Earlier this week, discussing a mountain biking video, commenter stingray65 said:
I can’t quite get my head around the adult performer doing kid’s stunts. There are so many activities that adults continue to do that were things that mostly kids did when I was growing up such as riding bikes (includes jumps, and stunts), playing video games, reading comic books, collecting baseball cards, which tended to fade away as favorite activities once adulthood arrived and bikes were replaced by cars, and video games and comic books were replaced by work, dating, parenthood, and more sedentary adult hobbies (i.e. drinking, smoking, cooking, knitting, car wrenching, woodworking, watching TV). Today it seems that its the kids getting fat because they are more often doing sedentary “adult” activities (i.e. social media) and it is much more common to see middle-aged adults still doing extreme sports (at least the ones featured on YouTube videos), playing video games (with high powered machines and peripheral hardware), and collecting comic books, baseball cards, etc. as “investments”.
I can immediately think of two possible responses here. The first one is that my father was hitting softballs out of the park down in his Hilton Head neighborhood as late as around his sixty-fifth birthday. (Still playing ten years later, just no longer swinging for the fences.) He grew up playing baseball, was a centerfielder for Notre Dame, and played softball much of his adult life. I didn’t play baseball — well, I didn’t play it much, anyway. I rode a bike. So here I am, at forty-nine, still riding a bike. No different from the old man, whom I recall taking his softball very seriously when he was in his forties.
That’s what I like to think of as the “Seen It All, Internet” answer. You know that answer. There’s someone to provide it almost immediately, everywhere from Usenet in 1987 to Reddit in 2021. Nothing’s really changed, you’re making a big deal about nothing, we’ve seen it all before, don’t get excited, I’m so blase and world-weary on this topic and all others… Yet any intelligent reader knows that the “Seen It All” answer almost never applies. There is a tremendous difference between how grown men pass their time nowadays and how they passed their time in 1990 or 1960 or 1650. So let’s take stingray65 seriously and search for an answer to his question.
To begin our discussion, let me tell you about two girls I met in 2013, within a few months of each other. The first one messaged me, before we met, “I just want to confirm that you are actually six foot two, and not lying about it, because I’m every bit of six feet tall and I’m tired of being disappointed.” The second one, who was not six feet tall but also wasn’t that far short of it, told me, somewhere around our second date,
“I’m really only interested in a man who is taller than I am, and who earns more money than I do.” After a brief, self-reflective pause, she asked, “Is that shallow?”
Well, dear readers, is it?
Perhaps you haven’t noticed, or perhaps you have, but the American dating market has changed tremendously in the past thirty years, thanks to two major shifts in behavior. The first one was the almost universal employment of women. This is more recent than, say, computer-controlled automotive fuel injection. I went to college with a fair number of girls who didn’t plan on working after graduation, or at least didn’t plan on working for long. That sort of thinking is now limited to people who pursue a fringe religious belief, like Islam or non-ironic Christianity. Women make up almost two-third of college students now, and they take a majority of the available white-collar jobs after graduation.
This is a big deal, because it breaks what has been the fundamental rationale for monogamous marriages since before the time of the Greeks and Romans, namely the man provides and the woman raises the kids. In fact, that’s been the deal for so long that we can’t even accurately guess as to when or where it wasn’t the deal. Certain exceptionally fertile parts of Africa, maybe. Very early hunter-gatherer tribes where the women also hunted. Who knows? This unprecedented change in society, like all of our other unprecedented changes of late, has the primary effect of lowering labor costs. We now have twice as many workers. Don’t have twice as many jobs. You can do the math.
Joining the workforce has made women extremely happy and self-fulfilled… said no woman ever to me personally. Don’t get me wrong. They all know that they are supposed to be happy and self-fulfilled. All the magazines told them so. It just hasn’t happened. Maybe they should have asked men beforehand. Very few of us extract any tremendous happiness or self-fulfillment from our jobs. Why would it be any different for women? Oh well. It’s an experiment still in progress, I’m sure it will work out.
Whether they enjoy their jobs or not, women now make up a significant percentage of high-earning American workers. Yet many of them still express that it is important for a man to earn as much money as they do — or more. This isn’t hard to do when you’re a 25-year-old secretary, not that we still have secretaries, but you get the idea. It’s much tougher for a 45-year-old partner in a law firm. There’s a lot of data on this, and a lot of discussion about it. Most of it is written from the “isn’t that tough for the girls” perspective, but the flip side is that the average man is probably no longer very interesting to the average woman.
Remember that, it will be important later.
