For Father’s Day: revolutionary words that will forever change the American family

Summary: Sometimes simple insights change the world. Here is one such, presented on Father’s Day — part of a quiet revolution already in motion yet still unseen. It will reshape the American family in ways we cannot even imagine.

Love revolutionMarx said that ideology and religion mask our vision of reality (creating what Engels called a false consciousness). Stripping them away so that we clearly see the world leads to revolution. Sometimes all that’s needed are words providing simple insights that change the world. Here are the most revolutionary words since Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake”.

“When looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment-phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands. When it comes time to settle down, find someone who wants an equal partner. Someone who thinks women should be smart, opinionated and ambitious. Someone who values fairness and expects or, even better, wants to do his share in the home.”

— Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook) in her best-seller Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (2013).

{The “let them eat cake” story is bogus, but came to represent the origins of the French revolution because it captures the exploitive and uncaring spirit of the French aristocracy.}

Sandberg’s advice to young women is rational. It allows women to have fun, then marry nice beta providers — dreaming at night of the Alpha lovers from their past (see this example from a hit TV show). It’s called “settling”, an anathema to the dreams of the “you can have it all” school of feminism. See the controversial articles about it in The Atlantic: “The Case for Mr. Not-Quite-Right“, “The case for settling for Mr. Good Enough“, and “Reader, Marry Him!“.

Even better than settling: playing the game aggressively

While have fun then settle seems logical but cold, some women play the game more aggressively. Marry, have kids (with a husband providing support during those first few difficult years), divorce after they’re in school, collect child support. This gets the children she wants without the bother of having a husband (after a few years of marriage). The resulting high divorce rates, roughly 80% initiated by wives, makes marriage a risky proposition for men.

Update: less 60% of US adolescents (11, 13, and 15 years old) lived with both birth parents in 2005-06, the lowest level in the OCED. Today probably even fewer do. See numbers at the end of this essay.

Women of Sheryl Sandberg’s generation successfully played this game in its benign or aggressive versions. Settling assumes men’s ignorance or acceptance. But is it rational for men to participate in this game? A woman’s romance looks different to a man aware that she has taken Sandberg’s advice. What if large numbers of young men who are 20 today see marriage as an unattractive or risky proposition — and decline to marry when the women of their generation turn 27 and want to settle?

The use of settling and more exploitive strategies raises an even more disturbing question.

The nature of relations between men and women

“Relations between the sexes have always been difficult, and that is why so much of our literature is about men and women quarreling. There is certainly legitimate ground to doubt their suitability for each other given the spectrum — from the harem to Plato’s Republic — of imaginable and actually existing relations between them, whether nature acted the stepmother or God botched the creation by an afterthought, as some Romantics believed.”

— From Allan Bloom’s great Closing of the American Mind.

Economics has long been the foundation for marriage, providing rational motives for both men and women to marry. The emancipation of women, now accelerating, is washing those away.  After that is gone, what remains as a foundation for modern marriage (i.e., romance, nuclear family, easy divorce)?

(1)  Sex is now easily available.

(2)  The high rate of women-initiated divorces, likely to increase as women become increasingly independent financially, suggests that many women do not need marriage — other than temporarily to help conceive and support children.

(3)  We might already be seeing the third and final nail in the coffin of modern marriage — men losing interest in marriage. As in the frequent complaints about the “Peter Pan Syndrome: A Man’s Fear of Commitment” — “This is when a man is afraid to grow up. They usually put themselves first and do not want to commit to anything. They are unable to face adult feelings and responsibilities.” Also common are women’s responses to these new man, such as “Learn how to make him commit: The Secret Lives of Men”.

Death of Marriage

A tragedy of our time

The internet has stories. Some are true. Some are fiction containing truth. The good ones speak to us about our hopes, dreams, and fears. Some are tragedies that makes Othello look like the Marx Brothers. Here is one such, a tale of marriage today: “Saving the Best” and the follow-up “Betas in Waiting.” The author gives an analysis that cuts to the heart of the problem.

“…it’s the freedom and genuine desire with which their wives had sex with prior (alpha) lovers; desire that wasn’t based on material provisioning, emotional investment or the logistical hoops women expect their post-Epiphany “good men” to perform to in order to merit their sexual and intimate attentions.

