Are Men More Likely to Settle for a Dull Relationship?
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
Vicki Larson had a piece at the Huffington Post the other day, “ Why Women Walk Out More Than Men,” citing research indicating that two-thirds of contemporary divorces are initiated by women. Why, she wonders, are men so comparatively reluctant to file for divorce?
Larson notes the “bad behavior” of men like Sean Penn, Jesse James, Tiger Woods, and Tony Parker, habitual cheaters all, and asks why it was their wives who chose to end the marriages. Is this a case of men trying to have their cake and eat it too, combining domestic comfort and sexual novelty? Larson isn’t sure.
One thing I’m sure of: infidelity is far from the only reason women initiate divorce more often than men.
Though most statistics indicate men are more likely to cheat than women, the percentage of women who are unfaithful is rising. At the same time, the percentage of divorces women initiate is climbing, too. If there were a simple correlation between infidelity and divorce, then we’d expect men to be initiating divorce more often. But that’s not the case.
The reason women are more likely to leave is less about cheating than it is about their unwillingness to settle.
Men and women are raised with very different attitudes toward marriage. Though marriage rates are falling, popular culture still foists a romantic ideal of connubial bliss onto young girls. When I ask my college students if they’ve ever fantasized in detail about their wedding day, 80 percent of young women raise their hands. (Only about 10 percent of the guys admit to the same.) Yes, young women are more likely to want to delay marriage, but their expectations of romantic fulfillment are as high as ever. Boys, on the other hand, grow up in a “guy” culture that sees marriage as the end of freedom.
Put simply, boys are taught that marriage is about “settling down” while girls are taught that marriage is about finding enduring fulfillment. And it’s obvious who has the higher set of expectations.
I met the woman who would be my third wife in 2000. I was 33. I had already burned through two ill-advised marriages in my 20s; my drinking, drug use, and infidelity ruined both relationships. At 31, I got sober. I changed my life. After two years of focus on my recovery, I was ready for something completely different, something stable.
Elizabeth was unlike any woman I’d ever been with. There was no destructive, overpowering chemistry. There was no hint of drama. We were intellectually compatible, from similar social backgrounds. We shared the same values and aspirations. She was hitting 30, eager to be married. I was eager to do something right this time. We were engaged within four weeks of our first date and married within a year.
Elizabeth and I never stopped having those wonderful conversations. We never cheated on each other, never raised our voices in anger to each other, certainly never threw vases or glasses at one another. And of course, we had no “heat” together. The lovemaking was tender but awkward. I couldn’t orgasm without thinking of someone else—and as I found out later, neither could she. By our first anniversary, we were having sex barely once a month.
I never saw it coming. Fifteen months into our marriage, Elizabeth told me calmly that she wanted a divorce. She’d made a mistake, she said, in settling for compatibility and friendship. She wanted more. She deserved more. “And so do you, Hugo,” she added.