Friday, January 18, 2008

Dating cruelly biased?

Dating is one of the most difficult things for modern men to negotiate. One of the problems is that feminism has encouraged women to pursue independence in their twenties, which translates into careers, travel and casual relationships. There’s little pressure on women at this time to cultivate attractively feminine qualities, or to make the right signals to men seeking serious relationships, or to restrain the impulse to reward bad boy behaviour.

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.


  1. Definately true. A lot of younger women don't seem to realise that their youth and beauty will fade. Nothing lasts forever.

    As a result, they waste a lot of time.

    Poor planning really.

  2. This is so irritating. She isn't complaining that dating is cruelly biased. She likes that it's cruelly biased - when it's biased in favour of women. If the power flip didn't occur she'd think everything was just fine.

  3. Anon, I would make the argument that it is better for men, women, and society at large that the dating world be biased in favor of women, as it has traditionally been. There need not be anything "cruel" about it. Merely a recognition that female sexuality is of astronomically greater significance than the masculine, and that the entire enterprise of civilized relations between men and women boils down to making certain that women are allowed to choose their mates on terms basically favorable to the formation and protection of stable families.

    I share your reservations about her motives--as a typical modern, she is thinking in zero sum terms of "what's best for me personally." But on the other hand, I think weighting the rules of courtship in a woman's favor is sort of basic to what we think of as civilization, since men are not as rule to be trusted to decide things on the basis of long-term planning. I happen to think that the invention and wide dissemination of the birth control pill made these developments more or less inevitable, but that's a different discussion.

  4. "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)."

    The imbalance is even worse if you compare childless single women and childless single men. In the 30-39 age group, most single women are single mothers. The remainder are largely middle-aged adolescents who enjoy the single life.

    Before I met the woman I married, my last girlfriend (then 32) dumped me for a biker. He then left her a few months later. At that point, she was interested in getting back together and we met a few times to talk things over.

    She hadn't changed. She didn't feel sorry for what had happened and there was no indication that the same thing wouldn't happen again. She was like so many other women her age. They experience everything ... and learn nothing.

  5. Anonymous (5;48), what you are describing is what happens when autonomy is made the highest good for women. There is then nothing to orient women or to provide principles for behaviour. It's just following current wants or ambitions.

  6. Anon: "They experience everything, and learn nothing"

    Hope you don't mind if I steal that quote.

  7. What astounds me in all these feminist and post-feminist commentators, is the complete lack of consideration that perhaps much of this problem lies in men not wanting to 'couple' with what's on offer. This is where I'm at myself.

    I see these women all the time, and just can't seem to find them attractive; moreover, I find it difficult to respect a woman who has spent her life as a radical and suddenly thinks she can fall into my arms and be the mother of my children.

    Sorry "sister", but actions have consequences.

  8. Kilroy, what used to astonish me is that the question of what men might be looking for was never even raised, yet the "what women want" was everywhere. It was as if it was just assumed that men would go along with anything.

    BTW, being as stubborn as I am, I always thought the best revenge on feminists was to marry a feminine Australian girl and enjoy a traditional marriage - which I eventually managed to do, albeit somewhat later than I would have preferred.

    I found it easier not only when the female cohort I was dating was long out of uni, but when I decided not to wait to meet a ready made traditionalist woman. I began to look, instead, for relatively non-political women who seemed feminine at heart and who were willing to make family a priority.

    I do think there are fair numbers of Western women in this category.

  9. 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.

    Certainly there are some men in the world who are very keen on commitment and family life who would be happy to settle down earlier, rather than later, but it was my own observation, as a young woman who would gladly have married at 20, that most men of my acquaintance (in the 20 - 30 years bracket) were not so interested in this. I don't know if this correlates with the experience of others.

    All-in-all the dating scene is sad and ultimately biased against family formation, regardless of which sex has more power.

    This is bad news for society - everyone loses.

  10. Kilroy and Mark, you are quite right in what you say. Your solution, Mark, was sheer genius! I will file the idea for later, when my sons are ready to marry.

  11. "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"

    Doesn't getting government welfare simply mean getting hundreds of thousands of men to protect and provide for you instead of one? Not to mention the myriads more that built a society capable of affording it. How is it "not needing a man"?