by Jay Johansen | Dec 8, 2013
You often hear modern American women say that modern American men are afraid of commitment. This, they say, is why marriage is dying. Men just aren't willing to commit.
I find this rather curious, because I thought it was women who were unwilling to make a commitment. Oh, modern American women want to get married. But they don't want that marriage to involve any commitment on their part.
People sometimes refer to marriage as a "contract". In the bad old days, fifty-plus years ago, it was a sort of contract. A man promised to provide for his wife financially, to protect her from danger, to give her emotional support, to love her, to give her children and to help her raise them, and to limit his romantic activity exclusively to her. In return, the woman promised to make a home for her husband, to support his ambitions, to respect him, to take primary responsibility for raising their children, and to make herself available to him physically. Of course the details varied in different times and places and couples, but for most of history, the principle was the same.
When a man gets married today, he still makes essentially the same commitments. Men still face strong social pressure to comply with these conditions. On the requirement to financially support wife and children, he is subject to legal penalties if he does not comply: he can go to jail if he does not live up to expectations.
But what, exactly, does a modern American woman promise when she gets married? The idea that she should take care of home and children is viewed as out-dated, at best quaint, at worst demeaning. Likewise the idea that she should support her husband in his career or ambitions: the social norm today is that she should have her own career and her own ambitions. Modern women are taught to make fun of their husbands, not to respect them. And the idea that a woman should be available to her husband physically when she doesn't feel like, as some sort of obigation, is viewed as the equivalent of rape.
Women today have a fundamental lifestyle choice that, realistically, men do not: they can choose to stay home to take care of house and children, or they can choose to get a job and a career. That's fine, I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. Except ... Our society says that which she does is entirely her choice: her husband has no say in the matter. After all, it's her life. But her husband is responsible to change his own life to accomodate her decision.
Sometimes when a couple get married, they agree that both husband and wife will have jobs and bring in income. They may agree that, to make this practical, they will not have children. But if the wife later decides that she would rather stay home, suddenly it becomes the husband's responsibility to earn enough money to support the family. It doen't matter if he entered this marriage with the understanding that it would be a 50/50 split. If she decides that she doesn't like that arrangement, then he faces increased responsibility whether he likes it or not.
Sometimes the reverse happens: When a couple get married, they agree that the husband will work to bring in income, and the wife will stay home. But if the wife later decides that she would rather have a job, suddenly it becomes the husband's responsibility to do half the housework. After all, if she has a job too, it's not fair to expect her to do all the housework too, is it? Except ... who decided that she should have a job? If he insisted that she get a job, than it makes sense that he should take responsibility for the implications. But if he stayed out of the decision, or even opposed it, why is he responsible for the consequences?
But most of all, a woman can divorce her husband and end their marriage at any time, for any reason or no reason. And if she does, the husband is still legally responsible to support her financially. (These days it's called "child support", but the money goes to the ex-wife.) At that point she is doing absolutely zero for him, but he still has to give her money.
Suppose you rent an apartment. And suppose that you actually read the lease agreement before signing it, and after sorting through all the legalese, you find that it that the landlord can change the apartment at any time -- he can remove appliances, move walls to make the apartment smaller, etc -- and that in such case, your rent will not change. Would you agree to that? Would you agree to a lease agreement where the landlord can decide to cut the size of the apartment in half but you still have to pay the same rent?
And to make the analogy truly complete, the lease agreement must also say that the landlord can evict you at any time, for any reason with no appeal, and that if he does, you must promptly move out, but you are still obligated to pay rent for years to come. Would you agree to that?
That's the sort of contract a modern American man signs when he gets married. It's no wonder that fewer and fewer men are willing to make such a one-sided commitment.
© 2013 by Jay Johansen