The only bachelor left in his inner circle, one man wonders: What now?
Not long ago my friend Graham sent me a text message to bail on a pizza and beer outing. "Way too tired," he wrote. "Parenthood is kicking my ass today." Graham and his wife had spent the day at a birthday party with their two-year-old son, and their afternoon was brutal. "I can only imagine," I typed back.
It was probably the most literal text message I’d ever sent. For me, parenthood truly is something I can only imagine, on account of the fact that I've never known the joys—or challenges—of being a father, let alone a husband. That message was what I like to call a "truth-in-texting" moment: It was a brisk gust of reality's winds circling around me, reminding me that I am wading through my thirties as a single man, a bachelor, the soul survivor of my figurative tribe of Mohicans.
Being a bachelor in New York City. What's not to like, right? This place is teeming with single women as diverse as the day is long. It's like a U.N. General Assembly of available ladies, a veritable cornucopia of the finest specimens of the fairer sex. I should be channeling my inner Casanova and plunging headlong into the sea of single life, embracing it and all it has to offer. I should have a refined and unstoppable "game." I should have a little black book (er, Blackberry?) overflowing with phone numbers of my own personal coalition of the willing—to the point where I'd have to put a moratorium on adding newbies to the stable. ("Sorry, babe, I'm all out of space. Why don't you get a Sharpie and scribble your digits on my forearm?") I could be a rock star of a bachelor. The Best Country To Find A Single Man
Would that it were so. That's an interesting, if clichéd, fantasy. The reality is quite different. Because when you find yourself as the last man standing, after all your best friends have paired up, settled down, and had children, your social life goes through a game-changing realignment, and your outlook might require a re-envisioning of its own.
Now, a night out with the boys ends before midnight–I'm just hitting my stride as they're winding down. And one thing I do not want to get in the habit of is hanging out solo at bars, throwing back drinks, talking to strangers, and trying to pick up women. Sure, it's fun for a little bit, but after a while, you begin to think, "Do I really want to become this guy, The Regular, at a semi-seedy tavern, spending entirely too much time and money boozing it up with people I don't know?"
And there is arguably a new social paradigm to which people adhere once they marry. Often that paradigm does not include singles, merely like-minded married couples, which seems to be the natural order of things. I don't necessarily fit in at the merlot and gouda parties where young married couples are forced together to feign niceties about their common interests and desires. I imagine most of the conversation would be banal ("This smoked gouda, it really does tastes like meat, George. Seriously, if you were to blindfold me and give me gouda inside two slices of pumpernickel, I just might mistake it for a turkey sandwich!"). And yet there are more and more of these get-togethers where my presence seems to be requested.
Somewhere over the last decade, societal mores shifted where nuptials and babies are concerned. It's not uncommon now for people to throw co-ed celebrations heralding an engagement or a forthcoming baby. I've been to a number, and I inevitably end up running lines from Radiohead's "Creep" through my head ("…What the hell am I doing here? I don't belong here…") To be clear, these are my friends, and I love them dearly. But I have no business taking part in these events, especially when I'm the only single guy there–no girlfriend, no date, just me in my Gingham-patterned dress shirt and pressed khakis, a type of pant I also feel I have no business wearing. Are You The “Single Friend”?
After each couple expounds on their goings-on (remodeled kitchens, pre-school searches, cozy restaurant finds, vacation spots), the Lazy Susan of Cocktail Conversation comes around to me; it's invariably a moment of awkwardness and askance glances, complete with its own soundtrack of crickets ("So, Dikenta… uh, what's uh, what's… uh, more wine?").
The one event that stands out is a baby shower held for one of my best friends and his wife. I adore them both, and he's been a part of my life since the 7th grade. I entered the lavish apartment of the shower's hosts and was taken aback by the display on the dining room table: a three-tiered centerpiece of rolled up diapers stacked on end, adorned with blue ribbons; each tier replete with the knick-knackery of infant-dom (baby rattles, baby oil, baby powder, baby bells). "A diaper cake," a guest explained gleefully, as if it were nothing out of the ordinary. Jaw dropping would be an understatement. It's not so much that I had to bite my tongue, as squelch my vomit, so as to prevent it from projecting clear across the room, thus giving the diapers something to do that resembles their actual function.
