Lock, Stock, & Marriage


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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159 Responses

  1. Avatar Kimmi says:

    I disagree. A marriage is a formal display of commitment to our legal system, and to a lesser extent greater society.

    I’m pretty sure a commitment is just that, whether you need to show it off or not.

    You seem pretty down on the idea of relationships that are “live together”. I think separating them out into ones that people have decided to have a marriage creates a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Personally, I find romantic relationships are better understood in four parts:
    1) Meet The Crazy — this is a relationship that has no chance of working out, ever. The person you’re with is so unstable that even the notion of marriage makes your best friends wince.
    2) Lust — believe it or not, these are a lot of the quickie marriages — best known for people having kids, even if they weren’t thinking about them, and then getting divorced once the “passion” wanes, and good sense (“we don’t really get along”) sets in. [Note the subset: “let’s have a kid to keep the relationship going!”]
    3) Best Friends — there’s love there, and maybe lust too. But best friends are just that — there for each other, supportive. The people that you honestly could see getting along just aces after a divorce, eating ice cream together. These people can cohabit, they can not get married. They’ll keep their commitments together, but mostly because they work well together. It takes a particular kind of brain for this co-equal partnership to work… if you don’t have that, you tend to get:
    4) Stereotypical Marriage — Mr. big guy who brings in the bacon (the sugar daddy), and Ms. wife, who gets showered with gifts (ideally). This is a classic asymmetric relationship, and often you don’t find much in common between the two people. At some point, you almost want to ask them — “Are you even friends?” This isn’t to say that they’re not “loving” (as the roles may be). But it’s mostly an unstable relationship.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I make that distinction because the two scenarios have different effects on the likelihood of survival of a future marriage (if one occurs).Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I worry that you’re looking at post-hoc justifications and explanations.
        “I decided to cohabit because I knew we were going to get married” — plenty of people think that and don’t get married.

        Also, the cohabitation without marriage may/does correlate to lower SES. “we lived together because that was the only way to keep an apartment in a decent part of town”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        That’s true, but the effects persist even when you control for income.

        I’m not sure how much post-hoc is an issue. The difference in effect is there even (and I think especially) if you count only those who were formally engaged. In fact, that’s the variable they discovered first.

        it is undoubtedly true that some move in together with the intent to marry (or are formally engaged) and the marriage never occurs. Also true that people who try to use cohabitation as a filter also never marry (I would assume at considerably higher rates).

        You can also look at whether they’d lived with somebody previously to living with their spouse. Someone who is using cohabitation as a filter is likely to have lived with somebody else prior. The odds of a divorce increase when that is the case.

        People cohabitate for all sorts of reasons. I don’t think there is anything morally wrong with it (you’re not going to Hell if you do). I don’t think it will tank a marriage that otherwise would work out. But as a filter – believing that you increase the likelihood of having an enduring marriage by trying out potential marriages by living together first – there is little reason to believe that it helps, and more reason to believe that it does not.

        (This is a subject that I am a bit defensive about. I’ll admit that. My wife and I did not cohabitate, and multiple people around us acted like this was an irresponsible decision. That you can’t truly know whether a marriage will work out if you don’t live with them first. If that were the case, though, the aggregate numbers would look very different than they do.)Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        does the effect persist when you control for wealth? Or race(which makes a good proxy for wealth)?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Yes, it holds when you control for race. You can eliminate the difference by controlling in about three ways:

        1) Woman’s age
        2) Whether they have lived with another partner prior
        3) Whether they have already made the marriage commitment prior to cohabitation

        But controlling for these does not show a positive effect. Just the absence of a negative one.Report

  2. Avatar zic says:

    Seems to me that the real problem here isn’t so much commitment as that our social expectations for women are out of line with women’s actual biology. Child bearing happens for a limited time. My 40-year old niece is struggling to conceive (and without luck) after doing the ‘right’ things. Putting off marriage until college/career are established will mean that many women who want to have children are too old.

    The results? Women opting to have children outside of marriage or simply never having them.

    Does require some re-working of how we think about marriage? Maybe. Personally, I think we’ll reach a point where we want women to have children enough that will offer them incentives to do have children; stuff like maternal leave with pay, access to affordable child care, and ending pay discrimination for mothers. But I think without those kinds of changes, the weird misogyny of ticking fertility clocks won’t be taken seriously by commitment-phobic men without more respect for the burdens of child bearing in general.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

      “Does require some re-working of how we think about marriage? Maybe.”

      Maybe it just requires a re-think of what Working For A Living looks like. If that means “everyone goes to a big building where work happens, starting around 8 AM and finishing around 5 PM”, then that’s going to be hard for a woman with children to maintain. And that’s a strong disincentive to not have children until you’re so well-established in your profession that you can get away with saying “bite me, I’m working from home today”.

      Even states with childcare leave firmly established in law still assume that you’re either At Work or Not At Work. There’s no legal structure for, e.g., “work three days a week instead of five”, or “work half-days for the next year”; it’s “take two months off and then start full-time again”.Report

      • Avatar Pinky says:

        There’s every reason to believe that we’re changing what Working For A Living looks like.Report

      • Avatar greginak says:

        Plenty of working people, moms, dads, just plain working people, have been working all sorts of shifts for decades. Working 8-5 is common but far from the only schedule people often work. In fact part time jobs are pretty damn common just as working two or three jobs. How is not obvious?Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        I love how you’re so focused on me being wrong that even when I say something you utterly agree with you still have to find a way that it was wrong.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I never understood why corporations are so freakin’ opposed to “work from home” but more than happy enough to leap at the chance to outsource overseas.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I agree about social expectations being out of line with biology. I think the social expectations of men matter to, in similar and different ways. We’re expected to spend our twenties “having fun” rather than searching for a commitment. By and large, I think we can put off having children (waiting until 40 is not optimal, though), but only if we start looking for someone to have them with sooner so that when the time is right, it’s about having a kid and not finding someone first and then having a kid. That’s why I think that expectations-of-commitment matter a great deal.

      The asymmetric consequences matter here. The perception of asymmetric consequences matter as much, too. Not that it isn’t asymmetrical, because it is, but I think a lot of men are overly optimistic about their ability to find a younger partner and reproduce down the line.

      Ultimately, however, though McArdle focuses primarily on the commitmentphobic men and the women looking to settle down, I’m convinced that it isn’t always that way. I know in my younger years I was more commitment-minded than a lot of people. I just wasn’t commitment-minded with Julia (it turned out). I met my wife when I was 25 and we were mapping out our future almost immediately (logistics required it).

      I don’t follow what you’re saying on that last sentence.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        McArdle’s premise is that both sexes are committmentphobic. Women fear committment and that’s why they don’t push the issue; McArdle is couching her advice in terms of criticising men, but it’s as much of a goad as it is a warning.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I read it differently. That the women weren’t pushing the issue because they feared driving him away, absorbing the sunk costs, and starting from scratch.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @will-truman I don’t follow what you’re saying on that last sentence.

        It’s partly this, We’re expected to spend our twenties “having fun” rather than searching for a commitment. But a but more, too; the lack of incentives we offer to women to have children when they’re at the age of having children (lack of paid maternal time, lack of childcare, etc.,) from the perspective of financial incentives, reinforces that ‘having fun,’ instead of searching for commitment.

        But I do have a quibble here, and I say this as a child from divorced parents before divorce was common: I think the commitment here we’re looking for is commitment to two people parenting together as best they can; and we shorthand that to marriage. That’s certainly the choice I opted for. But remember that segment video on the high percentage of black kids born out of wedlock? They also said that the percentage of fathers involved in their children’s lives was higher, no? That’s the commitment we need to redefine. Marriage is one one to define it, but it is not the only way.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      @zic, your solution is seriously unfair to a lot of men the women are going to end up marrying. I know that enlightened men aren’t supposed to believe this but a lot of us really don’t want to raise another man’s children. I certainly don’t. I want to raise my own blood children.

      There is a quote for some famous mid-20th century anthropologist about how all women need three men in their lives. A bad boy for sex when their young, a man to raise a family with, and a friendly companion for old age. This drives me batty. It implies that some men get the fun and others get the work. How about our needs for our fun girlfriends?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Yeah, no one ever talks about men having fun when they’re young.

        Also, your answer to Zic’s suggestion that women be given incentives for childbearing, such that they can have kids at younger ages without doing serious damage to their economic prospects, is that it’s unfair to men who might marry them later? Because those women might have kids already?

        You’re in your thirties, right? Leaving aside your attitudes toward women, you are fast approaching an age when a large portion of your potential dating pool will have been married before, and a large portion of those women (and others who haven’t been married) will have kids. If you limit yourself to childless women, then as someone who admittedly finds the romantic world difficult, you will be severely limiting your potential partners, making it even more difficult.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        I think it’s essentially valid to say “I don’t want to marry a person with trait X” for pretty much any trait X, the heart wants what the heart wants after all, if one is willing to say “and if I don’t marry, then I don’t marry”.

        And, of course, we can giggle about the Xes of others.

        Can you believe that this person wanted to date a guy with a full head of hair? What a shallow jerk! Can you believe that this other person wanted to date a gal who didn’t wear glasses? What a shallow jerk! Can you believe that yet another person wanted to date a guy who was monogamous? How old-fashioned is that? Can you believe that this still yet another person wanted to date someone who wasn’t a shut-in? And they’re still complaining about being single?

