Thursday, January 20, 2011

In 2011, women remain cows

Is it BS to tell women to marry young? Depends. Anna North at Jezebel pulls this quote from an interview with Mark Regnerus, who has some thoughts about cow purchasing and free milk, ancient territory here at WWPD: "My advice is if you find somebody who you love and who loves you, make it work, whatever it takes!" North is not convinced, the Jezebellians are appalled, but as far as I'm concerned, it makes sense, insofar as there is a window of opportunity during which women are neither too young to settle down nor in not-getting-any-younger territory. Yes, that window should be extended - in both directions. Which includes making it so that 20-year-old women in happy relationships should be able to feel they've found their life partners, knowing in the back of their minds that their options will be more limited later on. It is not as easy to find a man - not that all women want to find a man, or that they should, or that it should be first priority, etc., etc. - at 40 as it is at 20. It isn't as easy to find friends, either, when one is out of school, so it's not just about female nubility. But 40-year-old men have greater romantic options. Feminists - and I speak as a feminist, if not for feminists generally - can wish it otherwise, but it is what it is.

Of course, the man one has "found" at 20 will have to be willing to stay with a woman who's not going to be 20 forever for there to be any point to this. Unless the idea is to procreate and then let the man run off with whomever, in which case yes, settling down young at least lets you have kids, but under what conditions? This, in turn, is the flaw of the pro-early-marriage argument. Is it easier to "keep" a man found at 20 than to find one at 30 or 40, as I feel like a commenter here once countered when I argued this before? Maybe, maybe not, depending what "keep" entails. Divorce is legal, adultery happens, as do marriages worse than so-so, and committing to a not-so-committed man at the peak of one's conventional attractiveness is a worse bet than starting something on more solid ground later on.

Where Regnerus, in turn, goes wrong is in pointing out that these days, men don't need to buy a woman a ring in order to get sex from her. Which is true, but which leaves out the fact that women do not want rings from many men they sleep with. Sex is not a pleasure women provide for men, but one sought out by all but the asexual; pursued in earnest by all but the most restrained. Pretty young women realize that 20 may be the only age when they can go at it with beautiful 20-something, when they have their best shot with many dashing older men as well (many of whom will seem sleazy to women their own age), and think, now is the moment.

"But I still think you have better odds of succeeding, especially if you're attractive, if you don't give in, if you make him work hard, get to know you, make commitments -- all that stuff that seems pretty basic."
Youth and beauty in a woman mean the power to get a commitment (although, obvs, the not-so-good-looking marry, too), but also the power to have sexual adventures that aren't available to the less attractive, and that won't be so readily available later in life. With the Pill plus condoms, this is fairly low-risk activity, physically, but still more risky for women than men. At the same time, sexual activity doesn't necessarily even mean intercourse. My vague recollection of what the young people did way back when is that more casual relationships often did not include the full repertoire. (What "base" does Regnerus think can be reached before a woman has "put out"?)

If you tell good-looking coeds that the guy they're having casual sex with probably won't commit, they will be unmoved. (Young women who have hook-ups but then tell a researcher that this isn't meaningful enough, that they want more, are, uh, following a social script? If women sleep with men they're attracted to without the promise of a commitment, it's because they want sex with a hot guy more than they want a commitment.) If you tell them that they may be having fun now - and Regnerus kinda-sorta admits that women have sex for reasons other than in exchange for hoped-for commitment, falling short of acknowledging female lust - but that the free-milk offering of women generally makes it harder to get men generally to commit, and that this will be a problem when a young woman is not so young and/or finds a man from whom she wants a commitment, this will be marginally more convincing. But not all that convincing, because of the serious relationships that do exist, how did they begin? Wedding announcements don't include anecdotes about how delightful the sex was within hours after they met, but that's not to say this wasn't how things proceeded.

