Why you should care
Because while you wonder, ”What’s wrong with him?” Consider this: Maybe nothing.
“I’m getting married in fall 2013,” my 38-year-old friend John told me, when we caught up in Paris the summer before. Congrats! Who’s the lucky woman? I asked. “Oh, I haven’t met her yet,” he’d responded, deadpan, over dinner. “But I’ll be married by 40,” said the guy who’s deliberately been a player for the past two decades. “Because if you’re a single guy after that, it’s like, you know, ’What’s wrong with him?’”
He’s always been very self-aware, John. Very conscious of his life choices, of his — some might say — semi-misogynistic way with women. But I’ve always found my old friend’s honesty refreshing, and rather insightful.
Anyone with salt-and-pepper hair who shows up in your online matches as ’Never Married’ might as well come with a flashing Warning Sign.
In many ways, he’s right: Never-married heterosexual men over the age of 40 have always had a stigma. Especially back in 1970, when they represented only 4.9 percent of the male population. But I wondered: As marriage inches toward the take-it-or-leave-it category — for both sexes — and there are more never-married men between the ages of 40 and 44 than ever before (20.4 percent at last census count), is being a perpetual (hetero) bachelor still considered a little … creepy?
Apparently, yes. Unless, of course, the perpetual bachelor is George Clooney — and let’s be honest, most aren’t. Still, even Clooney was once briefly married. Anyone with salt-and-pepper hair who shows up in your online matches as “Never Married” might as well come with a flashing Warning Sign, say women with marital aspirations who date them anyway. They are Workaholics. Playboys. Commitment Phobes. Gay. Definitely gay.
But in a way, steadfastly heterosexual single men over 40 are sort of pitied too. Or, rather, they are dissected, thoroughly examined — not by a class of seventh-graders using microscopes but by a table of 30-something women, well into their third bottle of wine.Oh, we can collectively cry, Double standard!! over the sad fact that never-married women of a certain age aren’t players; they’re pitied. See Bridget Jones 1 and 2; in 3, she’s a 51-year-old widow, cougar and mother of two.
“Perception is that it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to be single and dating because he was likely concentrating on his career and is now ‘ready,’” says one smart, fun, beautiful 34-year-old singleton in San Francisco — a city that is home to a seemingly disproportionate number of older, never-married men. (A lot of gay men, yes, but also a lot of straight dudes who care more about their triathlon training than tying the knot.) “The guys over 40 I’ve dated all have the Peter Pan complex,” she says. “They tend to resist growing up in a certain way. Worse: Many still have roommates and wear backpacks. (Over 40? No. Just no.)”
Still, like many women, she continues to give ’em a go. “There are always exceptions.”
I question a heterosexual male’s commitment to anything if he is unattached at that age.
Even, apparently, in New York City, another hub of never-marrieds. A physician named Amy says she was “totally wary” of her now-husband, who was 42 when they first met. “You can always judge a guy by what’s in his refrigerator,” she says. “Literally all he had in his was a pint of vanilla Häagen-Daz. Because, as he said, he could eat it and use it in his coffee instead of buying milk.” Also suspect: He once flew to see her in Portugal at a moment’s notice. “It was really fun, but I kept asking him, ‘Is this, like, what you do? Just jet off to meet women for weekends in Europe?’”
Turned out he was an older, never-married guy with nothing to hide. But most aren’t, says a 44-year-old opinionated gay man with no dog in this fight. “I question a heterosexual male’s commitment to anything if he is unattached at that age,” he says. “I just do. There’s something slightly predatory about it. Untrustworthy. Scarlett Letter-type mistrust.”
He admits he’s grossly generalizing and then breaks it down: “There are two models. The successful man who has it all but no spouse, and the dork who is infantilized because he can’t get his act together. (Gays, of course are exempt from this, he says, until gay marriage is completely commonplace, “and the gays are subjected to the same pressure to become more boring and mainstream.”)
That’s sort of spot on, agreed Raina, who was widowed at age 27 and spent the next decade dating. All types, all ages, but she was always wary of the guys over 40 who’d never been married. “They’re clueless,” she says. “They can’t make coffee. They just become kind of weird.” (She’s since remarried a divorced, devoted 40-something father of two.)
”Men who want to enjoy the intimacy of a lifetime commitment of marriage will likely be married younger (despite financial resources or their access to technology that feeds a feeling of entitlement and ongoing search for ’the best’),” says Dr. Monica O’Neal, a Harvard-trained psychologist in Boston. A city, she says, “with a high number of eligible (meaning ’good catches’ on paper), never-married people ranging in age from mid 30s to late 40s.”
Indeed most guys approaching 40 who’ve never been married are likely to stay that way — according to a not-so-scientific study conducted by author John T. Malloy and cited on the not-so-scientific site Dating Without Drama. Additional conclusions? “Until men reach age 37, they remain very good prospects. After age 38, the chances they will ever marry drop dramatically. The chances that a man will marry for the first time diminish even more once he reaches 42 or 43. At this point, many men become confirmed bachelors.”
The choice not to marry, whether by a man or a woman, is a life choice made by a rational human being.
Dr. O’Neal offers this as an explanation, not an excuse: “Men who have long-term relationships without (conscious or unconscious) intentions to marry may have what psychologists call an avoidant attachment style when it comes to intimacy. They may enjoy having relationships but struggle with the requirements of intimacy and dependence that marriage requires.”
But the question — apart from the obvious crime of leading someone on — is whether there’s anything really wrong with being a confirmed bachelor. Definitely not, says Carl Weisman, the guy who literally wrote the book on men who never marry, So Why Have You Never Been Married? He subsequently found the love of his life and got married four years ago — at age 50. “But if I had not met her, I’d probably still be single, which would have been fine too,” he says. The choice not to marry, whether by a man or a woman, is a life choice made by a rational human being. To stigmatize someone for making their best possible life choice, a choice that hurts nobody, seems ridiculous, especially in light of the divorce and affair rate.”
Courtney, a most eligible 36-year-old bachelorette in Manhattan, dismisses any such stigma. “Generalizing by age is silly,” she says. “Never-married men over 40 are no different than unmarried men in their 30s or 20s. They just haven’t met someone they want to be with.”
Turns out, neither has my friend John. Fall 2013 has come and almost gone. He’s still single. And quite fine with that.