        So on and so forth.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        (Now, with that said, I do think that it’s probably a bad idea to continue to date someone who you know wants marriage if you are unwilling to get married but it’s definitely a bad idea to continue to date someone who you know does not want to get married if you know that you *DO* want that.)Report

      • Avatar dhex says:

        long-term goal-oriented courtship seems pretty rough.

        and fairly dehumanizing, but perhaps that’s the nature of lust?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @chris not everybody gets to do these sort of things according to the schedule as determined by society for a variety of reasons. I’m one of them.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        What sorts of things? And why are you on an ‘atypical’ schedule?

        “A bad boy for sex when their young, a man to raise a family with, and a friendly companion for old age. This drives me batty. It implies that some men get the fun and others get the work.”

        Now, which of those things do you consider work and which do you consider fun?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @kazzy like actually having a girlfriend and doing the things you do with a girlfriend. Hook ups are another thing that people typically do in their teens and twenties that I didn’t get to do and still haven’t experienced. As to why I’m on a typical schedule, if nearly everybody in my age-dating group is looking to get married and start a serious relationship than my choice is effectively no relationship or that type of relationship.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Did you not experience those things because of circumstances largely out of control (e.g., you were hospitalized with an illness during that time period)? Or did they just not come together for you? I ask this seriously, mind you. I’m not trying to make light of your situation but simply am trying to understand.

        Regardless, the reality is, not everyone gets to experience everything. I didn’t get to travel abroad during college. I really wish I had. But that ship has sailed. At least, doing it in a reasonable way — the way I would have done it then — is no longer possible.

        You? You still have options. As you said, “nearly everybody”… not “everybody”. Also, you are limiting yourself to your “age-dating group”. You could certainly expand that. As @chris said, the more parameters you put on the manner of relationship you desire and the type of person you share it with, the harder it is to find. It is simple mathematics at that point.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @leeesq this bothers me on numbers of levels.

        First, as a child, I had no say; my parents decided to not stay together. They both remarried, and looking back, I clearly see that my relationships with my step parents were very important, not just to me, but to them. (I think the whole evil step-parent thing is way over done, btw.) Our lives were enriched through our relationships that happened because my step parents wanted to have relationships with my real parents.

        More importantly, is that I am not alone in this experience, it is not unique. One couple we know recently split up; they have a daughter together and she had a son from a previous relationship. In settling custody, the man’s wishes were clearly to continue to have a relationship with the son he’d been parenting while he was with the boys mother, and the court actually awarded him some visitation; something the boy wanted, too.

        I also remember a conversation with my Dad when my own children were small. I was probably griping about the never-ending wear of meals, dishes, laundry, all while managing bickering toddlers etc., and he looked at me and said, “These are the very best times, when kids are small.” I’m quite sure while he was in that phase of life, he thought it was work, but looking back, he thought it was the happiest of times. Now, mother of grown adults, I see what he means; and I have a very rich and rewarding life. Yet the wonder of watching children grow is the single most rewarding thing I can imagine.

        You see this progression of fun to work; and I honestly wonder if that it might be a scam. I married young; but I’d had my fill of dating and hooking up; I wanted someone who I trusted and someone who trusted me. The fun part flowed out of that trust. The work is part of the fun.

        But I’m seriously the last person who should give dating advice; I’ve dated the same dude for something like 38 years, and I’m perfectly happy to continue dating him exclusively in the foreseeable future.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Oh man, I knew from experience that plenty of women in your age group still like to have fun. This includes both divorced women and women who’ve never been married. Hell, some of ’em even have kids. And they’re not hard to find, either: look for them in places where people who like to have fun go.

        But seriously, women choosing to have children whenever they damn well please, and society choosing to make this easier for them to do without losing their economic independence does not harm you in any way, and it especially doesn’t harm you because some of the women you might meet have kids.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        “I think the whole evil step-parent thing is way over done, by the way.”

        You might be surprised (or pleased or horrified or…) to know that many of the original tales had the parents — usually the mother — as the evil one. It was only later retellings (often Disney but perhaps earlier ones) where the evil step-parent trope emerged to make them more palatable. If you are trying to rope in children with your stories, you are trying to rope in parents. Casting them as the villains ain’t so great for business.

        Of course, the fact that the family villains tend to skew female (be they the biological mother or stepmother) is interesting in its own right.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        the heart wants what the heart wants

        I’m now unable to hear that quoted without remembering who says it to whom and about whom in Breaking Bad. Thanks a lot, Vince Gilligan!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        (sotto voice) Surely we can all agree that women having more and more children is bad for the *PLANET*. (/sotto voice)Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @kazzy it just didn’t happen for me and still doesn’t despite my efforts. I realize that not everybody gets everything they need or want thats life. I still don’t like the “I get to have my cake and eat it to” tone of some people on this topic. Nor do I particularly feel like being in the role of janitor in relationships.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Janitor? Jesus H. Christ, man.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Dude, seriously: as someone who gave himself the nickname “Uncle Jay” in high school (because of his massive failures when it came to dating but massive successes at becoming good friends with girls who wouldn’t otherwise date him), let me tell you this:

        Anybody can be put in the so-called “Friend Zone” once. I’ll give you twice. If it happens three times, YOU ARE DOING IT TO YOURSELF. There is a thing that your subconscious is doing to you to keep you from having successful relationships and *THAT* is the problem. Until you dig up that particular root ball, you’re going to continue to have the problems you’re talking about.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        Who is trying to have their cake and eat it too?Report

      • Avatar Stillwater says:

        Nor do I particularly feel like being in the role of janitor in relationships.

        Cmon, man. Have some self-respect. It’s “custodial engineer”.Report

      • Avatar dhex says:


        “Janitor? Jesus H. Christ, man.”

        i think ap style would insist that be written as “Jesus H. Christ, Janitor”.

        also they have tinder in ny man yeesh get up on itReport

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        I prefer Luce-era Time style:

        “Blessed are the poor” sermonized religious bigwig Jesus H. Christ.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        @jaybird I am not putting myself in the friend zone. I am just facing non-stop continual rejection. It’s a straight no or at best a no after one date.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        And that sucks, it really does. All of us get rejected, most of us a lot, so everyone knows how much it sucks. It’s part of dating life, and it is absolutely no fun.

        Now, if you’re getting rejected every single time, you’re probably doing something wrong. I’d bet money it’s who you’re dating or trying to date, but there are other things it could be as well. There are matchmaking services that will give you feedback on such things. They’re usually not cheap, but if you have the funds then perhaps trying one, if not for the dates themselves then for the dating advice, would help.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Please, stop it. You aren’t a loser beta who gets off on cuckoldry. Some people are. Hell, there are four and a half hour long professional movies about sloppy seconds. Someone is buying these movies.

        It is a survival strategem, for a particular set of genes.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        There are these things called “beer goggles”. Perhaps an adroit use of them might be warranted here.

        More seriously, yeah, there are a lot of people out there who want to have fun. Some of them are looking for one night stands, or for one night stands that might develop into something more.

        Other people really aren’t looking for a “serious” relationship at all (a LOT of these have kids, by the way). This isn’t to say you can’t date them, but it is to say that you’ll have a lot more trouble finding them in “dating pools” — because they’ve got other things to do with their time. By restricting yourself to “people actively looking for dates” you’re cutting out a lot of the universe of potential dates.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        That’s the wrong kind of aloof hostility, Lee.

        Anyway, self-sabotage is something that you probably do want to investigate because the whole “rejected again” paradigm feels like home and the whole “holy crap, I might be successful here” is relatively terrifying.

        And a good way around that is to say “I want to date someone with the following 14 traits” and, then, when you can’t find someone with those 14 traits, complain that either all of the good ones are taken, or the ones with 8 of those traits but aren’t willing to change about the other 6 are malicious, or the one that you find with those 14 traits didn’t agree to a second date. And you get to go back to your support group and complain and the support group, in the same boat, gives you comfort, sympathy, and it’s nice.

        But you know what happens when someone in that support group starts dating? They disappear after a while.


        So, first, lose the support group. Emotional comfort after rejection is the enemy here. Second, hammer out which of the 14 traits are truly important to you. I’d suggest one or two and if one of those one or two involves physical traits, I think I’ve found your problem.

        Come back after you’ve done this and we’ll be able to yell at you about how you say you’ve narrowed down to one or two but you’ve really only narrowed down to eleven or twelve.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I say cut it down to zero, and see who you like and who likes you.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        But seriously, women choosing to have children whenever they damn well please, and society choosing to make this easier for them to do without losing their economic independence does not harm you in any way, and it especially doesn’t harm you because some of the women you might meet have kids.

        This is true in so much as it is a response to @leeesq. The world is a big enough place that Lee should be able to find what he wants from a woman, whether it be a casual fling or a life partner or something in between. There are enough women in the world looking for each of those things at any given time.

        As a larger point, however, society “choosing to make it easier” for women to have children may, in fact, harm other people, depending on what actions we take to make it easier.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      weird misogyny of ticking fertility clocks


  3. Avatar Pinky says:

    I just made a spreadsheet of the 21 marriages I’ve known best (work, friends, family), and their success rate. I found no correlation between Christian faith and successful marriage. There was a big split, though, between active Catholics/Orthodox and others: 80% of the former were successful, and 36% of the latter. Looking over the numbers, I realize that I understated the difference. Of the ten Catholic/Orthodox couples I listed, one of them was barely practicing, and another would be surprised to find themselves listed under “unsuccessful” (they’re still together, but not awfully happy). And one of the non-C/O successful couples was Catholic when they met. And, two of the successful non-C/O couples on my list are very early in their marriages.

