Traditionally, a man has been expected to marry. Bachelorhood was positively forbidden in some ancient European societies, including the early Roman Republic. Others offered higher social status for husbands and relative disgrace for bachelors. There seems to have been a fear that the sexual instinct alone was inadequate to insure a sufficient number of offspring. Another seldom mentioned motive for the expectation of marriage was husbands’ envy of bachelors: “Why should that fellow be free and happy when I am stuck working my life away to support an ungrateful creature who nags me?” Strange as it sounds to modern ears, the Christian endorsement of celibacy was a liberalization of sexual morality; it recognized there could be legitimate motives for remaining unmarried. One social function of the celibate religious orders was to give that minority of men and women unsuited for or disinclined to marriage a socially acceptable way of avoiding it.
Obviously, an obligation of marrying implies the possibility of doing so. It was not difficult for an ordinary man to get a wife in times past. One reason is what I call the grandmother effect. Civilization has been defined as the partial victory of age over youth. After several decades of married life, a woman looks back and finds it inconceivable that she once considered a man’s facial features an important factor in mate selection. She tries to talk some sense into her granddaughter before it is too late. “Don’t worry about what he looks like; don’t worry about how he makes you feel; that isn’t important.” If the girl had a not especially glamorous but otherwise unexceptionable suitor (the sort who would be charged with harassment today), she might take the young man’s part: “If you don’t catch this fellow while you can, some smarter girl will.” So it went, generation after generation. This created a healthy sense of competition for decent, as opposed to merely sexually attractive, men. Husbands often never suspected the grandmother effect, living out their lives in the comforting delusion that their wives married them solely from recognition of their outstanding merits. But today grandma has been replaced by Cosmopolitan, we are living with the results.