Recently I read an interesting article from City Journal magazine, called “Love in the Time of Darwinism,” about the mess our current dating scene is in. A while back the author, Kay Hymowitze, had written an article for the same magazine, about how young men are more and more delaying the usual marks of adulthood, such as moving out on their own and starting a family, in favor of nice gadgets and lots of time spent “playing” – especially online. Meanwhile, young women were being the more responsible party, getting nice jobs and apartments and going to social events. As a result, a number of young men wrote to her to say that they had been treated unjustly. “Their argument, in effect, was that the SYM is putting off traditional markers of adulthood—one wife, two kids, three bathrooms—not because he’s immature but because he’s angry. He’s angry because he thinks that young women are dishonest, self-involved, slutty, manipulative, shallow, controlling, and gold-digging. He’s angry because he thinks that the culture disses all things male. He’s angry because he thinks that marriage these days is a raw deal for men.” She then goes on to explain the behaviors that can be seen as supporting that position, most notably their inconsistency in sometimes just wanting casual sex, and other times wanting chivalrous romantic attachment, and the reactions of men as seen at sites like “AmericanWomenSuck, NoMarriage, MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way), and Eternal Bachelor (“Give modern women the husband they deserve. None”).”
Not being in on the hip young professional scene, I’ll have to take her word on its’ overall dating disorder. I’ve heard similar complaints from elsewhere. What I found most interesting about the whole mess was how neither sex seemed to consider it a viable option to go looking for a mate who was less sexy, but had far better morals. Why continue to go to bars looking for a date, and then complain that all you find there is “bar tramps?” On the guys side, the answer seems obvious enough: it’s so much more trouble to attract a woman with both looks and character, than one with looks alone. On the side of the women involved, I’m not sure what’s going on. I suppose they’re lonely, or vain, or have bought too much into feminist cliches to recognize that their behavior is making it that much harder to give the “child-men” a reason to grow up.
Hymowitze off-handedly names, as people often do, Mr Darcy as the stereotypical Mr Perfect, and he is, of course. But how many men are we to expect who are hansom, well mannered, good, and rich, really? Jane Austen would be the first to admit, I’m sure, that there aren’t very many. That’s what makes him so delightful to read about. So she has a number of other romantic interests who are rather more like the normal men we might expect to know, but who are still quite good enough. And, for drama, a number of rascals (though not so very rascally by modern standards. Even Willoughby, who got a girl pregnant and then dumped her, is only behaving in a way that we take as a matter of course in many parts of society). What about some other couples who are a bit farther from perfection?
SPOILERS FOR MANSFIELD PARK
The story nearest to my point is that of Fanny Price and Mr. Crawford in Mansfield Park. Fanny is shy, reserved, sensible, with good character and manners, is considered rather pretty, though by no means (to use the words of one of Hymowitze’s correspondents) “a hot babe who is a perfect ten,”sweet, and something of a homebody. Mr Crawford is hansom, rich, lively, flirtatious, intelligent, and possesses tolerably good manners. Crawford falls in love with Fanny after flirting with her foster sisters, who are prettier and better connected, but lack her good sense. She refuses him on account of his lack of character and their dissimilar temperaments. He continues to pursue her for a few months, before instead getting in an affair with Fanny’s married foster sister, thus ruining Maria’s (the sister’s) reputation and losing Fanny forever. Several people were angry at Fanny for not accepting him at once, and thus not being there to influence him for the good. Near the end of the novel Austen notes that Crawford probably could have won Fanny over with time and patience, and that they would most likely have been quite happy together, with her character there to influence his toward goodness. Instead, Fanny ends op marrying her cousin, Edmond, who does have good sense and good character. Apparently that was alright back then. Yes, it has a plot rather like a soap opera.
Another less than perfect Austen romance features the case of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth. Anne is sensible, modest, educated, wealthy, reasonably pretty, and the daughter of a rather silly baronet. Captain W. is likewise sensible and educated, with good manners, money, and a good job. When she’s 19 and he’s 23, she rejects his proposal of marriage because it isn’t proper, and she’s very young. The romance then resumes eight years later, when she’s wiser to what she really wants in life, and he’s better able to support her.
The sentiments of the people in Hymowitze’s article sound rather like men and women who want everything without giving up anything. Which is to say they have no idea what they want. The men apparently want to have sex with skanks for a decade or so, and then settle down with a respectable, wealthy, intelligent wife. The women seem to have some similar arrangement in mind. As though it should be expected that one could walk into a bar and find someone who possesses the good sense of an Anne Elliot, and who looks like a “hot babe.” The reason I mentioned Persuasion was because Both Anne and Wentworth were determined that if they couldn’t find anyone as worth of affection as each other, they simply wouldn’t marry. Wentworth tried going out with another young woman, but it hardly got past flirting, and he didn’t really like her very well. (in accordance with the morals of the time, however, he would have married her if she had wanted, because the flirting was taken by everyone around to be going in that direction. There were some odd rules back then.) The modern paradigm for Wentworth seems to be that he would have casual “relationships” with as many women as possible and broadcast the fact, so that if he ever *were* to meet Anne again, she would not only reject him, but be glad of having escaped marrying such an immoral person.
According to a “Recovering Nice Guy” writing on Craigslist, the female preference for jerks and “assholes,” as they’re also widely known, lies behind women’s age-old lament, “What happened to all the nice guys?” His answer: “You did. You ignored the nice guy. You used him for emotional intimacy without reciprocating, in kind, with physical intimacy.” Women, [an online correspondent] says, are actually not attracted to men who hold doors for them, give them hinted-for Christmas gifts, or listen to their sorrows. Such a man, our Recovering Nice Guy continues, probably “came to realize that, if he wanted a woman like you, he’d have to act more like the boyfriend that you had. He probably cleaned up his look, started making some money, and generally acted like more of an asshole than he ever wanted to be.
Which brings up the question of who “a woman like you” is, and whether they could really make each other happy, or would end up like Maria and Crawford – making each other miserable, and ruining their respective prospects for happiness. I suppose this much complained of woman is someone who’s sexy, successful, not particularly religious, and not inclined to settle down any time soon. The women of “Sex and the City” come up several times in the course of this article, and some others like it. Young men who are wealthy, buff, and unethical going out with young women who are wealthy, hot, and unethical. In which case – I suppose they deserve each other. But it does seem rather empty.