I never planned to get married at the early-spring age of 23. While all my friends were either pairing off or pining to do so, I was plotting how to live several years on each of the seven continents (yes, even chilly, dark, Antartica). Husbands and babies were the furthest thing from my mind, and at 23, I had room enough and time to be cavalier about my singleness. I knew my desire for adventure and my lack of desire for marriage were unusual, but I never felt insecure or ashamed.
According to the sprawling cover story of The Atlantic, had I remained single rather than choosing to marry, being a single female would no longer be that unusual. According to Kate Bolick, culture editor for Veranda magazine, more and more women are remaining single due to a shortage of “marriageable” men—men who earn more money and are more educated. The perfect storm of women’s ascent in society and the simultaneous decline in life prospects for men has led to a “crisis in gender” in which women must choose between deadbeats and players.
For Bolick, the economic crisis has split the dating pool into two camps: deadbeats who are unemployed, underemployed, or uneducated, and the playboys who eschew commitment because the demand for successful men outnumbers the supply. These changes come in conjunction with the tendency for people to marry later, marry less, and the ability to have a biological child without a physical partner.
Bolick argues that the world must come to grips about these changes in marriage, intimacy, and kinship in order to have less unhappy families. As an alternative to the nuclear family, she suggests the collaborative raising of children by a group of women who reside together—a variant of the social structure demonstrated by the Mosuo people in China.
Bolick makes some important critiques about the way society views single woman—as if they were adjuncts to society, incomplete in themselves. She urges others to not reduce women’s identity to just whom it is they do or do not marry, but to consider the depth and complexities of the network of relationships that emerge from our roles as daughters, friends, aunts, and cousins. Bolick makes her finest point when she resolves to accept her singleness. “If I stopped seeing my present life as provisional,” she writes, “perhaps I’d be a little more … happier.”
Still, a number of concerns surface in Bolick’s piece regarding the nature of marriage. First, Slate’s Jessica Grose offers an incisive critique that most of the twelve cover stories written by women have to do with nothing more than specific women’s issues. Second, Bolick states that due to the economy, single women must choose between deadbeats and players. Given that Bolick has more experience than I do in the dating game, I can take this at face value as her experience, but I have trouble equating men who have lost their jobs or have taken paycuts due to The Great Recession as “deadbeats.” Are marriageable men only those who make more than we do? Does that automatically make men “losers” if they don’t? Do we want gender parity, or to be able to marry up?
Second, she places the blame for the shifting state of marriage in America on the broad back of the women’s movement. Due to the women’s movement, we are putting off marriage, marrying less often, and have developed biological means to have children without a man. Although she doesn’t support her claim with evidence, a connection between the two can be reasoned. However, she takes this to nth degree when she proposes to raise children in families of women, and reduce the role of male to a sexual partner. This greatly diminishes the role and identity of men and minimizes the gratifying, mutually beneficial relationship that men and women were designed to have.
Bolick’s article is endearingly rambling—one feels as though they were along on the ride with her as she comes to grips with her singleness. Life experiences are, after all, very rarely as straightforward as a three-point essay. But her perceptions about marriage and men underscore the importance of Christians providing—by rhetoric and by example—a meaningful alternative to the prevailing views about marriage.