But you are a woman. Do you value the same things that men do?
“Most men at work are in relationships, as are the best ones from university,” sighs Harriet, 27, “It feels like you’re left with the offcuts — guys who want to sleep around or are heartbroken from their last relationship. Whereas my single girlfriends are intelligent, rational people, always doing interesting things. According to romcoms, we should be bumping into interesting men left, right and centre, but it doesn’t happen.”
Romcoms aren’t accurate? Call the press!
On paper, today’s young women are more empowered than ever. Last year, British women between the ages of 22 and 29 reversed the gender pay gap, outearning their male counterparts.
The gender pay gap isn’t real? Call the press!
Much has rightly been made of the knock-on effect of this shift on men and their concept of masculinity. But we shouldn’t mistake impressive jobs and outward confidence as a sign that young women have everything sorted. We don’t — particularly when it comes to relationships.
More women entering the workplace has had a negligible effect on men’s concept of masculinity; rather, you are witnessing changes in its expression. Women’s “impressive jobs” have little to do with their success in relationships. Arguably, success at work may actually hurt their chances because they will spend less time looking for a mate.
It is not that my friends and I (single for seven years) feel incomplete without a boyfriend. We travel alone (Chloe, 28, has spent the past two New Year’s Eves on her own in Israel and Nicaragua); we’ve moved to foreign cities alone; we happily go to the cinema alone.
Sounds like fun.
In Britain, the figure is 29% more women than men in higher education. In 2014, 237,690 women graduated from UK universities compared with 184,130 men. This year, 94,140 more women than men applied to universities. If action isn’t taken to address the growing gender gap then girls born this year will be 75% more likely to study for a degree than their male classmates.
Why would action be taken? Isn’t this what women have been demanding for decades?
The heart of the problem is an increase in what Birger calls “assortative mating” — people choosing partners from the same social and educational background as themselves.
And by people, he means women. Men don’t choose partners based on these criteria. Maybe women shouldn’t either.
“We’ve all become more rigid about who we want to be with, but the men don’t get penalised because the supply of university-educated women is getting bigger every year. Say you start out with a dating pool that has 140 women for every 100 men. Once 70 of those men get married, the remaining singles become 70 women to 30 men. It’s totally unfair.”
Women have become rigid. First, they demanded that equal numbers of women be admitted to universities. Then, as the value of a university degree eroded, fewer men decided to enter university. This trend could be improved by improving universities, but I see little evidence that is happening.
“[Educated] guys know they’re in high demand. They’re more likely to play the field and act like jerks because they have the leverage. They don’t perceive it as a numbers game, they just think they’re special.”
And, since they are now a minority, they are; they have become a scarce commodity.
Dr Sue Johnson is a clinical psychologist and the bestselling author of Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. She blames the media and the ready availability of internet pornography for promoting ideals of masculinity that portray monogamy as restrictive and archaic.
Wrong. The media no longer promotes masculinity in any real way. And porn has always been available to those who want it.
“If you think of commitment as being in prison, then, yes, it’s a horrible word. But if I say it’s the chance to build a relationship that will make you happier, it becomes an opportunity.”
Why would men think of commitment as a prison? Is there some way that being married can lead to a man going to prison?
Women take issue with being led on. Everyone had a story of finally discovering a wonderful man who seemed to buck the trend. He planned exciting dates and initiated conversations about the future, only to back-pedal furiously when she suggested transitioning from “seeing each other” to an exclusive relationship.
A man planning exciting dates and talking about the future is not necessarily leading you on. Maybe he’s honestly hoping, like you are, that he’s found his mate.
“People are just addicted to the endorphin kick of having someone find you attractive.”
I think someone is projecting here.
The Sex and the City creator, Candace Bushnell, agrees. At 57 she is divorced and dating, and she notes a significant difference between today’s dating culture and that of the 1980s and 1990s, when she was a relationship columnist for the New York Observer. Back then, women encountered the odd emotionally unavailable philanderer, but generally, if a man was going on dates, he was open to the idea of a relationship. No longer.
