The Cohabitation Blues

Wilcox illoShould you move in with your boyfriend? That depends. Do you know he’s “the one?” Does he feel the same way about you? If so, and your engagement is just a matter of time, I think it can work very well. That’s what Mr. HUS and I did when we both moved to NYC after business school. An engagement would have felt a bit rushed, but we knew it was coming, so we lived together for a year first. In fact, we pooled all our resources from the start in joint accounts, and never looked back. It worked beautifully, and it was a great way to start our life together.

Studies show that living together before marriage is correlated to a greater likelihood of divorce, except in cases where the couple has already decided to marry.

The belief that living together before marriage is a useful way “to find out whether you really get along,” and thus avoid a bad marriage and an eventual divorce, is now widespread among young people. But the available studies on the effects of cohabitation are mixed. In fact, some evidence indicates that those who live together before marriage are more likely to break up after marriage.

Within the last few months I have witnessed two very messy breakups between couples living together, and in both cases the loss was much greater for the woman. Why? Because both couples had lived together 5 years or more, originally as a trial run to assess long-term compatibility, and because sharing expenses looked appealing.

Ultimately, however, the men decided they did not want to marry their roommates after all. Now in their early 30s and quite successful in their careers, they have seen their sexual market value rise considerably in the last five years. The women, both 32, are well past their peak fertility and now feel at a serious disadvantage getting back out there. Both had been expecting a ring at any moment, in a far too common cocktail of denial and delusion. Both were devastated.

In All Over But the Lease, Natalie Kitroeff at the  New York Times highlights some horrific breakups between couples living together in the city. Moving in together in NY is often expedient:

With rents that can bring a checking account to its knees, living together can seem the only sensible option. But if the relationship goes sour in the middle of the lease, that decision can turn out to have been a wild gamble after all.

… In New York, where people platonically share windowless rooms with strangers in a trade for subway access, cohabitation and commitment do not necessarily go hand in hand. Living together is often driven as much by practicality as romance. And when the relationship unravels, one or both parties have to walk away from an apartment as well as a lover. 

It’s also a risky highwire maneuver. Here’s how it unfolded for one couple:

Ms. Seale said Mr. Byhoff came home one evening and announced, without much fanfare, “I’m no longer attracted to you.”

With that, lovers became just roommates, with a hefty helping of history between them.

…“It was definitely awkward,” Mr. Byhoff said. “It’s just like, you’re in the bed facing a different way. There is nothing else you can do.”

They continued living together in what Ms. Seale described as a “weird purgatory” for a month before she moved out and he took over the lease.

During that time, said Ms. Seale, who was freelancing as a writer and acting, she would walk the dog they had bought together for eight hours a day, to avoid being in the apartment. 

Breakups rarely coincide with lease renewal, so the crisis of unexpected disruption seems inevitable. In the cases I witnessed, one man ran out on the lease and stopped paying rent, while his ex scrambled to find a new roommate in a one bedroom apartment. Definitely awkward.

In the other case, the man owned the condo, and had been collecting rent from the woman for 5  years, though of course the equity appreciation was all his. He’s sitting pretty, she’s out of luck. He gave her 30 days notice and crashed on a friend’s couch during that time rather than endure and perpetrate painful ending scenes. She was spared that humiliation, at least.

Ivana Tagliamonte, an agent with Halstead Property, says she has seen so many breakups that they almost seem a rite of passage for young New Yorkers. “It’s a life cycle for a lot of young couples in their early 20s,” she said. “They move in together, sign a lease together, and then the relationship doesn’t work out.”

Nor is it surprising that when the young and in lease fall out of love, shared real estate sometimes becomes a weapon. Ms. Tagliamonte said the worst case she had dealt with involved a couple who were sharing a studio for which only the woman had signed the lease.

Toward the end of the lease, the rent payments were so far behind that Ms. Tagliamonte, on behalf of the landlord, went to evict the couple. But when she got there, she noticed that the closets contained only men’s clothing. She realized that despite being the leaseholder, the girlfriend had moved out.

