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WHEN BETH, one of my better researchers, said that men who were averse to commitment were drawn to her like bees to honey, I gave her a copy of the summary report of my research on "why men marry." The report showed that the primary reason a man asks one woman to marry and not another is that each woman treats him differently.
After looking it over for about fifteen minutes, Beth returned the report to my desk and told me I was a male chauvinist.
I was taken aback for a moment. I was fond of Beth and trying to help her, so after I recovered, I asked her what made her think that.
She said, "You reinforce the myth that the reason men don't commit is that the women in their lives do something wrong. That's nonsense. In most cases, it's the man in a relationship who decides he isn't ready or doesn't want to get married, and he makes this decision without any help from the woman.
No matter what some women do, there are certain men who are never going to commit. Unless you recognize that, you've missed the whole point. If you want to do women a real service, help us identify those losers before we get involved with them."
After telling Beth that more than three hundred women had worked with me on the marriage research and not one had made the comment she just offered, I apologized. I had to admit she had a point. My interviews with single men had shown there were men who would not commit. Beth was also right when she said that if I could help women identify which men were more likely to commit, I would be performing a real service. As a reward for her insight, I put her in charge of the project.
Looking for Mr. Right
My researchers approached this project the same way we had others. First, Beth reviewed the literature and research we had on file. With this in mind, I reviewed our interviews with men and women who were planning to marry and videos of two focus groups we had run with single men. We then broadened the study by surveying and then running focus groups of single men who at that time had no intention of getting married. At first, we had young single men do the interviews, but so many of the interviewees gave macho answers that we doubted their reliability. In fact, we threw out the entire study and started again.
The second time we tried teams composed of men and women, but that produced mainly politically correct answers, which we also questioned. Finally, we had men in their sixties ask the questions, and that solved the problem. The responses they elicited were generally straightforward. The single men apparently did not feel an obligation to give these interviewers macho or politically correct answers.
Is He Old Enough to Marry?
This survey uncovered some interesting facts. The first was that there is an age when a man is ready to marry-the Age of Commitment. The age varies from man to man, but there are patterns that are easily identified:
Most men who graduate from high school start thinking of marriage as a real possibility when they are twenty-three or twenty-four.
Most men who graduate from college don't start considering marriage as a real possibility until age twenty-six.
When men go to graduate school, it takes them longer to get into the working world, and they're not ready to get married until a few years after that.
Ninety percent of men who have graduated from college are ready for the next step between ages twenty-six and thirty-three; this is when they are most likely to consider marriage. But this window of opportunity stays open only for four to five years, and then the chances a man will marry start to decline.
A majority of college graduates between twenty-eight and thirty-three are in their high-commitment years and likely to propose.
This period for well-educated men lasts just a bit over five years. The chances men will commit are sightly less when they are thirty-one or thirty-two than when they were between twenty-eight and thirty, but they're still in a high-commitment phase.
Once men reach thirty-three or thirty-four, the chances they'll commit start to diminish, but only slightly. Until men reach thirty-seven, they remain very good prospects.
After age thirty-eight, the chances they will ever marry drop dramatically.
The chances that a man will marry for the first time diminish even more once he reaches forty-two or forty-three. At this point, many men become confirmed bachelors.
Once men reach age forty-seven to fifty without marrying, the chances they will marry do not disappear, but they drop dramatically.
Still, there is no one-to-one correlation. For example, when a man goes to law school, which takes three additional years, he usually starts considering marriage around age twenty-seven or twenty-eight. That's also the age when most doctors, who spend four years in medical school and at least one year as an intern, start seriously thinking about marriage.
The single men we interviewed explained that when they get out of school and get a job and start making money, new possibilities open to them. For the first time, a majority of them have some independence. All of a sudden, they have a nice car and an apartment and an income. They're reluctant to even consider marriage for a few years, because they want to sow their wild oats. Many look at time spent as a carefree bachelor as a rite of passage. So for the first few years that they're on their own, their primary goal is having fun, which translates into dating without any serious thoughts about marriage.
Just Because You're Ready Doesn't Mean That He Is
One of the most common mistakes young women make is to assume that because they're ready for marriage in their early- or mid-twenties, the men they date are, as well. But as the above research shows, that's usually not the case. If a woman is seriously trying to find a husband, she should date men who have reached the age of commitment. She can date men slightly before they reach that age, because by the time she's gone out with a man for a year, he may have reached the point of being receptive to the idea of marriage. But this is taking a gamble that the man is typical, because the figures I've just given are educated estimates. Not all men mature at the same rate, and other factors can and do affect a man's readiness to marry. Even among men who are positively inclined toward marriage and are from identical educational and socioeconomic backgrounds, 20 percent will reach the age of commitment a year or more before our estimates, while another 20 percent will only consider marriage as a real option two to four years later. So if you're dating a man much younger than the commitment age, the chance he'll commit is relatively small.
There's one exception to this rule: Men and women who are seriously committed couples while still in school often get married shortly after they finish their formal education. This is usually an arrangement agreed to by the man but devised by the woman. Such couples, however, represent a very small percentage of today's singles.
Signing Off on the Scene
When we conducted a focus group with twelve men who had just proposed to women, we learned that men were far more likely to marry when they got tired of the singles scene.
Our original intent was to determine how men at different ages reacted to single women they met at social gatherings. We started by asking the men about their lives before they met their future wives. How often and whom had they dated, where had they met the women, had they gone to singles places and, if so, how often? The first thing that struck us was that about a third of them said that for six months to two years before they met their brides-to-be, they were not dating or going to singles places as often as they had been just a few years earlier.
