Of Peter Pan and Marriage

by GK on February 24, 2012 · 11 comments

So, remember when I said in my last post that I’m often inspired to kick sand at academics in matters of sex and relationships? Yeah, that’s what I’m about to do.

A few days ago I came across a Wall Street Journal article called, “Where Have The Good Men Gone?” I thought the author, Kay S. Hymowitz, was the smug-looking brunette below the byline, but it turns out she’s a middle-aged wife and mom who has written a book telling young men that they need to grow up, get married, have kids and clean their room.

Oops, never mind the cleaning part. That was just my mom calling.

My mother, for all her superhuman feats as a single parent, did little to explain relationships or women to me. And though I’m sure she means well, Ms. Hymowitz seems no more qualified despite her scholarly credentials. She takes a legit issue — the economic and social struggles of modern men — and looks for lessons in all the wrong places.

Peter Pan Syndrome

"Not so fast, Wendy! I still need to find investors for my Android app!"

In explaining what’s wrong with men, she paints us with so broad a brush that she might as well be dipping the top of her head on the canvas. In particular, she advances a point that I find dangerous and archaic: that a man isn’t truly a man until he marries and starts a family.

Hymowitz uses the term “pre-adulthood” in reference to a person who isn’t married — as if marriage should be inevitable as we age, like menopause — and cites very real stats that show people are waiting longer to get married. She says this of our extended singlehood: “It’s time to state what has become obvious to legions of frustrated young women: It doesn’t bring out the best in men.”

To prove her point, she blames our malaise on too much “Star Wars.” I find her lack of faith disturbing.

I’ll go into what hogwash all of this is in a minute, but I’ll backtrack and point out where she’s right: many American men are getting their asses kicked — by economic forces, by women and by themselves. Men are being outnumbered in college, graduate school and the workplace.

Almost 75 percent of the jobs lost in the Great Recession were by men. Women are proving more successful and more confident than us, and this is upsetting the traditional order of men as providers. This is a big reason why fewer women are marrying and more are raising kids by themselves, which has negative consequences for all of us.

I can also sympathize with those single women who put in their dues with school and work, are hearing their biological clocks tick, and are experiencing the “Peter Pan Syndrome” so many of them complain about with men.

Although this syndrome may be exaggerated, I can see what they mean. Have I encountered some overwhelming immaturity among the ranks of the pickup-artist community? Hellz yeah. Are there 20-somethings mooching off mom, or 30-something stoners wasting their talents? One trip to the Marina or a hipster bar tells me those guys exist too.

But she loses me entirely here:

(Men) watched movies with overgrown boy actors like Steve Carell, Luke and Owen Wilson, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler, Will Farrell and Seth Rogen, cheering their awesome car crashes, fart jokes, breast and crotch shots, beer pong competitions and other frat-boy pranks. Americans had always struck foreigners as youthful, even childlike, in their energy and optimism. But this was too much.

I can almost hear Naggy McNaggerton pounding her fist on a table as she wrote that last sentence. But wait, there’s more:

Single men have never been civilization’s most responsible actors; they continue to be more troubled and less successful than men who deliberately choose to become husbands and fathers. So we can be disgusted if some of them continue to live in rooms decorated with “Star Wars” posters and crushed beer cans and to treat women like disposable estrogen toys, but we shouldn’t be surprised.

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. I am never going to the movies with this woman.
  2. She may be mistaking “40-Year-Old Virgin” with a documentary rather than a comedy.

I won’t even bother with the myopia displayed here when perfectly normal women watch brainless drivel like “The Bachelor” and “Sex and the City” while dreaming of their 300th pair of shoes. We all seek an escape in frivolity sometimes. And I won’t get into my vintage Transformer collection, because that’s just too personal.

marriage young adultsI know men — married, successful, homeowners, dads, you name it — who can quote “Star Wars” all night. I also have met women who love Will Ferrell movies (thank God for them). But hey, when the author grew up with such serious entertainers as Jerry Lewis,  I guess we should presume she knows best.

If only us men spent all our time reading classic literature. You know, mature works such as Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” with lines such as this fruit metaphor: “O Romeo, that she were … an open-arse and thou a popp’rin’pear.”

But far more serious than pop-culture digs is her assertion that single men must be worse off than married ones. That marriage and kids are the necessary part of a “life script” that is “deeply rooted in our biological nature,” and that straying from that script is leaving us confused and aimless.

Apparently she hasn’t been to San Francisco or Silicon Valley. This is a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship, and while women play an important part, many (if not most) of the risks in creating companies and products are being taken by men.

As the author herself says, succeeding in this economy takes more time and effort than it used to. So doesn’t it stand to reason that men who delay marriage (or don’t marry at all) so they can establish themselves and experience life are showing, um, what’s that word — responsibility? That’s a trait Tiger Woods could have used while he was married.