Married men—the responsible ones, anyway—have no need for video games in their lives. Case in point, my friend Graham spent the first two years of his married life living in NYC while his wife was out on the West Coast earning her Master's degree. To bide his time, he played a lot of PlayStation. The week before his wife returned, Graham and I met out for a few beers, and he presented me with his console and a whole slew of games, gratis. It was like something out of a sitcom, or a grueling Kate Hudson-Matthew McConaughey romantic comedy: Married man proffers up last physical vestige of freedom to wayward bachelor buddy. They get a touch misty-eyed; realizing the end of an era is upon them. There's boisterous laughter and a couple of shoulder punches to snap each other out of being overcome by the percolating emotion. Rough, one-armed hugs, whiskey shots. Cue laugh track, cue Executive Producer credit, and . . . scene.
There was at least $400 worth of electronic booty in that bag. Why wouldn't he just sell it? At first, part of me was a touch offended. It was like Graham was saying, "Here, you're a bachelor. Play this. That's what you guys do. Lord knows that's what I would do." The offense wasn't merited, as when I returned home, I set up the console and began a relationship with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 that lasted several years.
When kids enter the picture, there are a couple things that happen. You tend to fade on your friends' radar. As domestication of your guy friends takes hold, less of your own life is relatable to them. They may, in theory, live vicariously through you ("Tell me about that girl you were hooking up with…"), but the truth is that their entire raison d'etre is wrapped up in a reality you can only imagine. They live in a world of selflessness and sacrifice, of challenge and compromise. Their allegiance is to their wives and kids, whereas I have pledged my allegiance to the United State of Me.
And there it is: bachelor-dom and its inherent selfishness. In the absence of a wife, partner, and soul mate, there have been random hookups, a series of shoulda-coulda-wouldas, booty calls—everything you'd expect from a bachelor. These aren't always as fun and carefree as one might expect. It is possible for a man to feel empty inside. Why Am I Still Single?
The obvious question now is, Why no marriage for me yet? Had I remained in my hometown of Chicago, it's possible I'd be a married man by now. When I was in high school, I imagined that I would be off the market by age 27. After college, my priorities shifted, and forging a successful career became my sole purpose. While there have been a series of girlfriends, a few of them serious, and maybe two of whom I could have seen myself marrying, the idea of marriage wasn't something that was top-of-mind for me. In pursuit of a career, I had forsaken the fundamental male necessity of long-term female companionship. A relationship would end, and I'd pour myself into work; in retrospect, this hasn't been as rewarding and fulfilling as I once believed. I was spending entirely too much effort trying to define myself by my work, and as I sit here at the tail end of 30something—embarking on mid-career and middle age—I'm finding that a fruitful life is about so much more.
There's that tired old cliché about the older, single woman with the cats and the stack of old newspapers living in a tiny apartment in the big city. Sometimes I wonder if I'm en route to being the male equivalent: Aging, increasingly craggy and particular, losing hair, and having intimate, one-way conversations with whichever blathering blowhard is screaming political spin at me from my TV screen. My cooking skills would be no better than those of a Boy Scout: mac n' cheese, polska kielbasa, and frozen veggies (hey, it's a balanced, albeit processed, meal). I would binge on DVDs of Nip/Tuck and Battlestar Galactica, my girlfriends growing increasingly digital. A sad, sad proposition. Portrait Of A 21st-Century Spinster
But enough with the woe. There are worse situations I could find myself in. I could be searching desperately for food and potable water in the hinterlands of Tanzania. It would be foolish of me to take this time for granted, because the Sleep 'til Noon, Brunch-Free, NFL-Fueled Sundays of today are likely to be my Errand-Filled, Weekend-Long Shopping Fests of tomorrow. While I might be stumbling home after much-needed drinks at 3 AM tonight, I might be stumbling out of bed at 3 AM to administer much-needed diaper changes for my future kid tomorrow.
There will, eventually, be the moment where I swallow my pride, bite the proverbial bullet, and ask for a woman to join me in holy matrimony. The day will come when I'm properly seasoned, where my particular vintage has matured, and where I feel that I am man enough to take the plunge. The measure of a man can be tallied in numerous ways, but when all is said and done, I would want my manhood judged, in part, by the sort of family I helped raise, the type of legacy I've left for them, and the sort of values I handed down to them. It's just the natural order of things and, in time, I'll come around.