The science of singleness, part one

I read this great article in The Observer last Sunday by Kate Bolick, where she explores the idea that she might never marry and why that might be. It caught my eye on the masthead, and so I bought the paper to read while drinking a cup of coffee as the late afternoon sun set. It’s long – the original piece, published in Atlantic magazine, is over 10,000 words long. But she makes two points that I think are particularly interesting. Here’s number one.

American (and I guess that holds true for Western) women are now outpacing men educationally. Research also shows that women are also proving more successful in the workplace. But in spite of our parity with men, women still look for the traditionally ‘marriagable’ type i.e. someone who is cleverer and who earns more than you. The more educated and successful we become, the smaller the pool of men who fall into this category become.

‘The Guttentag-Secord theory,’ she writes, ‘holds that members of the gender in shorter supply are less dependent on their partners, because they have a greater number of alternative relationships available to them.’

Where women are outnumbered by men, they are treated with deference and respect, and men are more likely to make committed bonds with them. Where men are outnumbered by women, ‘men become promiscuous and unwilling to commit to a monogamous relationship’.

‘If dating and mating is in fact a marketplace—and of course it is—today we’re contending with a new “dating gap,” where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players,’ she concludes.

This follows on very nicely from my last post – when you have lots of opportunities to meet members of the opposite sex, it’s hard not to imagine that there’s someone better than the person right in front of you, and to commit to or settle for them.

It might help explain why in churches, where women predominate, single men have a reputation (rightly or wrongly) for being half-hearted about the glut of eligible and attractive available women they could settle down with. Overwhelmed by choice, there is no incentive for them to pursue and win one woman as if she were a prize. There are plenty more like her, should they so desire.

It also might clear up why so many single women complain that there are no single men, when there clearly are. What they mean is there are no ‘suitable’ single men. And with so many definitions and shopping lists of what makes a man suitable for the modern, high-flying, educated woman, it’s no wonder.


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