We're raising little girls to become lonely women

January 14, 2003|By Susan Reimer

IT SEEMS THAT, before they know it, those same parents working so hard to keep their precious daughter unsullied by grasping teen-aged boys will be wondering if she will ever find Mr. Right.

That's the next big thing to worry about, according to social historian Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, author of Why There Are No Good Men Left: The Romantic Plight of the New Single Woman (Broadway Books, $23.95).

Apparently, 30 years of overhauling the way we raise girls - to be independent, self-sufficient and sexually liberated - has had the unintended result of producing 30-something career women who look up from the dials on their StairMaster to realize that all the eligible men are married.

Both men and women are waiting longer to marry: age 25 for women, 27 for men. But a woman in her 30s is three times more likely to be single today than her counterpart in the 1970s.

These women have "aged out" of the college dating pool - the perfect system for pairing off like-minded men and women - and find that their work-and-workout lifestyle doesn't create much opportunity to meet possible husbands, Whitehead writes.

Worse, these women find they are competing against 20-something rivals for whatever decent men remain unattached.

Whitehead is also a director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, which reported in a companion survey the makings of an epidemic among men of the Peter Pan Complex.

Researchers found that men are in no hurry to get married these days for just the reason our mothers warned us about: Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

These men also are not in a hurry to have children because they know they can wait almost as long as they want. And they are suspicious of the 30-something woman because they can hear her body clock ticking from the other end of the bar.

"Men see marriage as a final step in a prolonged process of growing up," the researchers reported.

While David Popenoe, Whitehead's partner in the Marriage Project, predicts dark consequences for women and children if men cannot be enticed into married life, Whitehead, who made her reputation by detailing the devastation of divorce on children, is less overwrought. Our outdated dating system simply needs to change, she says.

"This book isn't about a social problem," she told The Atlantic magazine. "It's about an important set of social changes."

If college-educated women who have postponed marriage and family for a decade in order to make their mark on the world are unable to find a mate, then society will have to rewrite the dating rituals to allow that to happen.

She writes of the Internet as a mating tool, for instance, not as a place for sleazy anonymity, but as a technology for saving time and managing information.

Personally, I already have seen the future of dating, courtesy of Fox TV. It looks like endless seasons of Joe Millionaire: Twenty young professional women cat-fighting on national television over the one good man left - a $19,000-a-year construction worker.

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