marriage seen as a  mouse trap

8 reasons straight men don’t want to get married

Note: This piece is also available in Romanian and Spanish.

It seems that fewer and fewer people in general are getting married these days, and even fewer men seem interested. Men no longer see marriage as being as important as they did even 15 years ago. “According to Pew Research Center, the share of women ages eighteen to thirty-four that say having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their lives rose nine percentage points since 1997–from 28 percent to 37%. For men, the opposite occurred. The share voicing this opinion dropped, from 35 percent to 29 percent.” Why?

In the course of researching my new book, Men On Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood, and the American Dream – And Why It Matters, I talked with men all over America about why they’re avoiding marriage. It turns out that the problem isn’t that men are immature, or lazy. Instead, they’re responding rationally to the incentives in today’s society. Here are some of the answers I found.

1. You’ll lose respect. A couple of generations ago, a man wasn’t considered fully adult until he was married with kids. But today, fathers are figures of fun more than figures of respect: The schlubby guy with the flowered diaper bag at the mall, or one of the endless array of buffoonish TV dads in sitcoms and commercials. In today’s culture, father never knows best. It’s no better in the news media. As communications professor James Macnamara reports, “by volume, 69 percent of mass media reporting and commentary on men was unfavorable, compared with just 12 percent favorable and 19 percent neutral or balanced.”

2. You’ll lose out on sex. Married men have more sex than single men, on average – but much less than men who are cohabiting with their partners outside of marriage, especially as time goes on. Research even suggests that married women are more likely to gain weight than women who are cohabiting without marriage. Men’s Health article mentioned one study that followed 2,737 people for six years and found that cohabiters said they were happier and more confident than married couples and singles.

3. You’ll lose friends. “Those wedding bells are breaking up that old gang of mine.” That’s an old song, but it’s true. When married, men’s ties with friends from school and work tend to fade. Although both men and women lose friends after marriage, it tends to affect men’s self-esteem more, perhaps because men tend to be less social in general.

4. You’ll lose space. We hear a lot about men retreating to their “man caves,” but why do they retreat? Because they’ve lost the battle for the rest of the house. The Art of Manliness blog mourns “The Decline of Male Space,” and notes that the development of suburban lifestyles, intended to bring the family together, resulted in the elimination of male spaces in the main part of the house, and the exile of men to attics, garages, basements – the least desirable part of the home. As a commenter to the post observes: “There was no sadder scene to a movie than in ‘Juno’ when married guy Jason Bateman realized that in his entire huge, house, he had only a large closet to keep all the stuff he loved in. That hit me like a punch in the face.”

5. You could lose your kids, and your money. And they may not even be your kids. Lots of men I spoke with were keenly aware of the dangers of divorce, and worried that if they were married and it went sour, the woman might take everything, including the kids. Other men were concerned that they might wind up paying child support for kids who aren’t even theirs – a very real possibility in many states. On my blog, I polled over 3200 men to ask how they would react to finding out that a child wasn’t theirs after all. 32 percent said they would feel “anger and fury at the mother,” 6 percent said they would feel “depression,” 18 percent said “anger and depression,” 2 percent said “none of the above,” 32 percent said “angry at the system that forced them to pay,” and only 2 percent “didn’t care.” One man commented that his ex-wife had taunted him with the knowledge that his 11-year old son wasn’t actually his: “I was angry at the mother…I severed all ties to the boy. Some may see this as a failing. I see it as self-preservation, and to those that ask the question of whether or not the courts will make a non-biological parent pay child support, pay attention: YES THEY WILL! They see you as nothing more than a source of cash for the child. It seems that a person in these situations should be able to sue the real father for child support.”

6. You’ll lose in court. Men often complain that the family court legal system is stacked against them, and in fact it seems to be. Women gain custody and child support the majority of the time, as pointed out in this ABC News article: “Despite the increases in men seeking and receiving alimony, advocates warn against linking the trend to equality in the courtroom. Family court judges still tend to favor women, said Ned Holstein, the founder of Fathers & Families, a group advocating family court reform. “‘Family court still gives custody overwhelmingly to mothers, child support overwhelmingly to mothers, and courts still give almony overwhelmingly to mothers and women,’ he said. ‘The family courts came into existence years ago in order to give things to mothers that mothers needed,” he said. ‘The times have changed and the courts have not.'”

7. You’ll lose your freedom. At least, if you’re charged with child support that you can’t pay, you can be put in jail – and if you can’t afford a lawyer, you don’t have the right to have one appointed because, according to the Supreme Court, it’s technically a civil matter, never mind the jail time. Fathers and Families found that it’s the men who are jailed rather than women: “A new report concludes that between 95% and 98.5% of all incarcerations in Massachusetts sentenced from the Massachusetts Probate and Family Courts from 2001 through 2011 have been men. Moreover, this percentage may be increasing, with an average of 94.5% from 2001 to 2008, and 96.2% from 2009 through 2011. It is likely that most of these incarcerations are for incomplete payment of child support. Further analysis suggests that women who fail to pay all of their child support are incarcerated only one-eighth as often as men with similar violations.”

8. Single life is better than ever. While the value of marriage to men has declined, the quality of single life has improved. Single men were once looked on with suspicion, passed over for promotion for important jobs, which usually valued “stable family men,” and often subjected to social opprobrium. It was hard to have a love life that wasn’t aimed at marriage, and premarital sex was risky and frowned upon. Now, no one looks askance at the single lifestyle, dating is easy, and employers probably prefer employees with no conflicting family responsibilities. Plus, video games, cable TV, and the Internet provide entertainment that didn’t used to be available. Is this good for society? Probably not, as falling birth rates and increasing single-motherhood demonstrate. But people respond to incentives. If you want more men to marry, it needs to be a more attractive proposition.

