The news article "What Does Woman Want" (sic) discusses some of the many, many mournful ways in which marriages go wrong. Relationships between modern men and women aren't working out nearly as well as they should, but people keep trying.
I know many women who've been through several bitter divorces but still want to hang around with men. All over the world, men pursue women as if they expect to achieve the joys of heaven at the end of the chase. Both genders expect inter-gender relationships to work out well, but sorrow and misery seem to be more common than joy.
Whole books have been written about why this might be; some potential reasons are less politically correct than others and thus don't get as much attention as they deserve.
Perhaps the least politically-correct explanation, yet one of the most powerful, is that our society teaches women to act like toys. From the very earliest ages, young girls are taught to dress sexy and undulate around, visually shouting the message "come play with me." This isn't just for adult celebrities: Miley Cyrus' 9-year-old sister Noah is reported to be launching a lingerie line for ordinary girls her age in association with a celebrity friend:
A promotional video posted on CocoPerez.com shows Reaves dressed as every mother's worst nightmare. The pint-sized blond is seen showing off a revealing leopard-print mini-dress, lace stockings and fingerless black gloves ensemble to Miley Cyrus.
And why wouldn't they? After all, their older sisters and virtually every celebrity female dress in marketing mode to great acclaim. They get plenty of attention that way because boys are happy to play with toys.
If you're a multi-millionaire celebrity, the trade-off might be profitable, though even Britney Spears might wonder whether perhaps she might have been happier taking a different path. Down in the ordinary world, boys throw toys away when they're through playing with them; at least Ms. Spears was left with mega-millions in exchange for her reputation.
Various blogs and newspaper columns find girls asking, "Why doesn't he call any more?" It's simple - he got tired of playing with you and discarded you for another toy.
There's a way for a girl to behave if she'd rather a man treat her as a treasure instead of toying with her - declare that she expects to be treated as a treasure before the first date. If the guy would rather play with her than stay with her, she should invite him to look elsewhere.
One of my colleagues has a daughter who's developed to the point that she's on the boys' radar. My friend realized that as her daughter changes from girl to woman, the way she handles relationships with men will have a huge impact on her happiness.
As we discussed what she ought to tell her daughter about how to respond to interested boys, my friend agreed that any boy could play with her daughter, but it took a real man to stay with her. She then complained, "But all the men are so immature! How long does it take for them to grow up? Does she have to wait forever?"
That's an excellent question. Growing up means taking on adult responsibilities. When a woman speaks of a man growing up, she means that he's willing to settle into a long-term, stable relationship with one woman, take care of her, and help her raise their children.
That's a tall order in this era of casual hookups. If a woman moves in with a man and pays her half of the rent, why should he bother to grow up? He has a "relationship with benefits" but the benefits cost him nothing. Why assume any responsibilities when he can enjoy benefits without cost?
Women who quote the saying, "The only difference between the men and the boys is the size of their toys" appear to think that most men never grow up at all. They have a point in that social scientists have long known that girls mature faster than boys.
One of the reasons girls tend to marry older men is that it takes longer for men to mature to the point that they're willing to make serious commitments. Women live longer than men do, so marrying an older man means she'll be a widow that much longer, but you can't have everything.
My friend's question brought up the general issue of what makes men and women grow up. Parents know that their children want to grow up in the sense of not having to follow their parents' rules any more, but very few children are eager to take on the responsibilities and sheer hard work of adulthood.
Giving birth is a seminal, life-changing event that in times past forced a woman to grow up if she hasn't already. A baby needs 24/7 care for years. Before infant formula and disposable diapers, child care included nursing on demand and washing diapers along with all the rest of the family laundry.
If a woman didn't meet these responsibilities, the baby died. If all a woman's babies died, she became irrelevant - without passing on her genes, she'd leave no footprints on the sands of time.
If a woman looks back up her family tree, she'll note that each and every one of her female ancestors, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and so on, was able to raise a child to maturity. These women raised their children with or without the father's help depending on how they played the cards they were dealt, but they all raised them.
Women noticed long ago that it was far easier to raise children with a man's help, hence a wise woman's desire that a man grow up enough to assume responsibility to care for her before she gets pregnant, making it more likely that he'll care for her children too.
A friend of mine spent a couple of weeks with her brother shortly after his wife had a baby, rallying 'round as women tend to do when someone else gives birth. Her brother and his wife had agreed that she'd work until it was time to have a baby, then she'd become a full-time mother.
