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Where the Boys Aren’t

With female students now outnumbering males on most college campuses, many guys don't lead simply because they don't have to.

Years ago it was different. Boys went off to college, to become engineers, lawyers, doctors, men. Some girls went off to college, too, to become nurses, teachers, wives.

But that was years ago, and now the girls go off to college to become doctors and lawyers, while the guys … well, it seems that a lot them are now more likely to drop out early or join the military or simply get a job right out of high school.

Welcome to the modern American college campus: Fewer guys than before. More girls than ever. A young male’s dream. A single female’s nightmare.

The New York Times reports that those old days are long gone, and so, apparently, are some of the guys. Women on college campuses now make up nearly 60 percent of the student population, and while this is great news for female empowerment and achievement, it does little for the single girl who can either go out with her female friends or not go out at all:

Thanks to simple laws of supply and demand, it is often the women who must assert themselves romantically or be left alone on Valentine’s Day, staring down a George Clooney movie over a half-empty pizza box. ”

I was talking to a friend at a bar, and this girl just came up out of nowhere, grabbed him by the wrist, spun him around and took him out to the dance floor and started grinding,” said Kelly Lynch, a junior at North Carolina, recalling a recent experience.

Students interviewed here said they believed their mating rituals reflected those of college students anywhere. But many of them — men and women alike — said that the lopsided population tends to skew behavior.

“A lot of my friends will meet someone and go home for the night and just hope for the best the next morning,” Ms. Lynch said. “They’ll text them and say: ‘I had a great time. Want to hang out next week?’ And they don’t respond.”

Even worse, “Girls feel pressured to do more than they’re comfortable with, to lock it down,” Ms. Lynch said.

The Times reporter didn’t interview just students. Did you know there are multiple academic experts on this very subject? Kathleen Bogle, author of the 2008 book Hooking Up: Sex, Dating, and Relationships on Campus, told the Times that, “On college campuses where there are far more women than men, men have all the power to control the intensity of sexual and romantic relationships.”

“Women do not want to get left out in the cold, so they are competing for men on men’s terms,” [Bogle] wrote. “This results in more casual hook-up encounters that do not end up leading to more serious romantic relationships. Since college women say they generally want ‘something more’ than just a casual hook-up, women end up losing out.”

W. Keith Campbell, a psychology professor at the University of Georgia, which is 57 percent female, put it this way: “When men have the social power, they create a man’s ideal of relationships,” he said. Translation: more partners, more sex. Commitment? A good first step would be his returning a woman’s Facebook message.

Professor Campbell went so far as to compare the college campus to retirement communities, where widows typically outnumber widowers. Either way, it’s like an episode of The Bachelor, only without much chance of winning a well-mannered doctor, financier or pilot.

No surprise, many college males take advantage of the disparity in all the wrong ways. For others, even having the numbers in their favor hasn’t made much of a difference.

“A lot of guys know that they can go out and put minimal effort into their appearance and not treat girls to drinks or flatter them, and girls will still flirt with them,” said Felicite Fallon, a senior at Florida State University, which is 56 percent female.

Several male students acknowledged that the math skewed pleasantly in their favor. “You don’t have to work that hard,” said Matt Garofalo, a senior at North Carolina. “You meet a girl at a late-night restaurant, she’s texting you the next day.”

But it’s not as if the imbalance leads to ceaseless bed-hopping, said Austin Ivey, who graduated from North Carolina last year but was hanging out in a bar near campus last week. “Guys tend to overshoot themselves and find a really beautiful girlfriend they couldn’t date otherwise, but can, thanks to the ratio,” he said.

Mr. Ivey himself said that his own college relationship lasted three years. “She didn’t think she would meet another guy, I didn’t think I would meet another girl as attractive as her,” he said. …

“It’s awesome being a guy,” admitted Garret Jones, another North Carolina senior, but he also lamented a culture that fostered hook-ups over relationships. This year, he said, he finally found a serious girlfriend.

Indeed, there are a fair number of Mr. Lonelyhearts on campus. “Even though there’s this huge imbalance between the sexes, it still doesn’t change the fact of guys sitting around, bemoaning their single status,” said Patrick Hooper, a Georgia senior. “It’s the same as high school, but the women are even more enchanting and beautiful.”

It’s the same as high school? Try junior high. At times, the article paints a picture of college life that seems little-removed from the  send-a-friend-over-to-find-out-if-he-likes-me days of eighth grade. Said one Margaret Cheatham Williams, a North Carolina junior: “It causes girls to overanalyze everything — text messages, sideways glances, conversations…. Girls will sit there with their friends for 15 minutes trying to figure out what punctuation to use in a text message.”

