In defense of sex-segregated times and places.
The Time to Find Your Spouse Is Now
Society does kids a disservice by encouraging them to think of marriage and family as a distant goal.
“I’ve got time! I’m still young. I still need to travel the world, earn my graduate degree, get a dog, save half a million dollars…”
Such is the refrain of the typical young adult nearing the graduation of high school or college when he or she is confronted with the question of whether they intend to be in a serious relationship. They have been told by popular media, teachers, and their parents that studies, career, and fun should take precedence over relationships, which they can worry about later.
By now, it’s no surprise how badly this approach has worked out for younger generations. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, almost half of adults under 30 report being single, with men taking on the lion’s share (63%) in that group. Moreover, a little less than half (47%) of all singles don’t care to pursue a romantic interest. Among the people in that group, single men are much less interested in a committed relationship (25%) than single women (41%). The whole study reveals that fewer people are pairing up and most simply stop bothering after a certain point.
In addition to these sobering statistics are more depressing numbers regarding online dating, increasingly seen as the workaround for adults who never had serious relationships in high school or college. Another Pew Research study shows that 88% of adults are disappointed by the offerings on dating apps, and only 42% felt like the apps made dating easier. Far from being an exciting catalog of eligible men and women eager to have a relationship, online dating apps are largely dumping grounds for frustrated singles with incompatible qualities, with many looking for meaningless hookups.
These studies should encourage today’s singles to form lasting ties before it’s too late. Even with online dating apps and expanding online social media that make meeting people easier than ever, it’s still undesirable to wait until one is 30 (the current average age for marrying) to find one’s soulmate. By then, so many good prospects will be unavailable, and finding even a decent partner will prove tedious and difficult.
So why does our culture downplay the importance of finding a lifetime mate early? Modern feminism and contemporary secular values see marriage as detrimental to one’s authentic self. It’s a drag to the individual who wants to experience different pleasures, take on different identities, and create his own meaning and values. The female protagonists in popular movies (like the Disney Princess movies, the new Star Wars trilogy, or any superhero movie) don’t even bother with finding love—or if they do, it’s incidental to their real quest. They seek adventure and achievement, and men just get in the way.
In the real world, this message ends in misery. Spouses, family, friends, and the fulfilling relationships that are possible in a moral and free society become impossible. All that’s left are fleeting joys, empty affirmation, and unbearable loneliness. Young adults are freed from all constraints, including romance, but what they’re free for is sitting at the screen browsing the profile pages of strangers, hoping to find love despite it all.
Many conservatives seem to understand that the path to a happy, fulfilling life is in healthy, committed relationships. However, the means to live such a life have all but disappeared in modern society. No longer can a person find a good man or woman at their local church, nor are people’s social circles close enough or big enough to introduce single young adults to prospective spouses or good friends. One will even struggle finding a suitable partner at the club or bar these days.
Gone are the days where dad met mom by chance at a social gathering and, through a combination of courtship, family encouragement, and Cupid’s arrow, eventually married her. Today, those social gatherings don’t really happen, courtship is a lost art, families seem indifferent, and Cupid’s arrow has been stolen by social media and porn addictions. Even in Christian conservative households, there is often an insurmountable generation gap between parents who benefited from a culture conducive to romance and the kids who suffer from a culture that comprehensively rejects it.
Fortunately, while restoring the values and practices that made lasting love possible will likely take decades, those hoping to meet their soulmate and marry can still do so before playing the lottery of online dating. They just need to be a little more deliberate.
The trick is to start thinking about relationships earlier in life when one is still in school. This is where people will come into direct contact with peers who share their values, interests, and talents. This is also the place where they have the most opportunities to talk to such people. There, they put in the important work of learning about others, learning about themselves, mastering crucial social skills (including courtship), and cultivating empathy. And in most cases, there are abundant occasions (dances, sports events, club meetings) for dating and gaining experience with the opposite sex.
When kids take this season of life for granted by withdrawing from their peers and declaring themselves helpless introverts, they put themselves at a serious disadvantage down the road. Even high achievers who over prioritize their studies and career will end up suffering. Though they will land their dream job or enjoy four years at their dream college, they will often end up pricing themselves out of the dating market and find themselves surrounded by their inferiors. Princeton mother Susan Patton outraged the women at her alma mater when she urged them to “Find a husband on campus before you graduate,” but she was completely right.
For this reason, it’s imperative for us to encourage young adults to make the most of their opportunities during this time of their life. I make this point regularly when I teach teenagers how to read different texts and put together an argument. I’m not just preparing them for a standardized test or helping them with some abstract thinking skills; I’m trying to give them the tools to make themselves appealing to others. I encourage them to talk with their classmates, make friends, and have clean and appropriate romantic relationships. And yes, I’ll gladly regale them with my own stories of being rejected by girls back in those days, making a fool of myself at prom and homecoming, and how I knew my wife was the one (she was smart, beautiful, and was willing to proofread my terrible essays).
Contemporary values of professional and personal realization are deeply flawed and are pushed by people who relish a society of lonely, immature adults. It’s not too much of a burden for adolescents to consider their relationships as they prepare for the worlds of higher education and work. They’re already thinking about it and want to learn about what it takes to have what their parents have. We can help them in this regard by encouraging them to date to the ends of finding a life partner early, or doom them with the false idea that they will always have more time.
The American Mind presents a range of perspectives. Views are writers’ own and do not necessarily represent those of The Claremont Institute.
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