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Answering (And Understanding) Where The “Good” Men Have Gone

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Human beings are social creatures. We’re biologically wired to pursue social and emotional bonds. It’s one of the most fundamental traits for being human. Being a fan of romance, I certainly appreciate it. For that same reason, though, I think it’s telling when people encounter barriers in seeking those bonds.

In recent years, one particular question has been asked any number of ways. It’s often asked in many different contexts, which in turn inspires many different answers. The implications are still the same.

Where have all the “good” men gone?

Now, I put “good” in quotation marks for a reason. I hope that reason becomes apparent soon enough because adding that qualifier to the question frames it as a blanket statement about an entire gender. As a man, who sees himself as “good” by most standards, I feel I have a personal stake in addressing this question. However, I suspect the answers I provide won’t go over well with certain women and even a few men.

Before I answer, it’s important to add a specific context to what makes a man “good.” When the question is often asked, it’s often done from the perspective of women seeking men for marriage. We no longer live in an era where women have their spouses chosen for them or must seek marriage as a means of survival. Despite what some regressive individuals may say, I believe that’s an objectively good thing.

The complications arise when we start to establish the criteria of what makes a “good” man worthy of marriage. Most people, regardless of gender, understand there’s a difference between the person you hook up with and the one you marry. Ideally, this is a person you want to share your life with, for better or for worse. This is someone you genuinely love and go out of your way for.

The primary reason why this question is being asked, namely by women seeking a male spouse, is because they’re having an increasingly difficult time finding someone who meets that criteria. It shows in the data. According to Pew Research, about half of the adult population in America is married, which marks significant decline compared to what it was 50 years ago.

There are many theories as to why this is occurring, some more offensively absurd than others. Even the not-so-absurd theories have become mired in gender politics, which has a tendency to denigrate everyone in the grand scheme of things. I certainly have mine and I don’t think the answers are simple. Every person is different. People are complicated, in general, and so are the societies they live in.

However, this question about “good” men frames the issue a problem ascribed to men. It implies that the issue has nothing to do with a the overall desire to seek long-term romantic bonds. Like I said before, humans are emotional creatures wired to seek romantic bonds. The problem is that the men worthy of such bonds just aren’t there anymore. That’s why women are asking the question to begin with.

As a man, who hopes to one day find someone to marry and love with all my heart, I can offer my take on the answer. Simply put, those good men exist. They’re just not where you’re looking to find them. Even if you are, you might not even realize that those men are good because you don’t give them a chance.

Now, I understand that answer is basic and simplistic. It’s the sentiment of one person who just happens to contemplate romance than most straight men are likely to admit. Everyone’s situation is different, but there is a bigger forest to see and my opinion is only one of those trees. To see that forest, it’s necessary to understand the question better.

Thankfully, there has been research done on this topic. According to a study done in the Journal of Marriage and Family, a major factor driving this question could be a combination of demographics and math. To understand how, this is how they compiled the data.

Focusing their analyses on single heterosexual women, the researchers used data from the American Community Survey (2008-2012; 2013-2017) to predict the likely characteristics of these women’s husbands if they had husbands and then compared those characteristics to what’s actually available in these single women’s dating pool. More specifically, the researchers generated “synthetic spouses” for the single women in their sample by first matching them with demographically similar women (e.g., same race, education, military status, income) who happened to be married. The “synthetic spouses” were designed to reflect the characteristics of the husbands of the similar-married women. Thus, assuming women of similar demographics are looking for similar characteristics in their partners, this method offers a starting point for documenting the characteristics single women might be looking for in a partner.

The long and short of it is simple. The women in the study had criteria for the kind of man they want to marry. However, when that criteria was applied to the male population, there was a significant disparity. Over half the male population was eliminated on the basis of income alone. Essentially, the supply of men who meet this standard for marriage is not sufficient to meet demand.

