Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

A substantive article in the City Journal (ht:T&S), “Child-Man in the Promised Land”, documents what we have all observed:

Not so long ago, the average mid-twentysomething had achieved most of adulthood’s milestones—high school degree, financial independence, marriage, and children. These days, he lingers—happily—in a new hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.

It is hard not to agree with the sentiment of the article: that we should be very afraid of what the new child-man will make of our society. Perhaps LDS men who were married with kids by 26 can chime in here. And wasn’t Brigham Young saying something about this 150 years ago? I doubt that Kay S. Hymowitz reads the Journal of Discourses though.

In the article, Hymowitz notes that

Not only is no one asking that today’s twenty- or thirtysomething become a responsible husband and father—that is, grow up—but a freewheeling marketplace gives him everything that he needs to settle down in pig’s heaven indefinitely.

To this I would only say “Have you heard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”

Would I be correct in assuming that the Mormon Church isn’t exactly the solution that Hymowitz is pining for in this article?

42 Responses to Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

  1. Given that science is now finding that the decision-making centers of the brain aren’t fully mature/operational until about age 25, I’m not so sure this trend is a problem.

  2. Clark says:

    Speaking as someone who didn’t get married until nearly 36, can I say I found this article (and related interviews by the author on various talk shows) quite offensive? Further, it’s not clear that the Church offers anything here. Yes you’ll do more charity work. But frankly the probability of getting a meaningful calling if you are over 30 and single is pretty small. (It does happen – although often where there is desperation for callings)

    The problem is that you have money (and even $40,000 is a lot when you are single. Earn $80,000 and that’s a lot of disposable income). Boredom and loneliness are much bigger issues than money or time (as with us married folk) If you don’t meet anyone you’d want to date, what exactly are your alternatives except hanging out, hooking up, and playing sports and video games? And exactly what’s wrong with that?

    Further, consider anyone who has more time and money – even if they have kids. Say a successful businessman who is able to step back from the company somewhat and have managers handle more of the day-to-day business. What do they do? Leisure activities.

    The article, beyond a fairly anti-male undertone (note the difference between how women are viewed and men are viewed) also has a very, very weird view of leisure.

  3. Clark says:

    Nick, even if decision making parts of the brain aren’t fully operable until 25 that doesn’t mean they aren’t sufficient before then. With most males one peaks mentally and physically around the age of 25. From there on it’s one slow long decay into decrepitude… (grin)

    Now I do think that, especially in our culture, there are huge benefits to holding off marriage or at least kids until ones late 20’s. The training demanded for jobs now is simply orders of magnitude more than 40 years ago. Further one tends to go through preparatory jobs before being in a position where one can be stable. Put an other way, in terms of careers in the 1960’s you could expect to make a decision in your early 20’s and largely stick with it for most of your life. Now you need to be much more flexible through your 20’s. That’s quite hard with a family. It can be done, but speaking as one with often sick and needy toddlers, I don’t know how anyone could do it with kids. They would radically, radically change how you approach careers and risk.

  4. john f. says:

    Clark, no offense was meant by my post to guys like you who got married later. Even if you were the type of “SYM” mentioned in the article — living a perpetual adolescence of playing video games and trying to sleep around as much as possible, and subscribing to Maxim and trying as hard as possible to forget any education — you have apparently been able to grow up in the meantime.

    As for what the Church can offer, I referred to the Church because it’s been my impression that the Church encourages men to focus on what is truly important in their lives by getting married relatively young and having a family. The article compares this type of behavior — of getting married and settling down (the article refers to this as “growing up” meaning that it is an adoption of responsibility that forces certain “grown up” behavior) — with the frat boy existence of the late tweny-somethings of the last decade or so. In other words, I wasn’t saying that the Church can offer SYMs something to fill their days besides playing video games and looking for one night stands (although surely it can), but I was just making a joke based on the emphasis we all know the Church puts on getting married and starting a family.

    I think you make an excellent point with your comment about our changed career environment and how that might well affect the ability of men to marry and begin having children in their early twenties. You wrote that it would radically, radically change how you approach careers and risk. I emphatically agree with this.