This article was originally posted at the Huffington Post, and was re-posted here with permission from Dr. Helen Smith

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About Dr. Helen Smith

Dr. Helen Smith is a forensic psychologist in Knoxville, Tennessee who enjoys commenting on popular culture, politics and psychological issues. Her other interests include men's issues, teens and kids who are violent, podcasting, filmmaking and writing. She is the author of "Men On Strike: Why Men Are Bocotting Marriage and Fatherhood -- and Why It Matters"

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  • Bill Brown

    Marriage used to be something men and women did to build a home, a family and have and raise children. Now marriage is about how thick the granite is, the his/hers BMW’s on the driveway, and (2) not (1) vacations per year. I can’t believe the lifestyle expectation of most modern Canadian women considering their income. The way women seem to talk nowadays is that their concept of marriage is that it should be fun… all the time. Any struggle and WORK towards the relationship does not seem worth it to them. They are a MAJOR flight risk and hardly worth the commitment and effort. I invested 10+ years of my life into a woman – who is not where she would be today with me. As soon as things got to where (financially) she could leave she did. I never drank or used drugs or hit her or gambled our money away. I was tired from working my day job and trying to build the family business (her job) at the same time. Yeah, I guess I was not a lot of fun… As as soon as we got our feet on the group financially, she up and divorced me.

    I highly encourage young men to TOTALLY avoid these RESOURCEFUL women these days. They are not commitment phobic, but I believe they just don’t NEED relationships such as marriage anyone – not after they are established financially.

    If she REALLY loves you, she will live with you in an apartment and not demand a $750K house and the Kardashian lifestyle. Men need to figure out ways to save on the side to protect themselves from the modern woman from abandoning her commitment. Women want commitment – from him. They only stay with their “host” as long as being a parasite is beneficial for them.

    Feminism has ruined women. Think about this before you spend 10-15 years of your life (or more) working your @$$ off to build a home, a life, and an estate with a woman who knows she can walk away any time she wants with a big bag of money and set up camp somewhere else. With a cuter or funnier or more “bad boy” type of man, who will be happy to help her spend the money that was earned by both of you.

    North American women are NOT WORTH MARRYING. Let them have their careers and their freedom and casual sex and wine. When they want to settle down at 35 or 40 and ask “Where have all the good men gone.” reply:

    We’ve gone fishing. And we have no use for you. Find a girlfriend or get some cats.

    I’m not marrying ever again for any reason, nor will I life with a woman and be forced to marry because of common-law nonsense. I highly recommend young men have a financial backup plan if they are brave (or stupid) enough to marry a modern North American female.

    Or just opt out. It’s not worth it.

    • Jack Strawb

      “Any struggle and WORK towards the relationship does not seem worth it to them.”

      It’s particularly interesting to me that you mentioned Canadian women, as that was my experience with one Canadian woman in particular. She was 28 and had never worked at more than a minimum wage clerk/counter job. Nonetheless she had an Art degree, something that as an architect I respected.

      She was interesting, interested in starting a family with the right man, and so on. To keep a novel-length story short, she was in fact the grasshopper so many men are accused of being. For us to get established and off to good start, a start solid enough to let us have a child without suffering, she promised to do her share of the work in the relationship. It turned out, though, that she was only capable of about a 32 hour week. During one six week stretch she wasn’t able emotionally to work at all, which left me working literally every waking hour.

      She also had problems with both parents that I was able to help her work out, to the point where she developed the emotional stamina to keep her father at bay and her mother from emotionally blackmailing her. I got her into therapy, and gave her endless pep talks, that eventually let her apply for and take a job paying twice what she’d ever made before.

      And just as we were entering our last rough year, the year that would let me build our house and let us own it free and clear, she walked. She admitted she just didn’t want to work that hard. Hey, I can’t say I didn’t know I was taking a risk with her, but it was damned disappointing (crushing, really) nonetheless.

      I had the satisfaction of knowing that after we split up she had a very bad time of it. I didn’t really wish her ill, but the outcome at least felt just. I felt like I’d put in a ton of work to help drag her (something she said she wanted) to adulthood only to have her quit when things got rough. She wasn’t a bad woman in any real sense, just… a disappointment. To both of us, I think.

  • Bill Brown

    A lot of men are this confident… 50% of them will receive divorce papers. Good luck to you.

  • Jack Strawb

    Well, fidelity is fidelity; there’s no inherent reason a bisexual woman can’t be faithful in a heterosexual relationship or marriage. There is an increased risk, I suppose, in the sense that whatever it is specifically she gets out of being with a women, that you’ll be unable to entirely satisfy her, but it’s not an impossible problem.

  • Jack Strawb

    Thanks to the author and for everyone posting their stories downthread. I wrote a little bit, below, on my experience with whom I assume is the last woman–since I’m now in my fifties–I might have settled down and had a child of my volition with. I feel a little better about things not working out. I probably could have worked harder on finding her attractive after she put on some weight, but from what others have written it feels like there might have been some structural reasons why things didn’t work out. I hope I’m not just looking for excuses (and in any case it ended six years ago), but what I’ve read does leave me feeling better.