There are two intersecting trends that are changing the ways men and women live and love. I see these changes in my friends and family and in the clients who come to me for marriage and family counseling. These changes have taken place, for the most part, under the radar of our awareness but they are changing everything from how we deal with our health to who we elect as our next president.
A recent book review in the New York Times, from which the above picture was taken, begins:
“Throughout America’s history, the start of adult life for women — whatever else it might have been destined to include — had been typically marked by marriage,” Rebecca Traister writes in her new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. “Since the late 19th century, the median age of first marriage for women had fluctuated between 20 and 22. This had been the shape, pattern and definition of female life.”
But the times are changing, big time. An article in New York Magazine quotes Ms. Traister’s research:
“In 2009, the proportion of American women who were married dropped below 50 percent. In other words, for the first time in American history, single women (including those who were never married, widowed, divorced, or separated) outnumbered married women. Perhaps even more strikingly, the number of adults younger than 34 who had never married was up to 46 percent, rising 12 percentage points in less than a decade. For women under 30, the likelihood of being married has become astonishingly small: Today, only around 20 percent of Americans ages 18–29 are wed, compared to nearly 60 percent in 1960.”
“It is a radical upheaval, a national reckoning with massive social and political implications,” says Traister. “Across classes, and races, we are seeing a wholesale revision of what female life might entail. We are living through the invention of independent female adulthood as a norm, not an aberration, and the creation of an entirely new population: adult women who are no longer economically, socially, sexually, or reproductively dependent on or defined by the men they marry.”
So, we might summarize one trend as: “Independent Single Ladies on the Rise.”
For more than forty years I have specialized in working with men. I’m seeing a disturbing trend of increased male irritability and anger, along with a rise in the depression and suicide rates for males. In doing research for my book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, I developed a quiz that has now been taken by more than 60,000 men throughout the world.
I’ve seen a disturbing trend where more and more men feel disconnected, disrespected, and angry. We see the anger acted out in violent attacks such as the ones we saw in Orlando and also in the rhetoric of presidential candidate Donald Trump. We also see it in a rise of male loneliness.
When I speak to large groups of men and women, I ask the women how many have three or more close friends that they can talk to about their hopes and dreams as well as their fears and frustrations. Almost all the women raise their hands. When I ask the same question of the men in the audience, almost no one raises their hand. Many men don’t have even one close friend that they can share their most intimate concerns with. For men who do have a close friend, it is often his wife. If there are stresses in the relationship, as is true for all marriages, the man has no one who he can open up to and with whom he can share his feelings.
Men’s increasing isolation from others helps account for the fact that men die sooner and live sicker than do women. According to social scientist Thomas Joiner, author of Lonely at the Top: The High Cost of Men’s Success, “Males experience higher mortality rates than females at all stages of life from conception to old age.”
Suicide is the most extreme indicator of male mortality. According to the National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 41,149 suicides in 2013 in the United States (the most recent year for which full statistics were available). 32,920 (80%) of the suicides were committed by men.
Dr. Joiner reports on one such suicide which is typical of many. “A postmortem report on a suicide decedent read, “He did not have friends…He did not feel comfortable with other men…He did not trust doctors and would not seek help even though he was aware that he needed help.”
Unfortunately, this is a common experience for an increasing number of men. Joiner concludes that “Men’s main problem is not self-loathing, stupidity, greed, or any of the legions of other things they’re accused of. The problem, instead, is loneliness; as they age, they gradually lose contact with friends and family, and here’s the important part, they don’t replenish them.”
We might summarize the other trend in the words of a recent research study on suicide prevention: “Women seek help…Men die.”
I see these two trends interweaving and reinforcing each other. As women become more independent and self-sufficient they are not willing to settle for a marriage where their needs are not met. They would rather get their social and emotional support from work associates, friends, and family.
As men feel unable to meet women’s needs for economic, emotional, and social support, they feel more inadequate and distance themselves even more, often escaping into pornography, increased alcohol consumption, and compulsive work habits. I hear from many women that “there just aren’t any good men out there to marry” and they become even more self-sufficient and self-contained. I hear from men who say, “Women just don’t want intimacy anymore.” They become more fearful of reaching out to women and risking rejection.
The result is that like the Republicans and Democratics, men and women increasingly live in different worlds. They distrust each other and are often in conflict. Unlike the Republicans and Democrats (at least for now), I see men and women longing to connect with each other, but feeling increasingly less hopeful about finding real, lasting love in relationship.
The first step in changing things for the better is to acknowledge what is going on. I look forward to your comments and hearing about your own experiences. Share your comments below. I’d love to connect with you. That makes my life less lonely.
Image Credit: Hannah K. Lee