If you were to scan the news headlines over the past few months, the primary message you would glean about men in America would be this: They are failing. Failing to become adults; failing to be financially independent; failing as fathers; failing as husbands. It's enough to make a girl like myself throw her hands up in the air and vow to be single for the rest of her life.
Yet, whose standards are we going by here? And what if all these statistics about men in their 20s and 30s living lives of self-indulgent abandon, delaying marriage, and being neglectful fathers aren't nearly as black and white as they seem? What if there's more going on beneath the surface, and what about all the men who don't fall into those categories? The ones who are involved fathers, devoted husbands, and successful career men. Isn't it high time we gave them a little bit of press?
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According to a New York Times article, many men in American have failed to achieve the five specific markers sociologists call the "Milestones of Adulthood." Namely:
1. Finishing college
2. Leaving home
3. Gaining financial independence
4. Getting married
5. Having children
The article also insists that most, if not all, of these things should be accomplished by the age of 30.
Derek, 27, at first glance is one of those guys the New York Times was referring to. But he resists the label.
"Why is 30 the magic age?" Derek asks. "People live a lot longer than ever before, so guys nowadays don't mind taking extra time to get the partying out of their systems, figure out who they are and what they value. Why rush to get married if you haven't done any of that yet? I think it's better to wait and take your time finding the right person."
Matt is 30 and admits that he is "one of those guys" still stuck in adolescence so he has a different perspective on the matter. Matt spent much of his 20s goofing off and acting rebellious, and now believes that many of the men his age who drink beer and engage in X-Box marathons do so as a type of coping mechanism because they aren't fulfilled with their jobs or their places in life.
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"At this point, I'd love to be more of an adult," Matt says. "I want a career, I want to settle down, but the reality is that it takes four to five years to finish college before you can really do any of that." Matt works part-time as a server while finishing up his bachelor's degree in business management. When I asked him how he would define adulthood, he takes the definition one step beyond financial independence, and says that adulthood occurs when people have someone or something else that is financially dependent upon them.
"If I have a slow week at the restaurant, it doesn't matter much. I just have to support myself and there's little responsibility. If I had to support a wife or child or sibling or dog, even, that would be a totally different story. The act of taking that on makes you more of an adult, I think."