March 14, 2011

'Pre-Adulthood' Separates The Men From The Boys

In the last decade or so there has been a lot of discussion about the steadily rising marriage age, and the related issue of delayed manhood or the "Peter Pan Syndrome". NPR recently put together a fascinating (and somehow encouraging) interview that got me thinking about this again, called 'Pre-Adulthood' Separates The Men From The Boys (excerpt below).

Many of you, and I, are a part of this cultural phenomenon. I wonder about the cause, especially in a church that teaches the critical importance of marriage. Is it simply a cultural shift as Elder Oaks suggests in the article LDS Singles are Delaying Marriage; part of the aftermath of broken and unhappy marriages (in and out of the church) or does it have to do with deeper fears men have of obsolescence, exacerbated by the feminist movement as suggested in articles such as The End of Men, and the book NPR looks at Manning Up: How The Rise Of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys? There are quite a few theories offered.

The Bible and The Book of Mormon include the scripture, And in that day, seven women shall take hold of one man, saying: We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel; only let us be called by thy name to take away our reproach. Are these scriptures referring to this phenomenon or an apocalyptic prophecy foretelling a dearth of men due to a major battle or something along those lines?

I wonder, are men really just sitting home playing video games, simply reluctant to give up their freedom and boyish pleasures? The statistics on pornography and the accompanying evils suggest that moral decay has tainted or lessened the need to enter into committed relationships. But I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t something deeper, if these aren’t just symptoms of a deeper problem. A single male friend of mine said to me in a very honest moment, “Yeah, I would like to be married, but to me that’s like saying I would like to be a millionaire.” I took that to mean he believes reaching the state of marriage requires some combination of unusual good fortune (something entirely out of his hands), know-how and the overcoming of serious obstacles. I'll admit that I don't share this view, but I know what he means, and feel compassion for his state of overwhelm. So what is truly, actually at the heart of this problem? Why is marriage eluding so many of us? And how can we change the trend (for men, women and in ourselves)? Seriously??

Sorry for answering so few of my own questions here, but I don't think I actually have many answers on this one. I feel like there has been one block of voices quite silent in this discussion though – the voices of single men. Which is unfortunate and somewhat ironic. I’m frankly dying to hear what they think about all of this. I’ll end my remarks here, and leave you with two pieces of commentary I found fascinating, and both, refreshingly, include the perspectives of single males:

Click here to read a response by C. James to the article Single, Mormon and Alone on the Times and Seasons blog (towards the top of the post).

And the NPR interview: 'Pre-Adulthood' Separates The Men From The Boys. Excerpt:

Once upon a time in America, boys "became men" when they went to war or started a family. Those milestones still hold true for some, but Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How The Rise Of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, says too many young men today are stuck in a stage of extended adolescence. In the new "pre-adulthood," she argues, young men are choosing video games or reruns on the Cartoon Network over adult responsibilities — namely, marriage. . .


  1. This reminds me of a fascinating concept alluded to by Paul Johnson in his "History of the American People." Plymouth Plantation (1607) was not the first settlement of pilgrims, but it was the first to succeed, to last for more than one generation (albeit despite great hardship.) The key difference between the Plymouth colony and others that preceded it was that the other colonies were composed of male and female entrepreneurs, venturers and sometimes criminals, whereas Plymouth was composed of families. Somehow the sense of the future that families impart is qualitatively different, somehow the responsibility of children is more compelling, somehow the drive to succeed financially/independently could never rise to the level of motivation that would allow societal success (and thus lay the foundation for national and international success) that family-centered and minded people were able to achieve. Strong/"healthy" individuals, even if they are entrepreneurs, cannot lay the foundation of society or make it endure - it takes families, and the maturity and mindsets endemic to them.

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  3. serious good comment, enr - like worthy of being framed comment.

    I have about 100 thoughts on this.. probably worthy of it's own blog/website/etc...

    SHAME is what keeps some men from discussing this.. much less approaching marriage. so many men feel 'not enough' or that they will never 'be enough'. most men don't talk about such things with anyone.

    One of my favorite human beings is a guy named Earl Hipp.. who is passionate about 'man making'

    I had breakfast with him once... he told me his vision is to create 'intergenerational male tribes'. we need this... to create intergenerational family systems...

    I dont know all the answers to why marriage isn't happening.. by I do know that many imperfect men.. feel shame.. this paralyzes them..and the thought that they are signing up for a lifetime of shame and disrespect doesn't motivate them.

    creating a safe place for imperfect men to do their work... (to initiate themselves and initiation each other.. to father each other really) it's tough, courageous work for many men... and it's a bucket by bucket type of proposition that can take a long time.

    my favorite people in life... are these men (and women) who are able to do their work (however long it takes) to stop the diseases in their family systems... and create new healthy systems/models for future generations.

    helping,initiating, mentoring boys on their way to mature masculinity is truly foundational work.. to create a sustainable healthy world.

    and it's work that needs to be owned by the male tribe... it's an exciting time to be man.. because in the ashes of our curent culture... the hunger for a grandfather energy... for father energy... for uncle energy.. FOR ANYONE that really cares.. is at epidemic levels.

    those leaders (Kings?) who step forward and participate in the work of 'man making' get a unique privilege - they get men like me who remember them/honor them for the rest of their lives.

  4. Thank you both for the fabulous comments!

    Dave, this is so insightful. I thought it was interesting that both authors in the NPR interview (among others) corroborated this phenomenon through their research and that it is widespread enough to designate it as a new "phase" of life. This is a cultural trend that is very dangerous for society. To quote from Grapes of Wrath(which I admit to not having fully read) "The women knew it was all right, and the watching children knew it was all right. Women and children knew deep in themselves that no misfortune was too great to bear if their men were whole."

    I hope you will make that website/blog, Dave. Thanks again for your sharing your insight!

  5. Thanks for both your comments! One last thought . . . this reminds me of an account in "And There Was Light," by Jacques Lusseyran. He recounts telling stories to his friends when he was young, and that his most attentive listeners were his female counterparts. He says something about how they really believed those stories, or at least, made him feel like they believed, and that lead him to have courage to actually go and do the types of things he had created in his stories. Which in turn reminds me of a passage about the stripling warriors, that "they did not doubt their mothers knew it."

    I think the healing of families comes through men and women, together, overcoming generational wounds and conflicts. Men are ashamed of what has been, and more I think, sometimes, of what will be - or what they dream (or fear) will be. Women need to believe, and communicate that belief. It's rare for a man to become more than what his mother or wife believes him to be, and it's rare to find a woman who believes in and honors her femininity and the dreams of her husband and sons.