And then when women hit their early thirties it suddenly changes. Instead of quirkiness, or androgyny or attempts to shock, you begin to meet women who make a real effort to be friendly and to present well.
By this time a lot of men have become demoralised or have internalised the non-committal culture of relationships. So there will be some competition for genuine husband material among thirty-something women.
Bettina Arndt has written a column discussing such dating issues. She confirms my own impressions by claiming that when people pass the carefree years of the twenties:
the dating world is suddenly a very different place.
When women hit their 30s, they encounter a “flip,” which shifts the balance of power in the dating game irrevocably in man’s favour, according to blogger Sam de Brito.
After years of grovelling for female company, now it is the men who find themselves in a buyer’s market as women start to panic over finding partners willing to father children.
“Mother nature is particularly unfair to her daughters and it’s about age 32 that many women realise life’s great game of musical chairs is cruelly weighted toward guys”.
Although I agree that the “flip” occurs, I don’t see why we should think of the situation as cruelly biased against women. After all, women have considerable advantages in their mid-20s, which is the more natural time for family formation.
Arndt then gives a sad statistic: by age 35-39 nearly a third (31%) of women are still single (feminists might at least ask themselves what went wrong). It’s not because of a shortage of men – according to Arndt there are nearly 500,000 more single men in their 30s than single women in Australia (the statistic, I have to say, seems excessive).
This surplus of single men has its limitations:
significant numbers of these men are unemployed and low-income – men who are the big losers in the partnering stakes and the most likely to end up never married.
And with many of the successful, better-educated men fishing outside their pool – choosing younger women, or women far less educated than themselves – this leaves a mighty lean pool for successful women.
Arndt draws the most obvious conclusion: it would help women if they attempted to partner earlier, when conditions are most favourable:
we should be encouraging women not to leave their run too late ... The lessons from the past few decades have been that it is in women’s interests to get serious about finding the right partner early – before the competition heats up.
Finally, Arndt takes on the opposition, in the form of comedian Kaz Cooke, who is continuing to encourage women to remain independent:
You don’t need a man to protect you, you don’t need a man for money, and you don’t need a man to make an impact in life and on what you do.
Arndt replies as follows:
Yes, but most women are still attracted to the exhilarating journey of a shared life with a family.
I think Arndt is giving away too much in this reply. Most women will need a man to protect and provide for them and their children. Even with government welfare, it’s still the case that much poverty is connected to single motherhood. A hard-working father is still a real asset to a woman seeking a good standard of living for her family.
And women do still look to men for protection. Consider the reasons given by Angela Epstein for preferring to put her security in the hands of a man. She suggests that her feelings:
may be sourced in the fact that every girl inherits the princess gene which dictates her desire for a strong male role model to cosset and comfort her.
I see it in my three-year-old daughter who runs to her older brothers or her daddy when a dog barks at her in the park. She trusts them more than me to protect her.
There’s a dash of the old “damsel in distress” dynamic at play too ...
The fact is that when we women are tired, weak, compromised, in need of sympathy and vulnerable, nothing beats the strong arm of male capability and its implied protection.
A man who doesn’t think he will be called on to play a protector role is likely to experience a shock on getting married. I doubt if a man can ever be as capable of filling this role as a woman would ideally like. Arguably, one of the skills required of men in marriage is to set limits to the expectations placed on them as protectors by their wives. It’s a difficult role to live up to, and often chastening - the fall from “hero to zero” is a quick one.
Denying the reality of the role does little to prepare men for it and so I would have answered Kaz Cooke differently than Bettina Arndt chose to do. Still, the basic idea behind Arndt’s column – that the delay in family formation is harmful to many women – is an important one to make.