It’s not necessary to set up house together to “find out if you really get along.” There were no surprises or major discoveries when I moved in with my future husband – we already knew each other very well and had long ago agreed that we were highly compatible. Living together as a “trial run” offers little reward for a woman who is able to support herself. She removes any incentive for marriage when she skips Lover and goes straight to Wife. Don’t forget the #2 reason men delay marriage, according to the National Marriage Project:

They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.

There are several other risks associated with living together:

1. Relationship Inertia

Couples who would not otherwise have married “slide” into marriage as a result of living together. It’s harder to end a relationship when you’re living with your partner.

2. Sunk Cost

“People may have a harder time cutting their losses when they think about all the time, energy, and money they put into the relationship, even cutting their losses will save them more heartache in the future.”

For women entering their 30s after years of living together, doubling down often feels like the only hope, even when hope is futile.

3. Opportunity Cost

It’s harder to meet someone new, and impossible to pursue someone new (or should be).

I highly recommend living together once you are both sure you’re on the road to marriage. I strongly advise against living together to see if you’re meant for one another. Take care of that before setting up house – otherwise you’re stacking the deck against marriage. Separating after cohabitation can feel a lot like a divorce. All pain, no gain.





The Care and Keeping of Potential Husbands

stressed_out_manThe number of college educated women ages 35-44 who have married has remained steady at 88% for the last twenty years, but they’re getting married three years later, on average. Both sexes contribute to this, according to Andrew J. Cherlin writing in the New York Times:

It has become the capstone experience of personal life — the last brick put in place after everything else is set.

Still, there are other reasons the sexes delay marriage. The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia identified the top 10 reasons men today delay commitment:

1. They can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past.

2. They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.

3. They want to avoid divorce and its financial risks.

4. They want to wait until they are older to have children.

5. They fear that marriage will require too many changes and compromises.

6. They are waiting for the perfect soulmate and she hasn’t yet appeared.

7. They face few social pressures to marry.

8. They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children.

9. They want to own a house before they get a wife.

10. They want to enjoy single life as long as they can.

Of these ten reasons, you as an individual are in a position to influence just three (bolded above):

  • You can mitigate his fear of divorce risk.
  • You can demonstrate your own willingness to compromise and to accept him unconditionally.
  • You can bring so much to the table that he will realize no other woman is likely to come close. 

In a recent comment thread, reader Mr. Wavevector shared that he felt rather unnerved upon learning that several friends are divorcing. Divorce is costly to both parties, as it means the setting up of two households and other lost efficiencies. But men in particular fear losing access to their children. I have seen this in my own marriage – Mr. HUS once left a very good job because a change in office location to a remote suburb would have meant that he wouldn’t see the children on weekdays due to the long commute. He preferred the upset of finding a new job to the loss of contact with his kids. 

Society often downplays the emotional needs of men. We expect stoicism, strength and competence from men at all times. If they fail to deliver, as we all do and must from time to time, we are quick to shame them. Writing about shame in The Atlantic (H/T: Mr. WV), Andy Hinds describes the work of Brene Brown, a researcher who studies  “vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.” Brown says that messaages of shame are organized around gender:

For men, the overarching message is that any weakness is shameful. And since vulnerability is often perceived as weakness, it is especially risky for men to practice vulnerability.

What Brown also discovered in the course of her research is that, contrary to her early assumptions, men’s shame is not primarily inflicted by other men. Instead, it is the women in their lives who tend to be repelled when men show the chinks in their armor.

“Most women pledge allegiance to this idea that women can explore their emotions, break down, fall apart—and it’s healthy,” Brown said. “But guys are not allowed to fall apart.” Ironically, she explained, men are often pressured to open up and talk about their feelings, and they are criticized for being emotionally walled-off; but if they get too real, they are met with revulsion.

