25 April 2013

The Man Chair: Fears About Marriage

In the Man Chair: Evan Miller
Age: 26
Occupation: Copywriter
Marital status: Single
Children: No
Blog: http://evanmiller.me

Question: What things about marriage scare you, or scare guys in general?

Evan's response:

I'm a 26-year-old single American male. I have no children, no girlfriend; however, I do desire to have a family someday. 

But I never want to get married.

I know a few of you are scratching your heads and going back to re-read that first sentence, but that isn't a typo. I want to have a family, but I don't want to get married. 

The question Sarah gave me for this post was: "What things about marriage scare you, or scare guys in general?" and the short answer is: the consequences of a failed marriage. 

It's an elephant in the room that's rarely discussed. Two-thirds of all divorces are initiated by women, and women are granted child custody 84% of the time. 

If someday I get married, legally, and my wife becomes dissatisfied and initiates a divorce, I'm in big trouble.

I lose the kids, I lose her, and—if we own a home or apartment together—I'm ejected from the home we've built, and I have to pay child support. 

I read somewhere that divorced men are ten times more likely to commit suicide, I believe it. 

Traditional, legal, state-sanctioned marriage has a multitude of benefits for couples who stick together. A better tax bracket, for one thing. But if that marriage falls apart, and if there are children involved, the man can end up bearing a very heavy burden.

I'm going to guess that for most of the audience, this is new information. Rarely are the consequences of a botched marriage discussed from the man's perspective. 

And, honestly, I don't think a lot of men are aware of these facts, but I do think many men have a subconscious awareness of them, and that feeds our reluctance to get married. 

It's a frustrating place for a man to be. It makes us look unsure of our level of commitment, when it really might be simple self-preservation. 

Another factor in our reluctance to get married is that a lot of men seem to be unsure of where they fit in our society. They don't know what their role in relationships is supposed to be. And the difficulties that men face, as a gender, seem to have been written off as "not important."

Over the past fifty-plus years, female gender roles in our culture have been slowly eroded. It's becoming more and more common for women to be the breadwinners and the Dads to stay home with the kids, almost every college has a women's studies program, there's plentiful funding for programs that allow women to explore careers traditionally dominated by men, and women's fashion is slowly (but steadily) adopting a more realistic, non-emaciated standard of feminine beauty.

But we haven't really had a similar revolution for men. Male gender roles seem to be a much more difficult bag to unpack and examine. And our society is paying the price for it. 

Men are lagging behind women in all levels of education. We commit suicide four times more often than women across EVERY age group. And the problems of rape and domestic violence are placed wholly on the shoulders of men, framed as something that can only be done BY men TO women, despite their being quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.

We're having difficulties as a gender that aren't being discussed at all. And on the few occasions when I've tried to bring these subjects up with people, I'm painted as trying to minimize or deny the problems that women face. When, in fact, I'm just trying to understand more of the problem.

It's a perplexing situation. Our identity, as men, feels shaky. Books like "The End of Men" gleefully celebrate our difficulties.  And the message from our culture seems to be "suck it up and move on guys."

To top all of that off, there is a suspicion, a theory, that men are being given two pairs of shoes to fill in our relationships with women. 

Warren Farrell is an American educator, activist and author of several books on men's and women's issues. In one of his books, The Myth of Male Power, he divides marriages into two different types: Stage 1 and Stage 2. 

A Stage 1 marriage is survival-focused. 
A Stage 2 marriage is self-fulfillment focused. 

As recently as the 1950s, quite a few human beings were still in Stage 1 marriages. Before that, survival-focused marriages were the rule, and only a precious few exceptions were made. 

In a Stage 1, love didn't mean what it does today. For a man it meant: "This woman will take good care of the children and the household," and for a woman it meant: "This man will be a good provider and protect our family."

In 2013, most of the world has moved on to the luxury of Stage 2. But while women have happily moved on to Stage 2, a lot of men are still stuck in Stage 1. And many women seem to want the benefits of a man in a Stage 1 mindset, with the Stage 2 tacked on after the fact. 

Don't believe me?

Men who do more traditionally female forms of housework get less sex.

Male-dominated professions still include the cop, soldier, and firefighter. All of these men are trying to fulfill the expectations of Stage 1. 

Quite a few women love a Stage 1 man in uniform. 

But the problem with the Stage 1 mindset is that it doesn't always work very well in long-term relationships. When men are firmly ensconced in Stage 1, that doesn't always leave a lot of room for the mutual self-fulfillment of Stage 2. 

Quite a few women are marrying for Stage 1 benefits, and then expecting a deeper relationship where both parties have moved on to Stage 2. 

In short, men's reluctance in getting married isn't because we're afraid of commitment. 

It's because we're not entirely sure what we're committing to. 

A lot of us are skeptical about the institution of marriage, unsure about our role in the family unit, and frightened that a woman's stated preference for a certain type of man won't be the kind of man she'll want to be with for the rest of her life. 

For more men to become unafraid of long-term romantic commitments, a lot of things need to happen. Marriage, as a legal concept, needs to drastically change. We (men) need to learn how to communicate our needs to you (women) honestly and openly, and we need to know you'll be listening with an open heart. 

Most important of all: both of us need to be radically honest about what we really, really want. 

What are your thoughts about Evan's post? Do you agree, disagree, or have experiences you would like to share? Please be respectful in your responses. 

If you liked this post or found it interesting, please share it with others. 

Would you like to sit in the Man Chair or submit a question for the Man chair? Please email me. If you would like more information on how the Man Chair works, click here.
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  1. I thought this post was awesome. I think that gender roles in general are all over the place and everyone has a different opinion about how each one should be played. It makes things messy for everyone.

    I like how clear Evan was about men's legal rights. I completely agree that men have the disadvantage in *almost* every way. Ben and I have often talked about how if he were to hit me, that would be considered abuse, whereas if I were to hit him, no one would care. I think guys have it rough for sure. I never tied that to hesitancy with commitment, but now I really understand how they can be linked.

    Great post!

  2. very well said. I've never thought about how men are really getting a beating these days. Being a stereotypical white middle class male isn't so fun. =) Very insightful. I wish every feminist everywhere would read this. =)

  3. I too agree with the unfairness of the treatment men receive from so many elements of society, and I've seen way too many instances of men being discriminated against after a divorce. A man that my parents have known for years has experienced this first-hand. His wife cheated on him and then told him she wanted a divorce. She gets to keep the house and custody of the kids, even though he is (in any sane person's opinion) *much* more involved in the boys' lives. She let him know that if he fought her on anything, she'd make it nearly impossible for him to see the boys. A father is so important to his children, but I feel like the courts and society as a whole diminish their role. I appreciated a number of points made in this post--thanks for sharing!

  4. Life is tough, so is marriage. I think owning a car can be difficult also. If it breaks, gets a flat tire or even runs out of gas you are responsible to keep it going. In all fairness some times people we know buy or get real lemons for cars and they have to take them back or sell them,... But those stories do not keep the rest of us from buying and owning cars. This is a process that works for a lot of people and it can work for you. Do your homework and don't focus so much on the external features. You will end up with a model that will work for you for a long time,... perhaps forever. Mine has never broken down yet.


What are your thoughts, my friends?

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