Does marriage maketh the man?

Last updated 05:00 01/12/2012

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On boy wonders, lonely bachelors and whether marriage makes you happy.

I’m at that point in the space-time continuum when I can trot out the gross generalisation "all my friends are getting married". I say it’s a generalisation because not everyone is getting actually married – not everyone can, for one – and it's gross because it props up the notion marriage is the ultimate expression of relationship success. In my view, nuptials are not necessarily.

But it stands; many of my friends are marriage mad.

Except for the blokes, that is.

Why are men around my age so reluctant to tie the knot?

Several women I know – all around 30 – are beginning to question the wisdom of the wedding ultimatum. "Either you propose to me by Christmas or we're quits, pal," they say. "We've been together long enough now, it's 'I do' or die.”

They wonder what’s holding up their husbands-to-be. They’re all in long-term, apparently loving relationships. Isn't marriage the next logical step?

Variously, they decide it's not their man, but the men he hangs out with. The single lads; lads who love a night out, aren’t 'shackled' with a ball and chain, and who make fun of supine surrender under his missus's thumb. These are the boy wonders who won't ever 'grow up'.

(Note how marriage is still aligned with maturity. Is a ring really the sign of a more developed individual?)

On that idea, I recently had a conversation with a close man-friend of mine. He may be described as the definitive leader of Lost Boys. At least, he might have been, were it not for the new Wendy-lady in his life. Suddenly, the serial playmaker had found a reason to stop flying and settle down. His band of boys didn't really understand. That was hard. Could he overcome their derision and 'man-up' to marriage?

"I think my boyfriend will get over his friends and we'll get there eventually," a girlfriend, in a different-but-like situation told me recently. "But I think the longer we leave it, the harder it becomes."

This is because of two things, she thinks. One: the diminishing chances his single friends will find a lady of their own and break-apart the dude squad. Two: the increased likelihood their friends, who are already married, will divorce.

Her points are somewhat valid. Based on Australian marriage statistics, there are roughly two 'peak' periods for meeting a life partner. The median age for first marriage sits at around 30 for both men and women (or 29 for men and 27 for women), so the years preceding the big three-zero are optimal match-making time. Then there’s the so-called 'second round' stretch, when a surge of newly single divorcees hit the market. Given most marriages that end in divorce tend to do so after eight to nine years, round two begins at around 36.

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What the above fails to mention, of course, is that the number of births outside marriage is rising along with the age of the mothers (interestingly their median age is around the same that for first-time brides), and the crude marriage rate is declining as de facto co-habitation rates are rising. This doesn't suggest that couples comprising a peer group are just as likely to be married as they are de facto, with or without children, but it does suggest a variety of relationship options are presented to people with increasing regularity.

So in one sense, the reasoning that men are putting off marriage because they've seen the broken or bad marriages of their formerly 'free and single' mates is flawed; they may be less inclined to propose marriage because they’ve seen their mates shacked up in circumstances less official which are just as satisfying (if not more).

But then you read articles like this, tellingly titled I was a "male spinster", and you're reminded just how locked in to this marriage ideal we really are. Yes, even blokes. Fact remains; marriage remains our chief expression of love. It is closely linked with an ever expanding scholarship on the attainment of happiness. Not only is this strong reason to bring forward marriage equality, but it's a good reminder to anyone in a relationship treading around the edges of eternal commitment to talk about it, and resolve to abide by the outcome.

Even if that outcome is: Yes to marriage, but not to you.

And, I have to say, that may just be the painful truth so many so desperate to get hitched have to face. Yes, marriage can make you happy. But a bad marriage will make you miserable. Yes, timing plays a part, but there is such a thing as right time, wrong person.

Surely the point question should be not why so many men appear so reluctant to marry, but why so many women appear to be so eager?

(At this juncture, I'd like to point out I'm not assuming all women want to get married. Kill that thought in your head dead before commenting below please. Of course all women want to get married. It is science*)

(*Please tell me you don’t need this asterisk as confirmation that I am, indeed, joking.)

Over to you. Are you married? Are you single? Are you de facto? Are you happy?


- Sydney Morning Herald

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