Feminism romanticized Sensitive Ponytail Man but that doesn’t play well with most women. In fact, even feminists don’t like them. Women mostly see those guys as weak and effeminate. In extreme cases, they even feel repulsed and alarmed. 

As women, we are proud to feel strong, yet we do not hesitate to expect our boyfriends and husbands to make us feel loved, secure, even reassured. We’ll ask for it if we have to, but we’d much prefer they somehow “just know” when we need some extra emotional support. Yet we don’t reciprocate by giving them any space to fail, to feel hurt, frightened or insecure, emotions that all humans experience.

A 2010 report by advertising giant Havas Worldwide on contemporary gender dynamics describes the increase in female craving for traditional masculinity:

What we are seeing among many millennial females is that their vision of ideal womanhood is somewhat more traditional than that of their feminist mothers. They, too, want it all, but their definition of all highlights family and personal time at least as much as career. These women are far less likely than their mothers were to feel they have something to prove in the workplace, and they are conscious of the high costs of the sexual revolution. Without wanting to trade in any of the respect or freedom women have earned, they look back wistfully to a time when men were ready and able to take on the role of protector and provider.

In a world of Jon Gosselins and Judd Apatow characters (men frozen in the Adolescent Age), women are looking for controlled masculine strength (not aggression), self-assurance, and competence – a man on whom they can count no matter what. 

…When we say young women want a return to some aspects of traditional gender roles, we are not suggesting they want to return to gender inequality. Far from it. What they seek, to varying degrees, is a return to gender distinctions. They want to celebrate the sexes’ differences and enjoy the yin and yang that makes both parties stronger.

Women want a lot, but what are we willing to give in return? By becoming a provider of emotional support and loyalty, you signal your quality as a long-term partner, and potentially knock out three reasons to delay marriage. Relatively few women are even aware of what men are feeling, much less sensitive to their needs, so by stepping up you distinguish yourself from the pack right away. It shouldn’t be hard for you to earn “best girlfriend ever” status. That’s a sad reflection of the SMP, but you can use it to your personal advantage.

Several male readers offered strategic advice:


1) Understand the issues that men face, e.g. supposedly we have privilege yet collectively we’re going to college at a much lower rate than women.

2) Feel and convey empathy about general concerns to men and personal ones that the individual guy might have; since men don’t want to show weakness we may not bring these things up a lot.

3) Allay any legitimate concerns the man might have. Don’t flirt with other men. Don’t be entitled. Don’t emasculate him in front of others (or alone for that matter).

It doesn’t always require focused effort. From Lokland:

a) Display good character/personality traits- nurturing/kindness etc.

b) Demonstrate congruence both over time and between social groups.

I think making me feel secure is more of a passive act whereby the less she does to make me feel insecure the more secure I feel.

 In addition to the above, Mr. WV suggests:

Let him know you need him. Being in a relationship means allowing yourself to be vulnerable and dependent. This is true for men too.

Let him know you value husbands and fathers. Talk about how valuable a good husband is to a woman. Talk about how important good fathers are. If your father was great, say how important that was to you. If your father was terrible or not around, say how much you want your kids to have the great father you never had.

Re the way men deal with fear:

Two of the tricks men use to deal with fear are to externalize and abstract them. The first order is to convert a fear to a risk. It’s no longer an emotion I feel internally, it’s a risk that exists externally and can be dealt with rationally. A second order is to abstract the risk further and treat it as an injustice. So it’s no longer just a risk to me personally (which is still exposing a weakness, after all), but an injustice that is hurting a lot of people and undermining society. And it’s surely legitimate to feel righteous anger about something like that!

So understand that when a man frames the issue as a risk or as an injustice, it may be a projection of a painful emotion.

There are times in every marriage where a wife needs to be a pillar of support regardless of her own emotions. I don’t believe my husband has ever felt insecure in our relationship or worried that I would abandon him or our family. I did make many mistakes, but I’ve learned over time what keeps him feeling secure and happy. For what it’s worth, here is what I try to provide each and every day:

Affection and Desire

Do not take your partner for granted. You may know that you love him and are happy to see him at the end of the day, but he can only know that if you show him. No matter what I’m doing, when my husband arrives home I greet him with a hug and kiss, and I earnestly inquire about his day.

