Young Men Searching For Purpose On Valentine’s Day

Young Men Searching For Purpose On Valentine’s Day

For those with a special someone, today is Valentine’s Day. For all the single ladies, it is Galentine’s Day. But what is it for the bachelors? To my knowledge, men do not band together en masse on February 14th to mix up fruity pink cocktails, watch chick flicks, and build solidarity in their singleness. In fact, bromances appear to be in decline, as 15% of men say they have zero close friends

The male friendship recession is just one manifestation of the boy crisis, a crisis worth reflecting on especially today, the day of big romance. The boy crisis is widespread, impacting boys and men academically, economically, physically, and spiritually. On average, the IQs of boys are declining. The second leading cause of death for American men under 45 is suicide. Largely due to drug abuse and physical and mental problems, only 25% of men ages 17-24 qualified for military service in 2020. As the wages of those with a high school degree decline, some men are willingly checking out of the workforce altogether, so much so that male workforce engagement now matches the level it was during the Great Depression. All this adds up to millions of young men who have been left without purpose.

While our education system and the shift from a manufacturing to a global knowledge economy have done their fair share of damage, according to The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, (Farrell & Gray, 2018) the ultimate driver behind the boy crisis is dad deprivation. Approximately 40% of children are born out of wedlock; because of this and high divorce rates, as Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, states, “only about half of children will spend the duration of their childhood with both of their biological parents.” Moms and dads contribute in unique and essential ways to the raising of children, but boys especially need the modeled manifestation of what it means to be a good man, and their first model is their fathers. 

Single parents, who have sometimes been unwillingly left behind by divorce, make valorous sacrifices for their children, and nonresidential fathers are doing a better job of staying involved. But the practical realities of fatherhood apart from marriage are often challenging. For example, according to The Boy Crisis, “when unmarried couples live together when their child is born, by the child’s third birthday, 40 percent of those children will have no regular contact with their dad for the next two years—between ages three and five.” For this reason, if we want to get serious about addressing the boy crisis, we need to get serious about marriage. Understanding the purpose of marriage will help us fortify it.

Many now believe that romance is the cornerstone of marriage. Once it dissipates, the couple should part ways so that each individual can find that lovin’ feeling again. More frequently than in the past, couples are divorcing for less serious reasons. The dissolution of “low conflict” relationships is particularly detrimental for children, as they can experience more stress and more of a feeling of loss following separation

Much of our culture reinforces such attitudes towards relationships. The radical autonomy of expressive individualism permeates our moral imagination. Expressive individualism, “involves growing and changing as a person, paying attention to your feelings, and expressing your needs.” As Andrew Cherlin, a sociology and public policy professor at Johns Hopkins University, explains in The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today, under such conditions, “marriages are harder to keep together, because what matters is not merely the things they jointly produce—well-adjusted children, nice homes—but also each person’s own happiness.” And by happiness we mean pleasure and psychological self-actualization, not human flourishing grounded in virtue and obligation.

In truth, admirable marriages are replete with work and adventure. Their purpose is to provide a stable and loving environment for the rearing and education of children and to form the character of each spouse. Marriage is often not easy or comfortable. As human beings, we grow attached to our favorite vices, and letting them go can be painful. But it is also freeing. Ideally in marriage, rather than prioritizing his or her own emotional satisfaction, through choice and circumstance, each spouse sacrifices for the sake of that mysterious third entity: the marriage.  

Our culture largely no longer promotes this understanding. Those Galentine’s Day favorites (excluding the incomparable work of ethicist Jane Austen) often don’t depict what it is that really matters when looking for a spouse. Indeed, it is no accident that many chick flicks end at the altar, perhaps because marriage occasionally falls short of being camera-ready. This is not to say that all romantic films are bad. Part of the reason they appeal to us is because they affirm how important relationships are for long-term happiness. The choice of a spouse is the decision of a lifetime.

Yet numerous singles today have been left confused about how to choose well. Many children of divorce grow up lacking a model of a solid marriage. As adults, such children can have a negative view of marriage, struggle to work through conflict in a healthy manner, and are unsure what characteristics to prioritize in a partner. Online dating makes this worse. After being bombarded with profiles, users end up thinking that they should be able to find someone who embodies all the features they dream they desire.

We need to shift our cultural conversation around marriage, to move away from pure romance toward the deep, abiding, and sacrificial love that husbands and wives offer each other and their children. Doing so will help end the dad deprivation that is the main driver of today’s boy crisis. And then, perhaps, our boys, too, will have valentines.

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Brenda M. Hafera is the Assistant Director and Senior Policy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation’s Simon Center for American Studies.

The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire. 


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