I was curious how men and women felt about the word ‘marriage’ in today’s world. When I decided to go and research the topic, I was not surprised what I learned about the answer.
Published in the Wall Street Journal was an article claiming that marriage was on the decline because men’s cheap access to sex. How true this statement is I am not sure, but it does seem that more single men have access to sex than in the past. The argument by sociologist Mark Regnerus didn’t go much further than the age-old adage “nobody will buy the cow if you’re giving away the milk for free”. Most men would tell you if you’re looking to commit to the big ‘M’ word to be able to have sex, you can get the milk for free if you know how to play your cards right with the women in this world today.
Ladies, I am going to ask you one time, “Do you really fall for those guys that all they are seeking from you is sex? Is this true ladies? Do you ladies buy into these men’s games that they will use you and then leave you once they get what they want from you? Is this what you are looking for in the men in this world today or are you ladies looking for more than romance from men in this world?
Because the way I take from what I researched is that both men and women have become comfortable with being in an uncommitted relationship, being free to do as they please without having someone looking over their shoulder every day. “Many women today expect little in return for sex, in terms of time, attention, commitment or fidelity,” Regnerus (2017) claims. “Men in turn, do not feel compelled to supply those goods as they once did, it is the new sexual norm for Americans” (Regnerus, 2017). On the other hand, women are looking for good men without supporting the sexual norms that would make men better.
When I hear the phrase ‘new normal’ I feel that we are out with the old and in with the new. What I enjoy about life around me is unavailable and may never return. That our children will grow up seeing the world as we have painted the picture to be the norm here in America and will never understand what it means to be in a true relationship. The pandemic has robbed so many people of peace, security, and purpose that it triggers a survival instinct. In this mindset you can only think about one thing and that is, “What will it take to make it through to the next day?” You see that your circumstances have become reality and you feel alone, abandoned, and judged. This is not all true, we have to remember that a survivor is someone who has overcome great adversity. To go from surviving to being a survivor you must recapture your identity and purpose. The thing we have to remember is our circumstances may not have changed but your struggles no longer define who you are.
Whether we are married or not married during the pandemic really has not played on why men and women are holding off on getting married. In fact, Chamie (2021) said there are some major factors to why marriage has declined in recent years. Partly because females are getting education and are labor force participants, becoming more economically independent and from gender equality. There are more women and men living alone as well as increasing unmarried cohabitation (Chamie, 2021). Why tie the knot when you can get everything for free when both partners are willing to agree to live in cohabitation? You are not obligated to each other and are free to do as you please with whomever you decide to be with at that time. All you are really doing is sharing a place to call home for whenever you decide to be there. I mean why bother making the commitment to getting married when you live free from obligation that marriage brings to the table?
The other thing that has drastically changed in society today is the way men and women are thinking about childbearing. Chamie (2021) has this to say about childbearing in America, “American attitudes about childbearing and marriage have also change markedly (p. 1).” For example, whereas in 2006 about half of U.S. adults said it was very important for couples having children together to legally marry, by 2020 that proportion had fallen to 29 percent (Chamie, 2021). This proportion of U.S. birth to unmarried mothers is about 40 percent, double what it was in 1980 according to Chamie. The other factor that is included with the decline in marriage is religious adherence to marriage, public disenchantment with marriage, and more recently, unstable jobs and strained finances, particularly among the lower-income earners and those with just a high school education. Delaying marriage because of the age factor has also played into the decline.
Let’s now take a look at the other side of this picture and find what the benefits are to getting married. Why men and women are afraid to make the big ‘M’ commitment to each other.
We have to look at the bigger picture to what you gain from getting married rather than staying single, unmarried, and unfeeling your obligation to your partner that you begin to build a relationship with. Stanley (2021) said that “most single men plan to marry someday, and would benefit from marriage. So why do they hesitate to commit?” (p. 1). One reason that men don’t commit to marriage is that entails a substantial change in their behavior and commitment. I do have to agree with this statement that yes, there is a change in commitment and behavior but if you think about it, you have to do the same thing when you cohabitate with each other. I have been on both sides where I have lived with my partner before we committed to getting married to each other and still make changes with that person that you cohabitate with. The only thing different is the piece of paper that binds you legally as a couple. The thing about human beings we are different from each other, even our counterparts are different than us. Stanley (2021) tells us “in many romantic relationships, one partner desires a higher level of commitment, engagement or marriage, while the other is content to let the relationship stay in its current form” (p. 1). More than likely in this situation it is the women that are more committed than the men are. We tend to drag our feet as long as we dare to drag them along. Which is certainly in line with contemporary cultural stereotypes (Stanley, 2021).
I was talking with my boss at work who was married and because he could not handle his wife telling him what he could and could not do, he decided to divorce her so that he wouldn’t have to deal with having another partner tell him what to do or what he can or cannot spend. I feel that from my research I understand that part of the reason why men are afraid of making the ‘M’ commitment is they do not want to have someone constantly looking over their shoulder telling them what they should be doing. The ladies on the other hand see the benefit of being committed in a relationship. Stanley (2021) says “in many romantic relationships, one partner desires a higher level of commitment – engagement or marriage – while the other is content to let the relationship stay in its current form” (p. 1). Both men and women benefit from a committed relationship but Stanley states that “men benefit more overall. In addition to being happier and healthier than bachelors, married men earn more money and live longer” (Stanley, 2021, p. 1).
