In a previous post I discussed the importance of male investment in women’s intrasexual status competition. This investment can range from the validation which comes from being selected for a one one time hookup, all the way to the very public declaration of lifetime investment which marriage signals. This post picks up where the last one left off, so if you haven’t already read the previous post I would encourage you to do so before continuing with this one.
The previous post explained the basic reality of women’s need for male investment in their status competition with other women. However, this still leaves the question of why women make different choices as they age.
It is important to remember that the desire for male investment isn’t the only force at work here. In the previous post I described how the desire for investment both complements and competes with the desire for “the tingle”. Another factor we need to always keep in mind is the realities of the Sexual Marketplace (SMP) and how men’s and women’s Sexual Market Value (SMV) change with age. Rollo Tomassi has created an excellent graphic to help his readers conceptualize this. See Rollo’s Final Exam – Navigating the SMP for more information on the chart below:
As with anything like this, individuals are likely to disagree slightly over the fine tuning of the curves. However, even if you don’t agree on the exact details I think most in this sphere will agree that Rollo has captured the essence of men and women’s changing SMV with age. Note also that it isn’t just Rollo, or even just the manosphere which understands the basic truth behind the graphic. OK Cupid has mined their own data and found the same structure.
One way to look at the chart above is not just in terms of attractiveness, but the relative power this gives the respective sexes as they age. Young women are the rockstars of the dating world. In one sense Rollo’s chart understates the scale of young women’s SMV power, because very few 38 year old men (the male peak in the graphic) will experience the kind of raw attraction power that the average 23 year old woman experiences. It is only when you include the female desire for male investment that the relative heights of the two curves come into balance.
Seeing the SMP through the lens of courtship
In addition to the chart above, the other paradigm all of this needs to be viewed through is the narrative the young women are playing out in their minds, and this is the narrative of courtship. With very few exceptions, women haven’t embraced the idea of a permanently freewheling SMP. Instead, the vast majority of promiscuous women have sought to increasingly enlarge the concept of courtship. They have done this by both expanding the duration of courtship, as well as by expanding the definition of what level of sexual contact is appropriate during courtship. Freewheeling promiscuity isn’t seen by young women as an end unto itself, it is seen as a path to marriage. The sheer absurdity of what they are doing makes this hard to accept, but it is very clearly what they are doing, or more accurately what they intend to do. Note that even in the recent wave making piece about sex on campus by the New York Times the slutty coeds discuss their dionysian embrace of casual sex as part of a path to marriage:
Almost universally, the women said they did not plan to marry until their late 20s or early 30s.
In this context, some women, like A., seized the opportunity to have sex without relationships…
For those who haven’t read the article, it is important to note that A is a young woman who only has drunken sex because she wouldn’t want to be around her f*** buddy sober, and that she makes it a point to always do it in his bed so she won’t have to deal with the wetspot. This young woman still plans to marry:
“‘I’ve always heard this phrase, ‘Oh, marriage is great, or relationships are great — you get to go on this journey of change together,’ ” she said. “That sounds terrible.
“I don’t want to go through those changes with you. I want you to have changed and become enough of your own person so that when you meet me, we can have a stable life and be very happy.”
This is why she would only agree to be interviewed if they didn’t use her name:
Ten years from now, no one will remember — I will not remember — who I have slept with…
You can see the same thing in the famous Kate Bolick piece in the Atlantic a few years ago. Bolick interviewed the young women in Susan Walsh’s “focus group”. After explaining that these young women had a great deal of experience with casual sex, she tells us:
…when I asked if they wanted to get married when they grew up, and if so, at what age, to a one they answered “yes” and “27 or 28.”
She then reinforced this point:
“Take a look at me,” I said. “I’ve never been married, and I have no idea if I ever will be. There’s a good chance that this will be your reality, too. Does that freak you out?”
Again they nodded.
“I don’t think I can bear doing this for that long!” whispered one, with undisguised alarm.
This is of course the whole mission of Susan Walsh’s Hooking Up Smart; Susan hopes to teach young women to leverage their hookups as a path to “relationships” and ultimately marriage.
Putting the courtship narrative into the context of Rollo’s chart.
When women are young and have the power position in the SMP, promiscuity is intoxicating to them. Since they have the power, the short term nature of most of their relationships isn’t seen as them being rejected by men, but as them rejecting men. Young women today don’t feel the need that previous generations did to secure commitment in their late teens and early 20s because:
- Only small numbers of other women their age are going after the more public and durable forms of male investment.
- Their hopping from man to man is seen as occurring on their own terms.
However, as women progress into their late twenties all of this starts to change. Their SMP power relative to men starts to decline and at the same time their peers start to marry in much greater numbers. In other words, their need to secure male investment occurs fairly suddenly, and at the very time their SMP power is starting to dive. This is surprising to many young women because of our cultural denial of the SMP realities Rollo describes.
The Washington Times: piece Economy of sex: It’s cheap these days describes this phenomenon:
Although plenty of women dabble in sexual-market relationships and then settle down successfully with life partners, he said, many women are “not witnessing marriage happening on the timetables they prefer and expected.”