Hymowitz seems upset that we’re not marrying as young as we did in 1970. But I’m very glad that we’re not divorcing like we were in 1980. Our divorce rate has fallen steadily since then. Do the math, and it suggests that while fewer people are marrying, those who do marry know what they’re getting into.

As much as women like this one might want men to settle down in our 20s, for many of us this just isn’t practical. This was true even for Theodore Roosevelt — maybe the manliest man in American history. He married at 22, but his drive to explore was so strong that he left his pregnant wife alone in Manhattan while he roamed the Wild West. He was guilt-stricken when she died in childbirth soon after.

I don’t know what golden age of husbandry Hymowitz is thinking about, but Roosevelt was born in 1858. And the great H.L. Mencken, never one for modesty, wrote this in 1918:

“The marriage of a first-rate man, when it takes place at all, commonly takes place relatively late. He may succumb in the end, but he is almost always able to postpone the disaster a good deal longer than the average poor clodpate, or normal man.”

Mencken, one of America’s greatest writers, didn’t marry until he was 49.

Maybe Peter Pan is smarter than we think. Here are some other men who found success while single or who never married at all:

  • U.S. President Grover Cleveland (married at 49 while in the White House)
  • Bill Gates (38 when he married)
  • Mark Cuban (44 when he married)
  • Jerry Seinfeld (45 when he married)
  • Ludwig van Beethoven (never married)
  • Sir Isaac Newton (never married)

Men have some catching up to do, that’s for sure. And maybe it’s already happening: we are seeing gains in construction and manufacturing jobs. But for those who are single and feeling pressured into relationships they’re not ready for, I will only say this:

To hell with scripts. Write your own script and do what feels right. When people throwing criticism at you are so high up their ivory towers, they’re likely to miss.

{ 11 comments }

1 B in Philly February 27, 2012 at 1:06 pm

I am SO glad you wrote a response to this article. It was circulating on Facebook maybe 6 months ago and it drove me absolutely up the wall. Hell, my mother even had it shared.

I’ll try to keep this brief because I could vent about this for hours, and you covered most everything.

Like you said, the writer has some serious misconceptions about the ‘typical’ mid 20s guy. Just like with ’40 Year old Virgin,’ ‘Knocked Up’ seems to have been confused by the writer as a documentary rather than comedy. Seriously? You think the typical guy is like Seth Rogen’s character? You have got to be joking.

On the flip side, she also seems to have no clue about the ‘typical’ 20s woman, who she seems to treat as a whole as being comprised of well-educated, career-driven go-getters, who would get married and have kids if ‘real men’ were still around. Oh please.

I’ve met, talked to, and dated many girls in the 22-27 year range in the last 2 years. Yes, some of them are real go-getters, and some of them are immersed in the thought of being married and having kids by 25, just as you would expect in 1960. These two types are the minority and mutually exclusive, and like you said, I feel bad for them when the Peter Pan Syndrome sets in.

However, in my experience the rest (and majority) of post-college women in their 20s seem to follow a somewhat more mild version of this ‘pre-adult’ description she painted of men. Without putting them down too much, this includes having a job (not career), watching mindless TV (ugh, Sex and the City), drinking and eating out and doing everything to extend their 22-year old selves for as long as possible. Let’s not even touch on putting today’s man down for refusing to be domesticated when it’s politically incorrect to expect a woman to cook and clean. I’m not saying this is a bad thing as I think these girls are a lot of fun, I’m just annoyed that she had the nerve to put down men in general while somehow ignoring the same trend with the opposite sex.

GK, you hit the nail on the head here. The good men haven’t gone anywhere; she just thinks ‘good’ means ‘married with kids.’ At that rate, there are no ‘good’ women either, and we’re all just doomed. I just sincerely hope the writer gets laid before putting out another one of these miserable articles.

2 Ra February 27, 2012 at 8:24 pm

Nice response. I just wanted to mention that the divorce rate is down because economically, it’s cheaper to stay married if already married, and cheaper to stay single if already single. Marriage and Divorce are expensive, and are more related to economics than emotional maturity (although emotional maturity is related to financial maturity 😉

I also think, as you do, delaying marriage, is the smarter thing to do. Our life expectancy is much longer too, and I believe delaying marriage is more closely related to that than the desire to stay immature.

Her premise that marriage = maturity is bullshit (although, statistically, married couples earn more individually than single and unmarried couples…but this doesn’t take into account expenses, and someone earning $100k a year can still have less cash flow and savings than someone earning a measly $30k).

