Status anxiety

What’s the point in being married if I can’t feel superior to my single friends?

It took me a while to work out. But I now think I know

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

9 August 2014

9:00 AM

I’m due to speak at an Intelligence Squared debate on Saturday and I’m worried that I might be on the wrong side. The motion is ‘Monogamy equals monotony’ and I’m opening the batting for the opposition. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m perfectly happy to make the case for monogamy. But the problem with framing the debate in this way is that it invites those of us opposing the motion to argue that, in fact, being faithful to one person is every bit as exciting as sleeping with whomever we choose.

Not only is that a difficult argument to win, but if we base the case for fidelity on those grounds, we deny ourselves one of the main pleasures of being in a monogamous relationship — namely, the sense of superiority you have over those who are too shallow to commit themselves to one person or too weak to keep their promises. When I compare myself with my unfaithful married friends, I don’t want the difference between us to consist in their failure to appreciate just how stimulating monogamy can be. Rather, I want to feel morally superior. I know that being unfaithful would probably be more fun, but I’ve chosen not to because I think keeping my marital vows is more important than massaging my ego via an endless series of sexual conquests.

My position is that, yes, monogamy does equal monotony in the sense that fidelity is more boring than infidelity, but that’s not a reason to abandon it, because doing your moral duty is more important than ‘following your bliss’, or whatever awful phrase the free love brigade come up with next.

Nevertheless, I think I can still comfortably oppose the motion, because at bottom this is a debate about the pros and cons of monogamy and I think the pros outweigh the cons. I intend to cite the work of the American sociologist Charles Murray, who makes the link between family breakdown and social deprivation. In Coming Apart, his most recent book, he points out that in 2010 only 48 per cent of white working-class adults were married, compared with 83 per cent of the educated elite. That’s a dramatic decline since the 1960s, when 84 per cent of the white working class were married, and helps account for their declining fortunes as well as the increasing gulf between those at the top and bottom of American society. After all, children born out of wedlock fare worse according to every measure. They’re more likely to drop out of school, more likely to become drug addicts, more likely to go to prison, etc. The same is true of the white working class in Britain. In 2010, less than 50 per cent were married, compared to over 80 per cent in the 1960s, with a similarly catastrophic impact on the life chances of their children.

I don’t intend to argue that we should return to an era when it was socially taboo for women to have children out of wedlock, but liberal policy-makers and opinion-formers should be less squeamish about making the case for marriage, particularly as they’re nearly all married themselves. An attitude they think of as ‘enlightened’ and ‘non-judgmental’ has devastated the white working class and exacerbated the social and economic inequality they claim to care about.

No doubt someone on the other side of the debate will make the point that it’s perfectly possible to be married without being faithful — that it’s ‘bourgeois’ of me to assume that marriage and infidelity are incompatible. I expect they’ll cite some successful open marriages, where each person enjoys the benefits of being in a stable relationship without having to pay the price of monogamy.

That’s so much hot air as far as I’m concerned. As a child brought up in the 1960s and 1970s, I’ve seen plenty of open marriages, but few of them were happy. In almost every case, they favoured men over women, particularly as the couples grew older. They were not mutually beneficial contracts, as the men liked to claim, but bargains that the women had struck in order to avoid losing their husbands. The fundamental injustice of this arrangement was rarely lost on the children, who ended up despising their fathers and pitying their mothers.

The problem with advocates of open marriage is that they want to have their cake and eat it, something that’s generally true of those who belittle monogamous relationships. If you want to sleep around, be my guest, but don’t expect to enjoy the happiness that comes from being surrounded by a loving family.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Toby Young is associate editor of The Spectator.

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Show comments
  • Kitty MLB

    Yes unfortunately there is a smugness to being married.I have
    an unmarried friend who despite being in a long term relationship
    with her chap who is always being told: you wouldn’t understand
    your not married.She now is getting married seeing marriage as the font of all wisdom..Emm !

    The idea of an ‘open marriage’ sounds absolutely awful, although I
    know the French are fond of that.You can still find members of the
    opposite sex attractive..and harmess flirting is normal ( especially
    with handsome cats) but loyalty is joined with love..and only with
    the person you are married to.

    But yes, you might think those who are unmarried seem to have more fun but that single roguish lifestyle for a man and being single for a woman will become tiresome and lonely at some point.

    • StephanieJCW

      Why on earth would you think being single means being lonely?

      I never understood this. Unless you think the only possible person an individual can have in their life is their spouse.