That’s not to say that it’s the fault of women for having standards that are too high, although I know some have made that argument. While I agree that there are some women who make wholly unreasonable expectations of men, I think they’re the minority. I would argue those changing standards have less to do with gender politics and more to do social and economic factors.

Both women and men are able to be more independent today than they were 50 to 100 years ago. A basic consequence of independence is that you can afford to elevate your standards. When you have the money, time, and resources, you’re less likely to settle for less. It’s the same reason why you willingly pay extra for a better phone or faster internet if you have the means.

A much bigger factor, in my opinion, has to do with the economics and imbalances in marriage. Over the past several decades, the wealth gap has grown and the ability to make a comfortable living, which the women in the study prioritize, is getting considerably difficult. For a man, especially if he doesn’t have a college degree, it’s getting harder and harder to meet those criteria.

At the same time, the investment in relationships has only grown. It’s no longer enough to be a steady, dependable partner. Along with our newfound independence, men and women alike seek something greater from their spouse. That something often requires money, time, and resources. Between student loan debt and the rising cost of living, those assets have become increasingly scarce.

On top of that, the price of failure has gone up considerably as well. While both parties suffer significant loss when a relationship or marriage fails, men tend to take a bigger hit from a material standpoint. Between alimony laws and child custody, men stand to lose a lot if they don’t measure up to the woman’s ideals of a good spouse.

None of this even attempts to factor in the effects of other trends in gender politics, such as the anti-harassment movement. The criteria for a “good” man doesn’t even matter if it becomes overly difficult to be intimate with someone without fear of being accused of something. Even without such complications, the underlying question still evokes troubling answers.

Those answers still aren’t complete. There are still going to be women out there who cannot find a suitable partner for reasons beyond her control. There will also be genuinely good men out there who struggle just as much to find a partner of their own. As a romantic, I believe love does inspire people to make these connections, even when we insist on making it more difficult.

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Lessons In Love According To Rick Sanchez

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What is love? Can we ask that question without referencing to a one-hit wonder R&B song from 1993? I think it’s a question worth asking and one people have been asking since the dawn of our species. Many men who are way smarter than I’ll ever be have tried to answer this question. Some have offered revealing insights. Others just use it as an excuse to whine about a cheating spouse.

Then, there’s Rick Sanchez. I know that by saying that name, I’ve completely altered the tone of this topic. I could’ve easily spent the next several paragraphs breaking down how the smartest men in history view love and how that understanding reveals itself in our modern concept of romance. For now, I’d rather scrutinize love from the perspective of a hard-drinking, brutally honest, nihilistic cartoon character from Adult Swim.

Yep, I’m referring to this guy again.

Make no mistake. I’m not just using this as another excuse to talk about “Rick and Morty,” although I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking that. I really do think characters like Rick Sanchez have something to teach us on the topic of love. Being an admitted romantic and aspiring erotica/romance writer, I believe those lessons are worth heeding.

On paper, Rick Sanchez is the last person most would go to for insights into love. From the first scene in the first episode, he establishes himself as an overly-cynical, high-functioning alcoholic who may or may not be okay with blowing up the world for the sake of a fresh start. To say he’s not the romantic type would be like saying Jerry needs help with his golf game.

However, Rick does demonstrate throughout the show that he has a capacity for love. He has even had a few moments where he has shown genuine heart. There’s an odd mix of eccentricity and complexity to Rick’s behavior. That’s part of what makes him such an endearing character and why he resonates so much with an emerging generation.

From all that chaos, though, there are insights worth noting. “Rick and Morty” may go heavy with nihilism and moments of existential crisis, but it doesn’t avoid the impact of love. Whether it’s Morty constantly trying to get with Jessica or the constant upheavals in Beth and Jerry’s marriage, love is an underlying factor throughout the show.

This is despite the fact that Rick is pretty overt about his feelings on love. In “Rick Potion #9,” the sixth episode of the first season, he gives his clearest, most quote-worthy opinion on love.