“That’s the disconnect, that’s the con; Alpha Bad Boys get her 3-Way genuine sexual abandon with no investment expected, while he’s got to maintain ‘multiple businesses’ in order to get a prosaic sexual experience with her. The Bad Boys got her sexual best for free, while he’s expected to accept her as the ‘new’ post-Epiphany her… {The wife comments after the divorce on their final fight.}

‘Nothing I could do or say could convince him that these were past mistakes and not reflective of who I am today. He wasn’t angry with me, didn’t call me a slut or anything like that. Never once raised his voice. Part of me wishes he did, although I can’t exactly say why right now.’

“As I mentioned, the expectation is for her husband to accept “who she is today”, yet who she was ten years ago had a more genuine desire for less established, but sexually arousing, lovers.”

Conclusions

Modern marriage, with its complex emotional scaffolding, evolved in a specific social situation. Those conditions lie in our past, as our society evolves into something quite different. The facts are plain and must be faced, however reluctant we are to do so by our wishful thinking and long-standing affection for this institution. Marriage as we know it might play a small role in our future.

American society is already atomized, as the intermediate structures between the state and the individual die. Ties to a region were broken by our mobility. Lifetime employment and unions provided both social and economic stability to Americans; both now largely gone. Many of our social institutions are dying (see Robert Putnam’s powerful 1995 essay “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital“, and the book). Marriage is the most important source of our social capital. Without it we will be just isolated motes.

Life will go on. Perhaps better. Perhaps worse. We will know which by comparison with other nations whose people have taken other paths. We are experimenting on ourselves, guided purely by ideology, with our children as guinea pigs.

Update: Looking at the numbers: the American family today

In 2005/06 less 60% of US adolescents (11, 13, and 15 years old) lived with both birth parents, per the OCED Family Database (source). That was the lowest level among OECD nations. That number is probably lower today.

The OECD’s 2014 report did not include this number for the US. The US Census does not distinguish between biological fathers, fathers by adoption, step-fathers, and unrelated resident adult males (see the 2010 US Census definitions). Even by that expansive definition, in 2016 only 69% of children under 18 lived with both a mother and “father” in the household (US Census).

For more details, see the US Census Families & Living Arrangements survey — especially table A3 of the 2016 survey.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about romance, about women and gender, about feminism, and especially these…

  1. Do we want to bring back traditional marriage? What is traditional marriage?
  2. A brief guide to the new war of the sexes. Both sides are 100% right.
  3. Why men are avoiding work and marriage.
  4. Will young men break America’s family structure?
  5. Will today’s young men marry? America’s future depends which of these answers is right.
  6. Technology will shape our society as porn and sexbots destroy 21st century marriage.
  7. Movies show the hidden truth about romance & marriage: they’re dying.

Useful books about marriage.

Men and Marriage
Available at Amazon.
Marriage Matters: Perspectives on the Private and Public Importance of Marriage (2012).
Available at Amazon.
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16 thoughts on “For Father’s Day: revolutionary words that will forever change the American family

  1. There is no apparent effort in any of this to think slightly longer term and there is not much evidence of wisdom.
    Kids need a lot of nurturing to develop fully, plus we get old and we get sick. All this is better handled with a partner who has your back. So a solid long term relationship seems highly desirable still, no matter the fluctuations in sexual availability.

    Like

    1. etudiant,

      “There is no apparent effort in any of this to think slightly longer term”

      That’s an impressive reading FAIL, on several levels. First, the summary says “It will reshape the American family in ways we cannot even imagine.” Our ability to predict the effects of social changes is almost nil. An obvious example is the predictions made at the start of every new decade. They can cheery-pick the most likely trends and events. They’re not very accurate.

      Second, this post is not a statement of the Cosmic All. It is a 1300 essay asking a specific question: what if large numbers of young men (roughly 20 years old today) choose not to settle when the women of their generation turn 27 and want to settle?

      “Kids need a lot of nurturing to develop fully”

      This is the “I really wish so it will happen” school of forecasting. Perhaps women have an instinctual desire to have kids, although feminists believe most of that results from “pro-natalist” indoctrination. There is little evidence that men do. Traditional social systems gave men reasons to participate in family formation. Most of those are gone in our society. We will see how many men are willing to invest in the nurturing of children.

      “All this is better handled with a partner who has your back”

      This just in: because you want something, does mean you will get it. History teaches that just because something is logical, does not mean it will happen. That’s why we have have civil wars, wars between states, and countless other anti-social phenomena. Complex social structures evolved to create human societies. We are rapidly spinning the dials on the controls of ours. Perhap the result will be great, perhaps it won’t.

      I suggest you open your eyes to the possibility of unknown futures.