I touch my husband a lot. I sidle up for a hug, ruffle his hair when he is sitting down, place my hand over his when he’s saying something important. 

Any time you look at him and think he looks sexy, tell him. My husband is a very natty dresser, and unfortunately for him, I often feel he looks sexy as he’s leaving for work. It gives him something to think about during the day. :) You’re aiming for 100% confidence on his part that you find him desirable. This has more leverage than any other practice, in my view. When my husband feels secure in my attraction to him, his mood reflects it and daily life is far more enjoyable.


Give your guy the opportunity to vent. We all feel persecuted from time to time. Your job is to let him express his frustration and yes, fear, without criticizing or grilling him. You must have his back.  I have found that when I express unconditional loyalty, my husband is able to become more objective. Because he knows that I’m on his team, he will often ask me to brainstorm with him – and I can offer constructive criticism then, if appropriate and necessary.

On the flip side, praise his strengths. When he comes home feeling proud of  himself, celebrate that! Never compete with your own mate. 

Never sass or criticize your partner in front of other people. Over the years, we’ve socialized from time to time with other couples who do this, and it’s always a “one and done” thing. They’re exhibiting their relationship dissatisfaction publicly, and they’re a drag to be around. Whatever your issues, don’t air them in public.

Appreciation & Reassurance

Convey your appreciation regularly for all the mundane and routine things your man does for you. My husband once walked 4 miles in a blizzard so that we could ride out the storm together. But he also did little things every day, like having my favorite yogurt in his fridge or finding me after class for a quick hello. 

Thank him for his help, his effort, and for making you a priority. 

Do not focus on material things. You and your children will need shelter, food, clothing and education. The rest is luxury. Fun vacations, nice cars, designer handbags – don’t build a life that requires these things. Whether you both provide, or your husband will be the primary breadwinner, avoiding financial stress is very important to your relationship. Express gratitude for what you have. I can guarantee that for everyone reading this blog, it is enough. 

Never treat your partner with disrespect. The expression of contempt has been found to be the quickest route to divorce. Avoid:

  • Sarcasm
  • Eye rolling
  • Dismissiveness
  • Patronizing 
  • Mocking or ridiculing

A high value man is one who is strong but emotionally intelligent. On the spectrum between asshole and wimp is where most men reside, and where all marriageable men may be found. When you force a man to suppress his real and natural emotions, you’re diminishing his happiness, and by extension your own. When you give him space for the whole range of emotions, including fear, you cement your bond and strengthen him, and by extension your relationship.


The Sweet Spot for Tying The Knot

Susan Patton’s recent warning to Princeton women proved controversial among political types and journalists, but I couldn’t find a single young woman who felt strongly either way. They certainly aren’t going to take advice from a woman in her mid-50s (bwahaha!) about how to date in college.

As someone who is pro-relationship, I would never advise someone to end a good relationship or avoid emotional intimacy in order to preserve “career development” time. That’s nuts. If  you meet the man of your dreams when you’re 18, and he feels the same way, I think  you should do whatever you can to make it work.  However, it’s not easy; many obstacles loom that make it hard to take a college relationship all the way to the altar. It’s not surprising that only 14% of marriages are between college sweethearts.

  • Separation at graduation if  you’re not in the same class.
  • Geographical separation during summers, semesters abroad, internships, etc.
  • Long-term geographical separation at graduation as students move for job offers or return to their home turf.
  • The frustration of long-distance relationships – studies show they stand the best chance of working when the separation is not open-ended.
  • The geographic disruption of graduate school.
  • The interest of both sexes in marrying later, once they’ve gotten “their ducks in a row.” 

