I’ve lost count of the number of commenters who referenced the new Atlantic piece by aging feminist Kate Bolick titled All the single ladies. Once I clicked on it and started to read it it was instantly clear why so many readers suggested that I look at it. Bolick opens the piece telling us how she broke up with a great man ten years ago when she was 28, because she was suffering from a problem with no name:
My friends, many of whom were married or in marriage-track relationships, were bewildered. I was bewildered. To account for my behavior, all I had were two intangible yet undeniable convictions: something was missing; I wasn’t ready to settle down.
She tells us that she immediately had second thoughts about breaking up with the man she calls “Allan”:
The period that followed was awful. I barely ate for sobbing all the time.
…I feared I would be alone forever. Had I made the biggest mistake of my life?
Ten years later, I occasionally ask myself the same question. Today I am 39
At 28 what she didn’t know was her dating/marriage market power was already on the decline. She had taken it for granted that there would always be another quality man eager to be in a relationship with her, since it had always been this way. Her life was structured as one giant ultimatum to men, who of course she knew with certainty would comply:
We took for granted that we’d spend our 20s finding ourselves, whatever that meant, and save marriage for after we’d finished graduate school and launched our careers, which of course would happen at the magical age of 30. That we would marry, and that there would always be men we wanted to marry, we took on faith. How could we not?
This fantasy world view is now of course being actively sold to young women by women the author’s age. She tells us how her feminist mother used to dress her in shirts with feminist slogans, of the fish/bycicle variety starting in the third grade.
But the core of the story is about the brutal intrusion of reality in the ten years following her decision to kick Allan out of her life with no real reason, shortly after he had moved with her from Boston to New York so she could attend grad school. As I am sure will come as no surprise to my readers Allan of course did just fine without that particular aging feminist in his life. He met and married another woman while Kate bounced from unsuitable man to less suitable man. Like a scene out of a chick flick, Kate found herself tasked with taking the man of her dreams to pick out the suit he would wear to marry another woman. Kate is convinced that this is proof of how strong her post breakup friendship is with Allan as well as his new wife’s open mindedness. I suspect if we could learn more about Allan’s wife that it would be obvious that it was in fact a cruel joke his younger hotter bride was playing on her vanquished bitter older rival.
when he got engaged, his fiancée suggested that I help him buy his wedding suit. As he and I toured through Manhattan’s men’s-wear ateliers, we enjoyed explaining to the confused tailors and salesclerks that no, no, we weren’t getting married. Isn’t life funny that way?
Funny indeed. She describes the choices available to herself and other women in her situation:
We’ve arrived at the top of the staircase, finally ready to start our lives, only to discover a cavernous room at the tail end of a party, most of the men gone already, some having never shown up—and those who remain are leering by the cheese table, or are, you know, the ones you don’t want to go out with.
Who would ever have thought that picking last when your dating market power is much lower would be a bad thing? Clearly not our intrepid aging feminist Kate.
But this much painful truth with insufficient rationalization is truly dangerous to an aging spinster. Fortunately her hamster rationalizing endorphins kick in before the pain becomes unbearable, and she spins a detailed yarn about how her personal misfortune was caused by tectonic social changes which she was powerless against. I have no question that it would crush her if she had to confront the fact that she failed at something with a 90% success rate for her peers:
A quick look at the chart above makes it clear that while all of the current gnashing of teeth from 40ish spinsters is in response to a minuscule bump in the percent of never married women of that age, the real tectonic shift has yet to be felt. Like she did at the same age, the women currently postponing marriage are certain that a worthy husband and father for their children will instantly appear once they are ready to make him an accessory to their fabulous lives. They assume that marriage is theirs merely for the taking. This nonchalance by women regarding marriage is widely misunderstood however. The great lie of our day is that women don’t really value marriage, and that tens of thousands of years of programming to fear spinsterhood has magically been erased. But the already hysterical cries over a small sliver of 40ish white women in the US who haven’t married expose the lie. Kate gets tantalizingly close to this truth when considering history, although she mistakes primal programming as being purely economically motivated (emphasis mine):
…in 1860, there were 104 marriageable white men for every 100 white women; in 1870, that number dropped to 87.5. A generation of Southern women found themselves facing a “marriage squeeze.” They could no longer assume that they would become wives and mothers—a terrifying prospect in an era when women relied on marriage for social acceptability and financial resources.