    What does this reflect? I’d love to say that the successes were stories of people living out their faith. But I think a lot of it was how they entered into it, rather than how they lived it out. More of the younger couples failed. More of the couples who began dating in a search for a spouse were successful. Some lived together before getting married, but not enough on either side for me to generalize. My overall impression is that among Catholics and Orthodox there’s both a higher level of commitment entering into marriage and a stronger system to support marriages.

    It’s harder to look at the relationships that didn’t become marriages and see why they failed. I’m looking over the list of the people in these couples, and I don’t see a pattern. Some were in significant relationships that failed due to undercommitment on one side. I’m sure that some of the others were, too, and I just don’t know about them.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      Most breakups have multiple reasons. You could look at me and Julia and say “That was about asymmetric commitment levels”… and that would be true. But it was also about the reasons I didn’t want to commit. My response to not wanting to take it to the next level was not to simply decline to take it to the next level. It was to leave. The same is true of Tony and Julia.

      On the other hand, McArdle is talking about guys that string them along and – unlike Tony and myself – don’t leave. In that case, she’s saying that asymmetrical commitment should be the reason for the breakup, even if he’s perfectly happy with things being what they are.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 says:

      I look at my friends and I see this:

      A lot of 10+ year, happy, second marriages. Very, very, very few 10+ year happy marriages.

      And when I look at those “few” first marriages? All people that married no early than their late 20s.

      I think, to be honest, that few people really understand themselves and what they need out of life until their late 20s. If you manage to marry someone that works for you, long term, before then? it’s probably more luck than anything.

      You need to know who you are and what you need — out of life, out of a relationship – -before you have a solid chance of establishing a long-term one. Which is why the late teens and 20s seem to be lengthy relationships and heartbreak. People learn the only way they can — through painful experience.

      My second marriage is successful entirely because of my first — my first taught me what I needed, what I could handle, and what I couldn’t. And when my now wife (off almost 15 years now) and I started dating, sizing her up on those criteria was a big part of it. And she did the same, measuring me against what she learned from her disastrous first marriage.

      And for all the ups and downs, my second marriage is just an entirely different experience than my first. For lack of a better term — it’s healthy. She’s what I need and vice versa. Our personalities and needs mesh and support each other. Our quirks are tolerable at worst. We both bring to the table things the other needs.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        I agree with this wholeheartedly.
        I’m going to steal a quote of Bea’s — “Adolescence is not a Disease.”
        Because, when you get right down to it, adults really, really, really want to make it out to be a problem that “needs fixing.”Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        There’s certainly no question that getting married later in life correlates with good outcomes. I’ve seen happy and unhappy first marriages and happy and unhappy second marriages. Comparatively few happy marriages where either party was under 25, though. If one doesn’t want to have children, or is okay raising a child in an unmarried environment until then, one can almost take the “the later the better” perspective into one’s late thirties. Otherwise, it’s about finding that sweet spot. Of course, you can find the right person before that sweet spot, or you can fail at finding someone until after.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I was 20 when my sweetie and I wed nearly 34 years ago, he was 25. I have several friends who’ve been married as long, and they were also between 20 and 25 when they wed.

        But, and I think this may matter a lot, they are all marriages that fit @kimmi ‘s ‘best friend’s scenario above, Best Friends — there’s love there, and maybe lust too. But best friends are just that — there for each other, supportive. The people that you honestly could see getting along just aces after a divorce, eating ice cream together. These people can cohabit, they can not get married. They’ll keep their commitments together, but mostly because they work well together. It takes a particular kind of brain for this co-equal partnership to workReport

    • Avatar dhex says:

      “I just made a spreadsheet of the 21 marriages I’ve known best ”


  4. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    I think this is one of those areas where I live on a different planet than most other people.

    On the planet I inhabit, people have straight romantic relationships, and often those people have different long-term plans/desires/inclinations than their partners. Sometimes the women see the relationship as being but a step to marriage and are disappointed when it doesn’t work out that way; other times it is the men who bemoan that “she wasn’t as in to me as I was to her.” On my planet, this is the way it’s been as long as everyone I’ve known started dating one another.

    I have the impression, though, that everyone else lives on Megan McArdle’s planet, where it is always the women badgering the men to propose already, and always the men who find whatever excuse they can to avoid getting hitched.

    Very much different planets.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      I don’t think McArdle is saying that women are always on the lookout for commitment. I think she’s saying that when they are*, and they aren’t getting it, they need to move on rather than wait for him to come around. She says that if you’re 24 it’s too early to be worried about it, and that if you’re happy just kicking back then you should have a ball.

      * – The same would apply to men. She focuses on women because that’s what she sees. It’s what I see, too. Not in the sense that “This is how women are” or “this is what women want” but rather “when this situation occurs, it’s more likely to be the woman in this role and the man in that role.” Which is my experience, too. But it can’t be universal.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      I love your planet, Tod, and happily share it with you.

      I think here we also see a bit of the age-old stigma of the bastard; the child born out of wedlock. That the child might come, in the wonderful age of BC and college and career, presumes the commitment of marriage first, and that’s what we’re talking about, else there wouldn’t be the ticking time bomb of loss of fertility in McArdle’s essay.Report

    • Avatar kenB says:

      McArdle doesn’t use the word “always” — she’s referring to the typical pattern:

      Pardon the sexism, but most men aren’t operating on the same timetable for having kids, and also, at least in my experience, they don’t tend to stay silent and hopeful for so long. And I’m sure there are also lesbians and gay men out there who are frustrated with a partner who doesn’t want to settle down, but again, the gender differences in biological timetables — and willingness to commit — don’t seem to loom so large for them in my circles. So I’m going to address this column mostly to the folks it is most likely to describe — heterosexual women — and if there are others who feel this way, too, just change the pronouns in your head and proceed.


      • Avatar zic says:

        This. Plus she says,

        I’m not saying there’s no chance you’ll get married later; I’m saying that if your biological clock is ticking and you don’t want to be chasing toddlers around the living room when you are 50, then the odds are not good enough to warrant the gamble. Set a deadline for having the talk, and also set a deadline for when he needs to fish or cut bait. Then focus all your energy on keeping those deadlines.

        But I want to point out something: the talk is supposed to happen about marriage as a prelude to children. That is certainly a common scenario, it’s the one I followed. But it is not the only scenario, and perhaps more important is the talk about, “I’m in prime child-bearing years, and I want to have children.” There are too many children of unmarried couples for us to simply keep presuming first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Megan with a baby carriage.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        She is talking primarily to women who do want to follow that particular route, though. The order does get changed, but – at least among McArdle’s cohort – I think the more traditional roadmap is what is desired. Whether it should be desired is something that can be questioned, but I tend to view love-marriage-kids as being the optimal route, and I suspect most women do to. I think you explore other routes when that one doesn’t seem available to you, or you make the best of other routes when confronted with them.Report

  5. Avatar Damon says:

    Way back in the day, the GF and I were preparing to attend a wedding when we had a chat about marriage. She told me that she wanted to get married on a 9 out of 10, 1 being metaphysical uncertitude and 10 being metaphysical certitude. Hat tip to the John McLaughlin report show for the terminology.

    This came as somewhat surprising…anyway I became purposefully difficult and maneuvered her into proposing. (I know shocking that I can be difficult!) And we got married and were for a long time.

    Life’s too short to WAIT for someone to ask you. Bring it up. Ask the guy. Maybe he actually is clueless that you want to get married.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      I also found the article remarkable for what it didn’t contain – the suggestion that a woman who wants to get married to her current male partner, might propose marriage, instead of passive-aggressiving aroundReport

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        She seems to take an “it is what it is” approach to that.

        I am honestly not qualified to comment on the virtues and risks of female proposal. The only times I’ve seen it happen are cases where the cause was lost. There is an odd space, though, where it seems to be okay to say “I want you to propose to me” or “You need to propose to me”… though doing so carries its own risks.Report

      • Avatar dragonfrog says:

        My wife proposed to me. I may be flattering myself, but I don’t think there was any significant element of the lost cause there – she just wanted to marry me, so she asked.Report

    • Avatar Pinky says:

      I’ve never been married, and I’ve never proposed to anyone, so maybe I’m the wrong guy to make this observation. But a marriage proposal should never come out of the blue. It’s something you should be talking about, for a while, beforehand.Report

  6. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I’m fond of Dan Savage’s observation and motto that all romantic relationships fail/end until one doesn’t.

    I am also not that keen on applying economic concepts like the sunk cost fallacy to human relationships. A romantic relationship is not like building a bridge or starting your own business and then getting a really good job offer 5 years in. A romantic relationship involves our deepest levels of emotional commitment and attachment. There seems to be something really cold and almost robotic about applying the sunk cost fallacy to romantic relationships and I can see why people will try to salvage relationships that are filled with lots of good memories and times and affection.

    One thing I will say is that we might need to work on making people be okay with being single and/or spending time by themselves.* I am a bit perplexed when I hear about someone who is going through their third divorce and gets a partner during the divorce or right after the papers are signed. I’ve known or heard about many people who seemingly went from one romantic relationship to the other without any lag time. Maybe I am weird but I generally like to give myself some time between stuff even if that is only one or two dates before hearing “you are really sweet but I wasn’t feeling any chemistry.” I admit that I might be too good at spending time on my own.**

    Though people like to think that there is one truth path and that the world would be a better place if we all did X. My least favorite version of this is the poly-evangelists. I am not very interested in being poly. It seems like too much of a logistical headache.

    *My ex compared me to Joaquim Phoenix’s character from Her. On the other hand my mom kind of agreed but phrased it as being “very sweet but kind of out of it.” I don’t think my ex was being that complimentary when she had that realization.