Which brings us to... "Men who have sex early in a relationship feel little impulse to make strong commitments." The logic here confuses me. Of all sexual encounters among those who don't yet know each other well, a few of the partners are men who want more, a few women who want more, many men who just want sex, many women who just want sex. So yes, a relationship that begins with sex is likely not to become a marriage, whereas one that begins with formal introductions through family members or a matchmaker, in a society with arranged marriage, is far more likely to go that route. Meanwhile, a relationship that begins with a string of three dates without so much as a peck on the cheek? Are we to assume marriage ensues, or that there's no fourth date because the two weren't so into each other? I'm sure there are numbers on this, less sure that they'd account for marriages occurring because a woman metaphorically crossed her legs, as versus because that's just how things go for men and women in a society or subset thereof. If man and woman alike are of a free-and-easy subset, if nothing's happened, that doesn't bode well, I would think, for a long-term anything. Meanwhile, it strikes me that the way to get men or women to commit is to have a society in which neit

Off the topic of this post, but still striking:

"In American colleges, 57 percent of students are women and 43 percent are men. That's a radical reversal of where we were 30 or 40 years ago. Presuming that people are attracted to people who are like them educationally, it means looking for secure relationships becomes challenging because the sex ratio is so imbalanced."

In the Golden Age, when women didn't go to college, and instead scrubbed floors and changed diapers, or if wealthy supervised these activities, men still found a way to marry their social equivalents. Give it a moment, women will do the same.


The Ancient said...

Phoebe --

The women I knew, way back when, who held out for something "more perfect" than what they were being offered are all today, without exception, still unmarried, childless, and regretful. (But that's just my little sample, and of course there are doubtless many happy unmarried women. Somewhere.)

What's really different, it seems to me, is the concept of a "starter marriage." We didn't approach marriage that way, and the failure of a marriage was a catastrophic event. (In my extended, mostly Protestant family, there has never been a divorce.)

Anonymous said...

Another major flaw in the reasoning would be financial, and I'm speaking as someone who had a child in their early twenties. It is much more difficult to afford childcare (three days a week used to cost me the equivalent of 2/3 of the going rent in my area), or for one parent to cut back or quite working or studying to care for the child produced when neither has had the opportunity to establish themselves in a field or build up any kind of monetary safety net. Making it "okay" to have children early is only the half of it, it's got to be made more practically achievable, though I don't pretend to have any kind of simple solution to that.

Phoebe said...

"The women I knew, way back when, who held out for something "more perfect" than what they were being offered are all today, without exception, still unmarried, childless, and regretful."

More perfect than what? Most women are, I suspect, "offered" more than one man in the course of their unmarried years, and will at some point break up with one and then be unattached for a while before seriously dating another. Even a woman who meets her husband in her early 20s is likely to have passed up the chance to be with someone else previously. There is a window of opportunity, yes, but it's not so short as to prevent women from having a boyfriend or several before settling down.

Meanwhile, a woman who rejects all men who are interested her, ever, and who is not a lesbian, will indeed end up single. Regretful? I think people know themselves better than that, and the woman who says she regrets not settling for Mr. So-So could well be miserable married to the guy. (Thus how amazing it was that Lori Gottieb, the author who wants women to "settle," offered as a role model Emma Bovary!)

The "starter marriage" is different from the past, but also the present. The scenario I mention, where the husband leaves at 40 for a "newer model," is, I think, increasingly uncommon among the well-educated. At least, divorce is less common in that demographic, so presumably middle-aged men aren't leaving the wives they met while both were in college. As for your family - all should be so lucky! Sometimes, even in families that take marriage seriously, things don't work out.

Phoebe said...

That was for The Ancient.


The usual social-conservative retort is that the husband should be a bit older and more established. In which case it's not clear why Regnerus, who seems to be of that camp, wants college women to obtain commitment from college men.

Phoebe said...

One more thing re: the window of opportunity. It is a problem that young women are told to pass up on potential serious relationships until mid-20s (give or take depending which subculture), even when they're happy in those relationships. Which is different, I think, from being unhappy in a relationship or uninterested in a suitor and thinking something better will come along. The women with regrets are, I would imagine, those who would have happily married at 22, or to someone they met at 22, but who were told by friends, family, the culture, that they needed to explore their options... and no better options came along. The regrets could be, the woman never married, or they could be, she married the guy she happened to be dating at precisely 30 years old.

Britta said...