      Like

    2. etuident,

      Your comment nicely shows the most common response to asking about social change: denial. Here is a classic example:

      “All this is better handled with a partner who has your back.”

      That assumes that a spouse sticks around in bad times. As divorce becomes normalized, that becomes increasingly unlikely. Note that we regulate insurance companies because their promises have proven insufficient to guarantee their payments when bad luck strikes.

      Like

  2. People change. I pursued women much more for sex and fun in my 20s but eventually one of those women I wanted to hang on to, be my partner, lover, mother of my children, and help scheme and cause a business, and we did all that. Yet I still think of a former girlfriend who I was insanely physically attracted to but who was so constantly unhappy, covertly hostile, resentful, and unwilling to talk about it that I chose to let her go.

    Does that mean I settled? That I let go of someone when I could see it wasn’t going to work out?

    I think the same thing is operating with women turning away from so-called alphas. They may fondly remember someone they were insanely attracted to but they could tell it wouldn’t work out and they left.

    Maybe we’re saying the same thing.

    And maybe for a lot of people it just needs a tweak. Some women might be happier with the so-called beta if he’s shoving her face into the pillow while he’s doing her from behind, to borrow from Bill Burr. (With her consent, of course, duh.) Maslow said that a lot of women have feelings of deep submissiveness and it’s powerful when they understand that and acknowledge it. If we so-called betas channel our inner alpha and dominate our women in a way that works for them and be a partner with them where it matters then they’re less likely to stray. Not that that’s better, but it’s more fun.

    Also, that a marriage ends in divorce after ten or twenty years doesn’t mean it was a failure.

    I think life for every generation, at least these days, is almost totally different from the ones before it, and it’s very hard to get where kids are today and what’s driving them. Religion was very important to my parents but I am completely areligious insofar as I do not believe there is a God who will punish or reward me or cares whether or not I believe in it. My grandfather was a farmer. My father was a salesman and a manager. I make software and I completely love doing it, even after decades.

    Yet you read or see Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure performed and realize that people haven’t changed in 500 years.

    I think each generation looks at the new generation with alarm, yet somehow each seems to muddle along and reproduce and generally build on what the ones that came before it had and, at least since the industrial revolution, leave their children much better off than they were, even today.

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    1. The Icnonoclast,

      I’m uncertain to what you are replying to, or its relevance to this post. This is why I reply to quotes, so people reading it can better understand what I am saying.

      “read or see Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure performed and realize that people haven’t changed in 500 years.”

      More relevant to this post is that M for M shows that society has radically changed in the past 500 years. A little reading of history shows that the rate of change is accelerating.

      Like

  3. Yes, we have embarked on a mass social experiment, and its results are unknowable. Anyone that tells you they know the outcome is most likely trying to sell you something.

    While the destruction of the nuclear family can not entirely be blamed on Marxists, certainly Marx and his followers identified the nuclear family as a powerful institution that stood in the way of their idealized relationship between individual and state. Sex wars, female entry in the workforce, birth control pills, abandonment of religion – all variables that enter the equation, all with their own societal benefits and costs, although many of those costs have yet to be fully realized. Will we see pushback? Will we see the pendulum swing the other direction? Are these developments linear or cyclical? There are some indications that the post-Millennial (Z?) generation will be more socially “traditional” than any since the GI (“Greatest”) Generation. Or maybe that is wishful thinking.

    I am saddened by the updated figures showing over 40% of children are raised in what used to be called “broken homes”. There has been enough research done to show that by any objective measurement, having two parents, one male, and one female, is a “good thing” for children, and thus society. As the “broken home” figure is more pronounced among the poor, it is tempting to point to LBJ’s Great Society as a main culprit, but if politics is downstream of culture, then the welfare state is merely a symptom of a greater disease. What happens to the souls of individuals and communities that become completely dependent on others for survival, with nothing asked in return? We are finding out.

    There are still many of us out here in the middle (geographically and socio-economically) who value family and community, and who would appreciate a less ambitious state. Society has changed but people have not. The perfection of man through government is not desirable or possible. We believe in individual liberty, layered with responsibilities to our family, friends, communities and nation, without the threat of state coercion. Are we a majority? Plurality? Dying minority? Hard to say. In the end perhaps the best we can do is to endeavor to keep our torch lit, and pass it on to our next generation with instructions for them to do the same. If the torch goes out for an individual, a family, a community, a nation, a civilization, can it be reignited? Like most questions, the answer depends on your evaluation of human nature.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Obe,

      Thank you for your heart-felt comment!

