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Ask Dr. Helen: Should Men Get Married?

If PJM's advice columnist Dr. Helen Smith ever doubted that the institution of marriage was getting to be an increasingly risky and expensive proposition for men - her readers have certainly educated her, forcing her to think carefully about whether or not to advise them to head to the altar.

by
Helen Smith

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October 31, 2007 - 2:01 am

“It has become a kind of religion that you can’t criticise because then you become a traitor to the great cause, which I am not.

“It is time we began to ask who are these women who continually rubbish men. The most stupid, ill-educated and nasty woman can rubbish the nicest, kindest and most intelligent man and no one protests.

“Men seem to be so cowed that they can’t fight back, and it is time they did.”

Guardian “Nobel Prize Winning Novelist Doris Lessing

A reader writes in:

Dear Dr. Helen:

After reading your last column on men’s rights, I have to ask, what are your thoughts on whether or not men should get married?

Dear Reader:

Wow, that is a tough question. Let me start by saying that many of you emailed me about my last column on men’s rights to say that I was wrong to blame men for “not showing up” to fight against the courts and laws that treat them worse than common criminals–without due process, constitutional rights or any say in government intervention into their private lives. But it seems that women are getting ahead in the workplace (in NYC and other large cities, they earn more than men) but men are falling behind in the domestic realm which includes marriage. I understand that many of you feel that I am “blaming the victim”–in this case men–but I will use in my defense the refrain preached by Martin Luther King: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor, it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

This quote was one that I found in a new book by professor Stephen Baskerville entitled Taken into Custody: The War Against Fatherhood, Marriage, and the Family.

In this book, Baskerville describes some horrific situations where men are called deadbeat dads and jailed (pdf file), fathers have their children taken away, false abuse charges ruin reputations and men lose their very lives by committing suicide after divorce decisions that leave them feeling impotent, destitute or without the people they love the most: their children. On the topic of marriage, Baskerville says:

There is mounting evidence that as men discover the terms of marriage and divorce today, they are engaging in a marriage boycott or marriage “strike”: refusing to marry or start families, knowing they can be criminalized if their wife walks out and how attractive the divorce industry has made it easy for her to do so. …. Sonja Hastings of Fathers-4-Equality says that “no matter how decent, hardworking, and caring you may be as a father, that in the event of separation, you will more than likely not get custody of your child, you will lose up to 80% of all of your assets, you will have to pay up to five times the cost of raising a child, and most importantly you could never see your child again.” In Britain a fathers’ rights group tours university campuses warning young men not to start families. Even one attorney writes a book concluding that the only effective protection for men to avoid losing their children is not to start a family in the first place.

Strong stuff. I used to think that it was bad advice. How could someone tell young men or older men not to have families? A good family is a wonderful thing; however, I admit to having been naive enough to do a post on marriage at my blog thinking that I would hear about the positive things men liked about being married. Boy, was I wrong. Here is what I heard instead:

I’m a single, never married guy. Professional, good job, etc. Have been dating a great lady for almost a year. I thought I was ready to ask her to marry me (she has been hinting for months that she wants to marry). Problem is, at least 7 out of 10 guys I talk to tell me that it is one of the worst mistakes that they every made. Some tell me not to marry American women, that they are all feminist at heart. One married guy told me that I could get the same effect by selling my house, giving all my money away and having someone castrate me. This is really starting to un-nerve me and the more I learn about the legal bias against men, I’m beginning to back off of marriage. I love my girlfriend, but all of these guys say their girlfriends changed once they married and begin to dominant and control. I am starting to think marriage in American can not be saved.

I met a woman that I was sure was my soul mate. I was deeply in love and so, I thought, was she. All this changed when I lost my high paying job through downsizing. To my credit, I went to work immediately and had two jobs, but still only made about 80% of my old income. My wife gave me a year and then began sleeping with a man who hadn’t lost his job in my bed while I was at work. She left with him, taking almost all of my savings and anything else she could carry. Her explanation was that she was “an expensive bitch” and she was unhappy because I worked so much. The adultery doesn’t seem to matter to the court and she got essentially everything. Besides the financial losses, I was so devastated by the betrayal that I could barely function for months. She treated me like garbage and I never worked harder at any endeavor in my life.

So back to the question of should men get married? I say, do so with an open mind and realize that the legal system may be stacked against you. Make sure you trust the woman you are going to marry and consider a prenuptial agreement that can serve to protect you should a divorce become a reality. One doesn’t want to become jaded to marriage and relationships but at the same time, a certain degree of reality is warranted because men often do not make out well in divorce proceedings –for example, 84% of all child and spousal support payments come from men. When things become less attractive to people, they are less likely to do it. If society wants men to be involved more in marriage, marriage has to be more attractive to them-it is getting riskier and more expensive for men to be married. It’s not surprising fewer of them are interested.

For readers, what advice, if any, would you give to the young men of today who wonder if they should get married? Or if you are male and not married, do divorce laws and the legal system have anything to do with your decision or not?

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If you have a question you would like answered, please leave it below or email me at askdrhelen@hotmail.com. Your questions may be edited for length and clarity. Please note that your first name only or no name at all will be used to identify your question-if you want me to use your name, tell me, otherwise you will be referred to by your first name or as “a reader” etc.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee and blogs at drhelen.blogspot.com. This advice column is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not purport to replace therapy or psychological treatment.

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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