In this postmodern age, all of the data tells us that women are putting off marriage and having a family because they are focusing on careers now that there are visible cracks in the glass ceiling, or enjoying the freedom to live and explore life more fully in their post-college years. Or maybe they’re more willing to hit the snooze button on their biological clocks nowadays, thanks to innovations in fertility treatments.
But what about men? Are we left hanging now, relegated to the sidelines where we wait for women to decide when they’re ready to settle down — or do we have our own reasons for staving off commitment until later in life? And when we do fall, how do we define love as we get older?
As a man in his forties who waited until well into my thirties to marry for the first time (and with several still-single friends creeping past 40 themselves), I decided to initiate a cross-regional conversation from Ohio to North Carolina about the subject with Richard, my best friend of over 30 years who served as best man in my own wedding five years ago. I knew he would have quite a bit to say about what took us so long to settle down, as he’s one of those single men of a certain age who’s growing more comfortable with the idea of being in a committed relationship himself.
Stern-Enzi: There’s a study conducted by scientists at the State University of New York at New Paltz and Russia’s Moscow State University for the Humanities that has captured lots of attention recently that posits the notion that American men fall in love slower than European ( more specifically, Russian and Lithuanian) men do. We’re all-American guys, right? So how many times have you fallen in love, and how quickly did it happen each time?
Richard: What I’m going to say is probably clichéd to a certain extent, but from my limited experience with European people, I feel that boys and girls over there are assimilated into a society that is more mature towards so many things: sex in general, love… and I think they are ushered into these things quicker than Americans [are], which goes back to our prudish background.
These things — sex and love — are discussed more [there], and with a freer attitude rather than with the hysteria [we have] here to simply keep boys and girls from having sex. Everything becomes about preventing sex, and I think this hysteria actually retards our maturity in terms of relationships.
Now, the first person I fell in love with was my first girlfriend in high school. As I’ve matured — and this is where the cliché comes in — falling in love has been different each time. At 17-19 years old, it was all about the urgency to be touching that person or to be around that person, looking into her eyes. You’re always thinking about her: the smell of her lips and perfume, or how she’s styled her hair, the sound of her voice.
The second time I fell in love I felt it coming and I hated it, because I wanted to be with this person, but we had such distance between us. And then the third time (which is now), we’ve known each other since high school… but we started to hang around and got a relationship going in 1998, which we made more official — still without marriage — in 2003. I think we’ve grown into the most mature relationship I’ve had. There’s a certain intimacy between us; we know how to read each other. I never had that in my twenties and thirties with anyone. That’s the type of “in love” I’m in right now.
Stern-Enzi: The study touches upon a key distinction between Americans and Europeans in that we focus on friendship being a significant aspect of our sense of romantic love, whereas the Eastern European men rarely mentioned that. What do you think?
Richard: Well, obviously [in] quite a few cultures around the world, marriages are arranged. And in those situations, you’re supposed to love and provide for your wife. You can grow to love your wife, but that’s not your friend [or] your confidante, that’s the person who raises your children. You love [your spouse], but there’s a different kind of intimacy in that relationship. In America, we definitely foster friendship.
My partner has said, “You’re my best friend.” It took me back to a Prince lyric: “Would you come to me/if somebody hurt you/even if that somebody was me” (from “If I Was Your Girlfriend”), and she does come to me when I’ve hurt her and talks to me about it. That’s what’s special. I guess I hope that she would have other friends, but secretly, I like it like that. I like that she comes to me and is honest with me about everything.
“What Are Slow-to-Love Men Waiting For?” was initially published on the Match.com site Happen Magazine