Speaking through this long lost generation of women is easier than admitting her own fears, so she projects her voice onto them:
they were forced to ask themselves: Will I marry a man who has poor prospects (“marrying down,” in sociological parlance)? Will I marry a man much older, or much younger? Will I remain alone, a spinster? Diaries and letters from the period reveal a populace fraught with insecurity.
The paralells between the two postwar periods are uncanny, one a Civil War between men of the North and the South, and another a civil war between men and women (or more accurately waged by women against bewildered men). Like the current post civil war period, in the past there was mass hysteria by women even when roughly 90% of white women were still able to marry:
Their fears were not unfounded—the mean age at first marriage did rise—but in time, approximately 92 percent of these Southern-born white women found someone to partner with. The anxious climate, however, as well as the extremely high levels of widowhood—nearly one-third of Southern white women over the age of 40 were widows in 1880—persisted.
The crucial difference being that in this postwar period instead of a glut of widows unable to remarry, today we have a glut of divorced women unable to remarry. However in both cases the glut was a direct result of the nature of the war. Men were killed in large numbers in the Civil War, while most men who are casualties of the war of women against men find themselves divorced and expelled from their families. One striking difference is the women without men today are almost exclusively so due to their own selfish choices. Instead of their would be husbands having died in a far off battlefield, most of these women killed their own marriages in divorce court, in a futile effort to celebrate the mythical Sex and the City lifestyle. By the time they realized the folly of their ways, it was too late. Now as the AARP survey tells us, most of them are slated for a life of unimaginable loneliness (emphasis mine):
Almost 9 in 10 men (87%) dated after their divorce, compared to 8 in 10 women (79%)… Among those who dated after the divorce, more than half of men (54%) but fewer women remarried (39%). (Page 39)
Many women, especially those who have not remarried
(69%), do not touch or hug at all sexually. An even larger majority of women who have not remarried do not engage in sexual intercourse (77% saying not at all), in comparison with about half of men (49%) who have not remarried. (Page 6)
She continues on, comparing the current situation with other historic catastrophes. She compares the great spinsterhood today with the post WWII shattered Soviet Union. In doing so she stumbles on another accidentally relevant parallel. As the Soviet state jealously crushed the rights of men as husbands and fathers, the men found themselves no longer obligated to act in those roles:
…men moved at will from house to house, where they were expected to do nothing and were treated like kings; a generation of children were raised without reliable fathers, and women became the “responsible” gender.
But even imagining herself as the heroine of some sweeping historical drama and not the victim of her own bad choices is not enough to dull the pain. Her hamster kicks in after she details how all the men she really wants feel no need to commit since they are now the scarce commodity. She promises herself that there are hordes of worthy men eager to win the prize of her commitment to them:
another of my anecdotal-research discoveries is of what an ex calls “marriage o’clock”—when a man hits 35 and suddenly, desperately, wants a wife. I’ll never forget the post-first-date e-mail message reading: “I wanted to marry you last night, just listening to you.” Nor the 40-ish journalist who, on our second date, driving down a long country road, gripped the steering wheel and asked, “Are you The One? Are you The One?” (Can you imagine a woman getting away with this kind of behavior?) Like zealous lepidopterists, they swoop down with their butterfly nets, fingers aimed for the thorax, certain that just because they are ready for marriage and children, I must be, too.
If any of you happen to speak to Ms. Bolick, please reassure her that she can now rest easy; any men anxious to marry and have children are aware of her rapidly declining fertility and can do the math. She is finally safe from their butterfly nets.
As many have noted Ms. Bolick references fellow manosphere blogger Susan Walsh of Hooking Up Smart. Unfortunately Ms. Bolick managed to terribly misunderstand Susan’s very clear description of what is going on on college campuses*. Instead of acknowledging the mechanics of hypergamy where 20% of the men are having sex with 80% of the women, she contorts it to:
…only 20 percent of the men (those considered to have the highest status) are having 80 percent of the sex, with only 20 percent of the women (those with the greatest sexual willingness); the remaining 80 percent, male and female, sit out the hookup dance altogether.
While she has a mental block when it comes to hypergamy, she does recognize the loss of courtship. Susan has written her own take on the article, which includes a very active discussion in the comments.
*Edit: Susan has clarified that she has changed her view on the statistics. See her comment below for details.