Times Have Really Changed

I have a friend in her late thirties who has many friends in the same age group. They are single and looking for life partners but finding that the dating world is not as rewarding as they would like it to be.

I have known my friend for several years, and in that time she and her female friends have gone through a lot of ups and downs, relationship-wise. I have talked with her about her own difficulties, and I have occasionally overheard telephone conversations she has had with friends who are enduring emotional crises. It hasn’t been an easy time for any of them.

clubbing Austin
Clubbing by Atmtx via Flickr

It is trite to say that times have changed, but dammit, times have REALLY changed. I try to give my friend advice based on my very limited experience of love and romance, but all I can really do is reaffirm that she and her friends are good people deserving of love. In the end, though, I have no real idea of what it is like to be dating these days.

The women I am referring to are intelligent, attractive, well-educated, gainfully employed, and have interests outside of work. And yet, they seem stuck in a merry-go-round of clubs, hookups, and bad dates. The men in their lives do not want to commit to anything permanent, even when they are in longer-term relationships. The women try to make it work but ultimately find themselves breaking up and getting back together repeatedly with partners who will never be what they want them to be.

Something is wrong, here, folks, and I don’t know what to suggest to them. I have considered all the reasons for this situation, including their time spent on their educations, career development, failed marriages, etc. etc. Any of those things may be true in certain circumstances, but none of those explains the seemingly universal inability of single men in that age group to commit to something permanent.

awkward dates
Sign at Vaucluse Lounge by Chris Goldberg via Flickr

If I could boil it down, I’d say that the women want children and the men don’t. That sounds a bit crass, and maybe it is, but I cannot think of anything else that would explain the problems that so many women are having.

At the same time, some of these lovely people are trying to duck the bullets shot at them by well-meaning family members who wonder why they haven’t settled down, or had babies, or planned a wedding, or tied the knot. That pressure (which may be called teasing) is more than some people can bear, and if you are even hinting at any of that stuff with someone in your life, just stop it. Please. Don’t do it. It serves no useful purpose.

The fact is that previous generations, my own included, have not made marriage appear to be an attractive life choice. Anything, even solitude, seems to many people to be a preferable lifestyle. We older people have created this world, and it’s hard for us to look in that mirror, but I think we must.

A solo world is fine for those whose only interests are career and hobbies, but if their dreams include a family, then they are looking at some bad odds. Their choices may have to include single parenthood, and for that, they will need a support group. With any luck, they will have a girlfriend who can help them out. I hope so because right now the guys aren’t looking as though they are up for it.


  1. My grandmother advised me when I was a young man. “Never get married,” so I never did. Of my two older brothers, one divorced twice while the other is still married. Younger men look at the odds — 50% divorce rate — and it doesn’t seem appealing. I have been very happy living my life as a hermit with hobbies.

    • Yes, indeed, the divorce rate is a very good indicator of the difficulty of sustaining a marriage. I’m glad you are enjoying life, David P.

      Since my husband passed away in 2006 I initially thought I would remarry, but after dating for a while decided that being single suited me better. I enjoy my lovely solo lifestyle.

      At the same time, though, I am not in the same situation as these women in their 30s who want children. It really is not looking good for them.

      • This is just my perspective, but we grew up in an age of feminism where marriage and family were devalued; men were depicted as ogres and buffoons; fatherhood was too authoritarian and patriarchal; having children was considered harmful to the environment; and young women were taught to be independent and self-reliant.

        Men were viewed as useless relics. Having a career was necessary to shatter the stereotype of a woman in bondage to her husband and children. So women traded family for a career; and then reality hits hard in their 30’s when they realize that something is missing from their lives … that which they rejected — a husband and children.

        In my parent’s generation, people married young and had a family in their early 20’s. That’s the difference. Priorities changed so we’ve created a society of narcissistic, self-absorbed citizens who are not willing to make the sacrifice that previous generations instinctively made.

        I count myself guilty.

        • I count myself among those who encouraged and lauded women’s education and self-sufficiency. At the time, though, we thought we were creating more choices, not fewer.

