Henry Higgins: I’m an ordinary man
Colonel Pickering: . . . Are you a man of good character where women are concerned?
Higgins: Have you ever met a man of good character where women are concerned?
Pickering: Yes. Very frequently.
Higgins: Well, I haven’t. I find that the moment I let a woman make friends with me she becomes jealous, exacting, suspicious and a damned nuisance. I find that the moment I let myself become friends with a woman, I become selfish and tyrannical . . . After all, Pickering . . . I’m an ordinary man . . .
Excerpted from the 1956 musical comedy My Fair Lady, this dialogue between confirmed bachelor Professor Henry Higgins and his friend Colonel Hugh Pickering is a comedy highlight of the show, most likely because it describes how the genders sometimes actually feel about marriage. Yet it also brings out one of the most important reasons that men, especially young men, need to marry.
Ironically, Professor Higgins’s self-criticism underlines among the most important purposes for marriage: to provide a sphere in which men’s “selfish and tyrannical” nature can be tamed. Then they can be subjected to the meticulous standards necessary to develop to adulthood. As he recognizes at the end of the show when he decides to marry Eliza, she is “exacting . . . and a damned nuisance” because he wished to hold onto an adolescent bachelorhood. Once he realizes he needs her as much or more than she needs him his opposition disappears.
One of the most common complaints I hear when counseling female sailors, the single ones, is that there are no men to marry. While women have long groused about this, today it cannot be attributed to a scarcity of men such as there was during the decades after World War II. Two factors appear to be driving this trend: young men remained mired in immaturity and young women are unwilling to be the agents of maturation that they historically were.
Men use the justification of insufficient financial resources to avoid marriage. However Charles Murray, in his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, debunks this excuse. I challenged him on what I thought was the most obvious flaw in his theory but his response proved me wrong.
Despite an abundance of evidence that married men are healthier and happier than single men, freedom from responsibility retains its mythical hold. Coupled with the easy availability of sexual gratification without marriage and for a young man who does not seek spiritual fitness and pays scant attention to physical and mental fitness, there seems to be no reason to commit to marriage.
Short of accepting the results of multiple generations of men who remain adolescents into their old age, society must re-examine the decision not to pressure young men to marry. As well, people need to consider re-adopting the ideal that seeking growth in all areas of their lives is a core value.
Change can be positive. But often there are unintended consequences. The true test of wisdom is whether a society is willing to undo change when its ramifications prove negative.
Question – Why have so many young men abandoned marriage?
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