I have more anecdata. Since that seems to be the sort of things NY Times trend pieces/Caitlin Flanagan articles that generate all the buzz are based on, I'll try to feel less like a terrible scholar for mentioning it. Of the baby boomer marriages I know of that have broken up after 20-30 years, in almost every single case it has been the woman trading "up," generally both objectively (i.e. the new partner is much richer) and subjectively (being with someone who appreciates/loves them more). All of these women (we're talking about 5ish out of a sample of 6ish) were in their 50s, college educated, and middle/upper middle class. Sure, the men usually moved on quickly as well, but it seems despite arguments to the contrary, middle age men (even very successful ones) can desire things besides firm flesh. My own mother, who has experienced the death of two partners and the divorce of one, is in a happy monogamous relationship at 60, and has in recent years had to beat men away with a stick.
Plus, if men do date down, most men probably want someone youthful in comparison, which is about 10-15 years, not something Hugh Hefner-like. So hot 40 year olds wanting to settle down should go for the hot 50 year olds (which we all know are still handsome, thanks to conventional wisdom), which again is a prime age to snap up all the recent divorces left by their wives.

Again, this is not scientific, but my guess the reason Lori Gottleib et. al. are still single at 40 has very little to do with the dating pool and very much to do with their own personalities. If the only person you desire to marry is the type of person who wants a hot 25 year old trophy wife, then indeed, not being a hot 25 year old will be a problem. But again, my guess is the same sort of men who want hot wives much younger than them are analogous same women who will only marry a man making 7 figures: they exist and if you're in that circle and don't meet the requirement then life sucks, but most people can blissfully ignore them and move on. If you are, like that 35 year old Mormon virgin in Modern Love, stuck in a community where everyone gets married at 20 and you missed the boat, then you can move to a large city.

Britta said...

oh, p.s.
Maybe all those people telling 20 year olds not to settle down are the baby boomers about to get divorced, and thinking nostalgically on their own past, i.e. regretting getting married at 20 themselves. (I don't know if a 30 year marriage with grown kids should be considered a waste, but maybe when you feel like the man you just spent 30 years with is a jackass, then it probably does.)

Phoebe said...

"despite arguments to the contrary, middle age men (even very successful ones) can desire things besides firm flesh."

Yes. Another despite-popular-belief is, are 22-year-olds even interested in dating 45-year-old men? Where - outside rich-guy potential-trophy-wife nightclubs - would they even meet? The college, grad school, recent-college grad social scenes have enough internal drama of their own, and then people settle down with those around their own age.

"Again, this is not scientific, but my guess the reason Lori Gottleib et. al. are still single at 40 has very little to do with the dating pool and very much to do with their own personalities."

Absolutely. But I don't think (not that this is necessarily what you're saying) it's because she wants the men who want 25-year-old women. It's because... I see it like this: Dan Savage suggests those who are unhappy single and can't figure out why ask their friends to sit them down for some hard truths, things others see but they don't. One episode of "The Millionaire Matchmaker" (yes) illustrated this so perfectly. These two men, 30s or 40s, rich (thus the title), of seemingly average height, neither obese nor disfigured, can't seem to get a second date. Watching them interact with women at a "mixer," it becomes immediately clear why, but it's hard to describe, other than that they were both creepy. (Not sure I quite agree with Savage that "friends" should intervene - the truly off may not have the widest social circles, and the friends they have may be off in the same way.)

I wouldn't say that Gottlieb definitively fits into that camp. I think it's more that the people who reach middle age and say they "just never found the right person" are either happier single than partnered (as will happen, especially, for those who write professionally about being single and have that as a part of their identities) or in need of an outside observer's intervention.

Phoebe said...


"Maybe all those people telling 20 year olds not to settle down are the baby boomers about to get divorced, and thinking nostalgically on their own past, i.e. regretting getting married at 20 themselves."

Perhaps so, but then why the call for 25-30-year-old women to find a man already? The explore-your-options bit definitely comes from a feminist, Betty Friedan-esque place, but fades, I suppose, when the realization that freedom might mean no grandchildren sets in.

Flavia said...

I'm really with Britta on this. I'd like to see actual studies (rather than just conventional wisdom) that proves that 40-year-old or 50-year-old men have a significantly easier time finding partners than women of the same age.

