Chromeo endorses a Tenderoni that “let me slide enough.” Ew!

Yesterday, the Washington Post published a love letter to young love by Mark Regnerus. Piggybacking on the trend of couples marrying later in life, Regnerus argues that today’s young adults should stop delaying matrimony by “hitting the clubs, incessantly checking Facebook, Twittering their latest love interest and obsessing about their poor job prospects,” and just get married already.

But Regnerus isn’t really P.O.ed at eternal undergrads drinking their lives away—-only the females. What Mark Regnerus is truly lamenting is a trend away from what I like to call the “Tenderoni” theory of marriage:

The average age of American men marrying for the first time is now 28. That’s up five full years since 1970 and the oldest average since the Census Bureau started keeping track. If men weren’t pulling women along with them on this upward swing, I wouldn’t be complaining. But women are now taking that first plunge into matrimony at an older age as well. The age gap between spouses is narrowing: Marrying men and women were separated by an average of more than four years in 1890 and about 2.5 years in 1960. Now that figure stands at less than two years. I used to think that only young men—-and a minority at that—-lamented marriage as the death of youth, freedom and their ability to do as they pleased. Now this idea is attracting women, too.

“Tenderoni”—-“a slang terminology which refers to a younger male or female love interest”—-emerged in the 1970s, but the concept is as old as time. Ah, the ’70s—-when women, on average, married half a decade older than themselves. Creepy.

Michael Jackson, lifetime Tenderoni enthusiast

But alas, the 1970’s are over—-have been for decades! That doesn’t deter Regnerus, who pulls some stats to argue why older men should return to the good old days of marrying ‘Ronis: “women’s ‘market value’ declines steadily as they age, while men’s tends to rise in step with their growing resources,” he reports; “women who marry at 18 have a better shot at making a marriage work than men who marry at 21.”

It’s telling that Regnerus’ arguments for marrying young are all about making marriages work, not making women’s lives better. Women should get married young because young women can devote themselves to staying married (instead of their careers). If women wait don’t settle early on, maybe no man will ever marry them (and what will support them then—-certainly not their own careers!)

Let’s go back to Regnerus’ vision of unmarried 20-something for a moment. They’re all wasting their time hitting the clubs, incessantly checking Facebook, Twittering their latest love interest and obsessing about their poor job prospects,” right? Oh, wait a minute—-that last one is actually not a waste of time, but the point of many people’s lives! Too bad these young people have such “poor job prospects”—-they should probably just abandon them and marry someone who already has a career, like an old dude. (Too bad Regnerus is taken!)

I’m not going to argue why people ought to wait until they’re older to get married. But I will argue against the “Tenderoni” theory of marriage—-that men should wait, but women can’t. If women are expected to marry older men, they’re forced to enter into an inherently unequal union. Younger women may be better prepared to stand by their men than young guys, but they lack other marks of maturity—-established careers, higher salaries, direction in life. If one partner has a well-established career, and the other is just beginning to weigh her “poor job prospects,” his job will always take precedent. He will be the breadwinner. She will get some job—-whatever best accommodates his. She’ll abandon it when she moves where his job moves. When marriage is urgent, the career always waits.

But if the marriage ends—-and most do—-where does that leave our aging Tenderonis?

Bobby Brown was actually Whitney‘s Tenderoni!