Boy Troubles - And Boy Solutions
What do worries about falling marriage rates have to do with teen boys?
Questionable Marriage Advice
Did you read the Washington Post’s editorial about marriage this week? The piece started with some data about young men and women:
A growing number of young women are discovering that they can’t find suitable male partners. As a whole, men are increasingly struggling with, or suffering from, higher unemployment, lower rates of educational attainment, more drug addiction and deaths of despair, and generally less purpose and direction in their lives.
The editorial goes on to point out that young women now are, on average, significantly more liberal than young men, and that most young people don’t want to date someone whose political views differ dramatically from their own.
That’s when the suggestions about what should happen go a little sideways:
Teen Health Today is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
This mismatch means that someone will need to compromise. As the researchers Lyman Stone and Brad Wilcox have noted, about 1 in 5 young singles will have little choice but to marry someone outside their ideological tribe. The other option is that they decline to get married at all — not an ideal outcome considering the data showing that marriage is good for the health of societies and individuals alike.
Those recommendations didn’t sit well with everyone. In her newsletter,wrote a strong response piece that I highly recommend reading in full. Here’s a sample:
The use of the word “someone” here is particularly nefarious, because it’s not just “someone” being asked to compromise. It’s women. It’s women being chided for not partnering with men who do not agree that they should have the right to an abortion, equal pay, a living wage, and childcare for those inevitable children they ought to have. (Because, in case you missed it, there is a moral panic about women not having babies as well.) It’s women being asked to martyr themselves on the cross of heterosexual marriage in order to prop up the status quo.
The column argues that doing so will make people happier. But I don’t think that’s the case.
One thing that struck me about the Post’s editorial is that there was so little call for change on the part of men. Young women are saying they are having trouble finding “suitable male partners,” and the paper is essentially telling them to lower their standards, rather than telling young men to make themselves more suitable.
It made me wish the editorial board had read Anna Louie Sussman’s essay “Why Aren’t More People Marrying? Ask Women What Dating Is Like,” where she writes “A look at what the reality of dating looks and feels like for straight women can go a long way toward explaining why marriage rates are lower than policy scholars would prefer.”
I think about how different the Post’s editorial would have been if it were framed as a call for boys and men to change:
“We need to get an urgent message out to boys: If you want to date women (or eventually get married to one), your chances are a lot better if you do a few things yourself:
Keep up with your education.
Don’t get lost in an Andrew Tate hole or cling to a rigid social or political ideology that separates you from other people.
Diversify your social media feeds so you hear more women’s voices.
Don’t rely on porn as sex ed - learn about consent and pleasure and how our bodies work from more reliable sources .
Practice kindness, empathy, and listening.
Make friends you see regularly in real life.
The good news? Even if it’s not written in the editorial pages, you can spread this message yourself to the boys in your life. I bet they’ll thank you later.
New Episode of the ON BOYS Podcast
Young Men’s Health Groups
Young Men’s Health Groups give boys a chance to discuss masculinity and relationships as well as other health topics.
“There’s a real hunger among boys to talk about the real issues in their lives. Teenage boys are figuring out their attitudes about sexuality and gender, so having a place to talk about, for example, the celebrity that just came out as nonbinary, is helpful.”
Be Curious, Not Furious
Adults who work with teenage boys should lead with curiosity and give boys space to express their thoughts and opinions.
“Coming at someone with criticism, even if they’ve said something offensive, is not as helpful as asking questions, such as “What do you mean by that?” Adults who listen with genuine curiosity are better positioned to then provide additional context and feedback.
Help Boys Talk About - and Express - Their Emotions
“Boys have a lot of capacity and interest in talking about emotions and relationships. Boys are really hungry for those kinds of conversations and interested in exploring their values and ideas.”
Unfortunately, many boys don’t get the opportunity to discuss those topics in a deep and rich way with their peers or caring adults. Prioritizing those conversations is one important thing adults can do to support boys’ health and development.
Listen to the full episode here, or find it on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or on Spotify.