I do recall reading a reference to a study (it was in an NYT op-ed, about the Gore divorce, but I'm too lazy to look it up) that showed that most people, both men and women, who got divorced in late midlife were repartnered, if they wanted to be repartnered, pretty quickly: men on average a year later, and women on average two years later. That fits with anecdata from my parents' 60-something friends.

And, for that matter, I question the claim that 20-year-old women have an easier time finding a man (or even finding friends) than 40-year-olds.

Now, now on the face of it, that claim is self-evidentally true: there just are lots more single people in the general population and in one's immediate vicinity when one is 20--so it's much, much easier to meet them.

But almost everyone I know had an easier time dating the older they got (assuming that they were interested in dating during both their earlier and younger years). Sure, one meets many, many fewer eligible partners at age 30 or 40, but the average quality is exponentially higher (because likely to be met through significant shared interests, long-term friends, etc., rather than at one's roommate's college friend's boyfriend's houseparty). It's also, I think, easier for many people to quickly identify what they want or need in a partner as they age.

(Insert usual caveats about small and possibly unrepresentative sample size, etc.)

Phoebe said...


For what it's worth, my anecdata's more in the middle aged man leaves middle aged wife for younger or same-age woman, wife remains single or married much older man pattern. Yeah, someone needs to study it.

With online dating, at least, I think it's a safe bet that 20-year-olds would get far more attention than 40-year-olds. (Where else, in real life, do 20-year-old women seem available to 40-year-old men?) And 20-year-olds simply meet a lot more people, thus more dates, hookups, etc. So it depends what "get a man" means. Getting a husband is probably more difficult at 20, because the men who want to date 20-year-old women - whether these men are 20 or 40 - are not generally looking for marriage, whereas by 40, it's either happening soon or a couple's not interested. But finding a boyfriend who'll one day be a husband? I'd still think this would be easier at 20 than 40, and I'm about to get to why...

"Sure, one meets many, many fewer eligible partners at age 30 or 40, but the average quality is exponentially higher (because likely to be met through significant shared interests, long-term friends, etc., rather than at one's roommate's college friend's boyfriend's houseparty)."

But at the same time, many potential quality partners - quality as measured by all-around competence, kindness, symmetry, whatever generic qualities one is looking for - are already partnered by 30 or 40, and a greater percentage of the single population falls into the single because of being off in a way someone really needs to point out to them category. It's not just that there are fewer singles, but that the remaining pool will keep becoming proportionately more occupied by the odd or the don't want to pair off in the first place types.

That said, 30-40, certainly in academic circles, at least from what I know, is hardly an age range where no viable singles remain. As with all these things, the age at which available partners look grim would vary by subculture.

Britta said...

Maybe part of the issue is that eligible people are more likely to be constantly partnered--whether that's married, remarried, in a relationship, etc. So, if you are the sort of person who can get married at 22, you are more likely at 32 or 42 to find someone you are interested in than a 35 year old who has been involuntarily single. I guess an analogy to my point is the studies that show people who get into but choose not to go to prestigious universities are not worse off than those who do, the idea being, if you are good enough to get into a good school, you'll be successful regardless. Likewise, if you are good partner material, you'll usually not have to worry. (This is also kind of an extension of Phoebe's Lori Gottleib point--that if at 40 an attractive and successful person can't find a long term partner, they are probably a little off.)

Where I might disagree a little with Phoebe's earlier point is that while there are more Lori Gottleibs floating around in your 40s than in your 20s, there are still a fairly high proportion of not creepy people who are for one reason or another available in each age cohort--divorces, deaths, end of LTRs, so that while more people are getting partnered, there are enough people getting unpartnered that you can usually find someone who you like.

Thinking about academia, it is interesting in that (more anecdata!) it seems like male grad students are more likely to go for their peers or undergrads, whereas female grad students are more likely to go for their peers or professors. I don't think I've ever heard of an undergrad/professor relationship (not that they don't happen, of course).

The Ancient said...

Phoebe --

Three last thoughts.