This is because, as economist Timothy Reickert has found, power shifts away from women as they move toward their 30s
This is where as we continuously see in the media the panic starts to set in. Yet despite the fact that marriage trends are moving in the wrong direction, the vast majority of women in the US still do manage to marry. Only 20% of current 35-39 year old women in the US (all races) have never married. If you understand the reality of hypergamy and women’s tendency to focus only on the top tier of men, you can see how powerful the desire to secure male investment is for women.
But why don’t women remain married?
There are several factors which come into play when asking why women value the status signal of marriage so much and yet women are also the ones driving our epidemic of divorce. Part of the issue is the average man has been fooled into acting in ways his wife is nearly guaranteed to find frustrating and unattractive. Another critical factor is the constant barrage of articles, books, and movies telling women that divorce will make them happy. These themes are so common in our culture that very few people even notice them. Whether it is the local paper, Fireproof, Eat Pray Love, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, or Single In The Suburbs, the message to women is the same:
There is also of course the issue of cash and prizes. Our current structure of family law is designed to maximize the cash and noncash incentives to wives to divorce. Add to this the choice by the churches to look the other way regarding divorce and even lionize single mothers, and the question should become not why do so many wives choose divorce, but why are so many able to resist this temptation? Certainly some women have the integrity to keep their marriage vows even in an era where neither the church nor the state would discourage them from divorce, but this can’t fully explain why so many women resist the siren call of divorce empowerment.
To understand the answer to this question we need to remember that marriage (or something like it) is critical for women’s intrasexual status competition, at least past a certain age. Divorce isn’t desired by women as the end of the married phase of their life, but as just another extension of the courtship phase on the path to their real marriage. It isn’t a desire to simply jettison a husband, it is a desire to trade up to a new husband.
As with young women seeing their promiscuity as a path to marriage, don’t allow the absurdity of the divorce and trade up plan to confuse you. Yes the plan is nearly guaranteed to end in failure, especially if the woman is past her twenties and/or already has children. The woman would have married when her SMV was higher (often much higher), and when her present husband’s SMV was lower. To this disadvantage we must add the baggage of divorce and especially children. But this is still what nearly all divorcing women have in mind. This is why the divorce empowerment tales all end with the divorcée either accepting or at least fielding offers of lifetime commitment from better men than the one she divorced.
Yes the plan is absurd, but don’t forget that women are constantly being told it will work out if only they have faith and divorce. Messages to the contrary are angrily shouted down in a feminist attempt to rework reality by simply denying it. Even here, most women know better, even if they let their greed get the best of them. But the allure of winning on such a grand scale for many women overcomes their better judgment. With time running out, they take on incredible risk in hopes of winning big and skyrocketing in status. This may not translate to other regions, but here in Texas we have a term for this kind of decision.
It isn’t that it never works, it is that the choice being made is statistically a very bad one. At times however this choice can pay off spectacularly. Consider the case of Bathsheba in the Bible. She was married to a man of fairly middling status. Yet through the power of advertising, some extreme risk taking, and a good deal of luck she was able to not only trade up to wife of the King of Israel, but also have her own son become next in line for the throne. This is how gambling works though. The lure of the easy and spectacular payoff blinds us to the risks involved, and for women who call a divorce lawyer and say the equivalent of our Texas phrase above the odds are very much against them.
As you can see from Rollo’s chart at the top of the page, the odds are not only against them, but getting worse by the year. Remarriage stats don’t capture the realities of trading up vs down, but they give us a barometer of what is going on. Even with the family courts financially crippling men, men still have a much higher rate of remarriage than women, and this advantage increases dramatically with age.
As if it couldn’t get worse, remarriage rates are also declining rapidly. Again, these statistics don’t tell us about the quality of mate divorcées are able to secure when remarrying, but the realities of the SMV curves tell us that on average these pairings represent a step down, very often a huge step down, for the divorcée. Added to her pain is the high likelyhood that the husband she discarded will wind up with a younger/prettier woman than she is. The stakes are huge, and while the payoff is spectacular when it works as intended, so is the failure which is much more common.
DA Wolf describes the reality of post divorce dating in her Huffington Post piece Post-Divorce Dating: Time or Timing? She explains that immediately after divorce she was focused on coping with the destruction and havoc her divorce had created and recovering mentally. By the time she was ready to start dating again she was reaching middle age.
Now, now. Let’s be realistic. When it comes to marketing the feminine vehicle, the 40-something or 50-something model with kids in tow is a tough sell. Even if you’re well-built and properly maintained — it’s a niche market. Supply outstrips demand, and competition is tough. You’re up against the younger and rebuilt versions, not to mention those without kids, debts, and other baggage.
Even for younger women the attempt to reenter courtship is generally a huge shock. Unless they married extremely young and divorced only a few years later, their SMP power is far lower than it was when they were looking for husband #1. And this is before factoring in trying to find a man who wants to commit to a single mother, a woman with a track record of not keeping her own commitments.
