Can we please put an end, once and for all, to the pernicious idea that New Zealand is in the grip of a “man drought”, with scores of frustrated women casting about for that rare and precious commodity – a nice, educated man.
I've posted on this previously. The journalistic beat-up of the original story was dumb and credulous. There's some doubt about the raw demographic statistics, and a good deal more about what they actually mean. There's also reasons – though I won't go into them here – why an equal number of men and women wouldn't necessarily produce the supposedly desirable system of one-to-one coupling.
But let's leave aside all that pointy-headed analysis and focus on the incontrovertible anecdotal evidence: in the most urbanised, highly-educated, feminised part of the country – central Wellington – there's not very many single women to be found. And certainly not in any semi-public setting where members of the opposite sex might actually see them.
As one guy interviewed last year said, when the meme spread from the print media to TV: “maybe they're all at home lighting candles and bathing themselves in lavender oil”.
This situation was established firmly the other Friday night, when four single young men found ourselves sitting outside a bar around 8:30, pondering on how hard it was to meet any girls. One of the two female members of the party had left ten minutes previously to join her husband. The other [engaged] woman had just departed rather hurriedly after establishing that, despite our articulate conversation and reasonable dress sense, none of us were actually gay.
All four of the males in attendance that night earn above the average wage. All four are in possession of that rare, and, according to the economist wonks, desirable quality – a postgraduate degree. None of us, on a good day, would be described as truly ugly. Two of us are even more than six foot tall (though I regret to say that I am not one of them). All four are capable of maintaining an interesting conversation on a variety if subjects (which, according to our female interlocutor, was probably part of our problem).
But we all agreed that, although some of us might have done alright in international settings (nudge nudge, wink wink), in New Zealand it was damnedly difficult.
A clue to the real state of affairs was to be found in yet another story on how hard it is to be a single Kiwi gal, which appeared a couple of months ago in that pillar of serious journalism, The Listener. Reading that article, I found it hard to get past the fact that the key “interviewee” was actually (I was privileged to know) the pictures editor of...The Listener. However, buried amidst the blather was an interesting nugget. An academic survey (at Massey? I think...) of single New Zealand men and women found that 50 percent of men cited “the person I like isn't available or is not interested” as the reason for their singledom. Just 20 percent of women gave the same reason.
This rings true to experience. My single female friends and acquaintances all tell the same “Bridget Jones”-style tale of woe: despite considerable male attention, and numerous encounters, liaisons, and semi-formed relationships, they can't find the right man. My single male friends and acquaintances also share a similar story: they pretty much can't get a date (or replace with a cruder expression, if you will).
So for one group it's like being in a clothes shop where there's some quite nice things on the racks, but you just can't find exactly the one you want. For the other, it's like being in the same shop and being told that the currency you have isn't accepted there.
The reasons for this are complicated, and I won't even begin to theorise on them at this point in time. What anyone can do about it, if anything, is even less clear. At an individual level, I have a strategy which I know others share: leave the country as soon as is practicable. I don't believe there's a “man drought” in New Zealand now. But if current trends continue, there eventually will be.