1) When I see conversations like this, among young women, I wonder what the the plot line is. And having read your post and the subsequent replies a couple times, I don't see it. (Though Britta makes a lot of sense.)

2) I think you underestimate how many older men (50 to 70) with substantial assets will marry a niwit who is a) socially acceptable, and b) sexually desirable.

3) All this will look different, one way or another, when you''re older. My oldest female friend, now in her sixties, constantly laments the fact that she has "no family." I say nothing, remembering that she was one of the most beautiful people of her generation, with several graduate degrees, and many "estimable" academic lovers. But she's had eight abortions. The choice of a family was always her own.

Phoebe said...


I agree with The Ancient that what you say makes sense.

The Ancient,

1) What do you mean by "plot line" in this context?

2) Who's underestimating? I've read my Philip Roth, I know what's out there. That said, do either of us know what percentage of rich older men go that route? I'm thinking not.

3) "All this will look different, one way or another, when you''re older."

I feel like this is a way of delegitimizing what the Flavia, Britta, and I have said without addressing it. I mean, of course people view things differently at different ages. Who's to say which is more accurate, views held at 20 or 40? (Not that anyone here is 20!) A woman who hasn't married, isn't finding anyone, and has regrets is often enough idealizing past boyfriends, conveniently forgetting the good reasons why they didn't marry these men. That is, her younger self might not have taken her older self into account, but nor is her older self giving her younger self credit for having chosen wisely at the time. This could be the situation of your friend. Or maybe she feels social pressure to say she's upset by her life choices, especially when talking to a socially conservative friend, but is in fact quite content.

As for the particulars of her case, I've never heard of anyone having eight abortions. Your friend's unfortunate abortion history strikes me as unrelated to her marital status, except insofar as maybe she's a bit of a live-for-the-moment type? Married people (or will my thoughts on this change when I'm older?) have sex more than eight times in the course of their marriages, and don't typically want eight children. Married, partnered, single, there's such a thing as effective birth control. Nothing about having lovers rather than a husband necessitates having one abortion, let alone eight.

Flavia said...

Britta made exactly the point I'd make--so many marriages (to say nothing of long-term partnerships) end, meaning that there's a steady reflux of eligible people into the dating pool.

It's also been the case, with many of the attractive-but-single friends I used to have, that they were reading their market wrong or didn't yet know exactly what they wanted (rather than that there was something actually wrong with them). Without at all suggesting that young 20-somethings as a group don't know what they want, there's surely a subset that has a hard time distinguishing signal from noise, perhaps because they're in the process of significant self-evolution themselves. A young woman who went to a good high school and an elite college, and who always dated smart jocks, may keep going for notably athletic guys, without success. . . in part because it wasn't the jockiness that defined her past boyfriends' good qualities. That stuff takes some people longer than others to sort out.

And to the Ancient's point: without getting into absolute numbers, it's surely true that many men would if they could marry a 20-something nubile nitwit. But most 40- or 50-something men cannot. They can marry younger more easily than women can marry younger, but we're usually talking 6-8 years younger, and not sex goddesses: a reasonably pretty bank teller, maybe.

The extreme examples of MUCH older, more powerful men wedding MUCH sexier, not particularly accomplished young women are pretty limited. They require, first of all, an extremely powerful older man, in a context (professional or social) where that is appealing to women who are dramatically younger and better looking. The film industry is the obvious example.

We see lots of fictional representations of these extreme pairings (perhaps because they do happen in real-life Hollywood) and in books (especially books written by older men), but elsewhere they're thinner on the ground.

Phoebe said...

Flavia (and, I suppose, Britta),

"Britta made exactly the point I'd make--so many marriages (to say nothing of long-term partnerships) end, meaning that there's a steady reflux of eligible people into the dating pool."

It's not that I think the options are shot at any age. But if the divorce rate is dropping among the well-educated, and a high level of education no longer means a woman won't marry, wouldn't it stand to reason that there'd just plain be fewer up-for-marriage-or-other-serious-partnership singles of either sex available with each passing year, driving up the proportion of those singles who are, for reasons of oddness or lack of interest, not marriage material, at least for those wishing to stay in their cultural or socioeconomic environment?