The other immediate problem divorcing women run into is their status among other women, the very status they sought to increase, takes a nosedive. While in their late teens and early twenties not having secured public and long term (ideally lifetime) investment from a man was overlooked, now it is seen as a failure. Divorcées are initially given a bit of status leeway, because initially at least the narrative that they are in the process of trading up to a better husband seems at least somewhat plausible to other women. They’ve watched Eat Pray Love and Fireproof too, so they don’t immediately assume this will be the 99% failure and not the 1% spectacular success. But fairly quickly this tends to change. Women whose divorces are final and aren’t on a verifiable track to remarriage are seen as desperate, and because of this are seen as a risk to other womens’ marriages. Delaine Moore describes experiencing this in her own piece in the Huffington Post:
And because I’m not just a woman, but a Divorced Mom, the harsh judgments potentially cast my way scare me to death…
…the stereotype “divorcée.” That’s right; the insidious “D” word. Better lock up your husbands, ladies. No — decent divorced mothers should only want a serious relationship. And they better get on that quick, because with each year that passes, they’re apt to grow more bitter and undesirable and desperate. They are women with cargo. Women who failed. Women who didn’t deserve any better. Spit.
Note the huge status drop this involves. She didn’t reenter the intoxicating and empowering dating phase she had experienced in her twenties, and other women now see her inability to secure public investment from a man entirely differently. Instead of the promised “empowerment” of divorce, since she hadn’t secured a replacement husband she was seen as desperate, as a failure. Another divorcée commented on the same piece describing her own experience:
I got great support from my married friends during and immediately after my divorce. Six months after it was finalized, I felt ready to start dating again. I mentioned this at a girls’ night out and the temperature dropped 20 degrees. Suddenly, it was though I’d become a threat. Mixed social invitations dried up and I noticed that friends who had been loaning out their husbands to give me a hand with simple home or car repairs began dropping by while he was working at my place. I can only suppose they were chaperoning their men. I hadn’t changed my behavior, only my marital status…
…I kept chit chat with husbands to a minimum while at parties or after church. But it never improved. Today, my friends are largely other single moms.
On a comment to a separate Huffington Post article another divorcée describes how even her doctors viewed her in this light:
I had a medical problem a few years after I was divorced, and several doctors tried to write it off to “post-divorce depression.” Instead of pursuing a medical cause for the symptoms, they just handed me anti-depressants; when those didn’t work, they handed me a different type of anti-depressants because “not every person has the same reaction to this variety”, and made it clear that I was going to try all 300 brands of anti-depressant before they would look for another reason for the problems.
Without even asking if I was in a new relationship, one of them told me that I just had to deal with it that I was middle-aged and chubby, no one was ever going to want to date me, pull myself together and stop being depressed over being alone.
Enter the hamster.
Once the reality of their incredibly foolish decision becomes obvious, divorcées then set about creating a plausible story explaining that they didn’t really fail. These break down into three basic rationalizations:
- They have a new man and he is even better than the ex husband. Never mind the fact that he hasn’t worked in years, is painfully beta, and/or has serious psychological problems or addictions.
- They have a new high status man, or perhaps even a whole stable of such men competing for their approval, but unfortunately these men are too busy to accompany her to social engagements.
- Now that she’s older she no longer feels the need to have lifetime investment from a man.
Women on the verge of their own “hold my beer and watch this” moment are especially tempted to accept rationalizations 1&2 at face value, while keeping rationalization #3 as a disaster recovery plan. Other married women however generally see right through these rationalizations.
It should be obvious how to test rationalizations 1&2 in your own social circle. For rationalization #1, compare the whole man to the woman’s ex husband. Chances are there is a reason this man was not only single and interested in marriage, but why he settled for a divorcée instead of a younger never married woman. For rationalization #2, insist on meeting these mystery men, and watch to see if he actually appears or the story somehow always seems to change. If he does appear, test him like you would for rationalization #1.
Rationalization #3 is the backstop rationalization, when all else has failed. At an individual level of course we can’t prove that it isn’t true. There must be some women who coincidentally lose the desire to have a man at the same time their options have dried up. However, statistically we know this isn’t the case. While divorced women don’t have good options regarding remarriage, we know that women who are married lose their interest in divorce as they get older. The pattern is quite striking. We also know from the AARP study on late life divorce that divorcees who don’t remarry tend to end up incredibly alone. Divorced men are not only more likely to date and remarry than divorced women, they are also far more likely to have sex or any kind of sexual contact without remarriage. Again if you consider Rollo’s SMP chart, the reasons for this should be obvious. The AARP study also found that remarriage was a strong factor in divorced women’s (and men’s) sense of well being. 72% of the divorcées who had remarried responded that they were at the top of the “ladder of life”, while only 51% of those women who hadn’t remarried answered the same.
The reality is the vast majority of women would very much want to be married to a worthy man later in life if they could, but through a combination of media cheerleading and profound miscalculation very large numbers of women are finding themselves on the wrong side of the divorce and remarriage calculation. That the decisions of many women turn out after the fact to be catastrophic doesn’t change the fact that they intended for things to turn out very differently. The evidence for this is all around us, so long as we are willing to see it. More importantly, once you understand this it becomes much easier to help aspiring frivorcees in your social circle avoid making the same mistake.
SMP graphic used by permission from Rollo Tomassi. Dominos image licensed as creative commons by aussiegall.