Philip Nobel wants you to know he's "That Guy" — the one who got married, had kids, fell in love with his much younger research assistant, got divorced, and wrote about it all in Elle magazine. Despite his public airing of private pain (I'm sure his ex-wife and his ex-girlfriend both really loved reading it), Nobel's article "Danger Man" starts out kind of sympathetic. He married young, he was bored and confused, his kids actually understand his life better than he does. But then Nobel starts talking about the other other women in his life — disapproving friends who just can't accept that his choices are "original" — and that's where things really get crappy.
Nobel wants women to support his new life, and when they don't, he gets critical:
I've learned that otherwise intelligent, urbane, and morally imaginative women — the bulk of my friends — often cannot bring themselves, even when they invite the conversation, to hear my stories, to deviate from a high contrast model of human behavior, see how grey it can be in practice, to see the devil in their friend.
He goes on to lament "the derision in the eyes of and occasional open attacks from friends' wives (it's not contagious)" and "the burden of being a lightning rod for the fears of women and the resentments of burdened men (three drinks in, they all admit they're jealous)." "I've suffered plenty," he says, "I still suffer. But our reigning cultural norms demand that, like Hank Moody in Californication, I suffer more. [...] Why?"
The reason is in your parentheses, Danger Man! You say your choices are original, that "it's not contagious," and then you say all men are jealous of you. You want us not just to listen but to like you, even as we contrast your life as a "DILF" dating "twentysomething hip-hop intellectuals" with that of one of your naysaying friends, a "single, 42-year-old" woman whom you imagine "dead in her Upper West Side one-bedroom, prized dachshund licking at her corpse." Gee, Phil, do you think women might want you to suffer because, in your vision of the world, men either fuck around or want to, while single women get eaten by their dogs?
What Nobel did may not be "contagious," but it happens often enough to make a lot of women worry. We worry that a man will do grown-up things with us, like marry and have kids, or just fall in love and make us feel safe, and then he'll announce that he never really grew up at all and that he needs to go back to his twenties, with a twentysomething girlfriend to match. A few exceptions aside, this option still seems far less open to women — especially when others assume that not being married means becoming dachshund fodder.
Of course, none of this is solely Nobel's fault. It's the fault of a culture that trumpets the sanctity of marriage while painting male fidelity as lame. And that casts older women as unsexy and unsexual. The solution to this problem isn't to force people like Nobel to stay in unhappy marriages — it's to understand the sexual double standard that makes women feel so vulnerable, and to set about changing it.