The Rise of Lonely, Single Men
The article below has been much reproduced and much commented on since it first appeared a few months ago so I thought I might say a few words about it.
For a start, I think it is accurate as far as it goes but it fails to get to the bottom of what is going on. The basic problem is that traditional sex roles have altered. And a large part of the blame for that goes back to the schools.
Education has become very feminized and that tends to be uncongenial to men. As a result they tend to drop out before women do. But educational qualifications are still the highroad to many good jobs. So women tend to have more prestigious jobs and, to some extent, better pay.
So men have lost the occupational, educational and financial advantage they once had. They have, in other words, lost a lot of what used to be attractive to women. And women are therefore less likely to take an interest in them. So women look for other things in a man. And a major one is compatible values. But values tend to be influenced by your sex. There are intrinsic differences between male and female values. So when values become of over-riding significance for women, their own female values will be part of that. They will hope for some sign of female values in a man.
But that is an uphill requirement. Men will often be poor at providing such a value match, which will be bad for both parties. Neither the men nor the women will be able to find that they want. Neither the men nor the women are to blame. It is an educational and economic imbalance that has driven them apart.
What is to be done? I am afraid all I have to offer is that great old British solution: Compromise. Women have to stop expecting the impossible from men and men have to learn more respect for female values. It will not be easy for either party but to the extent it happens, both men and women will be happier.
The sad thing about it all is that the more desirable people will do OK anyway. It is the less desirable men and women who will need to change in order to find partners. And for some that will be really uphill. A major factor in interpersonal attraction is appearance and the factors there can be of stark importance. Good-looking men and women will find one another and be happy in a union but others will not. And, to be blunt about it, fat women and short men will fail to attract. Those are not the only factors in appearance but they are a big part of it.
Fortunately, appearance can be supplemented in other ways. The classic is short men who drive big cars and who are dapper in dress. They tend to be amusing to other men but women are sometimes impressed.
A less obvious example of a compensatory characteristic is a high IQ. I benefited from that. I have only ever been average in looks but my high IQ has been very attractive to one class of women: High IQ women. Women LOATHE being partnered with a man who is dumber than they are. So my arrival in the life of a high IQ woman tends to be very welcome. And I am not blowing smoke in saying that. I married fine women 4 times and, although I am now in my 80th year, I have recently acquired a very bright new girlfriend. And life is not fair. High IQ women tend also to be better looking. Terman and Oden noted that way back in the 20s. And my girlfriend is unusually good-looking for her age (in the 70s).
But both looks and IQ cannot be changed by wishing it. So other factors will have to be attended to in partnering. And there are a few of those. A dominant but polite personality is attractive to many women, for instance. But best of all is simply listening. Both men and women vary greatly in what they are and what they want so listening to the other party, finding out what they value, and trying to provide that will always be a leading way to satisfactory relationships.
Younger and middle-aged men are the loneliest they’ve been in generations, and it’s probably going to get worse.
This is not my typical rosy view of relationships but a reality nonetheless. Over the last 30 years, men have become a larger portion of that growing group of long-term single people. And while you don’t actually need to be in a relationship to be happy, men typically are happier and healthier when partnered.
Here are three broad trends in the relationship landscape that suggest heterosexual men are in for a rough road ahead:
Dating Apps. Whether you’re just starting to date or you’re recently divorced and dating again, dating apps are a huge driver of new romantic connections in the United States. The only problem is that upwards of 62% of users are men and many women are overwhelmed by the number of options they have. Competition in online dating is fierce, and lucky in-person chance encounters with dreamy partners are rarer than ever.
Relationship Standards. With so many options, it’s not surprising that women are increasingly selective. I do a live TikTok show (@abetterloveproject) and speak with hundreds of audience members every week; I hear recurring dating themes from women between the ages of 25 and 45: They prefer men who are emotionally available, who are good communicators, and who share their values.
Skills Deficits. For men, this means a relationship skills gap that, if not addressed, will likely lead to fewer dating opportunities and longer periods of being single. There's less patience for poor communication skills today. The problem for men is that emotional connection is the lifeblood of healthy, long-term love and it requires all the skills that families still are not consistently teaching young boys.
While there’s probably no chance of stemming the rising tide of unintentional single men, there is some good news.
The algorithms are becoming increasingly more complex on dating apps and other online platforms. One result is that great matches are on the rise. One dating app, Hinge, found through beta trials that 90% of users rated their first date positively, with 72% indicating that they wanted a second date.
How can men reap the benefit of the algorithms? Level up your mental health game. That means getting into some individual therapy to address your skills gap. It means valuing your own internal world and respecting your ideas enough to communicate them effectively. It means seeing intimacy, romance, and emotional connection as worthy of your time and effort.
Ultimately, we have an opportunity to revolutionize romantic relationships and establish new, healthier norms starting with the first date. It’s likely that some of these romances will be transformative and healing, disrupting generational trauma and establishing a fresh culture of admiration and validation.
Men have a key role in this transformation but only if they go all-in. It’s going to take that kind of commitment to themselves, to their mental health, and to the kind of love they want to generate in the world. Will we step up?