Life as a single seems to have become the American norm.
Before I go off to spend my remaining days in a Trappist monastery in Ireland, I’ve decided to pen this piece. It concerns the relations between men and women (nothing new there) in our country today. Specifically, the relations between the sexes after having passed the golden milestone of age 50, and those who for a variety of reasons are single and who occasionally dabble in the dark arts of dating, or as a Restoration dramatist once put it: “Madness is the bliss only madmen know.”
I should have followed parental advice and married years ago, when I had a couple of opportunities, or nearly did. I envy now married friends because they don’t have to go through what I do to have the chimera of a social life. I hear: “I couldn’t do it” and “I don’t know how you do it” and “I’m glad I got married when I did” and “I’m glad I got married. Period.” Needless to say, hearing this is always depressing. And at the risk of sounding sexist (oh, dear), I’ll say that men suffer from this arrangement more than women.
As a heterosexual bachelor, I’m certainly an anomaly, as most people in their fifties who date are widowed or divorced, mostly the latter. You only have to check profiles on Internet dating sites to know this. The men seem to want to get something back, to right something in their lives. Adult kids and grandchildren might be geographically-removed from them. Women, on the other hand, being fiercely maternal, are very concerned about the state of their family, especially the welfare of newly-arrived grandchildren. Bottom line at this stage in life: men need women; women don’t particularly need men. And women have no use for romance. Sentiment is suspect. As a demographic example, there is probably no one more unromantic in 21st century America than a divorced, post-menopausal grandmother. Believe me, I know. They tell me: “I don’t date. Nothing personal against you. I just don’t date.”
Lately, magazine journalism is full of stories about women, especially young, who are superseding men in the workplace, the college classroom, and in most aspects of public life. Hanna Rosin in a recent issue of the Atlantic wrote a piece titled “The End of Men,” and tells us that “women earn 60% of both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and half of law and medical degrees.” Traditional male occupations took a beating during the recession: “The worst hit industries were overwhelmingly male… construction, manufacturing, high finance.” From the right (just lately Mona Charen, Jay Nordlinger, Jonathan Last, and taking their cues from Charles Murray), we hear lamentations about declining marital rates and the predictable degradation of the family, where 40% of children are now born out of wedlock. Jonathan Last in a Weekly Standard cover story titled “A Nation of Singles” tells us we are becoming a nation of “singletons.” In fact, there’s a theory that President Obama just got re-elected thanks to… “singletons.” Are feminists really to blame? Or are our contemporary sexual politics the love child of Hugh Hefner and Betty Friedan?
At any rate, the bra-burning, proto-feminism of the 1960s has morphed into an anti-male feminist groupthink devoid of life-affirming sentiment. The bitterness is amazing. Gloria Steinem has won: “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle,” especially late in the game when procreation and child-rearing (grandchildren notwithstanding) have become a quaint but tiresome memory, and biology dictates that the libido itself is diminished.
One can speculate if much of this is thanks to the machinations of the feminist left or messages gleaned from the establishment media and our hideous popular culture, but an invitation to romance is likely met with quiet derision. The irony is that graying Baby Boomers should understand honest sentiment as an anodyne to the human condition. After all, at our age the future is bleak. It now includes the invasion of bodily orifices by qualified, rubber-gloved medical personnel; tooth implants, bifocals, and, for the first time in our lives, taking lots of pills for important reasons, not recreational ones.
Another irony is the behavior of Generation Y (roughly ages 15 to 30). While the Boomers fondly remember romance in nostalgic ways, Gen Y has no conception of it, because popular culture belittles it. The youngsters are clueless. Hooking-up and sexting have replaced movie dates and — on a special occasion — a bouquet of roses. The main customers for flowers and chocolates on Valentines Day are all our married friends. Although young men can take heart: In the future they will at least be useful as sperm donors.
We know now that romantic pursuit is “abuse,” as in “stalking.” I read recently a local Idaho newspaper story about a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Circa 1960, the young man for the first time spied his future wife in a store, and followed her home, where he got her phone number. She gave it to him because she thought he was a polite young man, as did her mother, who happened to meet him, and “if I didn’t give him the number, mother would have.” Imagine that scenario today. “Mother” — in her hysteria — might have called the cops.
As for phone numbers (and now e-mail addresses), the new thing is that women many times give them out upon request, and then complain about receiving a call or e-mail. “Don’t call me.” “Don’t e-mail me.” Of course, it was Dr. Freud who famously posed the question: “What do women want?” Obviously, no communication despite providing the means to accomplish it.
Then there is the anachronistic faux pas of the handwritten and snail-mailed romantic love letter. Once, a woman passed along her phone number to me by tearing off the information corner of one of her personal checks. The little slip of paper also contained her mailing address. When the first call proved futile, I wrote her a short, sweet, chatty letter. She called me back. “When I gave you that, I didn’t think you’d write to me. Don’t do that again.” I think the divorced, post-menopausal grandmother- mind today equates this sort of thing with weirdos and the psychopaths of yesteryear. I would guess — denied modern communication tools — that Charlie Manson and David Berkowitz are still scribbling touching missives from prison. That’s it, the only guys still keeping the romantic epistolary tradition alive are in 23 hours-a-day lockdown. And since our digital world dictates the death of cursive writing (it’s less and less being taught in the schools), well, that’s that.
At the risk of sounding like a misogynist, these women seem to be completely devoid of humor. Their bad experiences with men over the years has left them emotionally dyspeptic. They have a permanent chip on their shoulders, a bee in their bonnet, a sharp ax to grind. They remind me of Obama voters (and many were), who are yet defensive and bitter and wound tight, even though their guy won the recent election.
Which in a weird way brings me to politics. It’s well known that the ratio of Rush Limbaugh’s radio audience is about 70%-30% give or take a percentage point, men to women. This is a perfect testament to the latter gender’s ingrained idealism. Women who hate Limbaugh and other conservative radio talkers on principle may give the men in their lives much opprobrium for holding heterodox opinions of any sort. It’s a no-brainer that the secret of a happy marriage lies in a man’s talent for diplomacy, indeed the skills of a Talleyrand. Postmodern feminism demands that men — in the subservient role in society that they lately find themselves — keep their mouths shut. Not only have I had a number of relationships over the years, but I also have a mother and three sisters. How the hell do you think I got along with them for half a century? To quote the great actor Richard Burton: “I cannot fathom them.” Me neither, Dick.
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