    **I’ve had two remote jobs since law school which allowed me to work from my apartment. On the one hand, I am very good at working without supervision or micromanagement. On the other hand, I occasionally realize stuff like “I’ve gone 5 days without seeing anyone except the people at my coffeeshop and at the gym.” This 3-day weekend I largely spent by myslef. I had dinner with a friend on Friday night but she needed to work on Saturday so it was a short social call. I was supposed to hang with a friend today but he got sick. The woman I am currently seeing rented a house in Tahoe with a dozen other people. Part of that sounds nice (cooking dinner with lots of people), part of it does not (needing to share a bedroom and house with people who might not have my preferred sleeping habits) but I do wonder if it freaks people out that I am largely good at being on my lonesome.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I dunno Saul, the sunk cost fallacy may be cold and analytical but I think it’s pretty applicable to this situation. When you have one partner who desperately hopes that the other will come around and the other is content to let things coast as is sharing housework and bills sunk cost offers pretty sound advice. It just boils down to “don’t throw away more time on an unsuccessful relationship for fear that it’s unsuccessful than you need to.”Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        Humans aren’t optimization problems!! One of my biggest issues with the Matt Y/Ezra Klein is that it seems to treat all humans and human activity like we can be programmed to an ideal robot who sleeps just enough, eats just enough, laughs just enough, works at maximum producivity, etc.

        Fuck all that noise. Do people taking random sick days on the first nice day of spring or a random summer day cost the economy money? Probably. Does this mean we shouldn’t take off on the first nice day of spring? No.

        Sure you can argue that whenever someone chooses to end a relationship/ask for a divorce they are just doing the sunk cost analysis but there is another human being at the end of that sunk cost analysis, not a partially completed bridge. Would you be comforted by a lover leaving if they explained it as sunk cost analysis? Or if someone tried to comfort you with the sunk cost fallacy?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        My objection is not to say that people shouldn’t stay in relationships that they find emotionally cold, unpassionate, abusive, or anything else negative.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Would you be comforted by a lover leaving if they explained it as sunk cost analysis?

        The next thing you’re going to tell me is that you shouldn’t even evaluate the cost-benefit analysis of relationships!

        Related. (You can stop the video after a minute and a half, at the 20:58 mark.)Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Would you be comforted by a lover leaving if they explained it as sunk cost analysis?

        It’s not “would you feel better if X” it’s “how much freaking worse would it be if X happened in 2017?”

        If it is going to happen, and you know it’s going to happen, isn’t it better to have it happen today than years from now if your goal is, say, marriage?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        Of course every one does that.

        I just have a pet peeve against the current way that we need to use economic and business terminology to explain and describe everything. I suppose it goes against my theatre major side. It just seems so damn anti-art and so damn anti-poetry.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        You’d be surprised at how often game theory is applicable for most situations. But, then again, Game Theory is willing to account for people getting frustrated, or acting irrationally.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        I mean would you rather have someone make you a mix-tape/CD/USB Drive of their favorite songs or come up with an economic report/power point (complete with graphs) on why the cost-benefit analysis makes them think you are a keeper!

        I’ll take the songs.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Humans aren’t optimization problems!!

        However, I have long claimed that humans generally act like low-quality optimization algorithms. They make a zillion decisions in a space with lots of variables, asking “If I do A, will I be better off?” over and over. If I do A, will I get paid this week? If I do A, will I get laid this weekend? Then they do A, or not. Generally, they make decisions without looking very far ahead in time, or very far around them in space, and they often delude themselves about what “better off” means. Much of the decision making is not conscious. There’s a disturbing amount of hysteresis — that is, changing directions is difficult. Interestingly, even low-quality algorithms will eventually solve the kind of problems that economists strive to pose — maximize a concave function over a convex set.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Yeah, but in a breakup, I’d prefer a sound economic justification than a Mix CD that starts with “Hit The Road, Jack!”Report

      • Avatar Kolohe says:

        Weirdly enough, you can find “peter gabriel Powerpoint Templates” on the internet. (and presumably somewhere on amazon or Ebay, a trenchcoat, high tops, and a Clash t-shirt)Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I sympathize that it offends your art loving heart but numbers and numeracy have usefulness and one of their great usefulnesses is they at least purport to being objective rather than subjective and thus are useful in conveying valuable information to greater numbers of people.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        I’m sort of with Saul on this one actually — unlike the usual examples of sunk time costs (e.g. having waited in line for an hour and deciding whether to keep waiting), for relationships there are also potential benefits that could’ve built up during that time. So the “sunk cost fallacy” applies only to the extent that the decision-maker is thinking merely of the time spent in the relationship itself (e.g. “we’ve been together five years, we can’t give up now”) and not of the products of that time (e.g. “we know each other really well, we’ve worked out how to divide up the chores, who gets which side of the bed, etc. — I’d hate to start over from scratch”). In the latter case, it’s really just a cost-benefit-risk analysis, no fallacy at all.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I’m on the fence here; I think the sunk cost analysis is probably useful for women to consider, but it’s awfully close to the sunk-cost calculations of I paid for dinner and drinks, she owes me sex or something.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        I’d object, Zic, that a person who is thinking that because they paid for dinner and drinks they are entitled to sex is engaging in multiple noneconomic fallacies; they’re also most likely an utter pig.

        Kenb, an obvious rejoinder to the sunk cost fallacy is that “but if I put more in I might get an optimal outcome out of this situation. This is, of course, the dangerous hard wired thought habit that the sunk cost fallacy is designed to make you confront. You must honestly ask yourself whether you truly think that the optimal outcome is likely. If you think it is, then investing more time is rational, but if you can’t tell yourself a very believable and realistic story where the optimal outcome results then investing more time is a very bad idea.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It’s not “what am I owed by this other person?” but “what do I owe to myself?”

        Sunk cost for dinner and drinks is to say “this date is not going anywhere, I don’t have any chemistry, I’ve already spent $X, I should say adios and cut the date short here instead of buying ice cream in the hopes that dessert will salvage the date.”Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Having never dated I should probably just bow to the superior experience on the subject. I’m always fascinated by date stories.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        I don’t disagree with what you are saying but there is also an issue of thinking too long term and not thinking in the moment or being in the moment. Maybe someone plugs themselves into a career but then realizes that they missed out on a lot of fun stuff and never really got to have a twenties or thirties.

        Basically I believe in balance.Report

      • Avatar kenB says:

        @north I think it’s a useful thing to think about, for those in this kind of situation, but I don’t think it’s technically the “sunk cost fallacy” — that’s specifically the difference between, say, seeing that there’s a 60-minute wait for a table and deciding to go someplace else vs. waiting for 40 minutes, finding out that it’s going to be another 60 minutes still, and deciding to keep waiting because you’ve already waited so long already and you don’t want to feel like you blew that 40 minutes for nothing.

        I just don’t get the sense that it’s quite the same mental process going on in the situations we’re talking about — there might be false hope, there might be clinging to a moribund relationship, but is there really a thought of “I don’t want to consider the last two years wasted?”

        On the other hand, as Rufus mentions about grad school, I was several years into my program and regretting that I’d ever started but very much feeling like I couldn’t just quit and have nothing concrete to show for all those years and and all that work. OTOH even that wasn’t purely the sunk cost, it was also vanity (what would my friends think) and practical concerns (how will it look to potential employers if I quit in the middle).Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

        It’s not a question of “sunk costs”, it’s a question of “work to keep this relationship going” versus “work to get another relationship to this level”. The current relationship is useful as an example, but the deciding factor should be “what’s going to happen in the future if I choose one option over another”.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        KenB, I wouldn’t say sunk costs are the -only- consideration, but I certainly think they’d be a not insignificant one.Report

      • @saul-degraw

        …there is also an issue of thinking too long term and not thinking in the moment or being in the moment. Maybe someone plugs themselves into a career but then realizes that they missed out on a lot of fun stuff and never really got to have a twenties or thirties.

        Basically I believe in balance.

        To me, that statement is about as much of an “economic” statement as you can get. It deals with scarcity (time) and rational choice making (balancing long term goals and “being in the moment,” or balancing current enjoyment against future risks). But then, I’m no economist.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        @saul-degraw Fundamentally, economics is about trade-offs in the face of scarcity, not money. The use of economics here is appropriate because we’re talking about trade-offs in the face of scarcity. Given that reality, you can either make rational, informed choices, or just go with what feels good at the moment.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        @zic but it’s awfully close to the sunk-cost calculations of I paid for dinner and drinks, she owes me sex or something.

        No, it really isn’t similar at all. The whole point is that sunk costs can’t be recovered and should thus have no bearing on your analysis of what to do right now. The question of what you might or might not be “owed” or “entitled” to is entirely orthogonal to the rejection of the sunk cost fallacy.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      I am also not that keen on applying economic concepts like the sunk cost fallacy to human relationships.

      The one in which @saul-degraw decides that he hates social science.Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog says:

      I’m very much not fond of the viewpoint, which I don’t believe Savage necessarily holds, that any relationship that both partners survive is a “failure”.

      Retiring is not failing at your career, moving homes is not failing at living in the old one, and ending a romantic relationship when it is time is not failing at having the relationship.

