RESEARCHERS AT CORNELL UNIVERSITY not long ago asked 20,000 young men and women across the United States how they self-identified sexually. Of the men in the sample, 5.6 percent said they were gay or bisexual. Of the women, 14.4 percent did. Leonard Sax offers a possible explanation for why three times as many young women as young men now say they’re gay: The guys they know are losers.
James graduated a decade ago from a big state college out West. “I was not the greatest student in high school,” he admits, “so my options weren’t Ivy League. I decided to go for the weather.” He majored in business. Why? “I got to a point where I just wanted to get out, and that’s what I chose.”
When he graduated, he worked for an Internet software company, then at a magazine owned by a guy he knew in college. The magazine work was hard, and his parents, he says, “definitely saw some lack of motivation.” He moved back East to take a job in the family business: “Looking back is always 20/20, but you should not take a job because it’s family.” He broke up with the girlfriend he’d had for a decade. It was the start of the recession. “She was spoiled,” James says. “She wanted things. It was a difficult time.” Two years ago, he moved back home. He’s trying to start up an energy consulting firm.
Living at home in Penn Valley wasn’t so bad at first. He spent much of the first summer at his grandfather’s place down the Shore. He met a girl, a teacher his age, and she had an apartment. But he broke up with her after a year and a half: “I came to realize she cared for me more than I would ever be able to return.”
Now, life with his parents is wearing on him. “If you want to watch TV, there’s just the den,” he says. “And they’re in there.” I ask whether he thinks his parents might have imagined themselves doing something at this point in their lives other than sharing their home with him. “They’re not really doing anything,” he says, sounding a little surprised. “They enjoy me being there.”
James is 31. He always figured he’d be married at 31. He certainly thought he’d have a place of his own. He doesn’t have a plan for the future: “Plans change, and the plan has to change really quick.” His outlook on life has become simpler: “I like being near my family, near my friends. I don’t need to make $10 million. I’d like to be successful, have a house, have kids. But how I get there … ”
I ask if, looking back, he would have done anything differently. “You want to say no,” he says, “that you have no regrets. But I could have tried harder in school. It would have built up a work ethic, you know? I felt I was okay not doing any work. But that carries over into life.”
James has a new girlfriend now: “I guess I’m kind of a catch.” She just graduated from college. The teacher he broke up with? “I didn’t want a girl who was getting older and pressuring to get married. I’m not at that point in my life.”
Leonard Sax writes and lectures on how to change the American education system so boys will become more engaged. But for guys like James, from here on out? Sax offers an analogy: If you’re baking a cake and you just put it in the oven and realize you forgot to add the vanilla, you can still pull the cake out and stir some in. Pouring vanilla extract over a cake that’s already baked isn’t going to make it better, though. “When a family calls and says their 30-year-old son spends his days watching porn and playing video games,” Sax says, “my response is, ‘I have nothing to offer you.’”
A 30-year-old man is baked.