I must have looked pathetic. A grown man crying on a bench outside of a train station late at night. And all because of a date that had ended badly. How lame.
I say “date” because we hadn’t been seeing each other long enough to call it a “relationship.” What just happened couldn’t have been a break-up; she was never my girlfriend in the first place.
So why did I feel so awful?
After all, I was a confirmed bachelor, wasn’t I? Single, no dependents, no long-term dating history to speak of, and no real plans to change any of it. My life was working just fine the way it was.
And then I met her.
She was attractive, educated, successful, personable, a good talker, a good listener, and most importantly – unattached. Hmmm. Maybe I was wrong about this lifelong bachelorhood thing. I mean, we were hitting it off. This might actually go somewhere.
Or so I thought until that night. That’s when she told me she wanted to be “just friends.” Kill me now, I thought. Yet another attempt at a real relationship had gone awry.
That was more than a decade ago. Looking back, I realize that while I may have talked the talk of a confirmed bachelor, I was actually still a “conflicted bachelor.” But that was about to change.
The “conflicted bachelor” is a term coined by psychologist Charles Waehler. He’s a professor at the University of Akron, where I attended law school and worked as a part-time journalism instructor. When I found out that he was the author of a book on lifelong bachelorhood, I asked if he would share some of his findings with me.
The results were eye-opening. For starters, a disproportionate number of the men in Waehler’s study were only-children. As an only-child myself, I have long believed it’s contributed to the independent streak I seem to have developed and played a part in why I’ve remained single. Solitude is no stranger to me. Apparently, many other longtime bachelors feel the same way.
Waehler’s research identified three types of middle-aged, never-married, heterosexual men: the entrenched bachelor, the conflicted bachelor, and the flexible bachelor.
The entrenched bachelor, writes Waehler, comes closest to fitting the stereotype of an odd man set in his ways. The entrenched bachelor is basically a shy man with a lower desire for deep social relationships than most people. He’s highly introverted and tends to lack strong career ambitions, but he’s not in distress over it. He’s comfortable in his own little world.
The conflicted bachelor, on the other hand, is in constant turmoil over his single status. According to Waehler, conflicted bachelors see both the advantages of staying single and the advantages of being married. This tug-of-war between singlehood and couplehood becomes a source of ongoing tension. Some conflicted bachelors resolve their turmoil and eventually marry. Others marry without ever resolving the turmoil and become conflicted husbands.
In my case, I had reached the intellectual conclusion that I was better off being single, but I had yet to overcome the ambivalence conflicted bachelors feel about that status. In time, however, I ended up migrating into the third group Waehler’s research identified: the flexible bachelor.
Flexible bachelors are more positive about their lifestyle. In a line from Waehler’s study that fits me perfectly, he writes, “If a flexible bachelor feels lonely, he gets on the phone and corrects the situation.”
That’s exactly what I do. In fact, I have friends across several time zones so there’s always someone I can reach out to no matter how late at night. Most of the time, I’ve already started dialing before any sense of loneliness has a chance to settle in.
According to Waehler, flexible bachelors often have professional resumes that make us look like we’d be among the most eligible bachelors to wed, but our sense of independence and personal integrity seem to get in the way. From our perspective, this is not a problem to be fixed. That’s just how we roll.
Flexible bachelors, Waehler says, “travel their life paths in solitary fashion, but their versatility means they are more accomplished and more fulfilled…They are more entertaining, social, easygoing, and caring than their conflicted or entrenched counterparts.”
And so it is.
For me, I’m not looking for happiness and fulfillment to come from settling down, getting married, and starting a family, but from living my single life fully, maximizing all of the freedoms that come from being unattached. It’s what I’ve done so far and what I plan to continue doing in the foreseeable future.
My career has taken me to nine cities in eight states in 22 years. Once, I up and quit my job to spend a summer traveling in Europe. When I got fired from another, I headed off for three weeks to Venezuela. At 31, I learned to fly a plane, an expensive hobby that some spouses would have vetoed. At 42, I finished the bachelors degree I’d started two decades earlier. Three months later, I uprooted myself again and started law school.
It’s not that I couldn’t have done all these things and been married, too. But being hitched would have complicated the picture, for sure. I honestly don’t know where the next phase of this journey will take me. But if there’s one guiding principle I’ll be carrying along the way, it is this:
If you find yourself madly in love, don’t fight it; if you find yourself happily single, don’t fight that either.
Elliott Lewis is a licensed attorney, author, and media professional. This essay was originally posted on Open Salon in July 2012. Visit Elliott’s website at www.lewisfreelance.com.
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