So it takes me aback when I am drinking coffee with my group of retired guys and one of them tells me about the day he became a widower. His wife was 39. She was riding a bike and was mowed down by a distracted driver. Yes, they had them back in 1972. The driver was sorting through his mail. The gentleman was left, grieving, with four children at home and a full time job.
I read the article The Economics of Marriage with great interest. It chronicles the battered state of the institution (Sacrament if you are Catholic like me) of marriage in America.
I thank God that I am married.
Prior to proposing to my mother, my father and maternal grandfather took a short stroll outside to my grandfather's garage. Garages were where manly business was conducted. My father asked my grandfather for permission to propose. My grandfather asked, "Do you have the means to provide for my daughter and for the children as they arrive?"
My mother was not a coddled princess. She grew up in a 900 square foot, Sears Kit House. Her dad was a security guard at one of the large factories in town. The question was an open and frank acknowledgement that raising kids takes "mama" out of the job market and modern life requires cash money.
In those days, raising kids was not considered a non-core enterprise to be let to the low cost bidder.
My dad must have been able to answer the question to my grandfather's satisfaction.
Some things have changed and some things have not
When young people are asked why they are delaying marriage today, one of the things that always seems to get brought up is money. There is a feeling (especially among men) that you should achieve a certain level of financial security before making the big plunge.
A lot of people like to think that "love is the only thing that matters" when it comes to marriage, but the cold, hard numbers tell a different story. In fact, one very shocking survey discovered that 75 percent of all American women would have a problem even dating an unemployed man.
Many of our decisions are culturally informed. The cultural norms have much information embedded within them. It is not necessary for the decision maker to explicitly think through all of the nuances. Countless other people who have been in your situation already evolved the optimal solution.
Let's talk about jobs.
Having a job is a meta-marker for many traits that are critical for a healthy, adult relationship.
A job suggest a future stream of income.
A job often has health benefits.
A job is evidence of mental stability and the ability to work with a range of people to achieve a higher goal.
Acquiring the skills needed to land a job correlates with being able to defer gratification, denotes a high degree of self-discipline and the ability to take a long-term focus.
Four outstanding reasons to use "Employed" as a first level sort.
But what if "Job" is no longer an attainable norm?
Should man (and woman) live alone, in misery?
Perhaps there is another marker or combination of markers that can substitute for "Job".
I would like to propose the historic norm prior to "Job" was to own a business. The business may have been a farm (Far From the Maddening Crowd by Thomas Hardy) or a shoe store. In good faith, I cannot advocate this path because there are so many barriers to starting a business. A simple push-cart selling hot-dogs must clear so many governmental barriers that it is beyond the reach of most people. The current political swing of the pendulum seems fixated on punishing job creators rather than empowering them.
A positive net worth, especially when income is lumpy, is a strong indicator of self-discipline. That means avoiding debt. For the ladies, that means to look beyond the car, beyond the clothing, beyond the eagerness to go on a cruise. Today, the traditional markers of "wealth" are more often the markers of bondage.
Cary Dye once told me that walking a puppy or carrying a kitten on a beach will get you more attention from girls than a new Corvette. He was right.
A psychopath would drown the kittens at 12 weeks of age and get a new one. So a savvy fellow (and the girls looking at guys) would have a mature dog and invest the time and emotion to train the dog. A dog is not a human but you can learn much of the human by looking at the dog.
A man who can house break a puppy can change a baby's diaper.
A man who takes his dog for a walk every evening will go to his daughter's soccer games.
A man who is the partner of a well mannered and gentle dog will cherish a gentle woman and raise well mannered children.