Friday, February 27, 2009

The Sexual Marketplace

Call it the sexual marketplace or the dating scene or just plain courtship... no matter what you call it, it is undergoing a massive transformation. Or better, a reversion to the mean.

Young men who are jobless or bonusless are less likely to date and less likely to mate. And they can hardly be expected to shower the objects of their affections with limitless gifts.

So, what is the new dating scene going to look like?

After markets go to extremes, they tend to revert to the mean. At least, that is the theory. But when it comes to dating, what is the mean?

Different ideas have been put forth. Writers in the Washington Post and the Atlantic Monthly have written cogently on the issues involved. Link here and here.

Some have suggested that the mean is a feminist version of gender equity. Most of the jobs lost have been held by men, and this might lead more men to stay home and become nurturers while more women become sole breadwinners. This would obviously affect the sexual marketplace, perhaps leading women to look for more nurturing men and men to look for more dynamic, career-oriented women.

But Emily Bazelon, writing in, has thrown doubt on this outcome. Link here.

Bazelon suggests that since men react much worse to unemployment than women do, many women might decide to leave the workforce to open up jobs for their husbands, roughly as happened after World War II.

If the mean is not the advent of a gynocracy, then perhaps it will be a more Darwinian world where gender roles are more strictly defined and where sexuality reverts to its traditional role in a calculus of fertility and reproduction.

This would not, however, be as radical a change as it first appears. The excesses that characterized certain segments of the dating scene seem to have been produced by Darwin on steroids.

For several years now the New York sexual marketplace has been defined by the mega bonuses that young investment bankers, hedge fund traders, and financial advisers were using to impress young women.

Think what you will about this ostentatious display of wealth, it signified an ability to provide for a wife and children in the great cosmopolitan metropolis.

All things considered, you needed something like a Wall Street bonus to afford a co-op in a good neighborhood. Add to that the cost of private school, and you had to be in either finance or real estate to bring up a family in New York City.

Spending thousands of dollars on a date showed that the man in question could provide a New York lifestyle for himself, his wife, and his children.

Unfortunately, the women who were receiving all of that largess were often at pains to reciprocate. And they often felt like they were being bought and sold. If they yielded to temptation and married the men with the massive bonuses, their simmering resentment often led to marital misery and divorce.

But that world is over. And it is not coming back any time soon. Thus, the male status hierarchy that had been skewed by the overemphasis on money is adjusting to a new reality. Men who have prestige, but perhaps not fortunes, are becoming more desirable than unemployed financiers.

The previous dating culture was something like a free-for-all where everyone was laboring under the assumption that they could have it all.

As we know, serious money forgave some seriously bad behavior.

Now women will perhaps become less tolerant of bad behavior and men will work on developing other qualities that will make them desirable in the sexual marketplace. A good place to start would be: making money the old fashioned way, by earning it.

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