    Still, I don’t think the article was talking about earnest religious twenty-somethings who were postponing marriage because they wanted to get the right career prospects and were more risk adverse due to how the career market has changed since the 1960s.

  5. Clark says:

    I wasn’t thinking of you – just the author of the article in question. She was interviewed on NPR a few weeks back and gave me a very bitter taste in my mouth.

    Regarding the Church though, I think for many (most?) men it’s really more complex than it appears. Most I knew would have loved to have been married. Were there those who were trying to extend the early 20’s? Most probably. In fact I can think of some roommates that was completely true about. But is that necessarily bad?

  6. john f. says:

    Well, I would say, not necessarily.

  7. Clark says:

    An other problem with the article is that most of its “wisdom” appears to have come from watching movies and reading the occasional Maxim. Umm… What? How about some real journalism.

  8. Ardis Parshall says:

    Old woman’s perspective: Schooling, career development, saving money, even without the wife, children and mortgage, are indications of maturity. Hanging out, gaming for days on end, blowing money on entertainment, are okay in moderation, but carried to the extreme the way they are supposed to be in most articles about eternal adolescents, *are* scary to observe, whether in the lives of young guys you care about or in society in the abstract. Any excuse that wastes the most energetic decade of men’s lives should be viewed with concern. What is being robbed from the lifetime of a man when he doesn’t get started on anything that matters until he’s in his 30s? What does it do to the productivity of the world to have so many consuming drones postponing their contributions for so many years?

  9. john f. says:

    Yeah, I know. My post was a tongue-in-cheek reaction to the article — i.e. not exactly taking the article too seriously. I also thought the article was wrong on several points as well, such as that the Daily Show is a marker of the SYM — we all know that it is a marker for white people more generally.

  10. Peter LLC says:

    I see no reason to limit concern to the unmarried–I have no ambition and like to play video games but still got married. I reckon it’s people like me that really undermine society–the wolves in sheep’s clothing that appear respectable enough at first glance to avoid the raised fingers but still make no contribution to society (excepting the video store).

  11. I’m sure the Ardis Parshalls and Sheri Dew’s of the world would consider male postponement of marriage and family as a “scary problem.”

    There was a time when no respectable young man would dare propose marriage until he had established himself sufficiently to actually support a family. Who’d have thought we’d decline to the point bemoaning young men who aren’t in a headlong rush to marry and start producing offspring.

  12. john f. says:

    That’s definitely not a cool thing to say about Ardis. What did you mean by it? Please explain.

  13. john f. says:

    Ardis, I am very sorry about that. I think the world of you, if that helps at all.

  14. Clark says:

    What is being robbed from the lifetime of a man when he doesn’t get started on anything that matters until he’s in his 30s?

    While there are those still working at dead end low paying jobs and being the equivalent of ski bums or climbing bums (or just lazy) the article in question looked more at those who are pursuing a career. So to say they “didn’t get started on anything that matters” seems questionable. Arguably they have more flexibility for jobs and also social networking.

    And I’m sure one needn’t point out that there are plenty of married dads who are working dead end jobs… Often the folks that get married early are more prone to such things since once you have commitments and bills it’s much harder to look for other jobs. So an early family can trap young men who perhaps aren’t as mature job-wise.

  15. Clark says:

    Nick, I have to agree with the others. That’s way out of line.

  16. Ardis Parshall says:

    It’s okay, John — evaluating sources, whether it’s the provenance of historical documents or drive-by blog shots by third rate commenters, is second nature to me.

  17. Peter LLC says:

    How endearing.

  18. john f. says:

    I didn’t think that the article and this post had the potential of pissing off LDS guys who like video games and didn’t get married until “later”, but in retrospect that is obvious! Sorry guys. I need to be more sensitive — let’s rent a couple of 90s movies and learn how.

