As she continues to gain perspective, Emily Heist Moss realizes a good man may not be too hard to find.
Could I fall in love with the bus driver I see every morning? What about the waiter at my favorite cafe? A bartender, custodian, security guard, taxi driver? Could I fall for someone whose educational background and professional ambitions don’t match my own? The answer was, until recently, I don’t know. But after reading Kate Bolick’s much discussed Atlantic cover story, “What, Me Marry?” the answer is, I hope so.
Bolick’s piece is about the plight of the 40ish woman and the dearth of “marriageable” men. She pleads for a world in which “single” isn’t a pejorative word and that we reconsider the pedestal on which we place coupledom. With that plea, Bolick and I are in agreement; nobody should feel like a failure or social outcast because their family portrait doesn’t look like the Cleavers’. But part of Bolick’s logic is that the current “crisis” facing men—the declining percentage of men with college degrees and the specifically male impact of the recession—has created a downhill slide in the number of desirable males for women of a certain educational and professional class. It’s a scary thought, since I’m on my way to joining the cohort she’s describing. Before I start planning my eternally single existence, however, I want to investigate whether I need to rethink what makes a mate “desirable.” Maybe I’m looking for the wrong adjectives.
Historically, men have married down—financially and professionally speaking—with regularity. The businessman married the secretary, the doctor married the nurse, the pilot married the stewardess. I’m not knocking those honorable and traditionally female professions, only pointing out that from the angle of prestige and earning power, these roles pale in comparison to the traditional “male” counterpart. The logic in the past has often been that a woman’s career potential was trumped by her potential as a caretaker and homemaker. It didn’t matter how ambitious she was, as long as she possessed the characteristics one wanted in a wife and mother. Empathy, patience, and generosity of spirit were weighted more heavily than intellectualism or ambition. Think of Mad Men’s Don Draper proposing to his secretary after seeing how great she was with his kids.
Obviously, I don’t live in the 1960s, and I want a partnership based on much more than convenience. I’m drawn to people driven by intellect, curiosity, confidence, and ambition, and without giving it much thought, I’ve always assumed I’d wind up with someone of my same professional status. While I stand by those first three qualities, intellect, curiosity, and confidence, Bolick’s conclusions are making me reconsider my attraction to ambition. Just because I have grandiose professional goals, why do I place a premium on that trait in my partner? One can be intellectual and passionately curious without desiring all the professional accoutrements that I spend my days toiling towards. One might even be happier for it.
In fact, now that I think about it, I kind of love the idea of a stay-at-home partner, if that arrangement made him happy, too. I derive too much satisfaction and joy out of the unique challenges of the workplace to think that I’ll ever want to leave it, but I recognize that other people find their happiness in many different ways. Especially given the high unemployment in this day and age, I could very easily meet and be attracted to a guy occupying what I would view as a “dead-end job.” Maybe he’s comfortable where he’s at, or maybe he couldn’t find anything better, or maybe how he spends his day is irrelevant to where his passion really lies. Perhaps he’s a poet, or an artist, or a musician, or perhaps his true calling will eventually be revealed as fatherhood. Maybe he has already figured that out, and is just killing time in a job until he gets to start the family he can’t wait to devote himself to. I certainly know women who think about their futures that way, and it doesn’t make them any less intelligent or interesting. As a society, we celebrate women who are full-time caretakers, acknowledging that some people’s best qualities come out in the home, instead of in the office. Mustn’t this be true of men as well?
I like to spend time around people with far-flung passions, who are well read, who engage with the world in meaningful ways. I will inevitably look for those qualities in a spouse, since I can’t imagine a satisfying relationship devoid of intellectual stimulation and robust conversation. I’m in my mid-20s, and based on my education, occupation, and the social circles I swim in, most of the people I meet have eerily familiar resumes. I think I’ve been a little blinded by the trappings of traditional success.
If I found someone whose intellectualism played out on a private stage instead of a public workplace, I hope I wouldn’t overlook him because he lacked an impressive business card or a five-year-plan including advanced degrees. I hope that I would recognize that kindness, curiosity, and passion can be found in all sorts of people, not just the ones carrying briefcases or wearing suits. A guy with those qualities might be wearing a different kind of uniform these days, and I hope I’m not too narrow-minded to rule him out.
—Photo Saad Akhtar/Flickr