Once, being a never-married bachelor entering middle age was considered to be a pretty good gig. There were romantic role models: the sophisticated Henry Higgins, the dashing James Bond. That all-time good guy, Superman.
Lifelong bachelors, at 40, were considered rugged individualists, urbane, worldly, self-aware, blissfully free, with unlimited options. They were even objects of envy.
Today, the thought of a never-married, heterosexual man at age 40 produces a predictable reaction, but that reaction is usually worded this way:
"There must be something wrong with him."
Perhaps exacerbated by a culture in which various degrees of male-bashing have flourished in recent years, the idea that the never-married middle-aged man is somehow dysfunctional appears to have gained more than just a toehold. Is he a commitment-phobic? Is he a mama's boy? Is he emotionally stunted? Is he sexually immature? Is he a woman-hater?
Surely there must be something wrong with him?
Not so, says Charles Waehler, a psychologist at the University of Akron in Ohio, who conducted a study of never-married men over age 40 in 1991. The study, limited to white, heterosexual men, concluded that half were happy, successful and satisfied and the other half, while somewhat disturbed by their bachelor status, were too set in their ways to risk marriage.
This may account for the fairly large number of never-married men over 40 that appear in the 1990 United States Census as well as in Waehler's studies.
According to the census, 10.5% of white men age 40 to 44 have never married--up from 7.1% in 1980. The data also show never-married black men 40 and older to be about twice as likely as white men to stay single.
A never-married status for heterosexual men at that age can be attributable to many reasons.
"I certainly have nothing against marriage," said Lansing Young, 39, a teacher and athletics coach at Whittier High School, "and I'm not putting it completely out of the question. But I still feel like I'm 18. I don't feel I've changed that much.
"I like kids very much, and I think kids of my own might be interesting, and I think I'd probably make a good father, but I'd probably make a bad husband. I've lived by myself for so long; I'm pretty set in my ways and self-centered. A woman might have a hard time putting up with that for a long time."
Young said he had an "off-and-on" relationship for about five years when he was in his 20s and another that lasted about a year and a half. There is no woman in his life at the moment.
He said he has never been closely questioned or ridiculed about his bachelor status and said that if he were, "I'd probably think it was kind of comical. If someone ridiculed me for not being married, I'd wonder what was wrong with them. They don't know what my life is like."
He says he dates infrequently, but he said that is because he has "in the last few years become pretty particular about the type of woman I see. As the years have gone by, I've gotten much less impulsive. My brother-in-law's a divorce lawyer, too, and he's always said that if I ever think I might want to get married, to call him first, because there's a lot to lose."
Richard Caldwell, too, said his standards are particular, and that is mostly what accounts for his being a lifelong bachelor at age 57. Caldwell, a plastic-container manufacturer from Garden Grove, continues to date--he is a member of Black Singles of Orange County--but said he has met only one woman that he ever wanted to marry: a Japanese woman he met while serving in the military in Japan during his late 20s and early 30s. But he was discouraged by both military and Japanese authorities, he said.
"When I came back to the states," he said, "I found that the women were so demanding," Caldwell said. "I was trying to find someone similar to the person I found overseas, and I just couldn't."
He was involved in one more long-term relationship, he said, and he is involved with a woman now whom he said might be a marriage prospect. And, he added, after many years of the single life, he'd still like to be married.
"I feel I've missed out on a part of life, dealing with another human being of a different gender who thinks differently than I do. It's good to have someone to sit down and be able to talk to and who will know you well as a human being.
"On the other hand, today I don't have to answer to anybody; I can come and go as I please. That's the advantage to being single."
That may not be enough of an explanation to suit many people who continue to see the never-married 40-year-old as a kind of social misfit, said Eugene Ericson, a clinical psychologist from Irvine who specializes in relationship counseling.