  19. Clark says:


    I just think it’s kind of annoying that leisure activities of young males are so disparaged by many. The many days I spent skiing, ice climbing, rock climbing, kayaking, and so forth are times I value a great deal. While some my see this as dangerous to me it is getting somewhat out of the rat race and really living life. Admittedly spending hours in front of Halo isn’t as fulfilling as that. I’m Aristotilean enough to think we need balance in all things. But still.

    As I said though I’m going as much by radio interviews on this subject, especially several on NPR, than I am the article.

    I do think though that the “over 25 and single” Mormon set are a bit more touchy than you might imagine. Precisely because they get the “are you gay” bit from relatives, the “you’re not contributing to society” from others and then also get blamed for every single woman who is out there, whether you’d want to spend time with them or not.

    You have no idea how really, really glad I’m not in that life anymore. (Although I do miss the time to workout and the ability to actually get sleep)

  20. My comment merely indicated that Ardis’ strength of emotion on the subject might have something to do with the fact that she is single within an unfortunately marriage-obsessed culture. I didn’t think this was news to anyone, let alone a “drive-by blog shot” at anyone.

    However, I should never have lumped Ardis in with Sheri Dew. Ardis is a gifted researcher and writer, and I have good memories of our association before my personal choices offended her. While she and I may irritate one another from time to time, I have no reason to question her personal integrity. From personal experience, I can’t say the same with regard to Ms. Dew.

  21. Ardis Parshall says:

    Nick, I have never made a single public reference — until now — to your divorce, your excommunication, your homosexuality, or any of your other choices. Those are personal facets of your life that YOU may speak of, but others generally should not. You have absolutely no business speaking of my marital status or Sheri Dew’s integrity. Your pale attempt to cover your a$$ here by pretending you meant your earlier remark as a compliment is a lie apparent to everyone who can read. It doesn’t begin to address your mischaracterizing of my honest remark — as candid as I always am, and with not a whiff of emotion about it — or your obvious nasty implications.

    Stop while you’re behind and don’t jam your foot any deeper down your throat.

    This is the first time in a very long time I have bothered to notice your ugly remarks, and I now go back to ignoring you as you deserve. If you have an ounce of anything worthwhile in you, you’ll keep your silence when I’m around, too.

  22. Ardis, I was not excommunicated. Rather, I directed that my name be removed, as you are well aware. Kindly avoid spreading lies.

    BTW, your suggestion that I have “no business” speaking of Sheri Dew’s level of integrity is absurd. I’ve had business dealings with the woman, and I speak from personal experience.

  23. Clark says:

    Umm. Tangent alert? Can we cease being nasty?

  24. Jared T. says:

    I happen to be 26 and a month from now I will have 2 kids, will be starting grad school in the fall, am working on a half dozen articles (at least half of which should be ready to go by the end of the summer), editing a diary (book-length), and work two and a half jobs. I also have a lot more white hairs than I did a few years ago. My only wish is that I had gotten my undergraduate act together sooner so as to have had my doctorate before 30. Oh well, 31-32’s not too bad either.

  25. Adulthood

    I was reading an interesting article today quoted over at A Bird’s Eye View. The original story can be found at The City Journal. Not only is no one asking that today’s twenty- or thirtysomething beco…

  26. Ardis Parshall says:

    Jared T. is an adult (maybe two or three adults). Imagine what he will be producing by the time some of his consumer child-man contemporaries start to get their acts together.

  27. Mike L. says:

    I work with many child-men. (I mean no offense to those who aren’t married. I know child-men who are married and very responsible men who aren’t married). I just smile when someone at work says to me something like: “Man, I’m so tired. I was up until 2 playing video games and then I got a call at 6 from a customer with an emergency. I need to go home and get some sleep.”

    Ok, that was the end of my “my life is harder than yours” rant. Sorry if I offended any video game players out there.

  28. john f. says:

    Jared T., my second child was born when I was 27 as well — but I was a second year law student working as a summer associate at the firm I would end up going to straight out of law school, so perhaps not so stressed as you seem to be — good luck with those articles and the Ph.D. (sorry to hear that you have to work two and a half jobs to make ends meet though — I’m sure playing video games and looking for one night stands looks pretty attractive by now by comparison).

