Politics and the street fight between Hillary and Barack Obama aren't the only games in town. A bachelor acquaintance of mine, a prosperous man in his 40s, was new in town and wanted to meet the love of his life, to marry, and become a father and citizen (and voter). So, I organized a small cocktail party and invited several attractive women in their late 30s who are still looking for Mr. Right (and might be willing to settle for Mr. Good Enough). They're women with professional careers but want marriage and family, too.
They feel a mild panic that motherhood might pass them by. The single men they meet seem determined to remain bachelors. The men are having too much fun to give up their freedom. This is the dilemma of millions of young women, an "issue" more important to them at the present moment than what to do about health care, tinpots in Tehran or Pyongyang, or the reform of NAFTA. You might hear them mumbling, "No, we can't."
As it turned out, my party was cordial, even mellow, and maybe two or three telephone numbers were exchanged, but it failed. The gentleman didn't meet anyone he wanted to call the next day. Because he had chosen badly in the past he was cautious. "Picky," my grandmother would have called him. Several of the women found him interesting enough, but were not about to make the first move. Some things haven't changed.
My party was ground zero of the phenomenon that worries the demographers (and the more astute polls). Several young women tell me they at first liked the trend toward marrying late, but they never thought it would mean never marrying at all. Now, melancholy has replaced the prospect of marriage and they're terrified they're at the point of no return. A husband and children are still possible for women, even in their 40s, but the fear of fear itself is the more likely prospect. Parents no longer tease them about waiting impatiently for grandchildren. The generations feel the other's pain with the not-so-silent lament: "We're not getting any younger."
Having put careers first while seeking the passionate Mr. Perfect, they've overlooked Mr. Good Enough. This sensibility was captured in a brief encounter on the television show "Sex and the City. " The oh-so-hip Carrie Bradshaw runs into a man she had dumped for the exciting Mr. Perfect, who had subsequently dumped her. The jilted suitor carries his infant son, and the picture is worth a thousand words about the what-ifs.
Lori Gottlieb, a real-life woman of 40, writes in Atlantic magazine about withdrawing the necessary DNA from a sperm bank to give birth without the benefit of a husband. She tells women they should learn from her experience and settle down with Mr. Good Enough instead of going at it alone in a futile search for the man of their fantasies.
This insight comes only a year after she preached in the same pages of Atlantic how it was better to have a baby without a father if a woman couldn't find a man to turn up the heat. Hindsight suggests that the steady glow of a back burner can give simmering satisfaction with a less than perfect husband: "Not only does he contribute financially, help with the dishes, and share in the child care, but as his wife, if you want some companionship or physical intimacy, you don't have to shave your legs, blow-dry your hair apply lipstick. ... "
Of course, such gritty pragmatism isn't exactly a selling point for men. It echoes the depictions of domestic life that Playboy magazine warned bachelors against in the 1950s. The Playboy of today is a beast of a different order, but a bit of a beast nevertheless. He's a young man in his 20s, refusing to grow up, with access to ATMs for instant money to spend on himself. You typically find him in the pages of Maxim magazine with movie heroes such as Ben Stiller, Jim Carey and Will Ferrell, indulging in grossed-out adolescent "Animal House" humor. He's uncultured, uncouth and unkempt, preferring beer to fine wine, skateboards to sports cars and teenage toys to higher status symbols of maturity. Kay Hymowitz calls him the "Child-Man in the Promised Land."
"In 1970, 69 percent of 25-year old and 85 percent of 30-year old white men were married," she writes in City Journal magazine. "In 2000, only 33 percent and 58 percent were [married], respectively." These statistics suggest it will become even more difficult for single young women to find suitable mates in the next decade. That's something Hillary, Barack Obama and John McCain can worry about later as the new demographics affect politics and policies. Never-Never-Land is no longer mere fiction.