Lori Gottlieb is a 40-year-old single mother who, tired of waiting to find the right husband and start a family, conceived a baby with the sperm bank three years ago. She doesn’t sound thrilled about her overextended life since making that choice, advising younger women, in the current Atlantic Monthly, to “Marry him!” “Don’t worry about passion or intense connection,” Gottlieb says, because, “Marriage isn’t a passion-fest; it’s more like a partnership formed to run a very small, mundane, and often boring nonprofit business.”
The women who heed Gottlieb’s advice to “settle for Mr. Good Enough,” however, may have to settle down – way down. According to Kay Hymowitz in City Journal, “Today’s single young men hang out in a hormonal limbo between adolescence and adulthood.” This limbo is filled with drinking, hooking up and video games, she says, pointing out that 31% of 25-year-old white men were single in 1970 but 67% were in 2000. (For 30-year-olds the figures were 15% and 42%.) The “child-man” who is Maxim’s target demographic – and has made the magazine massively profitable – is a “social retard” who would “like to forget that he ever went to school.”
Hymowitz discusses “Knocked Up” as a film that both celebrates and criticizes semi-permanent male adolescence. The New Yorker’s David Denby made the same argument, calling “Knocked Up” the culmination of a recent trend in popular film: the “slacker-striver romance,” whose stories are fueled by “the struggle between male infantilism and female ambition.” Hollywood has offered romantic comedies since the silent films of Buster Keaton, but the male leads always “wanted something,” Denby remarks, while the modern slacker-striver romance features men who are “absolutely free of the desire to make an impression on the world [yet] still [get] the girl.”
Gottlieb says that it’s not just in movies that losers end up with impossibly superior women. Friends of hers have, “in varying degrees of desperation,” recently married “a recovering alcoholic who doesn’t always go to his meetings; a trying-to-make-it-in-his-40s actor; a widower who has three nightmarish kids and who’s still actively grieving for his dead wife; and a socially awkward engineer (so socially awkward that he declined to attend his wife’s book party).” Her advice to younger women is that the sooner you settle the less settling you’ll have to do. For older women, “settling involves selling your very soul in exchange for damaged goods,” while younger ones can make the smaller concession of building a life with “a perfectly acceptable man who may not trip your romantic trigger.”
If Hymowitz is right, however, women in their 20’s and 30’s will have to abandon more than romantic dreams when assessing the sea of perfectly unacceptable doofuses before them. Is she right? Her evidence is vivid but doesn’t quite hang together. If the Single Young Males are underachievers for whom adulthood is “receding,” it’s hard to understand how Maxim’s readers can have a median income of $60,000 at a median age of 26. They might prefer to spend all their time drinking and playing video games, but are at least grown-up enough to curtail that agenda in order to get and hold decent jobs.
Is it also true that the SYM’s devote many leisure hours to “bars and parties, where [they] meet, and often bed, girls of widely varied hues and sizes”? If so, are these enablers the same SYF’s who complain in “Internet chat rooms, in advice columns, at female water-cooler confabs, and in the pages of chick lit, [that] the words ‘immature’ and ‘men’ seem united in perpetuity”? Or are they scabs who ruin the bargaining position of the women outside on the picket line?
Adolescence “appears to be the young man’s default state,” concludes Hymowitz, because “it is marriage and children that turn boys into men.” It’s a point Rousseau would have understood: “Men will always be what it pleases women for them to be; therefore, if you want men to be great and virtuous, teach women the meaning of greatness of soul and virtue.”