      I am single yet do not recall having ever feeling ‘lonely’. Incidentally my closest friend here is not single and hasn’t been for the last 10 years. He’s the loneliest person I know.

      • Kitty MLB

        No I never meant generally,you find happiness within
        yourself, as you say people can be lonely within a marriage and would probably be happier if single.
        I meant a certain type if man / woman who goes from one relationship to another which always ends in failure they are the ones who become tiresome
        especially with age and will end up lonely.

  • Richard Martin

    “…an endless series of sexual conquests.”

    Come now Toby, you aren’t Cary Grant.

    By the way, ‘Coming Apart’ is not Charles Murray’s latest book, though I think it might be his last but one.

  • StephanieJCW

    Only a complete moron, feels superior to someone purely on the basis on having signed a piece of paper (sorry being ‘married’).

    Oh of course, this is Toby Young writing…

    • Marriage is about a lot more than a piece of paper. You’re not married, are you?

      • StephanieJCW

        The difference between marriage and a committed cohabitation is a piece of paper. And feeling superior to someone for having signed a piece of paper makes you a sad git.

        If it’s just about monogamy well that’s a completely separate thing. Not all marriages are monogamous and not all non married people (single or not) have sex with multiple partners.

        Obviously to you your marriage is something special and unique. To me the only thing setting you apart from cohabiting friends of mine is a piece of paper.

        • Well, I understand your POV — but oddly I think that ‘piece of paper’ makes a difference to how people (in general) feel about staying committed, esp. when things get rocky, as they so often do.

  • global city

    I’m sure this article must be racist, supremacist or something xenophobic, like…..

    • Bonkim

      nothing of the sort – you have to pay your dues to be in the club and worthy of society’s protection.

      • global city

        I am not a great fan of putting smileys or (sarc) or (irony) at the end of posts when I have been joking, sarcastic or ironic. It seems like I will have to start doing so!


        • Kitty MLB

          Oh I have the same issue, I never put these silly
          little 🙂 (: at the end of posts finding them childish
          but people tend to misunderstand you otherwise.

          • global city

            I’ve found myself getting into loads of unintended scraps recently because of misinterpretation.

          • Kitty MLB

            Me too.Spend most of the time walking on egg
            shells.Shall feel like a 15 year old girl with the
            faces but there you go…as long as you know
            You don’t have to do them with me…infact
            please don’t.

          • global city

            OK 🙂

            (only joking)

          • Jeez you people need to lighten up. But I suppose feeling superior to Americans makes you feel better, so have at it (as we say)!

          • Kitty MLB

            Nothing wrong with Americans.Those who believe themselves superior are the French.
            utterly arrogant in every area of life.And not too
            sure about them and fidelity.French men will even look at you in a certain way when in the presence of their ladies-and I think their ladies
            do the same with men.

            The thing I find baffling about French women is
            they’re perfectly dressed and elegant but forget
            to shave the armpits….which are !

          • Yes, that’s a thorn a rose really doesn’t need!

          • Peter Chandler

            Since when has it been an imperative for women to shave their armpits? Are men who grow beards accused of (sic) forgetting to shave. They grow beards because they choose to do so. Women who choose not to shave their armpits or legs are exercising that same democratic right. At this rate, it won’t be long before it will be considered sartorially inappropriate for a woman not to have a Brazilian wax (a sine qua non in certain circles … or so we are led to believe).

          • Damaris Tighe

            I’ve discovered that Americans don’t do irony. Still licking my wounds.

          • global city

            Yes…Breibart seems to confirm that old wives tale as actually being true!

          • Damaris Tighe

            How did you guess?

          • Damaris Tighe

            Did you know that another commentator uses your avatar? Confusing …

          • Surely not, D? Surely not! Democrats may not do irony — that’s the Left for you — but otherwise perhaps what is missing is a shared context (I’m talking culture here). The cleverest people I know are Americans (admittedly taught by a German Jew).

  • Bonkim

    Stability of society depends on responsible lifestyles. Those that selfishly indulge in destructive lifestyles should not get the protection of the society they live in.

  • Jackthesmilingblack

    Britisher pals, let me share with you two pearls of wisdom, even though they may well be trampled under foot by those that disagree simply in order to be disagreeable:
    1) Combine emigration with (new) spouse acquisition. So obvious when you think it through to all but those for whom 100% Caucasian children is a requirement written in stone.
    2) On no account bring your foreign-born spouse back to live with you in UK, because in no time flat, feminism will turn her into the sort of person you went international to avoid.
    Jack, Japan Alps