It’s this last one that sticks in the craw of social conservatives. They see early marriage as a return to family values, in part because it lessens the amount of premarital sex in society. It requires one person subordinating their own plans in favor of the other – unless one person is willing to follow the other, eliminating physical separation, relationships rarely survive. My own mother dropped out of college after her junior year when my father graduated and went into the Marine Corps. (Something she regretted all her life, though I’m in no position to second guess that decision.) Of course, the discussion is academic – we will not return to that era because neither women nor men want it. 

There’s a lot of research on the best time to marry. The National Marriage Project’s recent report Knot Yet looks at the rising marriage age:


Delayed marriage has helped to bring down the divorce rate in the U.S. since the early 1980s because couples who marry in their early twenties and especially their teens are more likely to divorce than couples who marry later.

The median age at first marriage for college education women was just over 27 in 2010. The median age for first childbirth was about 30. 12% of those births are to unmarried women. The divorce rate among college graduates is just 17%.

In contrast, women with a high school education or some college marry at 26, but have their first child at 24. 60% of births in this group are to unmarried women.

There are several factors that decrease the risk of divorce:

Factors % Decrease in Risk of Divorce

Making over $50,000 annually
(vs. under $25,000)


Having graduated college
(vs. not completed high school)


Having a baby seven months or more
after marriage (vs. before marriage)

Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18) 24%

Coming from an intact family of origin
(vs. divorced parents)

Religious affiliation (vs. none) 14%



Women enjoy an annual income premium if they wait until 30 or later to marry. For college-educated women in their midthirties, this premium amounts to $18,152.

A woman married under 20 has a mean annual income of 32K, while women married over 30 make 50K. However, college educated women earn almost as much when they marry in their mid-20s:


In fact, there is little advantage to delaying marriage to age 30. In an era where men are increasingly using female earning potential as a selection criterion for marriage, a woman who brings income to that table reduces the burden on the male and helps provide for future offspring at a time when men are experiencing economic decline. It’s hardly romantic, but the trend is real. Men are marrying women who earn more.

The Effect on Divorce

Marriage delayed carries another big social and personal benefit: it’s cut down the divorce rate. Studies have consistently shown that couples who marry before age twenty-five are more likely to find themselves in divorce court. Our own research based on data from the National Fatherhood Initiative Marriage Survey supports this conclusion: women who marry in their early twenties and especially in their teens are significantly more likely to end up divorced than those who marry in their midtwenties or later.

Some people conclude that this finding implies that the older a couple is when they marry, the less likely it is that they will split up. This is true, but only up to a point. As divorce insurance, marriage after the midtwenties has diminishing returns; a twenty-five-year-old bride is at not much greater risk of splitting up one day than is a thirty-five-year-old bride.

In general, couples who wait till their midtwenties or later enjoy more maturity and financial security, both factors that make it easier to sustain a lifelong marriage.


In my post The Grim Beeper, I highlighted women’s costly ignorance around the facts of their own fertility:

A recent survey found that women dramatically underestimate how much fertility declines with age. They estimated that a 30 year-old had an 80% chance of getting pregnant in one try. The real likelihood is 30%. They also thought a 40 year-old woman would have a 40% success rate, while those odds are less than 10%. 

Of course, we’re not limited to one try, but the first drop in fertility occurs at around age 27:


It’s more a question of when, not if.

Young people remain very interested in marriage. From the Knot Yet report:

Some might see marriage delayed as proof that young people, being especially open to change, think marriage is obsolete, or that being naturally rebellious, they don’t believe in the institution anymore. Not at all. The large majority of young adults say they hope to marry someday.

True, in the final quarter of the twentieth century, the number of high-school seniors who believed they’d wait five or more years after high school to get married grew significantly. But about 80 percent of young-adult men and women continued to rate marriage as an “important” part of their life plans; almost half of them described it as “very important.” In fact, in 2001–2002, 30 percent of twenty-five-year-old women wished they were already married, on top of the 33 percent who were. For men, it was comparable—19 percent wished they were married; another 29 percent were.