My friend's sister-in-law hadn't insisted that her husband grow up before she married him. She settled for a promise that he would grow up when the time came.
This turned out to be considerably more difficult than expected, despite the best intentions and attempts of both parties. Wanting to earn as much as possible, his wife had gone directly from work to the hospital. Her husband went from Dual Income No Kids (DINK) to Single-Income with Child (SIC) over a weekend and suffered a profound case of whiplash of the wallet. He adapted, but it might have been better for her to quit work a month or so earlier to give him time to get used to reduced income before the baby arrived to complicate matters.
A mother need not grow up at all in our modern welfare-based society, of course. Social workers hang out in hospitals looking for new mothers who might have trouble growing up.
If a home visit suggests that the child isn't being raised to government standards, social workers try to persuade a judge to order the child to be removed into foster care where the costs are paid from the federal budget. An utterly unfit, incompetent mother is able to pass on her genes to any number of children at federal expense and rarely is heard a discouraging word.
It's different for men in that if a woman can convince a judge that a specific man fathered her child, the judge can order him to pay child support. I have another friend whose brother has fallen so far behind on court-ordered child support that he's considered a felon, which really helps him find work.
Before his arrest and conviction, he was the proprietor of a cleaning business and took home $200,000 per year. Unfortunately, he got sucked into the party life; he and the mother of his children were busted for drug use and the kids went into government care. This was his own fault because of his illegal drug use.
He has now paid his debt to society with respect to the drug use and been released from prison. Because the government is no more efficient at parenting than at anything else, it believes that he owes more than $100,000 to reimburse them for taking care of his children, what with interest and penalties and all.
He could start another business and pay them back, but he knows how much work it takes to earn that kind of money. He doesn't want to go back to 20 hour days required by his cleaning business just to have every cent confiscated by the government.
He putters along in low-paying jobs until the government gets angry that he isn't paying them back fast enough. He gets thrown back in jail for non-payment of child support, and gets another low-paying job when he gets out. This cycle provides employment for cops, lawyers, judges, prison guards, and other pillars of the establishment, so it's not likely to change any time soon.
It seems unlikely that he'll ever grow up enough to care for his children, but, having stuck someone else with the cost of their care, he'll pass on his genes anyway.
Some men do grow up in similar circumstances, however. I have another friend whose husband works hard to support her and their child even though he's paying child support to two other women. There's not much left of his pay after all the child support is taken out, but he contributes what he can to support his family. He decided to grow up and marry my friend after she had his child.
Why didn't he marry one of his earlier women and save himself a layer or two of child support? "Fools will give you reasons, wise men never try," as "Some Enchanted Evening" taught long ago.
Modern society gives men many reasons not to grow up. A woman can stop taking her pills and tag him for child support until the kid turns 18. If they're married, he also has to pay alimony which goes on forever.
In the early days of the women's movement, feminists ridiculed wedlock as a form of slavery, saying that marriage was "only a piece of paper." At the time, some of us older folks asserted that the contractual nature of marriage provided some legal protection for both parties, but we were ignored.
Now that we have no-fault divorce, however, marriage is "only a piece of paper" which has no legal force at all. A woman can walk away from a marriage at any time for no reason and cost the man a lot of money; it's easier to get out of a marriage than to get out of paying for a refrigerator.
A man has an equal right to walk away, of course, but he'll get tagged for as much money as her lawyer can persuade the judge to give her. Given the financial risks, it's amazing that so many men are willing to marry at all.
Our abortion laws also cut men off from their children. Most courts have ruled that a woman can have an abortion without informing the child's father or over his objections. If the man has no say in whether his child lives or dies, why should he care about it if it should happen to be born?
Some men go to court when their girlfriends get pregnant and say something like, "I offered to pay for her abortion. She's choosing to have the child; I don't want it. I was willing to abort it, but she wants it, so it's hers. Why should I pay for it when she could easily get rid of it?" Under our current laws, this logical plea is to no avail; the woman alone decides the fate of both her child and her lover's exchequer for the next two decades. It doesn't matter what he thinks about supporting a child or getting involved in its life; the legal system has shifted so that men have no reason to grow up and many reasons not to.
The subject of men-who-are-not-really-men has appeared from time to time in great works of literature. In the next article in this series, we'll take a look at the story of Peter Pan to explore the issue of men growing up - or otherwise.