Now hold on a minute. If U.S. population trends haven’t changed dramatically in the last decade, then males still outnumber females in the under-25 age group. Where are the rest of the men? Hard to say, exactly, but wherever they’re are hiding, it’s not on campus.

And what about Christian colleges? The Times article only referenced secular schools, and while one hopes the “hooking-up” culture is not so widespread on Christian campuses, there is significant evidence that many of them are dealing with a similar shift to a female-dominant student population. How will this trend impact the next generation of single Christian women — those women who half-jokingly (and some half-seriously) went off to college in hopes of earning a “Mrs.” to go along with their B.A.?

So, what are the options for today’s coeds? Do they reconsider their must-haves, re-evaluate their standards, lower their expectations? Do they start dating guys who’ve dropped out or who’ve never been to college? Are they really willing to consider husbands who are less educated and thus less likely to earn as much or provide as well as they can provide for themselves? To complicate matters further, are most guys even willing to buck tradition and pursue a woman who both outearns him and outranks him in the workplace?

Let’s take this a step further. If this trend continues, we’re looking at a generation of young men who are falling behind their feminine peers, not only in terms of educational achievement, but in terms of basic, everyday maturity. It is a generation of men who don’t grow up simply because they don’t have to. And what of those young women who long not just for a spouse, but a leader and a provider? For these ladies, the pickings are getting slimmer.

How did we get in this mess? Wouldn’t it be convenient if we could identify a singular cause, a lone scapegoat?

Blame the guys; that’s easy. They would rather sit in their parents’ basements, hang out with their buddies and play video games. Remain in a state of perpetual adolescence, because college would require effort and commitment and maturity, which would require “growing up,” and the truth is that those things are no fun at all.

How about the girls, then? Whose bright idea was it that “giving in” was better than “locking it down”? The female students quoted by the Times all seem to know — some via sheer instinct, plenty of others from experience — that “hooking up” almost never leads to what they really want: a serious relationship, marriage … respect. But too many girls do what they know they shouldn’t and still complain when the result is exactly what they feared. Sure, it’s easy to blame the men, but when so many young women act like predators or even willing accomplices, how long can you listen to them bemoan their predicament without telling them to take a long look in the mirror?

And what about society as a whole — the slow yet steady shifts in American culture that got us here? Can’t we just blame the public school system, popular music, films and season after season of MTV’s The Real World?

Finally, what about authority figures? Teachers, pastors, youth leaders? Moms and dads who allow their sons to remain boys for far too long? Parents who say little or nothing when their daughters start pursuing boys before they even enter junior high? Schools so enamored with eliminating all forms of competition that many boys decide it’s easier to be followers than leaders?

All of these concerns are valid, and all of them have contributed to the problem to some extent. Furthermore, I won’t lie and say that Christian singles are somehow immune to what’s going on in the culture at large. I have no doubt that many of the same problems have already shown up — though hopefully to a lesser degree — on many Christian college campuses.

What I can say is that single Christians, both men and women, can choose to rise above these behavioral shifts. The notion that a young woman has to behave provocatively to attract a man is simply not true. Who cares if the odds on campus are not in your favor? Is God subservient to statistics? Besides, if you have to lower yourself to get a guy’s attention, is he really the kind of guy you want to spend an evening with, much less a lifetime?

In fact, there is a noticeable glimmer of hope contained within the Times article itself. Just listen to North Carolina senior Jayne Dallas, who complained that the population of male students was even smaller when you considered them as potential dates: “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said.

In other words, even with a dramatic shift in the male-female campus ratio — with fewer available men to choose from than ever — there will always be those girls who would rather fight over a select few and risk being alone than even “consider” the remaining pool of less-desirable guys. Meanwhile, those males who manage to make the cut get to discriminate against the “not-hot” girls with impunity.

Just a guess, but it sounds like once you get past the potential and the superficial, there might be quite a few studious men to choose from after all. And while they might never appear on The Bachelor, they might turn out to be pretty decent husbands and providers.

Copyright 2009 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.

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About the Author

Thomas Jeffries

Thomas Jeffries is a journalist, editor and recreational basketball player. He was born on the east coast, grew up in the Midwest and now resides with his wife and kids in Colorado. Thomas has written for several magazines, newspapers and websites, but his greatest passion as a writer is long-form narrative nonfiction. His journalistic adventures have taken him from Washington, D.C., to inner-city Chicago to Florida’s death row. In his spare time, Thomas does a lot of mundane things — none of them worth describing in detail.

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