Almost 2.5 million American men over age 40 have never married. But before you pity the poor bachelor, listen to what one has to say about his lifestyle:
“I have the freedom to make my own decisions without consultation. I just don’t have to confer with anyone else, and I like that.”
Contrary to a stereotype that lifelong bachelors are unhappy, unhealthy or even deviant, a new study indicates that many middle-age men say they don’t want or need marriage, says psychologist Charles A. Waehler of the University of Akron in Ohio.
In a small but revealing study of 30 white, heterosexual men over age 40 who have never married, Waehler found that half were happy, successful and satisfied with single status. The other half, while somewhat disturbed by their bachelor status, were too set in their ways to risk marriage, Waehler concluded.
The study isn’t large enough to suggest all never-married men fit a particular profile, says Waehler, who has focused much of his career studying bachelors and is writing a book about those studies. But the findings may disclose why more men choose not to marry--a sociological area that has received relatively little attention despite census data that shows a rapidly increasing group of never-married men.
Waehler’s research and census data support what many single women have long suspected: It’s not that lifelong bachelors over 40 don’t have the chance to marry, they just don’t want to.
“Once a person reaches age 40, there is only a 12% likelihood they will marry. At age 45, it’s one in 20. This becomes a lifestyle,” Waehler says, citing a 1988 census report.
According to a 1990 census survey, 10.5% of white men ages 40 to 44 have never married--up from 7.1% in 1980. Waehler has not studied racial and ethnic variations of this trend but notes that census data show never-married black men 40 and older are about twice as likely as white men to stay single. (In 1990, 6.75% of white women ages 40 to 44 had never married.)
But while the phenomenon of the single woman has been analyzed in detail by writers and sociologists throughout the ‘80s, permanent bachelorhood is not well understood, Waehler says, adding that: “I wanted to know how much truth there is to the myths and stereotypes of these men, because the myths tend to be negative.”
Bachelors have long been viewed by society as women-haters, attached to a parent, unhealthy, disabled, fixated on a lost love, workaholics or playboys.
“People say: ‘What’s wrong with these gentlemen? What’s their problem?’ ” says Waehler, 34 and a bachelor himself. “But these myths don’t hold up as true. The myths over-generalize. Over half of these men said they are happy. That’s a lot more than we would have thought.”
Rick typifies this happy-go-lucky bachelor: “I’m not unhappy,” he claims, “I’d have to say marriage is irrelevant.”
Waehler’s found the subjects of his study were accomplished professionally and usually lived alone. More than half owned their homes. They were neither anti-female nor overtly anti-marriage.
Almost 90% had considered marriage sometime during their lives, and about two-thirds claimed that they would probably marry, sooner or later.
But Waehler says many reasons cast doubt on that assumption: “Marriage runs counter to their values. These men value self-reliance. Individuality is highly valued and vigorously defended. These are men who want to be autonomous.”
Other experts on bachelors--the world’s matchmakers--agree.
Andy Myers, president of the Network Club, a video dating service in Tarzana, says his never-married, over-40 male clients “need a relationship but they don’t need marriage. . . . Anyone (hoping for marriage and) dating a man over 40 who has never been married is wasting their time.”
He claims such men are looking for the perfect mate: “They claim they are looking for marriage, but they are looking for perfection. They will get close, then find something wrong. They are generally very critical. They are 4s looking for 10s. They’re very selfish.”
Further, these men are so outnumbered by eligible women that the quest for a perfect mate tends to have endless possibilities.
“It’s so easy to date, and there are so many wonderful women out there, I think men can get a little bit cocky and think there is something better over the hill,” Myers says. “So they are afraid to settle down.”
Terry Hopwood, a fourth-generation matchmaker with Marriage Minded Introductions in Panorama City, says unmarried men over 50 outnumber unmarried women of the same age 20-1 in Southern California.
“A lot (of bachelors) are picky--selective, if you wish. They want exactly what they want,” she says. “They think they are gold. And I guess they are, in a way. They expect Miss Perfect.”
But other never-married bachelors don’t really know what they want, says Hopwood, confirming Waehler’s observations.
Hopwood says she recently interviewed a never-married man, age 63, for her service, which, she points out, is clearly to promote marriages.
“He went through the whole thing about what he wanted. I said: ‘I think I have exactly what you want’ and described the woman to him. He said it was exactly what he wanted. Then he went home and decided not to join (the service). It scared him to death,” she says.
Many such men think they cannot find the perfect women but are actually setting up impossible barriers to sabotage marriage opportunities, she says: “We have to find out exactly what their motivations are. He may find out: ‘My goodness, I thought I wanted to get married, but maybe I don’t.’ ”
Waehler found the men in his study used three unconscious “defenses” to fend off marriage. The men tended to:
* Be passive, under-assertive and reluctant to force themselves on other people.
* Repress their feelings and remain cooly detached from their experiences.
* Distort their self-images. For example, while two-thirds said they would probably get married, a number of these same men hadn’t been involved in a serious relationship for two or three years.
But Waehler, who is writing a book on his study, cautions against stereotyping bachelors: “We’re not talking about one typical profile of a never-married man.”
Instead, Waehler found that about 30% of his study group were inflexible in their commitment to bachelorhood. They lacked warm, tender feelings for others and seemed born to be remain alone, the not-marrying kind. “They have found their niche and they are satisfied,” he says.
Another 20% were satisfied and yet were less defensive about their single status. This group had more relationships with women. “For these men, marriage was more irrelevant,” he says, describing them with attitudes of “I’m happy. Where does marriage fit into my life?”
The other half were conflicted about never marrying, disappointed with their limitations in relating to women. “These were men using defenses, but they were unhappy,” Waehler says. “They wanted to get close to women, and yet they would withdraw from relationships.”
A number of this latter group were in therapy, he noted.
For example, a bachelor named Pat finds the single life lonely, saying: “Every human contact has to be planned. It is not spontaneous or random.”
Despite these individual differences, Waehler found some common threads among the never-married men.
While half said their parents’ marriages were unhappy, only four experienced their parents’ divorce.
“What these men may have experienced is, one, marriage is not the happiest experience in the world. And, two, you can’t get out of it,” he says.
As a group, these men also tended to experience sexual relationships later in life, compared to their friends, and were, overall, less sexually active.
Many of the men studied were apparently troubled that they would probably never become fathers--57% said they would like to have children. But, Waehler says, they seemed to overcome this desire by becoming involved with children as teachers, coaches or by “fathering” their employees. In other words, the desire to have children was unlikely to lead them to marriage.
Moreover, lifelong bachelors are aware of downsides to remaining single. Studies consistently show that single people are more vulnerable to economic catastrophe because they rely on one income. And, with fewer relatives and no children, they are less likely to have someone to care for them when they are older. Studies also show single men are often likely to die at younger ages.
“We’re set up as a couples’ society,” Waehler says. “Some hardships may befall this group of men.”
And yet, the “M” word, in general, was a threatening prospect.
Waehler found that the men who had lived with women had negative experiences. One asked his lover to move in and then, one month later, asked her to leave. Another said that after his girlfriend moved in, their sex life deteriorated.
Only 20% of the men Waehler studied had ever proposed marriage. And they weren’t amenable to a female broaching the subject.
Not surprisingly, he says: “Discussion of marriage became a reason to end a relationship.”
The percentage of never-married white males, age 35 and older continues to increase.
AGE 1980 1990 35-39 7.8% 14.7% 40-44 7.1% 10.5% 45-54 6.1% 6.3% 55-64 5.3% 5.8%
Source: 1990 Census