Feature

Young men: The permanent adolescence

A few generations ago, most American men achieved the major “milestones of adulthood"—education, employment, marriage, and fatherhood— while they were still in their 20s.

“Where have the good men gone?” said Kay Hymowitz in The Wall Street Journal. Only a few generations ago, most American men achieved the major “milestones of adulthood”—education, employment, marriage, and fatherhood—while they were still in their 20s. Nowadays, as “neatly crystallized” in the films of Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, the average 20-something U.S. male is an “aging frat boy” in a hipster T-shirt who spends his days chasing women, smoking weed, playing video games, and failing to pursue anything approaching a career. “What explains this puerile shallowness?” Our culture no longer values the character traits that once defined masculinity, and men have stopped seeing themselves as breadwinners. At the same time, they find that many women are no more interested in commitment than they are. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of them spend their 20s and even 30s treating women “like disposable estrogen toys,” while continuing to live in filthy bachelor pads “decorated with Star Wars posters and crushed beer cans.”

If women want men to grow up, said Mark Regnerus in Slate.com, they should stop having sex with them. Not long ago, women would shun a badly groomed young man with no discernible drive or career prospects. To have access to sex, which young men tend to want pretty badly, men had to demonstrate maturity, find a job, and offer at least the possibility of marriage and security to their prospective mates. That is no longer the case. Through a combination of historical forces, women have become much freer with their favors, and men’s “drive to achieve in life” has markedly declined as a direct result. “When attractive women will still bed you, life for young men, even those who are floundering, just isn’t so bad.”

Ah, yes, let’s return to the good old days, said Adrian Chen in Gawker.com. Back then, when men were men, women weren’t allowed to vote, got pregnant at 20, and spent their lives washing diapers, clothes, and dishes. “There are worse things than dating a guy who’s into old sci-fi movies.” Postponing marriage is hardly a sign of immaturity, said Rob Asghar in Huffington​Post.com. Better to spend your 20s developing a career and figuring out what you actually want in a mate than rushing headlong into marriage and parenthood in response to social pressure. Where have all the good men—and women—gone? We’re enjoying “the process of finding out who we are.”

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