          My generation didn’t feel it was trading a family for a career but, instead, changing the order of events. We thought we could postpone parenthood. It turns out that isn’t always possible.

          I do agree that popular media has too often done a disservice to men and their role in family life, and that continues to some extent even today. That is a great pity, especially to those of us who had loving, wise, and supportive fathers. It isn’t necessary to denigrate men in order to raise up women.

          • My perspective, from a man’s point of view, is that the good stock of men, those that are prime candidates for marriage and fatherhood, is significantly thinner by the time a woman reaches her 30’s.

            I understand about changing the order of family and career, but it does invert the priorities such that the availability of options will favor one over the other.

            It may not seem fair to women, but it is a hard fact of life … and nature.

            • Oh, I wanted to add that it doesn’t help that the media and pop culture promote the idea that women cannot be happy and fulfilled unless they have a career. It further devalues the tradition of marriage and family.

            • You are right. It doesn’t help. I always thought that the choices to have a family first, have a career first, or not have a career, or not have a family were equally valid. Popular culture, though, has not done justice to all four choices. I am particularly critical of sit-coms, but there is plenty of blame to be shared.

  2. I think women are becoming way more empowered and more discerning than they were before and are finding it super hard to find a partner who is worthy of them.

    My daughter in law has basically decided that once she’s done with school she’s going to use a sperm donor for another baby because she wants what she wants and is fed up with the unsuitable options out there. I totally applaud her and others who are making the same choice. Our culture and families are changing and it’s so interesting to watch it all unfold! ❤

    • Oh yes! And I am very supportive of women becoming more empowered and discerning. It’s high time!

      Your daughter-in-law is taking a very level-headed approach to parenthood, and I applaud her. That takes a lot of courage.

  3. I think Americans need to learn the skills of being in relationships that are on equal footing, and how to negotiate our differences in those relationships. I don’t think activities based around drinking alcohol are good places to look for a partner interested in a long-term relationship. But I’m just guessing.
    I have two nieces who are turning 40 this year; both previously married and not finding another long-term partner. I am not sure why, and asked them once, four years ago, about their dating lives. It wasn’t a question that sparked their interest. I regret asking and won’t ask again. I agree with you; it isn’t helpful.

  4. My heart goes out to your friend. I don’t know which is worse: To unquestioningly adopt the role of wife and mother as generations past did — or to pine for a family, as so many single women do today. Either way, I’m going to hug my husband extra-hard tonight. I was lucky to find my life-long keeper on the first try …

  5. I totally agree that finding a marriage partner at a bar is not the preferred choice. Organized social activities centered on a common hobby or interest is a much better option.

    With regards to inequality — I never subscribed to the assertion that men and women are unequal. Though they have been disparaged for the past 50 years, there is value in the traditional roles of male and female.

    The roles of motherhood and homemaker were once advanced and respected. I was so thankful and grateful to have the comfort and security of a stay-at-home mom. It was wonderful to come home from school and know that she would always be there.

    It’s good for the child to have that parental nurturing which too many children are deprived of in a single parent home, or where both parents are working. Studies have show that children are at greater risk of delinquency and maladjustment when reared in a non-traditional environment.

    It seems like society has been too eager to overthrow thousands of years of social development. All of a sudden we know better than the generations that came before us?

    We seem to ignore that society is plunging headlong on a course of self-destruction. It is the end result of most species that have reached the apex of their development.

  6. I, too, benefitted from having a stay-at-home parent until I was in school full time. I was the youngest of six children and my parents did an outstanding job of keeping us all clothed and fed on one income for many years. In most cities now it takes two incomes to maintain a home and raise a family. One simply is not enough.

    While I don’t share your apocalyptic view of the downfall of humankind, I agree that a course correction is overdue in all our societies. Let us hope we are able to come together to make that happen.

    • I know that some women seek a partner who has greater social standing or wealth, but I wonder how prevalent that is. The young women I know are looking for a partner who will not diminish their standing but I don’t think they are looking to advance it through that partner. Mostly they seem to seek a partner with a similar educational level and some common interests.

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