Liberals sometimes express their ideal as being the individual pursuit of happiness. But such a pursuit is likely to leave many people feeling uncommitted in life, as if they were merely treading water rather than plunging in. Perhaps that's because humans have a powerful impulse to love and to serve, so much so that this is felt to be one necessary part of a truly committed and meaningful life.
I don't think we can ignore this impulse to love and to serve, as it is an aspect of life that needs to be carefully ordered. It very easily goes wrong.
With men, the easiest focus of this impulse is to love and to serve a wife. The service here is not to something intangible, but to a person who is real and immediate, and who draws love not only by her own individual feminine attractiveness, but by a man associating her with a perceived feminine essence of beauty and goodness. A man feels elevated in his own feelings when making this kind of commitment, particularly as in doing so he draws on, and exercises, his own stronger masculine qualities.
So how does this go wrong? You get a hint of the problem from what went wrong in the Middle Ages. The literary tradition of courtly love was about men becoming lovesick for a noblewoman and pledging their service to them as a way of winning the lady's love. The men were expected to grovel and abase themselves as part of the process. The outcome depended on the whim of the lady - she held the upper hand throughout.
A commitment to serve can be thought to give power to the person being served. In modern marriage, this can mean that a man's willingness to commit to marriage and to work to provide for his wife and children can be perceived by the woman to make him "beta" - and therefore sexually unattractive, making for a less than happy outcome for both husband and wife.
The solution? One part of the solution, in my opinion, is for men to have other outlets for the "love and service" impulse and not to rest everything on the marital relationship. A man can love and serve God, his nation/people/country, and his local place/community. Saint Thomas Aquinas thought that the focus on the larger communal life, in being oriented to the common good, was the highest natural fulfilment of men
Whereas the residents of the village better serve their individual interests, the goal of the political community becomes the good of the whole, or the common good, which Aquinas claims (following Aristotle) is "better and more divine than the good of the individual." (Commentary on the Politics, Book 1, Lesson 1 ). The political community is thus understood as the first community (larger than the family) for which the individual makes great sacrifices, since it is not merely a larger cooperative venture for mutual economic benefit. It is, rather, the social setting in which man truly finds his highest natural fulfilment. In this sense, the political community, even though not directed to the individual good, better serves the individual by promoting a life of virtue in which human existence can be greatly ennobled.
The further advantage to a man of dedicating part of his life to the larger community he belongs to, is that it practically repudiates the impression that he is merely a servant to his wife.
However, for this to work, it needs to be built into the social arrangements. Despite not finding "servant men" sexually attractive, women still tend to jealously guard their monopoly over men's time and resources. It's difficult to ask a solitary man to break through this alone; better if it is normal within a society for men to spend part of the week doing church activities, or contributing to some sort of cultural or political organisation.
And what of marriage itself? It's common for men to think that women will appreciate the sacrifices they make by going out to work to provide money for their wives and children. But women are strangely unaffected by this. In a woman's mind, this is just something that men do. Maybe this is women not wanting to think that their husbands are doing "servant" work as this would make the husband unattractive. Or maybe it reflects the long human prehistory when men went out to hunt, leaving women's minds focused on their relationships with other women and with children.
Sacrificing as a breadwinner does not rebalance the marital relationship. It might be thought that the solution then is for women to also love and serve their husbands. It's true that this would help. It also seems to be true that Western culture used to encourage women to do this: think of the advice to wives to cook something nice for their husbands, or to give him a warm and welcome environment for him to return to after work.
On the other hand, women are more likely to be focused on a "love and serve" relationship with their children rather than their husband. It's noticeable that a husband's love for his wife is likely to be constant, as you would expect when someone makes a commitment to love and to serve. Similarly, a mother's love for her children is also usually constant. But a wife's love for her husband is likely to be inconstant - a woman might even say things to her husband such as "I don't even like you right now".
What would help most is if the roles of husband and father had more power, authority and prestige associated with them. Then a man could love and serve his wife and children without the negative implication that he was thereby submitting to his wife, rather than leading in a masculine way.
But this cannot be a pretend role, a role that we pay lip service to, whilst the same old dynamic continues on as before. A husband has to be trusted to exercise real authority within his family and he should not be undermined by family laws which make it extraordinarily easy for his wife to strip him of children, home and income.
We could decisively reject some of the egalitarian ethos. My own father used to sit at the head of the table; be served first; and read family prayers. The point of this is not power for its own sake, but to embed the dignity of the office itself - which is necessary for a system of marriage to work. It is a pushing back against the strong forces eroding a man's position in the family, including a wife's perception that her husband is there to serve her and is therefore lowlier than her, and that she is in the position to easily control him, which kills her respect and passion for him.