In terms of knowing what one wants... it could be that at 27 I don't see the light (I think we know where The Ancient would stand on this), but I don't think this is something that can ever be articulated except in the broadest terms, and that there's even a danger in having too much of a checklist, even if that checklist isn't superficial.

It's not that nothing is learned with age. I'd say the main change is that as one gets older, it becomes clear how important it is for the level of interest to be as close to equal as possible on both sides. The very young have a tendency to be so excited that a crush has turned into a boyfriend or girlfriend that they let things go on even if the other person treats them poorly (not abuse, just with the disdain of someone not that interested), or even if they themselves enjoyed the crush more than the real person (best not-real-life example of this: Sam the nerd and his cheerleader first girlfriend on "Freaks and Geeks").

I suppose, now that I think of it, it's not so different from what you're saying - the young think about "getting" the person, but not what happens after, the not-so-young consider the potential quality of the relationship. Where I disagree is that I don't think it's about specific traits so much as compatibility, and that I think this is a lesson many (most?) young people learn well before their 30s.

The Ancient said...

Phoebe --

In terms of knowing what one wants... it could be that at 27 I don't see the light

My poorly expressed point was not that you will become more enlightened as you grow older, but rather that the light will change character. We have a different hierarchy of values and needs in old age than we do when we are young. For example, I think many young people tend to undervalue intellectual companionship in choosing a mate, just as they tend to neglect the importance of money. And young people are more preoccupied with sex than (most) old people. But I won't argue the point.

I'm sure there are statistics on Flavia's point regarding the age gap between men and women in second and third marriages, and she is certainly right that the gap sometimes grows greater as male income rises. Where I live, wealthy professionals tend to marry other wealthy professionals -- it's part of the social norm (which excludes lawyers, I'm sorry to say). But in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and most points in between, wealthy professional men seem not to care so much for the achievements of their wives, and the men I know out of this group have quite often married young flibbertigibbets. But of course this is just anecdotal data.

(BTW, on that same subject, in the current issue of Town & Country Magazine -- which I get in fulfillment of my old Gourmet subscription -- there's an amazing/appalling article, "I Wish I'd Married Rich," by Daphne Merkin.)

One last point (I promise!). Many people, as they get older, grow "damaged." It's not just that they may have been "a little off" all along, though that may also be true. If they're still single, that's a problem, because it's hard to go into a relationship with a damaged person -- someone who has acquired psychological tics, personality idiosyncrasies, physical ailments. On the other hand, if you are already married, and you (or your partner) changes in some unattractive way, it's much easier to cope with. (Because you're already married, and presumptively in love, these things don't suddenly figure on a checklist. They don't become deal-breakers -- not very often, anyway. I'm pretty sure that's less apparent at 27 than it will be later.)

Best, etc.

PG said...

But in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and most points in between, wealthy professional men seem not to care so much for the achievements of their wives

I suspect The Ancient could have a hell of a discussion with David Brooks using Brooks's database of NYT wedding announcements.

Phoebe said...

The Ancient,

That can't be your last comment - I still want to know what you meant by "plot"!

Re: age, you say that people change, but don't get more enlightened... then only provide examples of the errors of the young. (Or are you saying valuing sex is a good thing? Not a crazy thing to say, but not consistent with what I gather from your online persona thus far.)

Rather than looking at it as weakness at each age, though, we might look at it as, people act rationally for the ages they are. Which if you're young means having an eye to the future, but also experiencing the present. There's really no reason to care about the finances of a partner when you're in high school or college, unless you want to be taken fancy places or something. Valuing looks above all else may even be healthy if you're 16, your intellectual connection is with your friends, and you're genuinely too young to be in a serious relationship anyway.

"But in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and most points in between, wealthy professional men seem not to care so much for the achievements of their wives, and the men I know out of this group have quite often married young flibbertigibbets."

Having little experience of places other than NY... there's something to it. Probably the reason I think of the trading-for-a-new-model scenario as so common is that I spent my childhood attending a private school where this was, in fact, common among the parents.