      I consider my mother’s first marriage a wonderful and instructive example of a successful marriage survived by both parties – she, her ex husband, his second wife, and my dad (my mom’s second husband) are all good friends; before retiring they all worked at the same university, my mom and her ex’s wife in the same small department, harmoniously and respectfully. They were successful in the marriage, they were successful through the divorce process, and they are successful in their post-marriage relationship.Report

  7. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I like her use of the sunk cost fallacy. I’ve called these situations ones in which people were emotionally over-leveraged, thinking of grad school as well as marriages, but hers is probably more accurate in terms of economics. Of course, when you’re living with someone, it’s economic too.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    There’s another quotation of McMegan’s that seems appropriate for a paraphrase here: “If someone is sitting on a tack and they stay there, it’s either because they think that getting up and taking it out will hurt more than sitting put, or because they like it.”Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Of course, relationships poke you in the ass in many different ways, some of which are not, at least by themselves, worth standing up for.Report

  9. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    I was in a relationship for seven years, got the ultimatum, popped the question, a couple months later realized there was no way I could be in that place at that time of my life, broke it off, got on a plane to South America to visit some friends. Never looked back.

    Had a fun three years or so, then started dating someone again. This was late 2005. I’m still dating her after moving once to be with her initially (we met when she had plans to move away & started dating LD thereafter, whereupon I moved, though it was to NYC and I saw it as much as a personal opportunity as a move for a girlfriend), and then two more times because she wanted to move to other places.

    I’m not 100% sure I’m going to marry her, even though I’m about 90% sure she wants to eventually get married and have kids with me (though she continues to say she’s not ready for it yet).

    Maybe being willing to go down this road again makes me an asshole or even a terrible person (man). For me, it just makes life worse to worry about it. I understand that society has a strong view about long-term relationships where the issue of marriage is not dealt with, and I do see the value in making an express lifelong commitment to someone.

    But I didn’t invent this thing we call life, or the institution of marriage, or decide how central a role in our societal life it would have. I’m just trying to negotiate the world as I find myself in it. And for me it seems that long-term but indefinite relationships with women (I’ve had two and been intimate with a very small number of other people) are what work best for me. We’re thrust into this world as individuals, and if there are other individuals we find we are compatible with for a period of time in such a way that joining lives makes each life better, I’m glad we are beings that are capable of that. But win a time comes when one or more individual is no longer better off for being joined with another person, then that;s a time for that joining to stop.

    I’m glad that it gives many people comfort to declare an intention to make these partnerships permanent to the end of one of the partners’ natural lives, and I’m glad that formalizing such declarations with great ceremony, and participating in such ceremonies, is an activity that gives so many people such pleasure. I’m not so glad that such declarations (nor, ugh, the ceremonies and meta-ceremonies) have taken on such huge social and moral significance in our culture, but hey, it is what it is. But for myself, I’m not going to worry about it until I want to worry about it. It’s entirely possible that I’ll want to make a declaration of permanence in my relationship, or some other one. But for me, the issue is, as long as I am happier in the relationship and the other person is as well, then I want it to continue. And after that, I want it not to.

    But the thing is, these days, no one really thinks otherwise about relationships they’ve declared to be permanent anymore, anyway. So I’m not sure I’m that out of step with actual norms on this point, anyway. I’m just honest about my intentions.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman says:

      If she says she’s not ready (and you don’t believe she is being honest worth yourself and with you) them you are completely in the clear (ethically and morally). I may think such dallying is foolish on both your parts, but I don’t have nearly enough information and familiarity to actually have an opinion.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Yeah, I don’t really recognize the moral component anyway. If she was asking, I’d have to say something in response, in which case her decision could be what it would be. Nevertheless, I do worry that she says that partly out of awareness that I’m not ready to commit for a lifetime yet. I.e., that what she means is that she;s not ready to get married and have kids, but that she would be ready to commit to doing so if I were.

        But, on the morals to me it just comes down to just what’s best for each of us – so, not really a moral question. I would completely understand if she decided she needed to know about the future and decided my response wasn’t assuring enough and that she needed to move on. But if it’s good for her now, then it’s good for her now. And it’s good for me now.

        And that’s where I think this idea of the folly of dithering or sunk costs goes astray (understanding you’re not actually making that assessment of my situation). It doesn’t seem to really take into account the actual bird-in-hand benefit of a relationship that makes your life better in the present, regardless of what can be said about the future. It seems to treat a relationship that doesn’t right now clearly have the right endpoint as a kind of flotsam or failed experiment that represents cost, the investment linked to which cost now a failed one whose value won’t be realized.

        But if that’s what a relationship is returning to you in the present – basically a feeling of pouring in resources merely in hopes for future payoff, then to my way of thinking it’s not a relationship you should have stayed in past the point where that short-term, almost daily but certainly weekly return of emotional value turned consistently negative (again, in the short run) anyway. The relationship was problematic on those terms alone, and if it was more than a short patch here or there, why would you think that a lifetime commitment to such a relationship would make the short-run investment of energy into a long-term value proposition. Just because that way you at least are with someone and have kids? How much human misery has flowed from following that stratagem – commitment and kids over a here-and-now positive relationship (however long it lasts), just because of a belief those are the imperative for your life? I say it’s rivers and rivers.

        And then this also identifies possibly rewarding here-and-now relationships that may not (or won’t) lead to X lifetime commitment as costly baggage to unburden oneself of, when in fact what they are (or can be) are present assets, offering comfort and companionship right here right now, and abandoning them in search of whatever might result in a certain kind of voiced commitment can in fact be a steep cost. The cost can actually be in leaving such a relationship, even if you want marriage and kids and know you can;t get it with the person now in your life, not in staying in it. (In my first relationship I stayed in it longer than I should have out of fear of hurting the other person, which I had crippling regret over given the period of life I devoted to that relationship, and that is obviously not a case of what I’m talking about there. But I do feel that way about my current relationship. But then I also don’t feel that I’m giving something up that I want in a relationship, now at least, by not having an explicit commitment of a certain nature and duration, it’s fair to point out.)Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Morality comes into play if you have not been clear about your intentions (including with yourself) or if you’ve been as clear as you can but you can tell that they just aren’t listening. Or when they’re not being honest with themselves about whether they can be happy with how things are going to be.

        The parenthetical “honest worth” should be “dishonest with” in my comment.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        nIt seems like that’s potentially a lot of the scenarios in which a relationship in which at least one person knows s/he wants a certain kind of commitment (in life if not from that partner) is lasting longer and longer and the question is not being dealt with in a certain way. And that those certain ways will be hard to exactly define. And that the dictates (for each person separately) of any such resulting morality will be hard to trace. And also that the ethical basis for such moral requirements will be hard to establish.

        So that, to me, your position just places a general pall of moral doubt over just about any relationship that broadly fits the description above, when such relationships could in fact be much more unencumbered, positive arrangement is people would simply choose to allow them to be.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        There can be a lot of moral ambiguity in some circumstances. Most of the time, though, there isn’t. Most of the time, asymmetrical commitment is not a moral issue. And most of the time, the UCP (and OCP) should do what they want for themselves.

        The OP mostly delves into cases where the UCP’s contentment is deteriorating because they are not getting what they want from the relationship. There is a tendency among some* to want to double down on the basis of not wanting to cut their losses. I think that’s generally a mistake. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it work for any prolonged period of time**, and I’ve seen it explode plenty.

        * – In the greater abstract, this is definitely non-gender-specific. I have been the doubler-down before. On this, I speak from experience. The gender-specificity mostly comes from the example that McArdle provides (the marriage question).

        ** – There are usually going to be periods of asymmetry. I’m not talking about the push and pull that occurs as each participant elevates their level of commitment at different rates. I’m referring to cases where, among one of the parties, it appears to have stopped elevating, and the other party wants a higher level of commitment.Report

  10. Avatar Patrick says:


    Down here.

    But I think without those kinds of changes, the weird misogyny of ticking fertility clocks won’t be taken seriously by commitment-phobic men without more respect for the burdens of child bearing in general.

    I think society has a naturalistic fallacy hidden in the back, here.

    Biology doesn’t (quite) dictate, but it does rather appreciate you trying to produce offspring between the ages of 20 and 32. That doesn’t mean that the art of rearing children is one particularly well suited to folks in that same age bracket, though.

    In fact, I’m pretty sure I would have been much less effective at parenting before I was 33 than I was after it, largely due to patience (although I have to admit I would have rather have been 23 when it comes to the biological burden of doing things like, “functioning for months at a time in a state of sleep deprivation”.)

    There’s some old SF short story around somewhere that I can’t recall immediately but @mike-schilling can probably spit the title out in short order, where the child-rearing is strictly verboten to folks under 60 or something along those lines, when we’ve reached the point where we can enable that through biotechnology.

    Although I have met folks who are great natural parents at age 23, it’s pretty rare. Back when the age of marriage and child-rearing was closer to 20 than it is now, we had much more rampant alcoholism, domestic violence was even more the norm, etc. That’s obviously tied into too many sociological things to declare anything resembling causation, but I think there is a lot to be said for “folks aren’t really psychologically well suited to deal with children until much later in life than the female’s ovaries would like”.

    Or, more generally, our brain evolution and our gonadal evolution are not in sync… but there’s no actual reason to presuppose that they ought to be.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi says:

      Actually, biology appreciates girls having their first child at around age 14 or so.
      But, hell, who wants to listen to biology anyway?

      [Rather than trying for a Perfect Life, where we get Perfect People to Marry and have Perfect Children, I’d rather we look at creating Awesome Children, and then placing them with compatible parents.]Report

      • Avatar Lyle says:

        The comments hint at the problem if the average lifespan is 33 as it was in the past then having kids at 15 makes a lot of sense. Much later and your kids might not survive. Here again we have changed the environment we live in faster than our biology can change. Its like a lot of chronic diseases of older people, if the average lifespan is 33 then you will not live long enough for the diseases to be a problem. Again just like IMHO the obesity problem we have changed the environment so much that it no longer matches that which our biology evolved to survive in. (Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        a few corrections, as your understanding isn’t terribly accurate:
        1) Average lifetime isn’t as interesting as you’d think. Many kids died very, very young. Median lifetime for those not dead by 5 wasn’t as short as you’d think.
        2) Depending on the nutrition, women had later children than I’m suggesting, as fertility decreases with stress and lack of nutrition.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Sorry, it rings no bells.