      I didn’t mention the most interesting reaction to my nowcasts with radical insights: denial. Look at the recent posts about the decline of traditional marriage (aka romantic marriage with nuclear families). When it comes to things people value most they are believes of Zero’s Paradox: motion is impossible. See the amazing comments to these posts at the FM website, and this week at Naked Capitalism (here, search for “fabius” in the comments). This post hit a nerve. The responses showed minds short-circuiting.

      • Lots of name calling (“ass”).
      • Rebuttals to things I didn’t say.
      • Accusations of political incorrectness.
      • Assertions that everything is just fine!

      Any my favorite, Plune’s comment. Rebuttal by saying things that I said. I assume Plune — like many commenters — read the title and perhaps the summary, and concluded “other”. Therefore there is no need to read the text, one just attributes all sort of un-PC views to the other and condemns them.

      “Society has changed but people have not.”

      This is a common response to these posts. I don’t understand it. Humanity has adopted a fantastically wide range of social systems during the past several thousand years. Are you indifferent to which America adopts? That’s pure multiculturalism (but an extreme repudiation of belief in human rights).

      “The perfection of man through government is not desirable or possible.”

      I don’t understand. The changes here are democratically driven, most with broad popular approval (abortion is the except, and probably the least important factor), and reflect changes in matters regarded as core government policy for centuries in the West. Marriage and education are the core policies.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Society has changed but people have not.”

    More accurately, my point was that human nature has not changed, and will not change. Thus any attempt to perfect mankind is inherently doomed. There is not and cannot be utopia, not here on earth. I did NOT mean to say that all systems are equal. Far from it. The genius of the Founders was to understand and accept humanity as inherently flawed, including and perhaps especially those who would lead. They fully expected people (and especially politicians) to be selfish, greedy, self-serving and power hungry. Their system not only allowed for this, but celebrated it, and enshrined this behavior as every man’s God given right, so long as it did not infringe on the rights of another. Any changes to our system that do not fully account for this will only make things worse, and I would argue many of the changes over the years have made things worse. This is generally the problem with legislation that means well, but inevitably leads to outsized perverse unintended consequences. So to answer your question, no I am not indifferent. Whether the system is monarchy by divine right, benevolent dictatorship, or socialist utopia, they all fail because they do not sufficiently account for the corrupting influence of power.

    “I don’t understand.”

    I don’t deny that the changes you describe are democratically driven with broad popular approval, but it doesn’t make it right or good. It just places me in the minority. The death of the nuclear family is most pronounced in the lower class. In fact, I think almost all of the change reflected in these stats come from the poor. The upper (and admittedly shrinking) middle class do not exhibit this radical change. This urge to accumulate power in order to help someone, somewhere, whether they have asked for help or not, is a destructive impulse that will always be with us. It is the rationalization of all tyranny, democratic or not.

    The irony should not be lost on anyone. Those whom we, as a society, aim to help, are hurt the most because in our arrogance we ignore or disparage the institutions that made human progress possible for centuries. An extra 25% on the welfare check is no substitute for a two-parent family, or for the satisfaction and paid reward of a good day’s work. And yet this is the choice we, as a society, have foisted on the working poor. We somehow expect them to exhibit self-control and delay gratification that we don’t demand of anyone else, and then wonder why the War On Poverty has failed. How many middle class people would accept this trade? Too many is my guess. People respond to incentives, and society, through government and culture, has thoroughly disincentivized family and work, especially for the lower class. We would do well to more closely examine incentives when designing systems, as opposed to doing what makes us feel the best about ourselves. You’re a sucker if you’re working for the man, and pimpin’ ain’t easy.

    How does it get better? I don’t pretend to know. I only know that things that can’t go on forever don’t. And eventually you run out of other people’s money.

    Like

    1. Obe,

      “my point was that human nature has not changed, and will not change. Thus any attempt to perfect mankind is inherently doomed.”

      That makes no sense to me, whatsoever. So we should make no attempt to improve society? Accept the current laws and vegetate? Or have no laws, and live like Somalia?

      Think of that logic in another sense. “We can’t live forever, so attempts at public health or medicine are inherently doomed.” I’ve seen many examples of rigid ideology, but this takes the cake.

      “It just places me in the minority.”

      Fortunately so for America.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. With respect, you assume too much about my opinion.

    Humility does not necessarily beget apathy.

    Attempts to improve mankind’s conditions are welcome. You are making the mistake of conflating human conditions with the human condition. The former can and should be improved, while allowing for the fact that the latter cannot. The fallibility of man cannot be legislated out of existence.

