mental illness). I wanted to get married, mostly so I could leave my parents’ dysfunctional household (I was attending community college part-time and occasionally working part-time because my fragile mental health made it difficult for me to work and/or study full-time: I received my associate’s degree when I was 26, managed to transfer to a four-year college when I was 30 and earned my BA when I was 33).
Since I believed then (and still believe) that artificial birth control is immoral, I thought my choices to marry were either a man with a very low libido and/or a closeted gay man. I realized that I was no great catch: shy, overweight, bespectacled, mentally ill, only moderately pretty, devout, afraid of sex — but I was not willing to settle. I am now 51, never married, no kids, and still live with my mother. I never did find a man with a low libido or a closeted gay man whom I wanted to marry. There were a couple of men who were interested in me, but I was not interested in them. There were a couple of men I was interested in, but they were not interested in me. Discovering my biromantic tendencies and realizing that I am on the asexuality spectrum (not entirely asexual, but more so than not) helped me somewhat, but it does not help me to find my own place to live. (I am on SSI and have signed up for several Section 8 lists, so I suppose I just have to hope that I will get to the top of a Section 8 list before my mother dies: otherwise, I will probably be homeless.)
Then, there are the demographic gaps:
Thing is, what do [men] have to offer? It’s a fact that most women DONT want to marry down. (I can’t necessarily blame them.) However, there are simply not enough of those “high-tier” guys to go around. As the college educated demographics invert even more between the two genders, something will have to give.
An interesting “pox on both houses” take:
The fear of of both wicked women and the court system in the manosphere has grown to hysteria. The fear by many women of not having financial stability before starting a family—and fear of “settling” for an average sinner but honest man, and fear of missing out on “experience” (usually sin, I’ll admit) before getting into the rut of responsibility and duty. It’s both sloth and ambition getting in the way
Lots of fear on both sides of missing out on future potential options, almost like all the life choices now available and emphasis on total autonomy freeze up the individual to just not do anything at all, or wait for things to happen to them
Here’s a sad sack:
I’m a 25 year old man and I’ve given up on ever having a girlfriend or getting married. I have mental health issues that have made it difficult for me to meet women, much less have a relationship with one. And this is probably for the best; all the women my age I know are very motivated to get degrees and get jobs, and I just don’t feel that same motivation. I can’t imagine being a good partner, and I suspect a lot of men my age are in the same position. My advice to 23 year old women would be to date 33 or 43 year old men.
I’d probably meet at least one or two qualities of a failson, but I think you need some perspective as well. I’m 30 and single, and play too much video games. I would definitely tell my 23 year-old self to develop some discipline and work towards my dreams instead of just planning them forever. On the other hand, my sister married early to a man who was emotionally neglectful because he had kids he didn’t want, and even after a decade her and her children’s life hasn’t improved all that much. Before video games, there were plenty of people who hung out for hours at bars and were borderline alcoholic. I know because my dad was one of them, and I hear plenty of stories about my mom’s coworkers/acquaintances. I may not have succeeded at life, but I’d rather have my “problems” compared to a lot of other people’s problems.
In my case though, it’s not that I want to keep my options perpetually open. It’s that video games aren’t really conducive to meeting people locally, and the rise of student loan debt has left video games as a cost-effective hobby compared to some outdoor hobbies (though that could be just an excuse I tell myself). If you can’t see yourself as a Christian and don’t like bars, it’s rather easy to become alone and adrift. I may not believe in the mythos of Christianity, but I do respect the Church in terms of community-building which I am sorely lacking.
All told, it sounds like some problems are universal. Take off the religio-political signaling and ideological garbage on both sides and what you have is existing norms straining against competing interests. Old scripts don’t work for left or right and the replacements aren’t forthcoming. Men disappoint for reasons we disagree on, and the solutions (empower men, train them to serve women better) are both in dispute and have no real implementation strategy.
To be fair, the old models were also bad. We had more marriages and children, younger in life as well, but less consideration as to whether those relationships were happy and healthy.
But isn’t in sort of nice to know everyone is miserable?