      Though it brings to mind Kris Neville’s From the Government Printing Office, in the first Dangerous Visions collection, where the government, having noticed how many geniuses had unhappy childhoods, provides instructions in how to emotionally abuse your kids.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        In Peter Watts’ Rifters books, about enhanced humans that live at deep ocean depths, the company that put them there realized early on that people that had suffered certain kinds of abuse as children were emotionally-damaged in such a way that they were well-suited to deal with months of isolation and darkness and cramped quarters without cracking up, so they started to select for people with abuse history in their job application process.

        They then realized that it would be just as easy to implant false memories of said abuse in people who had in reality unremarkable childhoods; which had the same effects on their personality.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      the weird misogyny of ticking fertility clocks won’t be taken seriously by commitment-phobic men without more respect for the burdens of child bearing in general.

      I have to admit, I need that unpacked a lot more before I am going to get it at all.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        She explained it some above, in response to me.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        I was reading the thread last night and saw what I think you’re referring to; this comment was made in awareness of some of that. But I may have missed some explanation. I’ll double-check.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …Meaning, I saw this

        the lack of incentives we offer to women to have children when they’re at the age of having children (lack of paid maternal time, lack of childcare, etc.,) from the perspective of financial incentives, reinforces that ‘having fun,’ instead of searching for commitment.

        …but while it kind of clarified, it raised more questions and sort of further confused me as well, so that I’m still not sure I’m following the initial statement, or that one, exactly correctly.

        To be clear, I’m certainly getting a general drift here. But each comment takes some surprising turns where it says one thing when I was expecting something else that make me not sure I get every part of it.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @michael-drew women are penalized for having children. Their prime child-bearing years begin at about the time they finish university; when they’re supposed to establish their careers in our current business environment. It’s a real and growing problem that for many women who wait too long; I’ve a niece going through this now. She probably will never have a child; she’s had three DNC’s from invitiro implants that died.

        There are lots of things we could do differently; we could, for instance, encourage women go to university while their children are entering school, combine the facilities in a way that makes it easy. We could create some sort of USERRA law that guarentees parents their job back after taking time off to raise young children, just as we guarantee people’s jobs who serve in the National Guard or Reserves. We could subsidize child care. All sorts of things that would make it easier to have children during those years where if you don’t establish a career, you fear you’ll take a lifetime hit on opportunity.

        If it were important to us to have women having children who aren’t, we’d do that very thing. And all those choices would also signal to men that this is important, just as, now, they get the signal that in the 20’s they’re supposed to have fun.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        while it kind of clarified, it raised more questions and sort of further confused me as well, so that I’m still not sure I’m following the initial statement, or that one, exactly correctly.

        To be clear, I’m certainly getting a general drift here. But each comment takes some surprising turns where it says one thing when I was expecting something else that make me not sure I get every part of it.

        That was more or less my internal response, though thought you might find it more illuminating. Given that I think Zic and I are coming from very different places on these sorts of issues, and there have been a lot of comments on this post to wade through, I decided to turn my attention elsewhere.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        The whole premise of what I’m saying here is the (forgotten) premise of McArdle’s piece — give him the boot if he’s commitment phobic because of your ticking timeclock. Her whole piece is premised on that. It’s a presumption that the woman must marry first, and she must marry before her baby clock has run out.

        Now men do not have to think about that. Unless you’ve got some woman to force you to have those thoughts because, maybe, you would like her to be mother to your children.

        My point is that if, to society, there were some greater demand for women to have children when they’re most able, we’d find ways to create incentives for that. We don’t. We punish, instead.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        Thanks, that makes sense. It’s actually not that important to me to have women having children who aren’t. Though I suspect you mean women who want to have kids who aren’t. But what’s important is how important it is to them. It’s honestly not that important to me. We all make our choices, though where a person makes a lot of choices that are conducive to having children and biologically can’t, I certainly sympathize, and I support research to make it ever more possible to help overcome those circumstances. Should it be more important to me than it is?

        All of what you say there makes a lot of sense without explaining the formulation of “the weird misogyny of ticking fertility clocks won’t be taken seriously by commitment-phobic men without more respect for the burdens of child bearing in general,”so that I get it, however.

        What is the the weird misogyny of ticking fertility clocks? Why should commitment-phobic men take it more seriously? There needs to be more respect where for the burdens of child bearing in general in order for commitment-phobic men to do that? Among commitment-phobic men? And what does that mean, exactly? And why/how would more respect for the burdens of child bearing in general lead to commitment-phobic men taking the weird misogyny of ticking fertility clocks more seriously?Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        It’s important for commitment-phobic men who either (a) eventually do want children, or (b) for some ideological or economic reason want to see more kids produced. I don’t think it’s important for anyone else.

        The same applies to who McArdle is talking about, to an extent. It’s advice to women who want to have children with a father they are married to in a nuclear family formation. If women want children but are less particular about the family formation involved, then McArdle’s advice probably isn’t for them.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        if, to society, there were some greater demand for women to have children when they’re most able

        Should we want this? Jesus, I don’t remotely want to see such an increase in demand. Form where I sit, there is already a lot of demand for that, at least with a reasonably flexible understanding.

        I mean, Jesus, what do we want here? Just to make it even more indicated for women that a thing they should be doing if they want to have kids at all is to do it between the ages of 21 and 29? No way. I’m fine with, like you say, doing some things to make it easier to preserve your career and complete your education if you do make that choice. But I want no more pressure on anyone to do so than there already is.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        sure, from a public health perspective, both for the child and the mother.
        But most people don’t get that biology is… kinda basic. It’s not really designed for women spending multiple years being fertile (and well-nourished) and not having kids. Biology’s pretty sure that the optimal time for women to have kids is … now. not tommorrow — you might die before then.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        There’s also a really weird dynamic where we seem to be deliberately avoiding how there are a handful of groups in society that seem to be doing just fine when it comes to having the female members of the group have children within the age group we’re talking about.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        What are the career tracks and education paths typically like for women in those communities who follow that path?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Not ignoring, Jay. Zic is pretty clear that she means able to have children without potentially irrevocable harm being done to a woman’s prospects for financial independence. That is, it’s now difficult for women to have children young and still have a successful career and the financial independence that comes with that, and this is in (perhaps large) part responsible for women having children later in life. If we want them to have children earlier, we have to recognize that the potential barriers to financial independence will have to be overcome. Or, I suppose, abandon the prospect of women having realistic opportunities for financial independence in the first place and return to a model in which women are largely financially (and therefore socially) dependent on men. Which is an option I assume zic is not interested in promoting.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        If we’re in inconsistent duad/triad/quadrad territory, pretending that we’re not will result in… well. Maybe we’re not in inconsistent duad/triad/quadrad territory.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        To be clear, I’m fine with framing the need to make the cost of childbearing imposed on women’s self-actualization and social security by the way we socially distribute its burden less destructive in as stark, urgent moral terms as anyone might want. That is matter of justice.

        It’s just that it doesn’t move me at all to try to animate that with “if we want women who want to have kids to be able to do so,” or “if we want more kids to be born,” or “if we want women to have kids when they are biologically most primed for it (i.e. earlier than they are under present trends),” then we should (above). I don’t really share in any of those agendas. I want women to choose whatever it is they want to do wrt to reproduction – whether, when, how, with whom. But I certainly share the desire to share the burden more fairly and/or defray the costs they take on when they make those choices. And if the costs are much higher for certain values of those decisions than others, by all means I support particularly focusing on defraying those particular costs.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        @michael-drew I think it’s pretty easy for men to ignore this as a problem because 1) it’s a woman’s problem, and 2) until this point in history, women have pretty much been trapped into having children; the problems were the opposite (how to avoid).

        If the problems associated with fertility and the economic burdens of motherhood were addressed, I actually think it would increase men’s awareness of the importance of having children at earlier then is becoming the norm for most college-educated/career-minded women. Right now, mostly people don’t talk about it until she feels the pressure of her timeclock ticking. A society that put more importance on not punishing women economically for having children would also make men more hep to the notion, I do believe.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        The whole idea that “we” punish women for having children is slightly absurd. To get there, you have to start with the presumption that there is some level of career advancement or lifestyle to which we are all entitled and which is taken away from women who have children.

        Having children imposes certain burdens on parents; that’s hardly a punishment. That is life in a world of limited means and unlimited human desires. Certainly, there is a case to be made for socializing some of those burdens, and we already do that, but there is a limit, at least in my opinion, to how much we ought to socialize.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        sending perfectly capable teens and pre-teens into the “Mommy Track” is certainly penalizing them. Lowering your expectations for someone because they are a teen mom is just… asinine.Report

      • Avatar zic says:


        We do ‘punish’ women. They earn less, they’re less frequently promoted, all that ‘mommy track’ nonsense. And a woman who starts having children earlier, before establishing her career has much less chance of successful career.

        You talk of it as ‘socializing.’ That’s certainly one way to view it. Another is norms; it’s acceptable to downgrade women’s earning and career opportunities when they have children because women tend to also shoulder the burdens of home care.

        This is not just a ‘now’ data point, it’s an arc of social behavior, with norms going back that reinforce the notions that time-off for child birth, flexible time for child care equals less of a reliable employee. That’s bull shit.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        it’s acceptable to downgrade women’s earning and career opportunities when they have children because women tend to also shoulder the burdens of home care.

