Love in the Time of Darwinism
A report from the chaotic postfeminist dating scene, where only the strong survive
Earlier this year, I published an article in City Journal called “Child-Man in the Promised Land.” The piece elicited a roaring flood of mailed and blogged responses, mostly from young men who didn’t much care for its title (a reference to Claude Brown’s 1965 novel Manchild in the Promised Land) or its thesis:
that too many single young males (SYMs) were lingering in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood, shunning marriage and children, and whiling away their leisure hours with South Park reruns, marathon sessions of World of Warcraft, and Maxim lists of the ten best movie fart scenes.
It would be easy enough to hold up some of the callow ranting that the piece inspired as proof positive of the child-man’s existence. But the truth is that my correspondents’ objections gave me pause. Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.
Here’s Jeff from Middleburg, Florida: “I am not going to hitch my wagon to a woman . . . who is more into her abs, thighs, triceps, and plastic surgery. A woman who seems to have forgotten that she did graduate high school and that it’s time to act accordingly.” Jeff, meet another of my respondents, Alex: “Maybe we turn to video games not because we are trying to run away from the responsibilities of a ‘grown-up life’ but because they are a better companion than some disease-ridden bar tramp who is only after money and a free ride.” Care for one more? This is from Dean in California: “Men are finally waking up to the ever-present fact that traditional marriage, or a committed relationship, with its accompanying socially imposed requirements of being wallets with legs for women, is an empty and meaningless drudgery.” You can find the same themes posted throughout websites like AmericanWomenSuck, NoMarriage, MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), and Eternal Bachelor (“Give modern women the husband they deserve. None”).
The reason for all this anger, I submit, is that the dating and mating scene is in chaos. SYMs 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. And because middle-class men and women are putting off marriage well into their twenties and thirties as they pursue Ph.D.s, J.D.s, or their first $50,000 salaries, the opportunities for heartbreak and humiliation are legion. Under these harsh conditions, young men are looking for a new framework for understanding what (or, as they might put it, WTF) women want. So far, their answer is unlikely to satisfy anyone—either women or, in the long run, themselves.
Now, men and women have probably been a mystery to one another since the time human beings were in trees; one reason people developed so many rules around courtship was that they needed some way to bridge the Great Sexual Divide. By the early twentieth century, things had evolved so that in the United States, at any rate, a man knew the following: he was supposed to call for a date; he was supposed to pick up his date; he was supposed to take his date out, say, to a dance, a movie, or an ice-cream joint; if the date went well, he was supposed to call for another one; and at some point, if the relationship seemed charged enough—or if the woman got pregnant—he was supposed to ask her to marry him. Sure, these rules could end in a midlife crisis and an unhealthy fondness for gin, but their advantage was that anyone with an emotional IQ over 70 could follow them.
Today, though, there is no standard scenario for meeting and mating, or even relating. For one thing, men face a situation—and I’m not exaggerating here—new to human history. Never before have men wooed women who are, at least theoretically, their equals—socially, professionally, and sexually.
By the time men reach their twenties, they have years of experience with women as equal competitors in school, on soccer fields, and even in bed. Small wonder if they initially assume that the women they meet are after the same things they are: financial independence, career success, toned triceps, and sex.
But then, when an SYM walks into a bar and sees an attractive woman, it turns out to be nothing like that. The woman may be hoping for a hookup, but she may also be looking for a husband, a co-parent, a sperm donor, a relationship, a threesome, or a temporary place to live. She may want one thing in November and another by Christmas. “I’ve gone through phases in my life where I bounce between serial monogamy, Very Serious Relationships and extremely casual sex,” writes Megan Carpentier on Jezebel, a popular website for young women. “I’ve slept next to guys on the first date, had sex on the first date, allowed no more than a cheek kiss, dispensed with the date-concept altogether after kissing the guy on the way to his car, fucked a couple of close friends and, more rarely, slept with a guy I didn’t care if I ever saw again.” Okay, wonders the ordinary guy with only middling psychic powers, which is it tonight?snip