There has been a robust back-and-forth the last month or so on the topic of men’s disappointing experiences with Western women, especially American women. As one who has been married to an American woman for nearly a quarter of a century and a
father to two young women of college age, I have my own opinions, although not ones one might predict given these characteristics. The topic is too complicated and fraught with our own personal circumstances to say what is and what isn’t,
as if some universal truth exists. So I will say my piece first and then offer a broader, more sociological perspective, probably more gasoline for the fire than insight.
First, I have come to the conclusion after a quarter of a century of marriage that we are victims, so to speak, of biology. I look at singles dating, particularly those in their 20s, and wonder if they have a clue as to what is really going on. Remember, we are animals driven by instinct to do 2 things – search for food and shelter and then procreate. At the time I was dating, I may have thought love, relationships, sex and all that other stuff was my choice, but I look back and realize biology impelled me.
Not that I minded. It was really a hell of a lot of fun. And when I met my wife I was mad for her and she for me. We did what came naturally – got married, bought a house and had kids. I felt I was in tune with the universe. I was in a sense, the biological universe. I loved my kids. I found them a delight although too much work sometimes. One day I was thinking about all the things I would do for them and realized I would die for them. I still would. Not too many others in this world would get that from me.
My wife did what a lot of women do who have kids – she focused all her attention on them. I did too but also tried to make time for her. She didn’t make much time for me. The second child was the real breaking point. Tired, feeling under a lot of demands, she pretty much gave up any private time with me. She did not like me touching her. We made love maybe once a month after the kids were asleep and both of us were exhausted. I assumed this was the deal life gave – you get a few years of happiness and then the obligations begin.
At one point, I started traveling to Asia for work. It took a few years but one night I found myself in a karaoke bar with some Asian colleagues. I naively thought it just a bar. But the private room and the choice of your-very-own-scantily-clad-hostess quickly disabused me of that notion. It was all very innocent that evening. We chatted. She held my hand. She asked if I wanted something more, saying the F word with such charm and innocence that I asked her to repeat the phrase twice because the F word didn’t match the charming smile and whispery voice. I declined her offer, going home alone. A door had opened, however. I lay awake all night realizing what I had missed the last 12 years.
To make a long story short, I had a range of experiences over the next 5 years. I had a girlfriend in one of the countries I visited regularly for a few years. I had one-off experiences in others. Sometimes I would see someone for 2 or 3 visits. 3 seemed the magic number. After 3 they wanted too much, usually way too much money.
Whatever happened, it was all quite enjoyable. Most of the women were sweet and kind. I was generous to them. I truly appreciated the women, even though there was money involved. They didn’t have to be nice but were. This led me to think about life with a young Asian woman. I kept wondering how to make that happen. But I wanted to be with my kids and didn’t want to go through the hell of divorce. So I decided to let my life bifurcate. The two realities would never meet.
At one point I realized that having a permanent Asian girlfriend, even an Asian wife, was nothing more than a replication of what I had already been through. Biology was calling. Its song sounded different but was the same siren call. I gave up notions of a permanent arrangement and simply enjoyed whatever short term arrangement was available.
As I pondered things, it was clear that the Asian women were also in the thrall of biology. True they could be clever, calculating, and not quite sincere if you looked hard enough. But they weren’t really in charge. Young women learn looks have a value with men. That is a part of the biological game after all. So they use it however they can, in ways they are not fully aware, especially if they lack economic means for succeeding in life.
So this brings me to the broader sociological currents driving relationships, especially in the West and definitely the US. The simple statement is “it ain’t what it used to be”. Male-female relationships are being affected by a bad economy, women gaining economic independence over the last 40 years, and a growing trend among the under 40 age groups for women to enjoy greater economic success than their male counterparts (60% of college students are now female).
This is having a range of seemingly paradoxical effects on dating and marriage for men and women. Consider 2 preconditions: (1) Women are catching up with men economically, and (2) Men will date or marry women in the same socioeconomic class or below, whereas women tend to date or marry the same socioeconomic class or above. Here is how it plays out.
– Women at the top socioeconomic levels are finding fewer choices.
– Women in the middle and lowest socioeconomic levels have reasonable choices.
– Men in the top socioeconomic levels can pick and choose who they want. They are in the plumb position.
– Men in the middle and lowest socioeconomic levels have slimmer pickings. Men at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are having a hard time finding anyone.
There was a recent article in Foreign Relations magazine about a parallel phenomenon in China. Even though men outnumber women greatly, highly educated Chinese women are finding marriage elusive. Chinese men will marry down. This goes all the way to the bottom of the ladder. Along with educated women, working class Chinese men have reduced marriage options, with a quarter never likely to marry.
