Young women often complain that guys aren't interested in dating, or that they don't seem to see the point in it. They want to downplay it. What is going on?
Why are women dissatisfied?
Let's look at some of the reasons why young women express dissatisfaction about the dating scene. Even before we begin we might expect to find some mis-match between men's and women's expectations since women tend to be more relationship-oriented, so they become more impatient when the opportunities to develop relationships are lacking. Still, this is a factor that tends to be fairly constant over time, so in itself it's not likely to explain what is different now. We need to look at the other side of the equation. Have men changed?
Have Men Changed?
Men haven't changed in their essential character, but there are factors at work that have had a big effect on men.
For both men and women adulthood has been delayed by extended periods in education. This makes a big difference, especially for men, since men's identity is more 'socially constructed'. They depend on knowing where they fit in the bigger scheme of things and central to this is work. A man will typically define himself strongly by his occupation. Men want to feel they have a valued place in society, and the less they feel this, the less they will be able to face up to the demands of adulthood. Most importantly they will feel unready for marriage, since it depends on having hope in the future. Without such a reasonable hope they will feel unable to seriously embark on trying to find a wife.
One of the big factors affecting this has been lack of meaningful and secure work, or indeed any work for many men. This not a 'men problem' but a 'society problem'. It should be approached mainly from the perspective of social justice, not of psychology. The solution to unemployment is employment, not counselling. However, prolonged lack of hope also leads to personal problems which quite likely wouldn't have arisen otherwise.
Too Much Leisure
The two preceding factors lead to young men (and not so young men) having too much time on their hands. Yet since they still have the energy of youth they need outlets of some kind. Some become social delinquents of various kinds, though most are more likely to retreat into a world of games and pornography. The internet and associated technologies have made both of these readily available. They can also be combined with a solitary existence, even if augmented by online acquaintances. This isolates young men even further from the world of women, and makes it harder to bridge the gap which opens up.
Loss of Community
All these factors are compounded by the general 'thinning out' of community life. Real local community based on face to face friendships and family ties across different ages has greatly diminished. The world of dating (such as it is these days) is often made up of one-off contacts between strangers, who disappear back into the night. A culture of dating depends on there actually being a community life. However, many young people grow up now with very little of this, few contacts of a helpful kind, and geographical distance from family. Many young women never get asked on a date, and many young men literally don't know any young women whom they could ask on a date.
Loss of a Dating Culture
In many places the culture of dating has virtually disappeared. Where it exists at all it has been replaced by an indeterminate kind of hanging out and hooking up. This means that young men never take up a clear role of initiative that would help them clarify their romantic role as men. They just kind of fall into indefinite kinds of relating, drifting into sex and cohabitation without any definite decisions or actions. Social roles become fuzzy.
Men need much clearer lines of social demarcation and much clearer tasks to help them clarify who they are and what they should be doing.
Loss of Respect
While all this has been happening there has been a widespread loss of respect for men by women, and by the culture at large. You hear terms such as 'toxic masculinity', and 'deadbeat dads'. There has been a widespread denigration of traditional styles of masculinity, but no clear and realistic alternative proposed. The focus has all been on what men should not be doing, not on the positive things they should be doing. Anything that sounds like traditional masculinity gets howled down. Is it any wonder that young men retreat?
A General Malaise
Not all young men are affected by all of these factors, but even those who are successful in study and work can still be greatly affected by the loss of community and culture. There is a general malaise that has affected society as regards relations between men and women. There is an increasing number of young men and women who have struggled even to attain a clear sexual identity. Clearly all these influences have not been helpful to women's aspirations.
Have Women Changed?
Women haven't changed in their essential character, but there are factors at work that have had a big effect on women.
As with men, women now have a delayed adulthood, not only due to extended periods of education but in delaying motherhood in order to establish their place in the world of paid employment. How many of those would move more quickly into marriage and family if there were suitable men seeking them out it is hard to know. But presumably many would get started sooner rather than later if they could.
As well as changes in patterns of work there have been significant pressures that have had the effect of devaluing motherhood. Many women now feel judged negatively if they express the desire to pursue motherhood and home-making as their core vocation. Yet no one can 'have it all'. Others enjoy working in other occupations but want social arrangements that are much more 'mother-friendly'. There have been strong forces working against that.
As well as a devaluation of motherhood there has been a devaluation of femininity generally. It is telling that a young woman will sometimes confess to being a 'girly girl' as if having to justify enjoying the more overt celebration of femininity in terms of dress and activities. Styles of women's apparel generally have been much less overtly feminine for a long time now. There are common styles that are quite drab even while being revealing in a way that doesn't do most women any favours. There has been much greater stress on overt sexiness at the expense of beauty.
Even while these other factors have been at work many young women feel overwhelmed by expectations to 'be everything'. They feel they have to be high achievers academically, in sport, in social life, and all the while being sexy, shaping themselves to be what men seem to want. Social media has added to a toxic mix that is taking a serious toll on many girls and young women. Many struggle with eating disorders, anxiety and depression.
So it seems that young men and women both suffer from situations and pressures that make it harder for them to find a happy and relaxed, hopeful and enjoyable way towards romantic happiness and marriage.
What Is the Solution to the Dating Deficit?
All the foregoing might make the situation seem hopeless but I don't think it is. However, if we only think in terms of individuals there probably isn't much chance of turning things around.
The problem is mainly communal and cultural, so the solution has to be communal and cultural as well.
What does this mean? Social life needs to regain more 'structure', more 'formality'. An aggregate of people is not a community. A mere collection of people is not a community. Community requires form. It needs leadership and common practices and rituals. It needs regularity, patterns, roles and expectations. The practice of dating needs a set of commonly understood and accepted conventions. It needs to be part of a larger community of expectations.
Dating is one part of the larger reality of 'social life'. So the 'world' where we need to begin is the social life of young people. What form does this social life have presently, and what needs to change to make it welcoming, supportive, enjoyable and emotionally safe? What features will it need to attract most young people to participate eagerly in its various activities? What will it take to sustain it that it replicates itself with each new age group of young people? How will it adapt as people get older and want to move onto the next stage, from early teens, to mid teens, to later teens, to early-mid twenties, to mid-later twenties? How will it incorporate the shift to married life of its members so that it blends into the whole community's life?
There are answers to all these questions, and they can be discovered in practice by those who embark on the community-culture building effort. Man+Woman aims to provide some of the ideas and resources needed in this process. No doubt there are other suitable resources out there.
An Answer Postponed
This might not seem like an answer to the question about the 'dating deficit'. It's an answer in the sense that it explains a lot of what causes such a deficit, but not a solution that could be implemented by an individual. However, there is a solution, it's just that it will take a lot of work by a lot of people to yield results. You might be reading this and thinking, "I don't have a community either, not really". However, if you show some leadership and reach out to some others you might be able to get the ball rolling in some small way. Try to network with others. Start to dream, and to plan.