    Ardis at 9:29 pm, I think that comment captures what the article was trying to express. I think some really good counter-arguments have been made here to the article’s main point though. Still, I must confess that I also have little appreciation for the prolonged frat boy experience.

    Mike L., very funny point. Do you respond by saying, “Yeah, I hear you — my oldest child was awake at 1:00 am with a bad dream and after finally getting her back to sleep around 2:00 am my second child was up with a croupy cough. After getting her calmed down and back to sleep by around 3:00 am, my other daughter was awake again saying she couldn’t sleep and came into bed with me and my wife, causing none of us to get any decent rest . . . .”? Although I have also heard child-men make comments like the one you note (about being so tired because they were playing video games all night or were out drinking until 2:00 am), I am having a hard time recalling people I know who are married with children making comments like the above. We seem to keep it to ourselves more. Perhaps we just feel it’s not cool like playing video games and bar hopping so we don’t tell.

    Clark, another thing I thought was a little off in the article was the use of science fiction movies and TV shows as a marker for the child-man.

  29. Norbert says:

    I got married a week before my 34th birthday. I enjoyed my 20s immensely, although I didn’t spend it all playing video games: I got some education, played in music groups, travelled widely and dedicated myself to various causes. I didn’t think of myself as a child-man, but I’ve never been an ‘Alpha Male,’ and I didn’t see what the hurry was. The fact that my wife and I both had a fulfilling decade of singleness is not a bad thing as far as I can see, but I won’t claim that it is somehow better than marrying young.

  30. Mike L. says:

    John f, no I’ve never said that, but I have taken sick days in such situations (my work’s policy allows for that I think, but I don’t think it allows for taking sick days because you played to many video games the night before).

    Norbert, I hope you understand that I’m not talking about you when I’m talking about the child-man.

    Anecdotally, my youngest child was recently diagnosed with a medical condition that has required us to meet with various doctors. We have received at least two comments form nurses about how young we are to be parents. One recent experience was positive as she was complimenting us on being so responsible, but another was not as positive. (we don’t live in Utah, by the way)

    Of course that doesn’t prove that it’s a generational thing. Maybe 20-somethings have always been this way and this is a case of generational amnesia. But I think at least in part.

  31. Mike L. says:

    That should have been “I think it is true at least in part.”

  32. Peter LLC says:

    John, who did you have in mind in your March 25, 2008 at 12:35 pm comment? The only two I see getting pissed here are either not LDS, male or married.

  33. john f. says:

    It was just a response to some of the points Clark made because those made me realize that the article could piss off LDS guys who didn’t get married until later (I know a lot of them), although my own view is that the article isn’t really talking about them — even if they do play video games!

    As for the words between Ardis and Nick, that appears to have its roots elsewhere — but Nick’s reference to Ardis’s marital status did seem like a low blow.

  34. Peter LLC says:

    Ah, I see. Thanks for the clarification. The ad hominem exchange between certain posters was indeed unfortunate.

  35. Jared T. says:

    John F., Ha, yea, would much rather be playing Halo 6! However, I must say that every now and again when I get together with my brothers for some sort of vacation, Halo does find its way into the rotation. You can take the man out of kidworld…

    Thanks, Ardis. Now that I’ve spoken, I had better darn well deliver 🙂

  36. Mike L., it’s a shame your wife had to put up with comments like that. I’ve sat in so many situations where people have made asinine comments on both sides of marriage and children issues. A good friend of mine was berated by an older employee while working at BYU, for not having children yet. What the older employee didn’t know was that my friend’s wife had experienced their third miscarriage just the week before. When I was living in Illinois, I’d get comments from time to time about having too many children (five daughters). I finally got so tired of people asking, in shocked tones, “Are those all YOURS?”, that I began answring, with a completely deadpan expression, “No, we RENT two of them.” That was usually enough to make them realize they were out of line.

  37. Mike L. says:

    Nick, I absolutely agree that there are those on both sides who are too quick to judge on the marriage and children issues.