A survey done on dating around a decade ago, showed that men tend to agree more than women do that getting married is healthier than staying single and unmarried men are more likely than women to say that they prefer to be married (Stanley, 2021).
You would think from this report that more men would be seeking for more committed relationships than women. They are the ones that are going to gain more out of the relationship than the women. Why are men hesitating about tying the knot?
Stanley (2021) believes that men are afraid to commit to marriage more than women are because they believe marriage requires a substantial increase in their behavioral commitment and men are not ready for this transition. There are three sources that Stanley talks about that cover this theory: (1) qualitative, focus group research by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe presented in 2002; (2) the findings and conclusions of sociologist Steve Nocks; (3) the work of Stanley and his colleagues on sacrifice and commitment. Let’s go ahead a dig into what Stanley and his colleagues discovered in this theory about commitment and marriage between men and women in society today.
The research done by Whitehead and Popenoe (2002) was on sixty never-married, heterosexual men who came from a variety of religious, ethnic, and family backgrounds and ranged in age from 25 to 33. The man reported the main reason they resist marriage they could enjoy most of the benefits without being married. They could get the benefit from cohabitation with their partner. They further experienced no social pressure of getting married from family, not from friends, and not from the family from the women they lived with. Men tend to associate marriage with more responsibilities and with greater loss of finances. The men in the research said the one benefit of not marrying was if they did marry their girlfriend-now-wife would tell them what to do. Stanley (2021) perceived this idea as “an inner view that, after marriage – but not before – their partners have the right to tell them what to do” (p. 2). Scholars would tell you today that the major reason behind this view is wives tend to directly influence their husbands’ behavior by saying things like, “That’s your third beer tonight – why don’t you stop with that?” “You need to go to the doctor and get that mole looked at.” “You’ve been working late every night, running yourself ragged, it’s time to cut back” (Stanley, 2021). Young men tend to look at this as a drawback to marriage than to see it as helping them stay healthy and live life longer.
Let us take a look at sociologist Steven Nock’s views on this topic and what he has to share with us. According to Sociologist Nock (1989) marriage changes men in fundamental ways. In his book Marriage in Men’s Lives (1989), Nock explains how men’s belief system about themselves and their wives changes when they cross the line (Stanley, 2021). Nock in his book explains that men start to see themselves as fathers, providers, and protectors when they transition into marriage. For example, men tend to spend less when they have a family, they tend to spend less time with their friends apart from marriage and family and start to spend more time with their family in the community they live in. Stanley (2021) argues that “causality can be argued, but research strategies designed to account for selection effects suggest that on at least some of these measures, marriage does have a causal impact” (p. 3). I feel that both men and women tend to change a little after they get married. I feel it’s because we are adjusting to that person that has become part of our lives that it is a natural thing that occurs in any newly married couple. Yes, there is more responsibility to being married than being single. We realize that a person who once was just a girlfriend is now our wife and we agreed in front of family and friends that we would step up and be responsible for this person’s care. We are trying to find our place in the relationship as she is trying to do the same. There is going to be fine-tuning adjustments to any relationship that you get involved in, whether you are married or just living together.
We have come to the 3rd part of the theory to why men and women are opting out of getting married today in society. Stanley (2021) and colleagues researched sacrifice in a marriage that provides another window to be opened up here. This is the difference between men and women. Stanley and his colleagues have “found commitment to the future is more important in explaining the male attitudes about sacrifice in marriage than the female attitudes about sacrifice” (p. 4). For example, women may be more socialized to give to others, regardless of the commitment status of a particular relationship (Stanley, 2021).
On the other hand, men have to make sure that the sacrifice for their partner is the right choice they are making without resenting the choice that they have made. They have to make sure that is the woman that he wants to be with for the rest of his life. Once they have decided that this is the woman and make the commitment to be with her for the rest of their lives the internal transformation occurs. According to Stanley (2021), he believes that “the average woman sacrifices more fully, starting earlier on in the romantic relationships than the average man” (p. 4). I have to agree with Stanley here because I feel that the women from the beginning of any relationship are looking for the bigger commitment in the end, whether they are willing to admit this or not. But I do feel for the most part that a woman who has been in a relationship for a while will be looking for a long-term commitment from her partner.
To summarize, marriage does change both people in some way. There is nothing to do about this for the simple fact that you both come from different backgrounds and you have been raised differently than each other. Each will seek out how their parents were as a couple and this is what most married couples expected marriage to be. Stanley (2021) explains it this way, “if marriage has been a particularly strong signal of a change in men’s committed behavior, it would explain the stereotypes of women pushing for marriage and men resisting” (p. 4). I would like to share with you something that Stanley shared in his research paper from Steve Nocks before he passed from this world. I feel this will sum up how I feel about marriage in society today. What you single men are giving up in this messed up world we live in today.
“Regardless of how much the behavior of males and females may change in the years ahead, I believe that Steve Nocks had it right when, in one of the last works he wrote before his untimely passing, he predicted that marriage would become an increasingly potent signal of commitment as other relationship forms become more common (i.e., cohabitation).”
I will agree, not all relationship transitions are transformative, but marriage is not one of those relationships that cannot go unchanged. They do matter in this world.