Why Women Are Saying “No” to Marriage and Men Are Becoming Angry, Depressed, and Lonely

Hannah K. LeeThere 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

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  1. Your reliance on Rebecca Traister is misplaced to say the least. Little of her “research” indicates an antipathy on the part of women for marriage, and that that does tends to be true of working class and poor women. As to men, you cite no persuasive – and little real – data at all. Almost all of your claims are based on personal anecdotes. What’s true is that both men and women are deferring marriage until later and that the decrease in marriage rates mostly reflects the increase in cohabitation rates. There are a million reasons for men to be depressed about the current state of society and culture. Loss of children to divorce is one, their routine disparagement in all aspects of communications media and pop culture is another. Being raised by a single mother and having no male role models growing up is still another as are the usual problems like harsher treatment by the criminal justice system.

    If you want to take on this topic, you need to a lot better job of it than this.

    • Robert, Thanks for your comments. I’m note trying to convince, just exploring what seems of interest. I’ll look forward to learning more.

  2. Jed, I doubt you’ll ever be lonely.
    I agree with your article and comments and yes it’s a huge problem in our society. I get that the number of marriages are down a lot and I wonder if the figures take into account the number of people that live together and if it doesn’t work out, which too often it doesn’t, they leave and go on to the next one. The disposable relationship, which leads to the disposable family. This creates even more lonely men and many of them can’t see their kids even if they want to. A lot of what we are seeing isn’t working very well.

    • Bob,

      Thanks for the comments. I think there are some interesting issues here to explore. I’ll look forward to hearing more and learning more.

  3. Thomas Harvey says:

    The Orlando shooter may have been angry and confused but he was not alone. He was on his second marriage at the time of the shooting.

  4. tina juarez says:

    A women can’t compete with someone who is committed to non-commitment.
    Why the fear of commitment? People go to meetups now instead of forming clubs, no one wants to be committed to taking notes and such. I think it is a lager than gender issue, but in relationships, women need to move on if they want to have families or take on the larger commitment of having a single parent family.
    Current employment practices re-enforce this, the employers are not committed to the worker and the worker, in self-preservation, needs to continually have an eye out for a better opportunity.

    • Tina, You are right, the issue is bigger than sex and gender differences. We are living at a time when people are increasingly fearful. We both long for connection and feel hurt by them. Learning to trust and commit at a time of big change is difficult. But love and trust will beat fear and disconnection. Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

    • Gunther says:

      I find it amazing that employers feel that if they are committed to their employees, then the employees will still leave for better job opportunities; however, I don’t like it when managers feel that they have every right to look for better job opportunities but not the workers.

  5. Gunther says:

    I agreed with Mr. Munor about how even relationships are being viewed as being disposable. If women don’t want to get marry, that is fine with me. Many of them are not worth the time and effort to make even an attempt to go out on a date. Maybe it is about time men get back to having their own friendship/social/support groups. We used to have them we were kids but that all change once we left high school or college and had to go out and earn out bread. n addition, we have to get rid of this cultural attitude about being a rugged, individual man. Many of these rugged individual men would have not gotten anywhere in life without people supporting them.

    • Hi Jed, Thanks for inviting conversation around this controversial issue regarding new relationship norms considering the changing gender role landscape.

      Hi Gunther, I would invite you to investigate The Mankind Project (www.mkp.org) because it is an organization that creates communities of men worldwide. I have closer relationships with men in my men’s group than with my blood brothers. The Mankind Project promotes the idea of the sacred masculine and sacred feminine. The “rugged individual” man has been developed/promoted by big advertising firms to sell stuff. Just like the patriarchy is represented by a very small group of elite individuals including some women; most men have been marginalized by these concepts just like women have.

  6. I believe women have smarted up and realize they don’t need men. Men have made their own bed, so to speak. Historically, they have not treated women well – world over! Why would women want to be dominated by those who are often less intelligent and less informed? Why be with a man who cheats on you? Why face financial ruin when husband walks out and leaves women with a bunch of kids? I can clearly see why women do not want to get married. It is a much better deal for the male than it is for the female

    • Amen!!! u hit the nail on the head TBD..I also want to add that men are intimated by the independent, strong female even if the man states he likes women whom have those characteristics.

    • TDB and Nancy,

      I’m hoping to help the kind of marriages that are equally supportive of men and women so that we can begin to get the benefits of real, lasting love, without the old baggage that is so harmful.

    • Marguerita ferdinand says:

      I think couples should seek counselling before they decide to commit to live together or get married. It Would be much better to know what you’re really getting into. They say Love is Blind. Also it is very difficult for women to care for children & run a home AND go to work. Something has got to give.

  7. Don Privett says:

    Good food for thought, Jed.
    Draw your attention to the Harvard Study on men’s health underlying the importance of socializing on health.
    Waldinger’s site

  8. In later life does it not seem that men are looking for a nurse or a purse?

  9. I don’t really care for the title of this article, which seems to lead one to believe there’s a large amount of men out angry at women for not wanting to marry them. Just like women don’t need men, men don’t need women and men can live happy productive lives without women. Having said that, reading the rest of the article, I was actually in agreement with how men need to develop more friendships and relationships with other men and with women, where they can be more open about their feelings, concerns, etc. Aside from the title and the loose ties you made to this with the Orlando shooter and Donald Trump; I found the article pretty good.