How is this playing out in the US? Take a look at the November Atlantic Magazine article called “All the Single Ladies” As the lead in states: “Recent years have seen an explosion of male joblessness and a steep decline in men’s life prospects that have disrupted the “romantic market” in ways that narrow a marriage-minded woman’s options: increasingly, her choice is between deadbeats (whose numbers are rising) and playboys (whose power is growing). But this strange state of affairs also presents an opportunity: as the economy evolves, it’s time to embrace new ideas about romance and family—and to acknowledge the end of “traditional” marriage as society’s highest ideal.”
What does this have to do with things? Well, first biology impels us towards romance, marriage, kids and all the other things we end up complaining about. It is a tidal force. At 25 or 35 it is hard, nearly impossible, to resist. As far as biology is concerned romance and marriage are only about kids and the future wellbeing of the species. Biology doesn’t care if you are happy. It only cares that you are willing to go at it one more time. Seeing all the men on this forum who have been burned in relationships but want to start all over again in Asia seems proof that biology is winning that debate.
Given that we are impelled in this direction, we play it out in what humans use for many things – culture. Culture sets terms and conditions and boundaries, including those for romantic relationships. The reality in the US seems to be that men are still in charge, but it is a select group of men, those at the top of the socioeconomic ladder. Like monkeys in a tree, everyone below the top monkey gets shat upon by someone. For middle and working class men that can seem like women of their own socioeconomic group. The women don’t feel all that special either, since someone is dumping on them as well. Keep in mind, the monkey at the top of the tree is a man not a woman, probably the same guy that ran the international economy into the ground and still gets a 7 figure income for all that incompetence.
One interpretation of the men on this forum who complain about Western women is this – many are middle or working class. They are not the ones running the show back in their countries. It is their better off counterparts doing that, the 1%. Women in their class may have more options. They are getting attention from men in their socioeconomic class as well as men in the class above theirs. Also, women are a lot more content to be without a mate for extended periods.
What do the men do who are facing scarcity, especially if they have been burned a few times? Some come to Asia where they do what their better off counterparts in their homeland do – get involved with a woman in a lower socioeconomic class. You may be working class in England, Germany or the US, but your working class offers far more advantages than the working class in Isaan. This is not a disparaging assessment. I think it is very practical and possibly a reasonable strategy for success if things can be managed. If I was to do it all over again, I might choose someone a bit lower down the ladder.
As the Atlantic article indicates, we may very well see the weakening of marriage as an institution, meaning men will be less central to the day-to-day lives of the women bearing their children. As the father of daughters, this is disturbing. As the father of daughters who are in college and likely to be in that group with the greatest gender imbalance, this is even more disturbing as their chances at happiness diminish.
I reflect then on my own situation. I am married, somewhat unhappily although not painfully. As the children have moved out of the house, my wife has wanted to re-engage. This quietly pisses me off as it smacks of a fair weather friend. We have also lived parallel live for too long to easily reengage. Besides, I saw the greener grass a few years back and sort of liked it. A pretty face, a kind smile and a willingness to accommodate me a bit and I can be very happy and very generous in return, even if it is a temporary arrangement.
I have no illusions about love and romance anymore. I have helped populate the earth. I don’t care to add to the count. I am not interested in getting another set of in-laws, which is always a part of the deal. And if permanently co-habitating means I have to listen to someone complain about my failure at routine domestic tasks, screw that. I will live alone and visit on the weekends. I can avoid bitterness this way and continue as the kind generous soul I have been most of my life.
Most women I know here in the US are decent, kind people. There is something that happens though as people move into their 40s and 50s, especially if they have had kids. The biological raison d'être for being together is no longer present. If a couple wants a relationship to go beyond children, they are in biologically uncharted territory. Evolution hasn’t provided a road map for success beyond children. We have to create it.
That may be beyond the ability of most of us. Most of us know how to work hard, care for our children, and be a good citizen. But traveling the uncharted existential waters of mature relationships is full of question marks. Frankly, it would be easier to dump my wife, move to Thailand and start it all over again with a twenty-something. I know how to start relationships and have babies. Having a cute, sexy wife would be a blast at least those first few years. And I could pretend this time, yes this time I will live happily ever after. But I also know it is just an illusion provided by biology.
I have no idea where my life will be in 2 years. Life changes so quickly these days. But I won’t be slamming Western women or thinking that Asia is the relationship Garden of Eden. I know too many people of goodwill in too many places around the globe to go that route. We are all caught in the various tidal forces of life, romance being only one of them. When I hear someone tell of their painful relationships I am sorry that happened. All I can do is hope that whatever solution they seek works out. We all deserve a modicum of happiness in this life, however we find it.
Very nicely done, and probably the best and certainly the most balanced article on this subject I've read recently.