Recently, as a friend recounted a date, she mentioned that her male caller was getting a lot of pressure from his friends to hurry up and settle down. They wanted him to find a nice woman and get going on the path to marriage, babies, and a mortgage—as his friends, presumably, already were doing. Her description of this detail gave me pause. Admittedly, I have never given a moment’s thought to the subject of the pressure men receive to partner up and settle down.
As a woman living in a culture that, by and large, is still comfortable using terms like ‘bachelor’ for older, unmarried men, and ‘spinster’ for older, unmarried women, I suppose I assumed that American men have more freedom and social acceptance around when (and if) they settle down. But considering how much time my female friends and I spend over bottles of wine bemoaning the social pressure we feel, it seemed a matter worth exploring.
Determined to discover whether my friend’s anecdote was a fluke or a trend, we asked seven men about their own experiences dealing with friends’, family’s, and the world at large’s opinions about them finding the mythical one.
If I meet an elderly woman, I expect her to say something like, ‘So you’re a lady killer, right?’
It’s Hard to Level-Set on Expectations
“Personally, I’ve felt explicit pressure from girlfriends to get married, even though I openly acknowledge that such plans are not on my horizon, and that I’m not the right person to be dating if they need a firm commitment to marriage within the next five years or so. This isn’t to say that I’m against commitment—rather, that I have career and personal goals that are a higher priority at this stage in my life. The trouble is, even though it might seem as if a mutual understanding has been reached, the issue seems to resurface repeatedly, at which point it’s simply destructive to the relationship. Interestingly, I’ve felt the most marriage pressure when things outside the relationship weren’t going well. For instance, a former girlfriend was having a tough time at work or with family, and it seemed like she began to think of marriage as kind of a silver bullet to making at least one thing in life ‘right.’
As for general sexual potency, this isn’t about pressure to settle down per se, but rather, to be ‘in the game,’ so to speak. For example, if I meet an elderly woman, I can almost always expect them to say something like, ‘So you’re a lady killer, right?’ or, ‘The girls must love you!’ It’s weird and uncomfortable—like they’re inferring that you’re a straight man dating around, but it also has a weird sexual connotation. Same thing with middle-aged men: Although they may straight-up say something inappropriate like, ‘Fuck those ladies good.'” — Mike, 30
Pressure Amps Up as Others Pair Off
“I’ve experienced pressure to settle from both social and familial circles. From social circles it has been more implicit and a result of my peers and friends partnering up and the change in lifestyle that comes with that—i.e. less going out, fewer ‘singles activities’ and more ‘partner activities’ like double dates and small dinner parties. From family, that pressure is more explicit, but communicated through playful jokes. Rarely have I received a hard explicit pressure to partner up. The pressure seems to have increased as I’ve gotten older and language has moved from ‘partnering up’ to ‘marriage.’“— Steve, 31
There’s a false perception that a married man equals a mature man.
People Expect Full Disclosure on Your Relationship Status
“I’ve never felt pressured to settle down, but I’m only in my early 20s, so perhaps that’s on its way. I have experienced a lot more pressure to talk about romantic partners in general, though. Because I tend to share different things about myself with the various social circles, people probably think I’m either a prude or unconfident if I don’t tell them about who I might be seeing. In a way, this is its own kind of pressure—not to settle down with someone, but to at least start being vocal about it like everyone else.” — Bailey, 22
Social Media Just Makes Things Worse
“The biological clock thing isn’t a factor for men, but I think there is a perception that a married man equals a mature man, and one that is taken more seriously in a professional setting. It’s almost like an item in your career advancing checklist. I feel that more on the East Coast than I did living in San Francisco. I think I feel the pressure more thanks to social media, and the constant posts showing people coupling off, getting married, and having kids! When did my Facebook become a baby feed? And of course, I also receive pressure from my mom, which I think is more of a cultural thing. She wants me to find a ‘nice girl.’ Hey, so do I!” — Vlad, 30
The most pressure I feel to partner up is from myself—but that primarily stems from a desire to have a bigger apartment.
Gay Men Feel Less Pressure Than Straight Ones
“As a young gay man in New York City, I’ve felt no pressure from friends or colleagues to settle down. I’m sure there’s a difference between straight and gay men, as gay men have virtually no timeline with regard to having children, and many gay men don’t want children anyway. I think much of the pressure on men to settle down is rooted in the idea that they need to create a family, which most people don’t want to do, the older they get. Furthermore, I’ve found that many gay men are very comfortable remaining single well into their 40s and 50s, which means there’s little to no generational pressure.
If you consider the fact that, from an evolutionary standpoint, there’s a biological case for why men have trouble settling down, it’s easy to see why trying to create a long-term monogamous relationship between two men can be very difficult. The most pressure I’ve received is from my parents, but even then, they rarely ask, and when they do, it’s only out of concern for my well-being. I think the most pressure I receive to partner up is from myself—but that primarily stems from a desire to have a bigger apartment, and someone taller to help change lightbulbs.” — Will, 27
Tuning Out the Noise Helps Lower the Pressure
“I feel pressure to settle down all the time, but not from any single person or thing. It’s more that I’ve been conditioned by my upbringing and social media—so many goddamned couples and babies—to think and feel that partnering up, getting married, and having a family is the ‘appropriate’ thing for someone my age to do. And it’s not like I don’t want those things, because I really do. But I also need to remember that there’s nothing wrong with me for not having them, either. The trick is to tune all this shit out and focus on being the best version of myself and then, hopefully, by putting out the right energy, I’ll attract someone who wants the same commitment I do.” — Scott, 34