3 Ra February 27, 2012 at 8:27 pm

And lastly, the only women I’ve met who complain about men suffer from a bit of Peter Pan Syndrome themselves. I’ve yet to meet a solid woman, married or single, who complains about men. Good women take responsibility for their choices.

4 GK February 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm

Thanks for the comments, guys (or should I say, men). I’m all for criticism where it’s deserved, but when it comes from a woman who probably hasn’t been on a date since the Jimmy Carter Administration, it’s hard to take it seriously. This isn’t the 1950s anymore.

5 Gal @ Equally Happy February 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm

I’m 38, I hold two graduate degrees from top 10 colleges, I’m successfully married (and currently working on kids), I have a great career and I’m also an entrepreneur. Also, I can quote the entire beginning monologue to Dune (the 1984 edition), once a week I get together with my guy friends and play video games and once a month I go up to my father in law’s houseboat and play poker and drink too much.

Being a responsible adult has nothing to do with playing video games or watching Star Wars. It has to do with knowing when to play video games and when to have quality couple time. It doesn’t mean you can’t do stupid things like drink with your buddies, it just means knowing when you can do that (like when your wife goes out of town to hang out with school buddies) and when you can’t (like when you’re at your mother in law’s birth day party.

What men today are missing out on is education and critical thinking skills. We’ve hammered into men this ideal of the “strong dumb guy” as hero which just doesn’t work out well for us. It’s far better to go out and learn how to write software than it is to train to be the next MMA champion. Those skills and thinking patterns you learn will help you be more responsible and live a very happy life (which includes watching Star Wars and getting laid a lot if that’s what you’re into).

6 Godfather February 28, 2012 at 4:09 pm

interesting point ra, yes,divorce rate is down because of economical reasons and mariagge and divorce are expensive…I would also like to add that couples today seems to be more “openminded” in many things, from respecting privacy to…sexual experimentations (unfortunatelly we live in the time of free internet porn…). So,reasons that in the past was a cause of divorce (“why isnt he telling me everything about what he did today??!!”), today seems to be “more normal/natural”

GK, I’d love to hear rob’s opinion about this subject:) well, he is allready married more than a year..!

7 GK February 28, 2012 at 4:55 pm

Gal, thanks for some much-needed perspective. Moderation and common sense, what a thought!

Godfather, your request is sent to Rob. :)

8 Tre February 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Gal,

Nice response. I have a little bit of tweak on your last paragraph and would say that education isn’t always the answer, but lack of critical thinking is.

Many men today have just been following a pattern of emasculation since the 60’s, but more prominently in the mid to late 80’s where America started becoming an assembly line culture. Going to college has contributed greatly to this. It doesn’t teach you to think, it indoctrinates and leaves you with little real-life skills when you leave (but you gain a whole lot of debt). I learned to think in college in-spite of many of my professors and curriculum. Most men graduate with worthless degrees and, if they feel compelled enough to finish, they sit in cubes in large companies fearing for their jobs everyday. Their jobs are of little consequence to anything or anyone, especially themselves (so brilliantly portrayed in Office Space).

Both my grandfathers weren’t college educated. One owned a Mobile gas station (back when they used to actually repair cars there!) and the other was a farmer. Both were go getters, critical thinkers, extremely hard workers and providers for their families. I think a college education is important, but in its current form, very overrated.

Men represent 75% of the unemployed workers right now. Demoralized and down-trodden, men need to stop blaming others or circumstances and need to start taking responsibility for themselves. Even if they aren’t inspired by traditional college education, nothing is stopping them from opening their own businesses or becoming independent and self-sufficient in some form or another. It is hard to do these things, but such is life.

9 Tre February 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm

GK,

Your examples of unmarried men doesn’t really strengthen your argument. Most of those guys are/were eccentrics or socially challenged to say the least. They didn’t delay or push off marriage because they were holding out. In particular, Beethoven was insufferable (sadly as a result of an extremely abusive father) and Cuban even more so. The true point is that life and romantic success are mutually exclusive.

10 GK February 29, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Tre, I thought about including you as an example, but I wanted people with at least a Wikipedia page. :) True, they had their flaws, and I know Cuban’s a prick, but can’t married people be the same? Anyway, we both know other single guys who are doing quite well for themselves and are not “pre-adult.”

11 Ra March 7, 2012 at 12:38 am

I love your point about college, Tre.

I recently told a friend the same thing when she asked me for advice. I told her to forget about majoring in art and to get a degree in something useful, that guarantees a job, like science, engineering, or medicine.

Drawing can be learned anywhere. In fact, most artists don’t really learn to draw really well until long after they’re out of school.

Going to art school is one of the easiest ways to rack up debt.

Naturally, she tossed my advice aside, but fortunately, her parents aren’t paying for her education and refuse to help her secure a loan.

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