  38. Jenna says:

    I think there are a lot of people, LDS especially, who are too quick to judge why someone doesn’t have children yet or why they aren’t married yet, etc., but I think the point John F. was getting at, whether tongue-in-cheek or not, was that there are many people out there, whether they be men or women, who squander away their youth (their twenties and even thirties) doing less than reputable activities and then try to play catch-up later only to fail miserably (note the number of older couples trying to conceive but are unable to, for a not-so-good example).

    As far as from the whole LDS standpoint, I was just re-reading this today in President Kimball’s Faith Precedes the Miracle about how many people tend to believe that the correct order of things is to go to school, acquire a degree, get a job, build up a financial reservoir, then to marry and have children, and so forth. But he says that the correct order of things is to get married and have children while you are going to school and starting your career. If you are one of those who just can’t find that right person (members of my own family included), don’t squander away that time doing wasteful things, but use it to do these things–finishing school, traveling, reading extensively and enriching yourself because, believe me, the time is much less available to do those things after the marriage and children come along. Just my two cents…

  39. MormonZero says:

    Sorry, I am new here and to blogging but it is like a new toy to me and I hope nobody minds me presenting my thoughts here.

    I don’t agree with President Kimball’s statement about career, marriage, and education. Neither do I agree with President Young’s statement about young ppl becoming a menace to society; at least not in the sense that it makes it this large black and white issue.

    The reason I disagree is because WHEN(caps used for emphasis) somebody gets their degree, marry, or whatever has nothing to do with the doctrine of Jesus Christ. They are merely expressing a albeit strong opinion about their interpretation of the importance of marriage (a doctrine of exaltation). Rather I believe the leaders should spend more time emphasizing personal revelation and its role in good decision making so that they might marry the right person at the right WHEN and place.

    An example of my displeasure is with my own life. My friends and I returned from our mission at the same time. He decided to get engaged and married within a few months. Every time I would talk to him he would explain to me how because he got married that quickly that I could too. I just needed more faith and to date a lot. I also received a tremendous amount of pressure from my institute teachers. All the while I had the distinct impression that I was not going to be staying in that city and the person I should marry was not there either. At the time that seemed ridiculous. However, a few previously unknown opportunities later and 2500 miles away and I now realize that I wasn’t so crazy as everyone was making me out to be.

    The only right path is the path that God and that individual decide together is the right path. It is not for any other person to guilt someone into any choice. That said, I am not implying that our church leaders are bad, I have no doubt that they had the very best of intentions with their comments.

    I see no difference between my mother who married at 17 because she prayed and felt right about it and a friend of mine who did not get married until he was 29 who also prayed an felt right about it and had already backed out of a previous engagement a number of years prior, why? because he prayed and did not feel right about it. I would just like to see more problem solving skills developed in the church than just “obey the commandment” as a universal solution. Imagine if Nephi had that idea. I can’t slay Laban it is one of the ten commandments; but he did because of the power and higher importance of personal revelation. (Please don’t misconstrue this as me implying that we go and break all the commandments, I am just saying that sometimes personal revelation will guide us to do things that are not always the “traditionally” right things to do.)

    All that said it is nonetheless very important to make use of those single years doing productive things and not squandering it away. I am not condemning recreation because that is an essential aspect of health and wellness for any individual but I have friends who still spend 8-10 hours a day playing World of Warcraft. They are 23 and have been playing ever since I came home from my mission. I eventually stopped being around them at all because I wanted to make the best of the my time.

    Sorry for the lengthy post.

  40. MormonZero says:

    I apologize, please don’t shoot. One more thing.

    Might I add that having this mentality in my life has made it 100% easier to not judge other ppl. Am I perfect, no. However, when I see someone doing something somewhat different from the norm I just think to myself that maybe the Lord has a different plan for them.

  41. john f. says:

    MZ @ 9:38, you make some good points — thanks for sharing.

  42. Kim Siever says:

    FWIW, I was 25 when my daughter was born. If you count our first pregnancy that ended in a 12-week miscarriage, I was 22.

    I am not financially independent, even to this day.

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