I just read Love in the Time of Darwinism, forwarded to me, ironically, by a recently engaged guy-pal. This wise City Journal article is about Darwinist dating, which in extreme summery is how the post-feminist dating era has made women ambivalent narcissists and men pissed off players.
Kay Hymowitz begins by contrasting the dating rules of yore—guy woos gal over a series of dates leading to accidental pregnancy, marriage, or both—to the nebulous, if not non-existent courting mores of today. In her words: “SYMs (single young males) of the postfeminist era are moving around in a Babel of miscues, cross-purposes, and half-conscious, contradictory female expectations that are alternately proudly egalitarian and coyly traditional.”
Yup, that about covers it. I have thought a lot over the last years about the ambivalent desires of the post-feminist gal (me being pretty well her). As I see it, she wants to explore her independence, hone a career, sleep around without judgment, and meet Mr. Right by about thirty (AKA with time to spare before her fertility window begins to close). But how her contradictory desires of freedom (sexual and otherwise) play out with the quest for a lifelong partner leads to some schizophrenic dating behavior, to be sure–from who pays the dinner bill to who opens the door to who texts first (or at all) after a one-night stand. Men are left wondering what the hell women want, and in the meantime choosing to eschew marriage for a good long stint of bachelordom.
Kay expounds on how contradictory female dating behavior leads to male frustration and something called Menaissance (a term coined by the Boston Globe), wherein the nice guys, shunned one too many times by a gal in her bad-boy seeking phase, respond in kind by stepping up their game. Why not, after all, when there is all the consequence-less sex in the world out there to be had and marriage seems like an emasculating, lose-lose deal? And viola, we have Darwinist dating—a kind of backlash to post-feminism that has given men less reason than ever to settle down and greater permission to spread their seed. And why would they nest, when alpha males who don’t pretend to be interested in anything other than sex attract women in droves and finish first by extending their single, freewheeling years and still having their pick of the litter while their female peers are busy considering artificial insemination? Woa, that was a mouthful.
I’m all too familiar, after reading the rather cynical, Marry Him, with how the man pool shrinks for women in their thirties and forties, as it grows for men who become more desirable (assuming financial success and Clooney-esk looks, rather than cat hoarding and a job at the post office) and seek younger partners. I have also read ad nauseam about how another backlash of “girl power” is the brigade of choosy, twenties-something women with detailed, “I can have it all!” checklists. These rigorous criteria, from hair color, to height, to bank accounts, can botch a girl’s chances at finding Mr. Good Enough. Thank god I found my senses and settled for Mr. Mediocre before thirty! (Just kidding, love).
I just spent the last week of my holiday with many of my husband’s guy-friends. For my girlfriends, it seemed, were all away visiting with their in-laws or traveling with newborns. In the last year, I have seen the majority of my early-thirties girlfriends get engaged and begin to have babies. Hubby’s friends (who, to be fair, are all a couple years younger since I robbed the cradle) are still mostly single, and when I step back and look at it, several are definitely “nice guys” who have upped their game, well aware that as they enter their thirties there’s no rush to settle down.
And yet, while I’ve no doubt that Darwinist dating exists, it doesn’t tell the whole story. For despite the chaos of the dating world, many of us are still following our parent’s paths to marriage (and possible divorce), only later. And, of course, not all of my single guy friends are exactly freewheeling. I had a long chat with a dude (pushing forty) about the ethics of sleeping with more than one person and his constant concerns about STDs, and another tête a tête with a guy friend grappling with an accidental pregnancy and his financial responsibilities. Will these guys marry one day? Who knows? But I do know that while the trade offs of marriage are oft negatively spun, perpetual singlehood is also not for everyone. And despite the Menaissance out there, I can also unequivocally say that all of my married girlfriends chose the nice guy, as did I.
Then again, not before amassing our share of one-night stands and irresistible jerks.
Alas, so too with soufflé as with marriage—timing, my dears, is everything.