The second big change, even newer than the first, is the intrusion of “tech” into dating. All early indications are that this has drastically changed dating and relationships before marriage towards a so-called Pareto distribution — namely, 20% of the men are having 80% of the sex. More and more, women prefer being a non-monogamous partner to a “higher-value” man over being the monogamous partner of a “lower-value” man. A recent study showed that it’s ever tougher than that: Men “liked” 61.9% of women on Tinder and women “liked” a mere 4.5% of men on Tinder. So if you’re a man on a dating app, you have a 1 in 20 chance of being interesting to a woman… but if you are interesting, you’ll have access to a lot of women.
We all knew women were picky, but we didn’t know just how picky until the data got involved, right? It gets worse. As a man on a dating app, you’re not only competing with 19 other dudes for the title of The Chosen One. You’re also competing with OnlyFans and SeekingArrangement, two ways for younger women to monetize their appeal. Arizona State has more than 2,500 female students using SeekingArrangement, and there are plenty of other well-represented schools. Ohio State has almost a thousand! That’s a lot of part-time prostitution happening. Meanwhile, OnlyFans, where you just buy pictures and videos of the girls instead of paying them for actual sex, has over a million “creators” with eight thousand new girls signing up daily.
All of this skews the market as well. The blogger DeliciousTacos, who is fairly handsome and absolutely, as they say, jacked, which is what we used to call “ripped”, has noted that he frequently finds himself dating girls who can’t see him on certain nights because said nights are reserved for “sugar daddies”. He also notes, with some surprise, that these girls can be emotionally distant. Gosh, who’d have thought it.
Okay, let’s review. If you are a man, you have a one in twenty chance of having girls like you online. Many of the girls you meet, online or elsewhere, will earn more than the average man, but they will want you to earn more than they do. They will also all want you to be taller than they are, which has only been a problem for your humble author once but may be a serious problem for some of you. (I met my high school girlfriend when I was six feet and she was five ten; she made it to six four before her sophomore year.)
This is tough on women, of course. In their search for relatively high earners over six feet tall, they are often forced to settle for hideous chuds like yours truly, just because I meet the requirements on paper. I blame society for this, and also my mother, who didn’t let me have Coca-Cola or indeed anything besides milk to drink until I was fourteen. Oh well. It’s an ill wind that blows no one good.
Less openly discussed: this is also hard on men. The average man in this country is five foot ten and makes $49k a year. In other words, he doesn’t exist. His dating life is going to be miserable, unless he is exceptionally handsome and/or fit. Even then, some women will not take him seriously. And if he manages to beat the odds and get married, he will then find out that more women than ever are highly interested in cheating on their husbands. It will come as no surprise that this happens more often to lower-income men, or to shorter men.
There is a group of men who have decided to “opt out” of this rigged-ish game entirely. They are called Men Going Their Own Way. They have decided to find fulfillment without long-term relationships. Wikipedia says they are misogynist, supremacist, and possibly racist. I can’t see how, exactly. They look to me like dudes who want to be left alone. They want to do other things besides marry or even date. They want to play video games, or pursue hobbies, or just do something else. (For a rather emotional and loosely focused statement of the “MGTOW are racist” case, read The Cut.) Some of them resent women, as a whole, quite bitterly. I know how they feel. I resent Radical Sportscars UK rather bitterly, for not making a “fat man” seat for my PR6. It’s my fault that I don’t quite fit in the car, and it’s my fault that I’ll have to lose twenty pounds to sit in the thing comfortably, but I’m still bitter. Maybe the MGTOWs are the same way.
What about those of us who haven’t quite Gone Our Own Way, so to speak? We are clearly ignoring Saint Paul’s precept about “putting away childish things”. I have personally constructed my life in a manner calculated almost exclusively to gratify my fourteen-year-old previous self. I liked guitars back then, so now I have hundreds of them. I liked cars — got a bunch of those two. I wanted a Kawasaki Ninja, so now I have the fastest one they ever made. I played video games a bit back then. As of next week I’ll be doing it with an Alienware Aurora and a 32″ curved monitor. My son and I just started doing these “airsoft” matches. You should see the airsoft gun I have. I’m afraid to take it outside of the house, because it looks like something the ATF would deem worthy of a Hellfire drone strike on American soil.
Oh, and I have a bike collection worth more than a new Corvette. All that’s missing is the girls, really, and prior to the current Mrs. Baruth I kept myself busy in that regard as well, despite the fact that I make Danny Trejo look like Ryan Reynolds.
All of this is ridiculous, and pathetic in its own way. Yet I know plenty of adult men who are just as bad, if not worse. There’s a fellow on Instagram who builds one new $20,000 mountain bike every month. Another one with a thousand-plus airsoft guns, at least one example of every “good” gun in the sport’s history. It’s not just the collecting. It’s the doing. You’d be amazed how many “grown-ups” I know who spend dozens of days every year mountain biking or BMX-ing, often getting there courtesy of customized “vanlife” Sprinters or Transits.
