If I told you that four single men were sharing a home, that they were all heterosexual and each had his own bedroom in that home, and that they were all in their twenties – well, you’d probably shrug. That’s what 20-something life can be like, especially for people who live in expensive places such as New York.
Now how does your emotional reaction change (if at all) if I tell you that the men are not in their twenties, but instead are approaching 40? Not one of them has ever been married or had kids. They have lived together for 18 years.
The almost-40 year-olds are for real. Hilary Howard describes their experiences in “A confederacy of bachelors” in today’s New York Times. The story of these four single men is significant in a number of ways. Like all good stories, it is not just about them, but about big themes reflected throughout contemporary American society.
One of those themes, of course, is the growth in the number of single people that has been ongoing for decades. Even people who do marry now do so, on average, at a later age than has ever been recorded by the Census Bureau.
A correlate of that, I think, is an increasing appreciation for friendship. A spouse cannot be the most important person in your life if you don’t have one. With friends, you are not limited to just one at a time. A focus on The Ones instead of The One can have important implications for the patterns and textures of your life.
Sociologist Judith Stacey told the Times that when you live with friends, “the vagaries of sexual attraction don’t disrupt your security and stability.” Of course, sexual attraction to someone outside of the house can become the ultimate threat to the shared living situation if the love-struck man decides to leave the other men in order to live solely with his romantic partner. So far, that hasn’t happened.
The men are not staying together out of apathy. When they were all 35, the building they were living in was sold and the new owner doubled the rent. They could have gone their separate ways, but instead they looked for a new place to share.
Rachel (friend of Living Single) was taken by the story of these men. When she posted the Times piece to her Facebook page, she said that she was impressed by the commitment these men had for each other. She also speculated that the men have probably been called commitment-phobic because in our matrimaniacal society, the only commitment that counts is the one that is made to a romantic partner.
I have written a lot about the increase in solo living, but right alongside that trend is an increase in the number of people sharing housing with people other than family. What’s decreasing is the number of households comprised of mom, dad, and the kids – and no one else.
Single people – especially those who are single at heart – tend to savor their solitude. When several friends all live under the same roof, how do they manage to hang onto some privacy and time alone? The four single men in the story have the advantage that their bedrooms do not share any walls. Also, as one of the men noted, “…we are really close, and care about each other deeply, and yet we give each other lots of space and stay out of each other’s daily business.”
I’m especially happy to be talking about this story because it is about single men. I am often frustrated by how discussions of single life are so often dominated by the experiences of single women, including even academic discussions. Readers sometimes share that exasperation.
If you are looking for other posts on single men, here are a few of my previous ones:
[Note. Stories such as this one, about people creating innovative ways of living, are told in How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century.]
[Photo credit: Brad Vest of the New York Times]