It’s not surprising. Married people are much more likely to report feeling very satisfied with their lives: 

Thirty-five percent of single men and cohabiting men report they are“highly satisfied” with their life, compared to 52 percent of married men. Likewise, 33 percent of single women and 29 percent of cohabiting women are “highly satisfied,” compared to 47 percent of married women.

Relationship Culture

The biggest hurdle to healthy relationships is the culture, which is what I choose to address here at HUS.

Today’s twentysomething men and women get little in the way of constructive guidance on the topic of marriage. To the extent marriage is a topic at all, it’s often framed as something best left for a young adult’s late twenties or thirties, often after a string of failed relationships. Media images have largely steered clear of addressing the central role that parenthood continues to play in the lives of most twentysomethings.

Equally important, today’s relationship culture offers virtually no signposts for young adults seeking to navigate romance, sex, and relationships in ways that will be fruitful for their current lives and their future families. All this is unfortunate, because as Meg Jay argues inThe Defining Decade, when it comes to relationships, twentysomethings should not “settle” for “spending their twenties on no-criteria or low-criteria relationships that likely have little hope or intention of succeeding”—especially when those relationships might lead to parenthood.

Meg Jay’s TED talk hits the high points of her message. From the TED blog:

“The 20s are not a throwaway decade — they’re a developmental sweet spot as it is when the seeds of marriage, family and career are planted.

There are 50 million 20-somethings in the US — that’s 15% of population. And Jay wants them to consider themselves adults, and know that this period is as important for their development as the first five years of life. Because the first 10 years of a career have an exponential impact on how much money a person is going to earn. Love is the same way: Half of Americans are with their future partner by the age of 30.”

Claiming your 20s is one of simplest things you can do for work, happiness, love, maybe even for the world. We know your brain caps off its second and last growth spurt in your 20s as it rewires itself for adulthood. Which means whatever you want to change, now is the time to change it.

None of these statistics or observations predict your personal success or failure in marriage. Nonetheless, based on a thorough cost/benefit analysis, it’s clear that at least for the college educated, the marriage sweet spot for women is right around 25-27. In my view, that means seeking a life partner like it’s your job the minute you graduate, if you haven’t already found him. 


Tiger Mama Susan Patton’s Ineffectual Marriage Strategy

Last week saw the eruption of a battle between traditional Princeton Tiger mom Susan Patton and the feminist women firmly planted throughout the mainstream media. Patton, a Princeton alum, wrote a rather impassioned letter to the women of her alma mater, which was published in the student newspaper. In it, she exhorted women to “forget about” their careers entirely, and instead:

Find a husband on campus before you graduate.


The kerfuffle continues, and today the Daily Princetonian website went down. 

It turns out Patton has a dog in the fight -

I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless.

Limitless! And yet his mama is trying to scare him up a date. Ouch.

When given a chance to explain, Patton backpedaled significantly, and in doing so made several valid points:

I’ve said the same things many times myself – a woman who wants marriage and a family should keep an open mind. Her fertility is limited. She also points out the very real fact that very smart women (such as those at Princeton) will want very smart husbands, but will have to compete with bimbos for them. While her claim that Princeton women have “almost priced themselves out of the market” is ludicrous – most of them will indeed marry very smart men – her general point is valid. 

It is also true that Patton did not write this admonishment to American women everywhere – her letter is addressed to the studious and intellectually elite women of one of the top universities in the world. 

James Taranto writes in the WSJ that Susan Patton Told the Truth:

Patton, after all, isn’t telling girls to abjure college. Far from it. She is advising young women already in college to think seriously about their sexual and romantic choices, and to take advantage of the simultaneity of their own peak nubility and their presence among an abundance of suitable mates such as they are all but certain never to encounter again. Contrary to her detractors’ caricature, she is not claiming that marriage is a now-or-never proposition for Princeton women, only that now is far more opportune than later is likely ever to be.