But of a younger generation, people who've married within the last 10 years, I don't think gaping age differences are so common. At least going by the NYT wedding announcements [started this comment, forgot I hadn't posted it, I see PG makes the same point], the man may work at a hedge fund, the woman a nursery school, but they tend to be around the same age, to have gone to similarly elite schools, to be of the same social class.

I mean, I know there's this notion that men don't care what women do for a living as long as they're attractive. (There's also a "Seinfeld" monologue devoted to this idea.) But would an Ivy-educated finance type marry the woman who rings him up at Whole Foods? In this day and age, men and women alike demonstrate socioeconomic status with at least education, if not profession. A man might say he'd pick the hottest woman he could get, but he's only noticing women in his own subculture.

The Ancient said...

Phoebe --

Or are you saying valuing sex is a good thing?

I could hardly disagree, since most divorces seem to happen when the sex goes bad or stops, and one or both parties become bored with the relationship.

But I sometimes think that sex, for many people, spoils everything. I don't mean this in a "the pleasure is momentary, the position ridiculous, and the expense damnable" way. Just that it makes some people crazy, and they make bad judgments that spoil their lives, and often the lives of others.

When one is twenty-five, there's nothing wrong with a sex life that requires you to repaint the walls of your bedroom once a week. But not many people can keep that up in an ongoing relationship. There are rational responses to this, and irrational ones.

There's really no reason to care about the finances of a partner when you're in high school

The history of pop music over the past fifty years would seem to disagree. (Though it's really as much about social class as money -- Patches, Leader of the Pack, Dawn (Go Away), and a thousand more.)

Phoebe said...

The Ancient,

I'm still not clear on why you're not arguing that getting more, well, ancient makes one more enlightened, since that seems to be what you're arguing.

I have to say, never has a blog pseudonym so accurately reflected the theme of a blog discussion! I'm not up on 50-year-old pop music - "ancient" in pop music terms. I can't think offhand of a single pop song about wanting a richer date, aside from the recent catchy one about one's girlfriend running off with another man, the ex thinks because the other man's wealthier. I get that in many high schools, social status is based on who has designer jeans or a better car (not something someone going to nerd high school in a city where everyone takes the subway would learn about first-hand), but this is a different kind of "finances" than the one that matters for stability or prosperity once married.

Flavia said...

But would an Ivy-educated finance type marry the woman who rings him up at Whole Foods? . . . . A man might say he'd pick the hottest woman he could get, but he's only noticing women in his own subculture.

I think this is right, and returns us to the point that you and Miss Self-Important have made several times, which is that having an accomplished spouse is, increasingly, its own status symbol for men of a certain class & background.

Part of the reason is that spouses who differ greatly in age, nevermind in education and intellect, are likely to encounter actual social inconveniences. This wasn't so much the case when husbands and wives were more likely to have different friends and separate social spheres--where the hot young wife got trotted out at company dinners and charity benefits--but it's a lot harder when you have the expectation of fully shared personal lives. It's hard to have joint friends (people whose houses you go to for casual dinners, or hang out with at the corner bar, or whom you take turns babysitting kids with) when one party is so clearly from a different world or at an entirely different life stage.

And people do roll their eyes at the professor who marries a grad student or a lawyer who marries a paralegal. That eye-rolling doesn't matter to everyone (and it doesn't always convey a broader lack of respect for the man's judgment), but it's not nothing.

Phoebe said...


"having an accomplished spouse is, increasingly, its own status symbol for men of a certain class & background."

You're right that I've said something along these lines. The caveat (and I suppose I'm debating myself here) is that there's still a difference between which accomplishments count as status in a woman, which in a man. A woman still doesn't need to be in a high-paying field in order to have what a man would consider a high-status job in a mate. Fashion editors' assistants, elite-private-school teachers, art-gallery workers, heck, humanities grad students, none of these things are lucrative, but they're evidence of education, intellectual abilities, comfort in a certain kind of social environment... all things that were once signalled by "breeding," but that are now about what one has made of one's own life, perhaps with family help, perhaps in a more self-made way.

It's not that men would be less interested in high-earning and high-status-job-having women (surgeons, corporate lawyers, etc.), but that this isn't necessary.

