Guest Article: Revolutionary Words that Will Forever Change the American Family

By Larry Kummer*

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

Marx 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. 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”.

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.

* Larry Kummer is the editor of the Fabius Maximus website.