Taranto misses the boat by a mile here, because he has not dealt with the other half of the equation: most college males, even at Princeton, are not marriageable today, nor do they wish to be. College students are in the process of becoming adults. Today, psychologists define adolescence as lasting until 26, with good reason. Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson’s life stages provided a transition from Adolescence to Young Adulthood by age 18. 

Each of the eight stages was characterized by a task that had to be accomplished in order to move successfully on to the next stage. The task of the adolescent was to find his or her Identity, to discover who he or she was as an individual, separate from his or her family of origin and as a member of a wider society. Once this Identity task was completed, the transition to Young Adulthood occurred around age 18 with a new task: Intimacy. This stage involved finding mutually satisfying relationships, primarily through marriage and friends; starting a family; and  becoming self-supporting. 

In the late 1980s, psychologists and sociologists began to note that the transition between adolescence and young adulthood was not occurring on Erikson’s schedule. Young adulthood wasn’t starting at age 18. Susan Littwin, author of The Postponed Generation: Why American Youth Are Growing Up Later, noted with concern that many adolescents were taking a decade longer to assume adult responsibilities than prior generations. Adolescence was being extended, and young adulthood postponed. 

Littwin believed that there is often an innate element of fantasy in the emerging adult’s approach to life, resulting in a discrepancy between his or her expectations and reality. This element of fantasy was amply illustrated in a 2000 national survey of entering college freshman, where a whopping 73.4% rated “being very well off financially” as their most important goal. Such apparently necessary steps as “becoming an authority in my field” was important to only 59.7%, “becoming successful in a business of my own” caught the eye of only 39.3%, and “having administrative responsibility for the work of others” garnered only 36.9%.4 Today, Arnett identifies self-focus and the accompanying sense of fantasy not as a developmental problem but rather as one of the identifying features of emerging adulthood.

Certainly, a key feature of hookup culture is the deliberate avoidance of emotional intimacy – whether this is the cause or the consequence of delayed maturation is anyone’s guess.

Similar research by Twenge exploring the soaring levels of narcissism in college freshmen today highlights that they’re more likely to cite a goal of becoming famous rather than achieving real expertise.  

The narcissists described by Twenge and Campbell are often outwardly charming and charismatic. They find it easy to start relationships and have more confidence socially and in job interviews. Yet their prognosis is not good.

“In the long-term, what tends to happen is that narcissistic people mess up their relationships, at home and at work,” says Twenge.

Narcissists may say all the right things but their actions eventually reveal them to be self-serving.

How can we advise 18 year-old women or men to circumvent the process of maturation by focusing on marriage,  a life stage two jumps ahead on the board?

We tend to think that the marriage age has risen steadily over time, but that’s not true. In fact, men today marry just two years later than they did in 1890. While the rate has been climbing since 1960, that historic low followed a post-WWII boom that created strong incentives for early marriage.




Taranto continues with a comment on the female strategy of life splitting, or less drastically, delaying commitment:

But it is a strategy developed in response to exogenous factors–to wit, contemporary society’s expectation that young women be at least as career-minded as young men, the male preference for uncommitted sex and sexual variety, and the low sex ratios on campus, which empower men to set the terms of relationships.

Indeed, all of these factors are real “market conditions.” Even if women threw away their ambition in lieu of dating for marriage in college, they’d still be faced with the male preference for delaying commitment, as well as the 60/40 lopsided sex ratio at American colleges. From whence these marriageable winners?


Herewith, then, is a disinterested older gentleman’s advice for Patton’s bachelor son:

Don’t be in any hurry to get married. Assuming that you inherited your mother’s self-confidence and that you develop a professional career worthy of a Princeton man, your marriageability will only increase for at least the next two decades. And that’s a conservative estimate.

All of which is to say that because of the biological differences between the sexes, the Rosin play-now-marry-later strategy is as perfectly suited for high-status men as it is dysfunctional for women. That’s especially true when the Rosin strategy is prevalent among women, for if women followed the Patton strategy instead, high-status man would face greater pressure to commit and a smaller pool of playmates in college and prospective wives later on.

