Why have young men fallen out of love with romantic relationships?

Arwa Mahdawi

Arwa Mahdawi

Men aren’t naturally stoic: they’re just taught from a young age that emotions are for girls – and then people wonder why young men are so lonely

Sat 25 Feb 2023 09.00 EST (TheGuardian.com)

Why are so many young men single?

Sex, numerous studies show, is going out of fashion. Young people aren’t shagging much any more, a phenomenon that has been widely blamed on technology and online porn. And it’s not just sexual activity that’s declining – young men in the US appear to have fallen out of love with romantic relationships. A recent Pew Research study has found that 63% of men under 30 describe themselves as single, compared with 34% of women in the same age bracket. Cue a lot of dramatic headlines about, as the Hill put it, the “larger breakdown in the social, romantic and sexual life of the American male”. I imagine the Hill is referring to the heterosexual American male here, but Pew also looked at people who identify as LGB and found 62% of LGB men report being single compared to 37% of LGB women.

Before we delve deeper into the sexual life of the American male, I’d just like to point out that the Pew Research study was actually conducted last summer but they republished the findings in a Valentine’s Day listicle. This caught the attention of someone at the Hill, who wrote an article headlined: “Most young men are single. Most young women are not.” A screenshot of that article then went viral because, well, those numbers don’t really make much sense, do they? Unlike China and India, where men outnumber women by 70 million, there are about the same number of young men as women in the US. Who are all the young women dating? Pete Davidson? West Elm Caleb?

Nobody seems entirely sure what the reason for the giant relationship gap is but the most popular theory is that young women are more likely to be dating older men. Another, rather overblown, theory is that the Gay Agenda is working and, considering one-fifth of Gen Z identifies as queer, all the young women are dating each other. Another issue potentially feeding into the data discrepancy is the fact that that there could be gendered differences in how people define a “committed relationship”. (The Pew definition of single is “those who are not married, living with a partner, or in a committed relationship”.)

While we may never solve the mystery behind the relationship gap, there’s been a lot of handwringing about these numbers, mainly from conservative circles who take it as evidence that feminism and the modern world (particularly porn) has emasculated young men. Seth Dillon, for example, the founder of the conservative satire site the Babylon Bee, tweeted: “Young women are dating each other or older men in record numbers. As a result, 60% of young men are single and lonely. It’s probably hard to overstate how serious this problem is.”

Is that really true though? I’m not denying that there’s a serious and worrying epidemic of loneliness among young American men, but you don’t need to be in a relationship to be happy. I think that rather than focusing on young men being single, the real problem is the fact that men don’t have friends. Only 21% of men, for example, said they received emotional support from a friend within the past week, compared to 41% of women, according to a 2021 survey. Why is that? Well, the Hill quotes Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of the book Of Boys and Men, who explains that “men are less naturally relational than women”.

That bizarre quote pretty much sums the whole issue up, doesn’t it? Men aren’t naturally stoic: they’re just taught from a young age that feelings and emotions are for girls. They’re taught to lock up their feelings. They’re taught not to put as much value in relationships as women. They’re taught that they’re “less naturally relational”. And then people sit around wondering why young men aren’t in relationships and are so lonely. It’s not porn that’s the problem, it’s patriarchy.

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