They had not stopped dating. It's just that they were no longer going to singles hangouts and trying to pick up women several times a week. Picking up women was no longer their main reason for going out. A majority of them hadn't admitted it to themselves, but their answers revealed they were trying to meet someone with whom they could have a serious relationship. They told us the singles scene was not as much fun as it used to be.
The Next Step
The men had not completely given up on the singles scene, but they were ready for "something else" or the "next step." Those two phrases caught my attention. Four of them used one phrase or the other, and ten of twelve men in our focus group said they felt the same way: The singles scene had lost some of its appeal. The "next step," as a majority of them admitted reluctantly to our researchers, was a serious relationship and possibly marriage.
We asked them why they weren't enjoying the singles scene, and at first the only answer we got was, "Been there, done that." Even though most of the men we met after they picked up a marriage license were between twenty-seven and thirty-four, we did meet men from seventeen to seventy-seven who were about to marry. Indeed, there was such a wide range of ages that at first we didn't think age was a factor. But it became clear that they weren't going to singles places as much as they had in the past because most of the people there were much younger than they were. Many men reluctantly admitted that for more than a year, they had felt uncomfortable in the singles world where they had been hanging out for the past five years. The singles world for professionals obviously is an older and more sophisticated crowd than that for men whose formal education ended in high school, but eventually men from both groups had the same experience.
Three young men who had graduated from the same high school were in one focus group made up of men who were about to marry. Two had taken some technical training; the third hadn't. One was a plumber, one worked repairing computers, and the third was a store manager. Each said he had begun to feel uncomfortable in his favorite singles place about two years earlier. For two of them, their singles place was a bar and pool hall where they and their single friends hung out and met women. The third man was a very active member of a large Baptist church. For him, the singles scene was church meetings and church singles functions. Interestingly, he and the fellows who frequented bars and pool halls made the same comment. One said that the singles bar he used to visit was filled with teenyboppers, and he felt out of place. He didn't say he had outgrown the bar; instead he complained that they weren't checking IDs anymore. The Baptist man observed that church dances were now attended by a bunch of "kids." All three admitted under questioning that when they had started hanging out in "their" singles place, they too were teenyboppers or kids. They had simply gotten too old for the crowd.
There were two single professionals in the same focus group, one a doctor and the other an engineer with a master's in electrical engineering and business administration. It surprised us when they reported feelings identical to those of the younger high-school-educated men. The places the professional single men went drew an older crowd. Among the professionals, the youngest women were college graduates and probably at least twenty-two. Professional men-unlike the younger men who had only completed high school-were perfectly at ease in their favorite singles places well into their thirties. Still, 30 percent of the single men with a postgraduate education said that as they approached thirty, they began to feel they no longer fit into their singles scene.
So there is a point at which men are likely to be ready for the next step, but the specific age depends on the man's maturity, education, and profession.
There were two notable exceptions to the age guidelines: men who were balding or heavy. Losing hair or putting on weight often makes men look older, and when a man looks older in singles places, he is often treated by the women as if he doesn't belong. Many men in their midtwenties who were getting bald said they weren't as interested in the singles scene as their buddies, and they were ready for a more serious relationship. A twenty-four-year-old man who was almost completely bald explained that he had felt uncomfortable in the singles scene after he had approached a young woman in a singles bar and asked if he could buy her a drink. Her response was to tell him, loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear, that it would be a good idea if he went home and kissed his wife and played with his kids. When he protested, she became sarcastic.
He could see he was losing the argument not only with her but with the entire bar. He walked out and never went back. It is not how old they are that makes men uncomfortable, it is how old they feel, or how old others make them feel. Once a man decides he's too old for the singles scene, that part of his life is over, and he is more likely to marry.
Not Your Average Joe
Joe's experience was not unique. An attorney, he told us he had been going to a restaurant-bar for three years on Friday nights. It was a hangout for attorneys, judges, and others who worked in the court system. Joe explained that the restaurant was usually full, and on Friday nights the bar area was crowded with young singles, while most of those seated at tables were older and married. When he showed up one Friday night, there was a new hostess seating people. Without asking, she seated him at a table, assuming he wouldn't want to join the singles at the bar. Joe was too embarrassed to contradict her, and he realized she was right-he no longer belonged at the bar.
Most of the men we interviewed, however, asserted that they hadn't become convinced they were too old for the singles scene because of one incident. It was a series of small incidents over a period of time that turned them off-usually comments made by one or more young women that made them realize they no longer fit into the place they had frequented for years.
One of the focus groups composed of men about to marry said that if a woman wants to know whether a man is ready to get married, she should ask him how much he enjoys the singles scene. If he says it isn't as much fun as it used to be, he's a very good prospect, because he's ready to move on to the next step. They were right, but there's more to it than that: The woman should also ask the man a number of questions, including his age.
Bachelors for Life?
It's easy to spot a confirmed bachelor. He's so used to living alone that he will list the pleasures of the solo life-coming and going as he pleases, not answering to anyone-as reasons for not marrying. But there's still hope.
Excerpted from Why Men Marry Some Women and Not Others by John T. Molloy Copyright © 2003 by John T. Molloy . Excerpted by permission.
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|1.||The Marrying Kind||1|
|3.||Women Men Marry||45|
|4.||The Stages in a Relationship||77|
|5.||Speaking of Marriage||105|
|6.||Marrying After Forty||139|
|7.||Widowed and Divorced Men: Handle with Care||177|
|Conclusion: Defending Marriage||207|
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