        Again, that presupposes that everyone deserves a certain benchmark level of career advancement and that people who don’t get that are being punished. When you start with that definition of punishment it implies that “we,” whoever we is in this situation, are actively doing things to hold women back and if we just cared more we would stop and the problem would go away. That is just not what the problem is.

        The problem is that people without kids, or men with kids who have wives that take the brunt of childcare, have more free time to commit to their jobs, so they work more hours and get more promotions. If you are arguing against that, then what you are saying is that those people ought to be “punished” to make things better for mothers.

        You could also argue that men ought to do more housework and child care and maybe that’s true in some cases, but it’s not justifiable as an across the board claim. Some couples strive to do everything equally and that’s great for them. Other couples decide to make use of comparative advantage and have one parent that tries to maximize career advancement, while the other focuses more on the household. There is no one arrangement that works best for everyone. Then important thing is that both parents have a say in their particular arrangement.

        Also, I am all for evolving towards a set of workplace norms that allow for greater flexibility and less need for face time, but that comes with trade-offs (more work during “off” hours, for instance). That is the key to all of this: trade-offs, they exist and you can’t just wish them away.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        No, it presupposes a bunch of true things, including a.) women bear the bulk of the burden of childbirth and child rearing, b.) this impacts their career and earning potential, and c.) career and earning potential are essential to independence in our system.

        If you want women to have the same opportunities that men do, then reproductive freedom is essential. If you then want women to still have kids, particularly before their careers are pretty well settled (late thirties, say), you’re going to have to provide incentives that amount to minimizing the reduction in economic opportunities for women that comes with having kids.Report

      • Avatar j r says:


        All of that is fine if you completely ignore the issue of choices and trade-offs. That is if you believe that everyone ought to get exactly what they want (career advancement/fulfilling relationship/ample time with their kids) without opportunity cost.

        There is simply no set of policy changes or changes in social norms that can make that happen. An hour spent with your kids is an hour not spent at work.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        not if the kid’s working too, eh?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Could we put the kids to work in Day Care Centers? Because that’d kill two birds with one stone.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        jr, it’s not ignoring trade offs, it’s simply recognizing that trade offs are different for men and women. If we then ask what we value, as a society, and the answer is families beginning younger, we have a pretty clear answer: create more equal trade offs.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        jr, it’s not ignoring trade offs, it’s simply recognizing that trade offs are different for men and women. If we then ask what we value, as a society, and the answer is families beginning younger, we have a pretty clear answer: create more equal trade offs.

        Fair enough. Now you can take the first cut at creating those equal trade offs. What are your suggestions?

        Without knowing how you will respond, I still don’t think you’re going to get very far. I’ve been a working professional for almost 20 years now and given what I’ve seen in my career, I think you’re going to have a hard time coming up with them unless you think you can completely change how corporate America operates.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Dave, corporate America and American culture.

        Personally, I don’t care whether people start families earlier or later, and I imagine that I’m less of an individualist than either you or JR anyway. That said, I imagine any set of policies would include maternity and paternity leave and employer or government-subsidized daycare, perhaps training or educational supplements for young mothers. I dunno on top of that. Zic probably has better ideas.Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        I’ve been a working professional for almost 20 years now and given what I’ve seen in my career, I think you’re going to have a hard time coming up with them unless you think you can completely change how corporate America operates.

        This will happen, I suspect, though slowly. More women in upper management/management, more men who more actively engage in home life, and more concerns of dropping birth rates will all force it.

        This norm you’re talking about is one defined by the times when men provided and women nurtured; it’s not necessarily the only way or the best way; it’s just the way people think is normal.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        Dave, corporate America and American culture.

        You may have some success tweaking the latter, but you’ll have next to none with the former.

        Personally, I don’t care whether people start families earlier or later, and I imagine that I’m less of an individualist than either you or JR anyway.

        I’ve never considered myself as much of an individualist as much as a realist. It’s why people have a hard time pinning down my views on certain issues, especially those pertaining to markets.

        That said, I imagine any set of policies would include maternity and paternity leave and employer or government-subsidized daycare,

        We already have paid leave and daycare can be subsidized through tax credits. Still, I don’t think increasing those would necessarily help because as @j-r mentioned, if people are away from work, there are others that aren’t, other people obtaining the job experience that may give them a better chance of getting a promotion. It’s not that people that have to focus on their families more than the work aren’t unreliable or not committed to their work, but people that work 80 plus hours a week and don’t have the same family commitments are going to have a much easier time getting promoted. That applies to both women and men.

        Unless there is an appropriate substitute for the kind of job experience and workplace commitment that employers look at when they try to figure out who can get that next promotion and take a position where they spend 4 out of 5 days travelling away from home, nothing is going to change. By the way, that doesn’t apply to just women. I could make a case that this is happening to me due to the fact that I have a special needs son.

        I dunno on top of that. Zic probably has better ideas.

        I am interested in hearing them, but I remain skeptical.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Dave, Yeah, that’s why I was trying to think of a training or educational program, something to bridge the gap in experience. Now, if women only have to miss a few weeks because of daycare (infant daycare is incredibly expensive, certainly not affordable for many young mothers, but if you make it free, or close to it…), that would minimize the difference in experience, and if you then add training or educational supplements on top of that, you might be able to really reduce the gap. I dunno how it would work, but I imagine there are smarter people than I thinking about this stuff right now.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        This norm you’re talking about is one defined by the times when men provided and women nurtured; it’s not necessarily the only way or the best way; it’s just the way people think is normal.

        If it’s not necessarily “the only way”, than what other way do you have in mind? If it’s not the best way, why is your other way better?

        I don’t know if I’d use the term normal, and if I did, I wouldn’t think of “normal” in a positive way. It is what it is.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Dave et alia,
        allow me to reframe the debate. Perhaps we can say that it would be biologically optimal for a woman to have children in the timeframe of 13-17 (given the current precession of menarche…). During this time, I think we can all agree, there are fewer demands put on someone than they get during worktime. Certainly, one can extend the “you had a summer job and were thus responsible for flipping burgers” credit to “you had a small child, and managed to not kill it or have it taken away from you for sheer negligence.”

        By the time a child reaches 5, and certainly by the time they reach ten, they are much, much less of a burden on the parents.

        With this one reformulation, we don’t need to deal with Children Versus Work — we accept that young children should count as a form of low-skill work, and treat having them accordingly.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        If the problems associated with fertility and the economic burdens of motherhood were addressed, I actually think it would increase men’s awareness of *the importance* of having children at earlier then is becoming the norm for most college-educated/career-minded women.

        I think it could make some men slightly more willing to have kids earlier (emphasis on could; in fact, I don’t think it would). But I don’t think it would have any affect on their “awareness of the importance of having children at earlier then is becoming the norm for most college-educated/career-minded women.” Beyond even still just not really getting the point of this “raise awareness of the importance” formula as opposed to just syaing “they might be willing to have kids a little earlier,” and also beyond myself simply denying that it is important that that happen, I still don’t get why this would raise this awareness.

        I don’t think men currently want to delay having kids because it’s too hard for women to have them when they’re young and establishing their careers. Men delay because they themselves don’t want kids until they’re older. And women are doing the same thing, though more for the reasons you’re concerned about than men do (though not only). If you somehow made it much easier for women to have kids earlier and then somehow impressed on men the importance of women having kids earlier (again, I doubt that simply making it easier for women to have kids earlier would impress upon men “awareness of the importance of having children at earlier” ages), what you might find happening is men waiting and then finding younger partners to have kids with, which I think would be an unfortunate effect from your perspective, @zic.

        It isn’t important for women to have kids earlier, except at the extremes (I’m sorry about your niece, but that’s an anecdote, not data. Women are waiting, but by and large they still are having kids when they want to). IMpressing a message on men that they should be having kids earlier with younger women is just needless social engineering and puts more pressure on young people to make choices in an areas where there is already a ton of pressure on young people to get that stuff figured out.

        If you make it easier for women to have kids at younger ages there will be some movement toward that happening. That doesn’t meant that you will have “increase[d] men’s awareness of the importance of having children at earlier” ages. It just means that you will have lowered a barrier to couples who would have otherwise wanted to have kids earlier doing so. Which would be great, but it wouldn’t be some kind of consciousness-raising revolution that had succeeded at fixing the broken inclinations of a class of derelict, ignorant men. The trend toward later childbirth is rooted in more than simply the professional costs that women incur from having kids as their careers are developing. Men and women alike are putting the whole idea of having kids into a changing context within all of the goals and interests thy have life these days. That’s a legitimate human development that we should respect, not seek to short circuit through social engineering.

        I’ll add that, while I might disagree with them about whether we have an ethical obligation to do what we can, I agree with @j-r and @dave that, whatever we might try to do to manage the costs to women of early reproduction, there may be a limit to how effective literally any measures we might take can be in either a) actually lowering that cost, and therefore – or indeed even separately, since we actually don’t know how much of the trend toward later reproduction is driven by the professional costs women bear from earlier reproduction as opposed to by simple changes in life priorities – in b) successfully inducing women to have children earlier. There may be a pretty low limit to how successful any such measures can be.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        Is the mechanism you have in mind for how lowering the cost of having children at earlier ages will “increase men’s awareness of the importance of having children at earlier [ages] [read: women’s desire to have children at earlier ages]” that, with the brake on those desires (i.e. the cost to women’s professional development of having kids at early ages) lifted, women and possibly their families will proceed to put much more pressure on men to have kids with them at earlier ages than they currently do? Is that what you mean by “increase men’s awareness of the importance of having children at earlier [ages]”?