Why can’t we grow up?
I’ve thought about it quite a bit, and the answer is simple enough. We aren’t growing up because we don’t have any kids to make us grow up. We don’t have any kids to make us grow up because society encouraged us to waste our twenties and even our thirties in the pursuit of idiotic, ephemeral pleasures. Yes, I have one son. One. He’s no trouble and we usually have the same opinion about everything. My father had two sons. My grandfather had four, plus a daughter. You see how much easier I have it than they did. Oh, and they didn’t have two-income families, either.
Yes, I could stop riding my bike and I could work harder. Earn more money. I did that for about a decade. Spent it mostly on tailors and German cars. But I got sick of handing 40% or more of it over to the government so they could use it for… whatever they use it for. At least I had the option of working harder and making more money. A lot of men don’t. They’re either physically limited by their jobs — who could work on an assembly line eighty hours a week and live? — or they’re limited by the available upside in careers that are increasingly being diverted to people who don’t look or think like they do.
No, we aren’t Going Our Own Way here in Middle-Aged Man-Ville, but society is Going Its Own Way, and that way is away from us. Not just at work. After work, too. All the traditional options for men of my age, like the Lions Club or the Knights of Columbus or even the bowling leagues, have had their teeth pulled by a society that deemed them to be breeding reservoirs of violent -isms of one sort or another. God forbid you try to have a “men’s club” now. A while ago, I was invited to join a German-American men’s club, complete with maennerchor. I didn’t stay. Partly because I can’t sing in German worth a damn, but also because I suspected that potential employers, upon hearing that I was part of a “German men’s club”, would assume that it had something to do with either Reinhard Heydrich or the Messerschmitt 262.
What if society hadn’t Gone Its Own Way over the past few decades? What if things had stayed the same, more or less? I can easily imagine a pre-apocalyptic, Sixties-or-Seventies version of me. He has four sons who call him “sir”, the way I call my own father “sir”; they are alternately bullied, dressed-down, and hair-ruffled, as the spirit moves him. He takes his small business very seriously, or perhaps he is devoted to a company with a “General” or a “Consolidated” in its name. He owns a suitcase and has a secretary, who calls him “Mr. Baruth” and holds his calls while he reads the paper at work every morning. A few nights a week he drives his emerald-green Fleetwood d’Elegance coupe over to the Lions or the Freemasons and spends a few hours in the cheerful company of men like him before drunk-driving the four miles back home and falling asleep in a bed next to, but not joined to, that of his wife. On Saturday he plays golf. Mows the lawn. On Sunday he herds the kids to church. Most evenings he enjoys plain, home-cooked fare, with his family eating quietly around him. He doesn’t have an orthopedist on call, and he hasn’t had a trauma injury since he was fifteen, but his doctor is a little worried about the effects that twenty-five years of serious drinking and business stress have had on his heart. There’s an MG in the garage, along with a woodworking setup. Neither sees much use.
Understand, please, that I would give up everything I have to be that person. How could the thrill of winning a race at Laguna Seca, or clearing a thirty-foot jump on a carbon-fiber spaceship of a mountain bike, or even playing “Sirabhorn” on a PRS Private Stock guitar, compare with the quiet satisfaction of knowing your own worthwhile place in a society that was built around you? All the worries I have for my son — that he will be lonely, that he will be unemployable despite his prodigious talents, that he’ll never find someone to love in a sea of endless part-time Seekers of Arrangements — all those worries simply do not exist for the other me. He knows that his sons will find a place of their own, too. There won’t be riots, or lockdowns, contract employment in place of real jobs, or non-governmental organizations beating the drum night and day for a race/class war. There will just be the eternal Fortress America, with just one distant, slightly feckless enemy to unify us and just three television channels to pollute our minds.
That’s what they took from me. From us. Who are “they”? I couldn’t tell you. But they took it. They didn’t steal my childhood, as my parents and many other parents worried would happen. Instead, they stole my adulthood. On the weekends, when I sit on my mountain bike at the mountain bike park, surrounded by dozens of other 25-and-up men looking to find the missing meaning of our lives via an obstacle course or a particularly deft bit of physical skill, I realize that I am just one of millions such theft victims. We were all pointed at a grown-up world that never came true. So we just all stayed fourteen years old, forever.
It’s not bad, this perpetual adolescence. But it’s not good, either. Not for us, nor for anyone else.
stingray65, I hope this answers your bewilderment. It has only enhanced mine.