Speaking to several female friends, I asked them for ideas for blog posts they’d like to read. One repeated request was a version of ‘why do men find it hard to commit?’
Some of the ideas included:
- How do I create commitment but not seem needy? or
- Why do men find it hard to commit even in their 30s?
Looking at my male friends – from married to single, or in a committed relationship, I’ve observed several reasons that explain this.
Men and Women are Different
First – and perhaps most controversially – there’s biology. Men and women are different. From an evolutionary point of view, males are seeking to propogate their genetic material. Therefore mating with as many different females as possible makes sense. In most mammals, continues mating with the same partner, will take longer and longer to ejactulate. It even has a name – the Coolidge effect. Male sheep ejaculate quicker when mating with different female sheep. Even if babies are born completely reliant on parents and need to be brought up safely in a family, the evolutionary priority is to have as many offspring as possible. In hunter-gatherer societies, the younger members made the babies, but the older members of the tribe raised them. Commitment doesn’t always make evolutionary sense to the male.
But evolution continues – and at a rapid pace. It’s this pace of change that could be creating men’s commitment issues. Shifting social roles, using contraception, and applying technology have all contributed to social changes that seem to be getting faster. Women’s roles have expanded in society. It’s great that women are creating, articulating, and owning leadership positions and running the home. Or having the choice to do either – to some degree. But women tend to be more emotionally aware than men, meaning they are more able to formulate what they want, why they want it, and clarify their sense of purpose. The strength of patriarchy in some ways has made this process easier.
Men’s Roles Have Changed
Second, changing social roles have destroyed the clear answer to ‘what does it mean to be a man?’ There has never been a need to go within, to analyse one’s role, and to understand or own one’s emotional state. Men were the hunters, the providers, the protectors. It was clear. Men’s role models were the strong, silent type. The heroes performing extraordinary feats of derring do. John Wayne was (still is?) a role model (Check this scene from a 1963 film where he spanks a woman – how times have changed – for the better!) Except now, men’s roles are changing quicker than the role models are. To whom can men look for guidance and inspiration? Men are finding it harder to know what it means to be a man as society changes so much and so fast. This may explain why the biggest killer of men under 50 in the UK is suicide. Committing to a relationship becomes more difficult when men don’t know who they are…
Technology and Choice
Third, driving the pace of these changes is the ever-increasing application of technology. Whilst it has made life easier in some respects (I do use Amazon Prime, and Deliveroo) it has led to the proliferation of choice and opportunity. When I was 18 there was no insta-ready, smartphone-holding, swipe-left culture. When I was the same age as my nine-year old nephew, there were only four television channels (yes I am that old).
Now there is (almost) infinite choice – customised to your specific needs, wants, and desires. Social Networks have created the phenomenon Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) as everyone else seems to be having an amazing time – whilst we are not. The difference creates envy – and it can have some pretty negative psychological effects. Everything becomes disposable – from using an Uber or AirBnB, to going on a Tinder date. Taken in combination, technology has created online dating, shortened attention spans, dopamine hits, and the paradox of choice – is it any wonder commitment is challenging for men?
Given biology, changing social roles, and technology, there is a challenge and opportunity. If roles are changing and fluid, technology is tool, and we are understanding more about biology, I’m challenged with being responsible for myself. It’s up to me – I have the opportunity to create my relationships, my roles, and my life. I don’t have to wait for anyone to tell me anything – equally no-one is going to tell me anything.
Embrace the Mess
Life is messy, upsetting, and frustrating. But it’s also joyous and miraculous. Embracing these kinds of real experiences – all of them – good, bad, and ugly – is one way to make the most of life.
I invite you to start embracing.
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