        Because that sounds wonderful! No, wait, it sounds terrible. (If not, what’s the mechanism you have in mind for this awareness-raining effect?)

        Keep in mind, I believe that the high and unequal costs of childbearing and child rearing at any age, but especially the high costs at earlier ages, is a social justice problem whose severity we should try to moderate because of the injustice of it all. I’m on board for that reason.

        But I don’t acknowledge any important reason to prioritize women having children earlier ages other than, and only to the extent that, it might be their natural desire to do so. And as an upside of efforts to equalize the costs of childbearing, that young men might then thankfully come under greater pressure to have kids at earlier ages than they currently are inclined to? Screw that. That would be a downside if it came to pass.Report

      • Avatar Dave says:


        I dunno how it would work, but I imagine there are smarter people than I thinking about this stuff right now.

        You’re very smart so if I can’t get an answer out of you (not judging you btw), I don’t expect “smarter people” to come up with anything. If there are people claiming that they’re smarter than you thinking about this, to the extent that they think they have answers, I’d say you’re smarter than they are because there are no answers.

        That’s just my opinion.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        One other point that forms the background here that I hope has been merely unstated but not ignored thus far. The primary issue here is not or may not be men’s desire to “delay” having kids nor a lack of “awareness of the importance of having children at earlier” ages. The importance obviously depends on one’s own life priorities (men’s as well as women’s), and desire to delay is an entirely legitimate life choice for men and women. But it’s not like all men have that desire. But whether they do or not, our system imposes these costs on women who have kids earlier regardless. So, and here’s the point, men can fully understand “the importance” blah bla blah (such as it is), or even desire to have kids in their twenties with a woman in hr twenties, but the women they are paired with still faces those costs, and that can tip the decision to be what it would otherwise not be.

        So efforts to moderate those career costs for women certainly could have the effect of allowing couples like that to have kids when they otherwise would want to, which might indeed in a significant number of cases be earlier. (I still think there might be a low limit on the effectiveness of anything we might do to effect that, but I’m in favor of trying). But that would be, IMO, the largest part of the mechanism for that effect – people having kids when they consciously otherwise would have wanted to before those changes – then mans and the woman alike. I think a mechanism by which such changes would raise “men’s awareness of *the importance* of having children at earlier” ages (i.e. come under greater pressure from women to do so and accede to it when they otherwise would not have wanted to) would be dwarfed as a part of that effect by those men who were simply able to have kids when they already wanted to, but couldn’t because the costs to their partners’ careers were too high. Further, the larger the part of the effect in which “awareness is raised” (men – or women! – come under pressure to do what they otherwise didn’t want to do because it was before they wanted to do it), the more unfortunate it would be, even though it would still be an improvement in justice to help manage the costs of reproduction to women on its own terms.Report

      • Avatar j r says:

        @zic, @chris and @michael-drew

        As I’ve said, I’m all for evolving social norms that continue to give women greater autonomy and greater career opportunities. I am married to a woman who earns more money than I do. It’s great. I make a comfortable living, but I live and would like to remain living in an expensive city, so not having the pressure of supporting a family on one income is a huge boon to me.

        My problem is with the conception of “if we cared more about issue A, we would do more of action X and that would bring us to a more just outcome.” The best term that I can think to describe that is magical thinking. And often, when people say that sort of thing, what they are really saying is “if more people shared my preferences for A, more individuals would do action X and the outcome would be more to my liking.”

        I start from the position that we have an ethical obligation to try to make sure that people have an equal opportunity to pursue their own happiness, without being held back by things like sex and race. And I believe that we have a civic obligation to socialize some of the costs of raising children (ie public education, providing healthcare to those who cannot afford it, etc.). However, there is no reasonable argument to be made that our obligations extend to ensure that people achieve a particular version of happiness or that we should be trying to impose a particular set of social norms and arrangements on people who don’t want them.

        And that’s the heart of the problem: people want different things.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        My only real concern, personally, is reproductive freedom. There are few issues more important to me, because reproductive freedom is the only route by which women can have any shot at the same economic opportunities as men, and in our system, economic opportunity begets most other forms of opportunity (social, political, etc.). After that, everything is about tweaks so that women get even closer to having the same economic opportunities. Some of this is cultural: increasing the use of paternity leave, say, and making being a “house husband” a more socially acceptable option for couples who want at least one parent to be at home during the day.Report

    • Avatar zic says:

      There are all sorts of ‘conventional wisdom’ conventions I don’t think withstand scrutiny, that are, in fact, shaped by the love/marriage/baby formulations of a making sure Daddy knows Jr. is actually his offspring.

      First, I don’t think most 20 year olds are ready to parent, and those who manage it well, generally have an incredibly strong support network, almost co-parents, from older adults. My best friend through 8th grade got pregnant (and married) in 9th. At 36, she had an empty nest, had divorced, and was setting out on a second marriage while still in her prime. Now most people wouldn’t recommend this; but when I’ve talked to her, she was really grateful to have her second life (and marriage) happen while she was still young and vital and energetic. So beyond simply considering the down side, let’s talk about the upside. She was through ‘mothering’ by the time a lot of women are fretting they won’t be able to conceive.

      I also really wish we’d debate the whole marriage is best for children thing. It may be best, if it’s a good marriage. But a bad marriage is damaging. And there’s a lot to be said for children who grow up in two households, it develops flexibility and resourcefulness, much as learning to speak two languages does. I put a great deal of value on good parenting; and I really, really don’t think marriage has a whole lot to do with good parenting, it is not a proxy.

      I also think that there’s too much conflation of bad parenting with economic limitations. A single mother who cannot afford day care will make a very different set of choices than a mother who can stay at home to care for really young children will make different choices from a married couple trying to live the American dream with an underwater mortgage, yet each of those choices will be judged as parenting choices.

      And this is all shaped and strained by this weird conceit I think of as economic selection (as opposed to natural selection), where somehow, there’s a notion that because someone has more means, they’re more worthy. Children are worthy; if we want children and we want women to be fully human, then we have to consider the biology of child-bearing and stop punishing women for it. I actually think this will happen sooner rather then later, all of it’s own accord, when bc is a universal thing.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        For what it’s worth, there’s tons more cuckoldry going on than people think.
        [The amount to which one wants to consider this cuckoldry to be pedophilia is left up to the reader].Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        You were a child of divorce. Did you grow up in two households? What was the arrangement like? I take the flexibility point, but for me the cost felt and feels large. Just general unsettledness that persists into adulthood. But neither would I have preferred for there not to be equal custody, seeing one parent only 20% of the time or whatever, much less on functionally not a parent, with infrequent visitation.

        My view is that divorce can certainly be the right decision even with kids as it was in my parents’ case I think, but it needs to be pretty damn bad for it to be. That’s why I’m such a reproduction skeptic. It’s best for kids to live at home with both their parents. But it’s also best for a lot of marriages to end, unfortunately. Solution: don’t have kids unless you’re really, really sure.

        Another solution would be for the introduction of scenarios in which marriages to end but for parents to continue living together as prints while their kids are children. I wouldn’t expect that to be super-popular, but I don’t see why parents shouldn’t see it as an option. Maybe some do. I would have preferred my parents to continue loving each other and married (not possible, in the event), but next up would have been explaining that while they don;t love each other like in the movies anymore and they get to kiss other people now, still, no one’s going anywhere, and they’ll both continue to live with us civilly as parents (also not possible in this instance, and I’m sure not in may, but maybe in some is the point).Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        Kimmi, most of the upper-bound estimates for cuckoldry (10%) seem to be discredited. The real number is higher than we might prefer, but not as high as a lot of people suggest.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        I have a lot of sympathy for what Drew is saying here, and mostly agree. I mean, we may disagree on the precise level of certainty required, but a degree of certainty – at least in the relationship – would be advisable, assuming you don’t want to raise the child alone or pass it back and forth.

        I remember when I followed Clancy across the country, that was (as Mr Blue pointed out) a pretty big commitment. But I did feel like, at least until we were married, that I still had a reasonable freedom of exit if things didn’t work out.

        When we got married, I remember thinking “there is no going back.” Of course, there was, albeit with higher costs.

        Then we had Lain and then it was like “There is really no going back now.” Of course, we can still divorce if we are miserable enough. But the degree of misery required is on a far different level than under the previous two scenarios. The cost of the first is money and emotion and some embarassment and pride. The cost of the second is more money, more emotion, and a lot more embarassment, and self-esteem. The cost of the third is on a different chart.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman says:

        (To be clear, I have not spent our time together looking for the exit or anything like that. It’s mostly a matter of taking commitment seriously, and along east step in the process making sure that it’s what I want.)Report

      • Avatar Kimmi says:

        Do you remember the study about women ovulating directly after rape?
        I’m not sure I trust current numbers versus past ones (meaning that I’m saying I think cuckoldry that led to children was more common in the past).

        Also, I think you might have missed the bit about pedophilia… younger boys are generally less potent, so it’s not really a fair comparison to look at genetic “who made the kid” in order to measure how loyal someone is being to a marriage.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:


        A lot of people crap on your comments and in general I think they undervalue them somewhat (though not by a ton, tbh).

        But, honestly, what in the F are you on about right now? Can you just shut the F up please? No one is talking about pedophilia, ovulation after rape, cuckoldry, etc. in this thread other than you. So why are you?Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        Thanks, Will.Report

      • Avatar Michael Drew says:

        …I missed that Will engaged with Kimmi substantively on one of her topics here. So I may owe her an apology, if this is a discussion of interest to some whose relevance I just don’t apprehend. If I do, I apologize, Kimmi.Report