Nicole Hardy, a Seattle woman whose essay on being a virgin into her late 30s was recently published in the New York Times, has been thrust into the spotlight through her confessional piece. It is an odd, but undeniable characteristic of contemporary society that the less discreet a woman is the more she is rewarded, so there’s nothing all that special about her sudden rise to prominence. Additionally, a woman who is still a virgin in her 30s is rare, so there’s going to be a lot of interest in her story if she can tell it well.
However, she makes a good point in her essay that even non-Mormons and non-virgins can relate to. In fact, it’s a point that is salient to the plunging marriage rate and the frequency of divorce, and one that applies to men as well as women. While complaining to a friend about her futile attempts at dating, a man approached her and let her know why she had such bad luck in love:
Obviously, I was left over, too — I was just never sure what my problem was. Until one man let me know. After overhearing a friend and me comparing our weekend horror-date stories, he walked up to me and asked, “You know what your problem is?”
No, I did not know what my problem was. And I was dying to find out.
“Your problem,” he said, “is you don’t need a man.”
“Men in the church are raised to be providers. We are the breadwinners, the stewards of the household. If you have all the things we’re supposed to provide, we have nothing to give you.”
“What of love?” I asked. “What of intimacy and partnership and making a run at the world together?”
“Nope,” he said. “We’re providers.”
After Richard Francis Burton, the famous British linguist and colonial agent, visited Utah and had a talk with Brigham Young, he came to see Mormonism as the quintessentially American religion. Perhaps he was on to something, because the above exchange between a couple Mormons gets right to the root of the problem between American men and women.
We American men are providers. We are breadwinners. That’s our role. Take it away, and we have nothing to offer.
It’s a cultural imperative so deeply ingrained in society that it will take decades to change, if it ever does. The tragedy of contemporary society is that we’ve done such a good job of it that we now provide for all women, and we are almost all unnecessary. The reason the upper middle class still has a low divorce rate is because the old roles work at a certain level of expectations — the well-paid doctor or attorney can provide enough above the norm to preserve his utility. But for the rest of us, we have nothing to offer but a shared domicile, and that’s paltry fare.
If we are ever to bridge this rift between men and women, we’ll need a spiritual revolution. Men need to see themselves as more than purely material beings. More, even, than purely sexual beings. Because if that’s all we are, we’ll never mean much more to women than a new car.
Perhaps it begins when we – both as individuals and society in general – start to value ourselves for more than what we can provide to women.