Where Have All the Good Men Gone?

Series: Window on the World

by Phil Ryken February 8, 2004

The book isn’t exactly about what you think it is. It’s called Why There Are No Good Men Left [New York: Broadway, 2003], and you probably think it’s about what’s wrong with the American male. But the book is hardly a diatribe against single men. Instead, it is a sympathetic and scientific examination of a contemporary crisis in dating and mating. It is less about single men than it is about single women: what they want in life and how they are trying to get it.

The book, which was written by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, analyzes current trends in singleness, courtship, and marriage. Among its most startling revelations is the fact that as recently as 1970, only ten percent of all women aged 25 to 29 were unmarried [p. 11]. Think about that for a moment. Only a generation ago, fully ninety percent of American women were married by the time they turned 30. Ninety percent!

Needless to say, things have changed. Whitehead doesn’t make an exact comparison in her book, but in the last thirty years the percentage of women who remain single has at least tripled [p. 10]. What have not changed very much are the expectations of single women, roughly ninety percent of whom still rank having a good marriage and family as “extremely important.”

There was a time, not long ago, when most women could reasonably expect to achieve this goal. But the growing gap between expectation and reality means that many women–and men, for that matter–are suffering in their singleness. By the time they reach 30, they already feel like they have missed some kind of deadline. As a result, “many smart, successful, and otherwise happy young women [are] in a state of perplexity about their love lives. They are frustrated by the dating scene, bewildered about how to go about finding the right man at the right time in their lives, and uncertain about their chances for love” [p. 186]. It could also be said that many young men live in a similar state of perplexity, bewilderment, and uncertainty.

Whitehead identifies two cultural changes that contribute to this problem. One is the new timetable that many young women follow, in which they seek to get established professionally first, and only then to settle down. The other change is the breakdown of all the old rules for courtship. According to Whitehead, “No one knows what the rules, conventions, or accepted practices are. No consensus exists on crucial matters of romantic conduct such as who should take the initiative in dating, when to have sex, when to live together, what it means to be a couple, who proposes marriage, what constitutes commitment, how to go about finding a worthy marriage partner, and what it takes to make love last” [p. 2].

The result is that many single women find themselves wondering where all the good men have gone. Whitehead describes some of the strategies they are now using to find and attract a mate, such as searching the Internet or serial speed dating. Perhaps some of these strategies sometimes work, but there is a fundamental flaw in all of them. In each case the woman is the one doing the pursuing. Yet the biblical pattern for marriage (see Ephesians 5:22-33)–and by analogy, therefore, the pattern for courtship–calls for men to show spiritual leadership. Among other things, this means initiating and nurturing a relationship towards marriage. A woman who is doing all the work to keep a relationship going will almost certainly never end up with a husband who fits the biblical pattern of strong servant leadership.

Whitehead’s solutions to the plight of the new single woman hardly seem very promising. Indeed, her book is far better at identifying the problem than at providing the solution. Among other things, she gives in to the view that co-habitation can be a legitimate form of courtship. But this is a false and ultimately self-destructive way to prepare for marriage because it claims the benefits of marriage without the promises that bind it together.

Why There Are No Good Men Left helps us to be honest about the fact that singleness has its sufferings. This does not mean that it does not also have its joys, or that it is not a gift from God, as the Bible says it is (1 Cor. 7:7). Nor does it mean that single people necessarily suffer more than married people do. Every calling and station in life has its own unique difficulties. What it does mean is that we need to see our singleness as part of our submission to God’s sovereignty. Even if it involves suffering–and maybe because it involves suffering–it is one of the ways that God is doing his work in our lives.

If you are single, don’t think that God is not good because he has not given you the relationship that you want and are sometimes tempted to think that you need. Don’t blame people of the opposite gender for not growing in the kind of godliness that would prepare them for marriage. And don’t put your life on hold while you are “waiting for someone special.” How can it be godly to wait for a blessing that God has not promised to give?

Do live your life with purpose, honoring your calling as a single person in Christ. At the same time, be open to the possibility that your plans may need to change. Leave enough space in your life to develop meaningful relationships. Some singles get so caught up in pursuing their goals that they hardly have time to get to know someone well enough to marry. As Whitehead explains in her book, single women who want to have it all often find their careers getting in the way of marriage. They have trouble finding the right man at the right time to fit into their plans.

It is not wrong to make plans, of course, but whatever plans we make–including the plans that we sometimes make for singleness, courtship, and marriage–must be brought completely under the lordship of Jesus Christ. The real problem for most of us is not that we can’t find the right man or the right woman, but that we have trouble accepting the man or the woman that God is calling us to become.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Phil Ryken. © 2024 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org