Is a picket fence necessary for a boy to become a man?

Is a picket fence necessary for a boy to become a man?

Every man needs a wife before he hits 30 to save him from himself.”

So my (married, straight) mate believes. The balls of my eyes rolled circles at his full stop. But he stood fast.

Ok then, how many men do you know in their 30s who still behave like boys? And how many of them are single?”

He may have a point. But is a lack of spouse to blame?

Herewith, the word according to Friend. Males don’t see themselves as ‘men’ unless they have the trappings of a man’s life as portrayed in popular culture, ie: job, wife, children, house, sic ad nauseum. In other words, men aren’t men unless they are made, and the marriage goes a long way to that making.

Though he offered up several case studies from his social circle, my mate put himself forward as the prime example. Regularly, he would be seen at wild parties, drinking and cavorting to excess with other blokes who were just like him, shirking personal responsibility and shagging whoever they liked. My friend was living life exactly as he desired because he was the only one who mattered in it, and because he had no reason to be better. If that meant eating crappy food, blowing his money on trivial things and damning duty so be it.

Then he met a nice girl, got married and had a baby. Would he get bored? Would he miss his old life? These thoughts crossed his mind. But as he settled into married life, and watched his baby girl take her first steps, my mate realised how much he’d grown. That is to say he realised how much he had ‘grown up’.

As I listened to his story, my mind sifted through a range of marriages close to me. What had these husbands been like as bachelors? Had marriage improved their lives? Had marriage perhaps improved their lives more than it did for the women they married?

A summary article published late last year in the academic journal Sex Roles presented numerous studies consistently showing that when it comes to marriage, men derive more benefit than women. Authors Joan Monin and Margaret Clark list various contributing factors; men are less harmed by marital conflict, men receive greater social support from their wives than vice versa, and men have to worry about household hassles less because their wives do the bulk of domestic chores.

There’s also the idea men benefit from marriage more than their wives because they have less intimate relationships outside of marriage than women do. Monin and Clark point to research, including their own, that found women rely on the marriage for personal support less than men do – husbands ‘need’ more emotional support, so wives ‘give’ more than they get.

But while all this points to marriage being ‘good’ for man, can we say it ‘makes’ the man? Of course not, in my opinion. Not all males will get married, not all males want to get married; indeed, not all males can (even if they want to). So to perpetuate the idea that marriage somehow makes all boys grow into men – and better men for that matter – is wrong. It sets up a false, ‘fix-all’ reality.

That’s not to say marriage improves some blokes, and some ladies for that matter. Just like children can be exactly what some folk need to figure out that life works better when shared, not shared around, slapdash. I believe a lot of it comes down to individual (and community) expectations; if you grew up thinking marriage was for grown-ups, and if that message was culturally reinforced, it’s probably true the ring will bring out the adult in you.

Which leads us to another question; if society generally supports the idea marriage makes the man, and if marriage rates are declining, does this, in part, account for the so-called ‘Man-Boy’ dilemma of this modern milieu?   

What do you think.

Does marriage make the man, and if so, what happens to the boys who never say I Do?

twitter  @katherinefeeney

tumblr  Tumblr

facebook  Facebook

kfeeney@fairfaxmedia.com.au