“Listen, Morty, I hate to break it to you but what people call ‘love’ is just a chemical reaction that compels animals to breed. It hits hard, Morty, then it slowly fades, leaving you stranded in a failing marriage. I did it. Your parents are gonna do it. Break the cycle, Morty. Rise above. Focus on science.”

That sounds pretty jaded, to say the least. It’s perfectly fitting with Rick’s misanthropic mentality. However, there is a context here and one that’s fairly subtle, as things tend to be in the world of “Rick and Morty.”

Part of that context is Rick’s family situation. Beyond being a drunk and an eccentric mad scientist, he also has a family. It’s not just his daughter and two grandkids, either. He mentions in his cynical musings that he’d fallen in love and gotten married at one point.

That, alone, has some pretty profound implications. It shows that even the smartest, most capable man in the multiverse cannot avoid the impact of love. Keep in mind, this is a man who travels the multiverse on a whim, defeats Thanos-level super-villains while drunk, and understands how meaningless everything is in the grand scheme of things.

Despite all that, Rick Sanchez still fell in love. He still got married. That, in and of itself, shows the power of love better than any Huey Lewis song. While the show hasn’t revealed much about his former wife, Diane, it does establish an important fact. Rick is capable of love, even when he sees it as just a confluence of brain chemicals.

The show goes onto to reveal that Rick is still influenced by love, despite this reductionist understanding of it. The most comprehensive example comes in Season 2, Episode 3, “Auto Erotic Assimilation.” In many ways, this episode helps convey the most meaningful lesson in love that any animated series has ever attempted.

In the episode, Rick catches up with an old girlfriend, who happens to be an alien hive mind named Unity. If that sounds weird, even by “Rick and Morty” standards, trust me when I say it doesn’t crack the top ten. The fact that Unity is a hive mind is part of why the insights are so unique and impactful.

Throughout the episode, we learn about the particulars of Rick and Unity’s relationship. Unity establishes herself as one of the few beings in the multiverse who can keep up with Rick’s eccentricities. If anything, she has to be a hive mind in order to do so, as evidenced by Rick’s elaborately kinky requests.

In this context, Unity is the ultimate manifestation of supportive lover. She can literally do anything and be anywhere because she has the collective resources of an entire planet at her disposal. She’s more capable than a shape-shifter like Mystique or even an advanced sex robot.

If she wants to make love as a beautiful, buxom blond right out of a Playboy centerfold, she can do that. If she wants to do it as a greasy-haired, middle-aged man with a hairy back and bad breath, she can do that too. She can be two people, ten people, or as many people as she wants to be to love Rick and express that love however they want.

This breaks down, however, when Unity’s efforts to pursue that romance with Rick ends up straining her ability to maintain her hive mind. It gets so strenuous, at one point, that it leads to a nipple-driven race war on the planet. Again, this is pretty standard in terms of weirdness for “Rick and Morty.”

The implications of this breakdown are serious and I’m not referring to the nipple-driven race war. Logistically speaking, Rick and Unity had everything they needed to make their relationship work. They had unlimited resources and unlimited opportunities for intimacy, decadence, and everything in between. In exercising that, though, their relationship devolved into an ongoing spiral of self-destruction.

There was clear, unambiguous love between Rick and Unity. However, the act of being together proved toxic to both of them. Unity couldn’t be with Rick without losing herself, literally and figuratively. Rick couldn’t be with Unity without descending into a spiral of debauchery. Even if the love is there, embracing it leads to both of them getting hurt.

This made for one of the most dramatic and emotional moments of the show, one that reveals just how much Rick loved Unity. After she leaves him, it really hits him on an emotional level, so much so that he nearly kills himself. Remember, this is a man who said love is nothing more than a chemical reaction in the brain.

The pain in that moment, though, belabors a much larger point about love and being with someone. Just loving someone is easy. As Rick says, it’s just a chemical reaction in your brain. It’s something that can happen to anyone, even the smartest man in the multiverse.