Whereas what job could a man have that would be high-status (for straight women - gay men may be a different issue) and low-paying? Political journalist in DC, maybe? Otherwise, I'm not sure. There are certainly careers women find "sexy" that aren't signifiers in the same way - "firefighter" comes to mind - but that strikes me as a separate issue.

Britta said...

Hmmm....that's an interesting question. There are the classic "high cultural capital low economic capital" careers--author, artist, photographer, blah blah, but unless you are really successful (in which case you probably have money and fame), men with those careers appeal more to the bohemian youth rather than the well heeled. There's also an age limit. A 20 year old starving artist is romantic; a 40 year old one is pathetic, so at some point in an art career you either have to go up or get out (unless you're a misunderstood genius of the times, I guess, but those aren't known for attracting the ladies). Of course, all the female jobs you mentioned fit under that as well, but somehow I don't see a female investment banker trotting out her high school teaching husband the same way the reverse might be true.

Maybe college professor, but again, the Coastal Elites are not going to be impressed by someone tenured at Middle America State U, and if you have a named chair at Harvard or whatever, you are again going to be a lot wealthier than the average professor.

Maybe male model? Or stage actor? Those are sexy careers that read a slightly higher class than firefighter or policeman.

Phoebe said...


I think, in this case, it's not just that the women have high cultural capital jobs, but that they work in female-dominated subsets thereof. This is important, because what the woman lacks in income, she makes up for by being at the top of a field that we on some level understand is lower-paying precisely because it's the sort of thing women go into, and society doesn't much value those things. But within the couple, there's a certain equality that comes from knowing that what the woman's doing is no less challenging than what the man is. Meanwhile, jobs that aren't much valued by society, and that thus don't pay much, that men are likely to have, this doesn't carry over. Any high-status professional endeavor in which men dominate - with the exception of journalism, I really can't think of any others - pays well.

As for male models or stage actors... I sort of doubt that women are running after male models, but if they are, it's because they're good-looking (unlike female models, they tend to look like conventionally good-looking representatives of their sex, not like androgynous preadolescent waifs, although there are waif-trends there as well), not because of the profession... if anything in spite of the profession. I feel like it would be slightly embarrassing (not that it should be) for a grown woman to admit to dating a full-time professional male model. Both because women are not expected to put looks first, and because male modeling is less generally understood as a profession, and easily confused by non-fashion-types with being a gigolo. All the more so if the girlfriend or wife is older, smarter, plainer. Class-wise, I think a firefighter is a notch or two above.

As for stage actors, isn't this once again an issue where great success overlaps with wealth, and where there's not much status in dating someone in the chorus. (Maybe even starring on Broadway doesn't pay well, I don't know, but are there that many successful stage-only actors? The whole reason Kelsey Grammer was away from Camille - see above post - is that he was in NY doing a play.) And, as with male models, there's a good chance women date actors, stage or otherwise, because they're nice to look at and in spite of what they do for a living.

Britta said...

That might be true. I think volunteering is another good example--it is considered extremely high status to volunteer on board of charitable or cultural organizations for a woman, but for a man not of retirement age, that is not as impressive. Even the too wealthy to ever need to work are supposed to do something vaguely business-y if of the male gender.

I really know almost nothing about male models or actors, but I could see that--I assumed they would be like female models, but yeah, the more I think about it the idea that a woman is paying for looks is more distasteful than the reverse. Even Natalie Portman's fiance is mocked for being a gold digger/fame whore (I read somewhere her friends call him "the Kevin Federline of ballet"), and ballet is at least an art form in which you have to be very very good to be successful in.

I don't know then...psychoanalyst? (Do they make lots of money?) though that's Woody Allen High Culture, not summer home in Connecticut, or named building at Harvard, or box seats at the opera High Culture. Chef? I know that unless you have your own cooking show/brand, even chefs at very fancy restaurants don't make lots of money. Not sure that compares with being VP of a bank though.

Phoebe said...


Our minds must be somehow in sync on this - I was totally going to mention Millepied in that last comment, then forgot what it was I was going to add, then remembered after commenting. From the outside, at least, it looks like Natalie picked him cause he's pretty. Something a man's permitted - encouraged! - to do, but not a woman.