    To run with your metaphor – attempts at improving public health or medicine are welcome and desirable, but are not substitutes for the understanding and acceptance of our own mortality. Feels like there is a lesson on healthcare spending in there somewhere.

    Thanks for the response and your forum. Your articles are always thought provoking and appreciated.

    Like

    1. Obe,

      “You are making the mistake of conflating human conditions with the human condition. The former can and should be improved, while allowing for the fact that the latter cannot.”

      Since nothing in this post — or even US public policy — attempts to change “the human condition”, your comment is interesting but irrelevant. How many people believe we can change “the human condition”? Not many. What does that even mean? Altering our genetic code?

      “The fallibility of man cannot be legislated out of existence.”

      Really irrelevant to this discussion unless you can show that anyone involved is trying to do so, or even believes that it is possible.

      “attempts at improving public health or medicine are welcome and desirable, but are not substitutes for the understanding and acceptance of our own mortality.”

      How is that kind of philosophising relevant to this post? The first is a high priority subject of public policy. The second is philosophy, which some people find interesting and other consider a waste of time.

      Your comments are easily misinterpreted because you changed the subject of the discussion without disclosing it. I recommend next time saying “Let’s look instead at the philosophy or religion concerning these issues…”

      Like

    2. Obe,

      Background context

      The issues you raise are important. But for other people to latch on to them, it is helpful to relate your comments to what other people are in fact saying or doing. From another perspective, if you reply to text, people assume your comment is in response to that text and about the subject. If it is in fact about something else, confusion reigns.

      This post was about — to use your framing — attempts to improve “human conditions”. Discussion about improving humans, or “legislating the fallibility of man cannot out of existence” are important — but a very different subject (as you note in your comment). Switching from one to another requires some transitional text.

      I try to avoid this, not always successfully, by replying to direct quotes. So if I get it wrong, people can easily see how the text and response don’t match.

      Like

  6. there’s really nothing wrong with a woman settling for a man who is “good enough” instead of waiting for mr. perfect. the perfect (or the better) is the enemy of the good noted voltaire repeating an idea that had several hundred years of provenance before his time. we all do it in all the time, taking the pretty good job instead of waiting for the perfect job or settling for a toyota because the bmw seems just a bit out of reach. in my youth, i was desperate to date annette funicello. needless to say, that never happened and i’m sure it was for the better.

    Like

    1. Jay,

      “there’s really nothing wrong with a woman settling for a man who is “good enough” …the perfect (or the better) is the enemy of the good”

      You missed the key point of the post. Let’s replay the tape for you.

      “Sandberg’s advice to young women is rational. …But is it rational for men to participate in this game? A woman’s romance looks different to a man aware that she has taken Sandberg’s advice. What if large numbers of young men who are 20 today see marriage as an unattractive or risky proposition — and decline to marry when the women of their generation turn 27 and want to settle?”

      This is why I recommend that people reply to direct quotes. It avoids rebuttals that are unclear or made to things not said.

      Like

  7. I have been of the opinion for some time, that our society has replaced Gloria Steinhem’s motto, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle”, with “A man needs a wife & kids like a fish needs a bicycle” …

    “Marriage as we know it might play a small role in our future.”

    This assumes that our society has a future. I apprehend that one of the more toxic conceits of the modern mind is the idea that social structures are arbitrary, with viability taken for granted.

    “Marriage is the most important source of our social capital. Without it we will be just isolated motes.”

    The surviving “motes” will be those who rediscover a viable morality; Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” is an excellent discussion of American moral structures.

    “Life will go on. Perhaps better. Perhaps worse. We will know which by comparison with other nations whose people have taken other paths. We are experimenting on ourselves, guided purely by ideology, with our children as guinea pigs.”

    A very cogent comment. However, the metric will perhaps not be comparison to other societies, but the simpler, & more brutal one of tribal survival.

    Like

    1. Jeffrey,

      Thank you for that fascinating comment, reframing what I said in a more pessimistic but perhaps more realistic manner.

      I have had somewhat similar thoughts. Perhaps western civilization has turned into a dead, with its future being those higher fertility cultures — like the Mormons and fundamentalist Islam. Our mainstream culture might just be replaced or absorbed. There are darker scenarios. The Left’s mad desire for open borders might be suicidal. This brings in large number of stronger and more aggressive men from more Darwinian environments, who regard our gentle rules about non-sexist behavior as chalk drawings on the sidewalk for children.

      Lots of unexpected possibilities in our future.

      Like

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