However, being with someone and expressing the full spectrum of love involves much more than convergent brain chemistry. For some people, love can be downright destructive. If pursuing love means undermining your sense of being, as happened with Unity, then that’s a sign that the relationship isn’t tenable.

It’s tragic, but unavoidable. You can love someone with all your heart, but not be capable of having a functional relationship. It’s a harsh reality, one that’s perfectly in line with the nihilistic subtext in “Rick and Morty.” At the same time, though, there’s a less dire lesson to be learned.

Even if love is just a brain function that helps propogate the species, it has the power to affect us in the best and worst of ways. It can lead us to the greatest of joys, as Rick and Unity experienced for a brief time. It can also lead us to the worst of sorrows. Few other brain functions can make that claim.

That wide range of experiences are a powerful mechanism for finding meaning in a meaningless universe. Rick Sanchez doesn’t avoid the pain in those experiences and he doesn’t hesitate to pursue the joys, often to a reckless degree. Finding meaning in this universe is hard enough, but love can do plenty to carry us forward. You don’t have to be a Rick-level genius to appreciate that, although that’s probably a good thing.

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Filed under gender issues, Marriage and Relationships, philosophy, Rick and Morty, romance

The Devastation Of Alienation On Our Sexuality (Among Other Things)

When I was growing up, the concept of alienation only applied to grunge rock, heavy metal, and whatever other media disaffected youth used to voice their dissatisfaction with the world around them. Being such a miserable teenager myself, I thought I understood that sentiment to some extent. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that there’s a lot more to it.

Alienation has been in the news a lot lately, but it’s not one of those annoying contemporary buzzwords like “toxic masculinity.” It’s actually a term with a dictionary definition, which also has some philosophical backbone that goes back centuries. Like most philosophical terms, though, it has undergone some revisions over the years.

Rather than get into the long, tedious path the idea of alienation has taken, I want to apply it to our current situation. In addition, I’m going to analyze alienation the same way I often do with superhero comics in that I’m going to apply it to sexuality. I doubt that’ll surprise long-time readers of this blog, but I also doubt it’ll surprise anyone who has observed recent societal trends in how we approach sex in society.

Without question, there is a sense of alienation going on in our collective sex lives. While it doesn’t affect everybody, especially the billionaire rock star/celebrity crowd, it does affect some people more than others. I imagine I’ll upset or offend some people by identifying parts of that crowd, but I need to take that chance to make my point.

The basics of alienation are simple. According to Dictionary.com, the definition is as follows:

  • The act of alienatingor of causing someone to become indifferent or hostile.
  • The state of being alienatedwithdrawn, or isolated from the world, through indifference or disaffection.
  • The act of turning away, transferring, or diverting.

Within the scope of this definition, you probably know someone who has experienced this type of feeling. At the very least, you knew someone growing up who just felt left out of everything and went out of their way to detach themselves from the rest of society.

Their reasons for doing this vary. Some have serious mental health issues. Others are driven to alienation by economic factors like poverty. Some even go so far as to say that our modern form of capitalism is an inherently alienating force. The entire premise of “Fight Club” actually revolves around that idea, as so wonderfully articulated by the folks at Wisecrack.

With respect to sexuality, though, alienation is a bit trickier. So much attention has been placed on how powerful men solicit sex from beautiful women or how women struggle to maintain some semblance of sexual freedom that it’s hard to see the forest from the trees. Being both a man and an aspiring erotica/romance writer, I’m going to make an effort.

I don’t doubt for a second that alienation affects the sexuality of all genders. Sex, especially if you’re not having the kind that fulfills your needs and desires, can be pretty alienating. We humans are wired to want, seek, and enjoy sex. Given the crude and clunky nature of biology, in general, it’s bound to get distressing and disorienting.

For centuries, women were more prone to sexual alienation than men. That’s because, until relatively recently, their sexual choices were made for them. They didn’t get to choose their spouse. They didn’t get to live their own lives or explore their sexuality with a variety of partners. In fact, doing so might actually be detrimental to their safety.