When she was in her twenties and thirties, men were open to the idea of a relationship, but now that she is nearing sixty, they aren’t. How does this not compute?
“Guys aren’t bad people, but they’re attuned to the responsibilities that come with making a commitment and they don’t want that.”
OK, now she is seeing more clearly.
Of course, women hoping to have a family are under a biological time pressure that men generally don’t feel.
Why would we? Women’s fertility lasts into their thirties, whereas men can remain fertile into old age.
Alex, 26, isn’t thinking about children for at least five years. “I’d like to meet the person I’m going to spend the rest of my life with, because I know we’re going to have a great time together, but I’m not looking at my watch, getting stressed about it.”
If she wants children in 5 years, and isn’t having luck dating, shouldn’t she be worried?
“Not having children would upset me more than not having a partner. But I could adopt or I’d just be really self-indulgent and travel loads. I’d make the best of it.”
Become a single mother or remain a hedonist. Great choices.
“Some people are used to having high standards and control over many aspects of their lives, but you can’t control another person, so they sometimes resort to early dismissal: ‘He said this, he did this, he’s out.’ Often it’s about not being too rigid in what you’re looking for.”
Might we be expecting too much? Harriet’s dream man would “definitely read The Economist”, while for Alex, a keen appreciation of Tracey Emin is a prerequisite. “He needs to be passionate in a physical sense, but also in terms of his interests. If I mention a kooky art show I’ve been to and he doesn’t even try to get his head around it, that’s a real turn-off.”
So if I don’t appreciate the right magazine, author, or art show, I’m out? I think I see the problem.
In my naive feminist mind, I knew the woman I wanted to be. She was ambitious, fiercely independent and would never prioritise a man over her career or female friends. I didn’t realise that no one was asking me to do so.
You wouldn’t prioritize your mate over friends? No wonder you are single. And believe me, a man will absolutely require that you prioritize him over your friends, if you expect him to do the same.
The journalist Laurie Penny argued recently in a Valentine’s Day article for the New Statesman, entitled “Maybe you should just be single”, that women in their twenties should value their “financial and emotional independence” over finding a boyfriend.
Laurie Penny, a radical feminist, is part of the problem. If you remain single while you’re young, you will likely remain single when you’re old. Men who want children want to marry young women.
“Young women are totally confused,” says Sue Johnson. “They’re fed all this stuff in the media about finding a soulmate, then they’re told they don’t need a man — which is true on some level as they’re no longer dependent on them financially. But feminism isn’t about being so strong that you don’t need anybody. We’re social, bonding animals and strength is recognising that and allowing yourself to be vulnerable to another person.”
I would add that most women desire children on a deep instinctual level, and that denying this (as Penny would have you do) will likely lead to unhappiness. A man’s survival instincts manifest in the need to spread his seed. A women’s will only be satisfied with children.
A boy’s eye view of the girls’ plight
Why are these girls single? Because they’re too picky. The numbers are against them in terms of male-to-female ratios, and that’s tough, but they can mitigate it by being more realistic. Ellie and her friends are expecting to meet someone and be swept off their feet, but falling in love as an adult is different. I wasn’t immediately blown away by my last girlfriend, but we were together for four years. It took time, patience and an acceptance that neither person was perfect. If these girls expect to meet a Tom Hiddleston lookalike who is a doctor and an expert in contemporary art on the side, then I’m sorry, they’re going to be disappointed.
I don’t think men are generally scared of commitment. Ultimately, if a guy likes you — really likes you — he will want to be in a relationship with you. It sounds harsh, but if a guy goes cold after a few dates, it’s not because he’s a monster; he’s just not crazy about you.
These women are all very accomplished in their own right, but, deep down, I think they still want a man who’s a provider. I don’t think they’d be attracted to someone who wasn’t at least as successful as them. Our traditional gender stereotypes are becoming outdated, but you can’t manipulate raw attraction.
My advice to Ellie and her friends would be to stop obsessing over Mr Right, because he only exists in their heads. Instead, date some people who you have fun with and see what happens. You might end up having a surprisingly good time with Mr Wrong.
Good advice. Dating is a numbers game, like job searching. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find the prince.