There’s a deep irony about the subject of marriage and men.
On the one hand, marriage appears to benefit men more than women. Men’s health in particular, for example, is better among those who get and stay married.
On the other hand, men appear to resist marriage more than women. In a couple of surveys for the law firm Seddons in partnership with Marriage Foundation, we found that more men than women remain unmarried because they are ‘waiting for the one’, and 30 per cent of unmarried women have not married because they are ‘waiting for him to ask’.
Actually, because being married helps couples stay together and it’s invariably women who end up carrying the baby when couples split, stability is a very specific benefit of marriage to women.
But there is a growing view that men are turning their backs on marriage because they have become confused about what women want, what they themselves want, and how to get it.
The stream of unpleasant stories of #MeToo, #everydaysexism, and inappropriate behaviour from MPs, may well have made some men wary of relationships.
I think the real reason men are more resistant to marriage is much simpler. The introduction of the pill in the 1970s made it possible for men to sleep with women without fear of pregnancy. Unmarried cohabitation was the obvious consequence. So birth control broke the age-old prerequisite that men had to prove their long term prospects before getting what they wanted. And that’s where we are today, with – as the American sociologist Mark Regnerus writes – cheap sex, easy cohabitation, and men who’ve forgotten how to woo a lady.
I know that the Royal wedding last weekend promoted a mixed response among the chattering classes. But it’s hard to argue with a worldwide audience of 1.9 billion.
People love weddings. Personally, I loved it so much more than I expected, and not just because I’m also a former military helicopter pilot called Harry!
I loved the romance, the affection between bride and groom, the talk of love, and the gentlemanly way Harry gently ushered his bride and opened the door for her. He treated her with kindness.
And that’s it. Last year, my wife Kate and I published a survey of 300 mums we ran for our book What Mums Want and Dads Need to Know. All of the things that us blokes assume women want came at the bottom of the list: a man who provides, protects, fixes, is strong, sexy and adventurous. At the top of the list was a friend, somebody interested in mum and the children, somebody kind and forgiving.
What men want may well be cheap sex, as Mark Regnerus identifies so compellingly. But what women want is somebody kind and who will commit.
I can vouch that kindness and commitment have worked wonders in my thirty two year marriage. And without knowing the couple personally, I saw those characteristics in abundance at the Royal wedding.
Economics undoubtedly hinder many couples from getting married.
Wedding expectations have spiraled and the Royal wedding won’t help this illusion. In both of the Seddons surveys, the cost of a wedding was one of the biggest barriers to marriage. I sympathise. But when almost everybody managed to get married up until the 1970s, it can be used as an excuse not to commit.
It also doesn’t help that the government will give you £7,000 extra in tax credits if you’re parents and you stay unmarried. It’s a no-brainer.
So what will encourage men to marry? And it won’t be from a mere sales pitch about the health benefits for men.
Men will rediscover marriage when women rediscover the power they have to choose well, to say no or not yet, and to walk away when a man won’t commit. Easy cohabitation makes that hard.
And men will rediscover marriage when they realize that kindness and commitment is what women want.
This is what feminists should be screaming for. Yes, of course men should behave appropriately and with respect. But it’s so much more than #MeToo and #casualsexism.
Good women deserve good men who are kind and committed. They will find them when they stand up to easy cohabitation and cheap sex.