When you have no choices and much of your life is controlled by others, it’s easy to feel alienated. You have no agency, control, or freedom to even know what you want sexually. That led to a lot of unsatisfied, desperate women.

Conversely, men weren’t just allowed to fool around on their spouses. In fact, it was kind of expected. In that respect, not having a mistress might actually be alienating. Men who loved their wives too much were even criticized.

Then, in the late 20th century and into the 21st century, the pendulum swung in the other direction. The women’s rights movements and the rise of modern feminism gave women more control of their sexuality. For the most part, modern women can explore their sexuality and enjoy a level of sexual freedom once reserved for aristocratic men with a legion of mistresses.

By and large, this has been a good thing. In fact, greater gender equality with respect to sexuality might actually be more conducive to our caveman brains. The sexual practices of Bonobo apes are a testament to that. However, in some respects, the pendulum has swung so far in the other direction that the alienating forces are hitting another group.

I’ve mentioned it before and it seems to be an ongoing trend. With the rise of third-wave feminism and political correctness, all the evil and ills of the world are attributed to horny men seeking sex from beautiful women. It’s very much a double standard that seems to be intensifying with each passing year.

Whereas a man trying to seek sex with multiple women are more likely to be seen as a misogynist pig, women seeking sex are seen as empowered. Sure, there’s still slut-shaming, but a good chunk of that actually comes from other women. It’s almost paradoxical in the sense that a woman will be criticized, no matter how much or how little she decides to exercise her sexual freedom.

That too can be alienating, but those same women can take comfort in the knowledge that they’re the sexual gatekeepers. They’re the ones who give the consent. They’re the ones who decide whether a man is getting sex. If the man has a problem with that choice, then he can be subject to serious consequences, even if he misinterprets the message.

The recent surge of sex scandals and the growing emphasis on consent has put a lot more pressure on men, especially those who aren’t rich, well-connected, or attractive. In terms of raw numbers, that represents the vast majority of men, myself included. Some call it the 80/20 rule of dating, but I prefer to think of it as a greater alienation complex.

By that, I mean the existing standards and methods for men seeking love, sex, and intimacy make most men prone to a sense of alienation. I won’t say it’s as bad as it was for Victorian Era women, but alienation is difficult for anyone, regardless of time, circumstance, or gender.

The situation for men is akin to playing a game in which you know other players cheat and/or have inherent advantages, but there’s nothing you can do about it. On top of that, the standards are so high and the margin for error is so low that, from a distance, it seems impossible. It creates this distressing sentiment that you will never find the love or intimacy you seek.

I’m not going to lie. I’ve looked in the mirror on some mornings and felt that way, especially in my awkward, acne-laden teen years. I like to think I’ve gotten better over the years because I’ve worked on myself, gotten into shape, and made myself more attractive to the opposite sex. However, I understand that there are plenty of men who struggle to do that or don’t have the same opportunities.

For them, the alienation is almost unavoidable. They see the marketplace for love and sex, but don’t see any opportunities. Sure, they can still play the game, but it would be like a toddler trying to win a boxing match against Floyd Mayweather. It just doesn’t seem worth it.

Within the current system, the structures in place ensure that there will always be a sizable chunk of men who are left out of the sexual landscape. They’re not the only ones either. Women who are either unattractive or not inclined to play by the evolving rules of that landscape will be just as isolated. So long as those standards are so rigid, there will be a lot of sexually unsatisfied people in this world.

From a pragmatic standpoint, our current approach to sexuality fails the Stanhope Principle. Society cannot function or progress with such a system. Any system that has such large groups of people feeling alienated and left out is inherently unstable. Karl Marx, however you feel about him and his ideas, made that obvious years ago.

For now, we can only do so much to adapt the current system. The sexual alienation that people feel will continue to evolve, for better and for worse, in accord with major trends. If history is any guide, though, the sexual landscape will continue to change. Whether or not that’ll mitigate or intensify the alienation remains to be seen.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in society, sexuality