No worries, James, I think guys got the memo. For confident Princeton men with a promising future (maybe 90% of them?) locking down a life partner now is folly. And women know it; they are able to deduce that men who have 15 drinks in one night are not contemplating marriage and family. These boys just wanna have fun!

If Princeton women followed the Patton strategy, it wouldn’t matter, because those men won’t begin to focus finding a life partner until they are well into their 20s. In addition to Taranto’s observation that guys can snag a hotter, younger babe by waiting, the National Marriage Project found support for the claim that men today are “commitment phobic” and are “dragging their feet about marriage.” In their study of men aged 25-33, they found that the men were in “early adulthood,” a time of “insecure job and residential attachment.”

Their list of the Top 10 reasons men today wish to delay marriage:

1. They can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past.

2. They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.

3. They want to avoid divorce and its financial risks.

4. They want to wait until they are older to have children.

5. They fear that marriage will require too many changes and compromises.

6. They are waiting for the perfect soulmate and she hasn’t yet appeared.

7. They face few social pressures to marry.

8. They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children.

9. They want to own a house before they get a wife.

10. They want to enjoy single life as long as they can.

Add in the rising incidence of college debt, and the real disincentives mentioned by Taranto, and the picture is clear. When men are asked at what age they do hope to marry, it’s obvious they’re in no hurry. In the annual AskMen survey, 74% said age 28-30, 21% said age 35, and 5% said age 40. That leaves 0% for the under 28 crowd.

Gallup has also found that beliefs about marriage have changed. USA Today reports, “In a 1946 Gallup Poll, most found the ideal age to be 25 for men and 21 for women. Sixty years later, in a Gallup telephone poll of about 500 adults, the ideal age had increased to 25 for women and 27 for men.”

A study conducted by BYU found that college students overwhelmingly do not feel ready for marriage:

One study of 788 college students ages 18-25 from five campuses across the country analyzed marriage readiness by asking “Do you think that you are ready to be married?” Most weren’t: 60% of men and 67% of women answered “no,” and only 9% of men and 5% of women said “yes.” Almost one-third of men and 28% of women said “in some ways yes, in some ways no.”

In another study, parents were even more anxious to delay marriage than their kids were:

The other study asked young adults and their parents about the best age to marry. The sample of 536 students from the five campuses said 25 was ideal, while parents — 446 mothers and 360 fathers — said 26 was better.

I think that both women and men should keep an open mind. It’s possible to find your life partner while at college, and though I don’t believe many of those couples will be anywhere near ready to tie the knot at 21, they may stay together during the years when they experience Young Adulthood. 

As a strategy, though, Susan Patton’s exhortation makes little sense. There simply is not a market for young brides on college campuses. The boys see that as a project for later. Way later. 


Be a Lover Before You Are a Wife

The National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia conducted a study exploring men’s feelings about commitment and marriage. 

The men in this study express a desire to marry and have children sometime in their lives, but they are in no hurry. They enjoy their single life and they experience few of the traditional pressures from church, employers or the society that once encouraged men to marry. Moreover, the sexual revolution and the trend toward cohabitation offer them some of the benefits of marriage without its obligations. If this trend continues, it will not be good news for the many young women who hope to marry and bear children before they begin to face problems associated with declining fertility.

The top ten reasons why men won’t commit are:

  1. They can get sex without marriage more easily than in times past.
  2. They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.
  3. They want to avoid divorce and its financial risks.
  4. They want to wait until they are older to have children.
  5. They fear that marriage will require too many changes and compromises.
  6. They are waiting for the perfect soulmate and she hasn’t yet appeared.
  7. They face few social pressures to marry.
  8. They are reluctant to marry a woman who already has children.
  9. They want to own a house before they get a wife.
  10. They want to enjoy single life as long as they can.

Let’s focus on reason #2: 

They can enjoy the benefits of having a wife by cohabiting rather than marrying.

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