The Happy Bachelor
The knowledge, skills, and mindsets of happily single men.
Posted July 26, 2020 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina
When Craig Wynne was eight, his best friend told him what he wanted out of life: a wife, children, and lots of sex. I like Wynne’s answer a lot better: “I wanted to live in a house by myself and own a candy store.”
Wynne is now a fully grown, 40-something-year-old adult, and he has been single his whole life. He doesn’t own a candy store, but he does have a sweet gig as an Associate Professor of English at the University of the District of Columbia. In his career as a professor, he has done something wonderful – taught classes with a focus on single life, including how to think about it and how to live it. He’s been writing about that, too.
By now, he has a whole book’s worth of wisdom, insights, quips, and practical suggestions for men who aspire to be happily single. How to Be a Happy Bachelor was just published and I think that reading it will make many men very happy.
And not just men, or even single men. There’s a lot for everyone to love.
I’m very happy that in a genre that includes a vastly disproportionate number of books for single women written by single women, we now have this important complement. Wynne understands how single men are stereotyped in their own special ways, and how the challenges they face are not always the same as other genders face. He knows that the kind of advice they need has its own flavor. He talks about the hard stuff, such as incels, MGTOW (men going their own way), and toxic masculinity. And at the end of How to Be a Happy Bachelor, the place in a book where I typically find lists of famous single women, he, of course, lists famous single men.
You would be correct to infer from the title that this is a how-to book. It is, in both the nitty-gritty sense of the term (you will learn some very specific tips) and in the big-picture sense (you will also get to think a lot about your whole mindset toward single life). But it also has elements of:
- Memoir: you will hear about some of Craig Wynne’s personal experiences
- Social science: you will learn about important concepts as well as some of the relevant research
- Advocacy and activism: Wynne doesn’t just want you to help yourself, he wants you to help make life better for all single people
- Cultural criticism: this book is the best I’ve ever seen on pop culture and single life
Wynne believes that living single, and happily so, is a skill that can be honed with practice. For some single people – I call them “single at heart” – single life is their best life. To them, many of the joys of living single come naturally. And yet, even they can benefit from reminders of what they are up against in a world that still values and celebrates marriage and coupling, and from suggestions for fully embracing the life they love best.
Know What You Are Up Against
All of our lives are awash in singlism and matrimania. Singlism is the stereotyping, stigmatizing, and marginalizing of single people, and the discrimination against them. Matrimania is the over-the-top valuing and celebrating of couples, weddings, and marriage.
The biases against single people range from annoying to deadly, but Wynne makes them delightful to think about. What do you think happened when he pretended to be in a romantic relationship and changed his Facebook status to indicate that, compared to when he announced that he had earned his PhD? What do you think you should say when someone asks why you aren't married? Wynne will tell you.
I’ve been studying singlism for more than two decades, so I am not easily shocked. But a few of Wynne’s examples took my breath away. This one, for example, was told to Wynne by one of the members of the Community of Single People: “A preacher told the singletons to stand up, and then the preacher asked the remainder of the congregation to pray they find a partner.”
Avoid Participating in Your Own Diminishment
The ways in which single people are diminished and disparaged and marginalized are so pervasive and so rarely challenged that even happy single people can end up co-opted if they are not careful. Wynne can help with that.
Watch your language
Some words and phrases sound so innocent. They aren’t. Wynne rounds up 14 of them and explains why you should ban them from your lexicon. They include, for example, “still single,” “just one,” and “just friends.”
Don’t subsidize or fall for matrimaniacal popular culture
Romantic scripts and subplots are the default option in way too many movies and TV shows and novels. They show up even when they detract from the story. If a protagonist dares to be single and happy, that character is at great risk of getting their comeuppance. An example Wynne describes is from the movie “Only the Lonely,” in which one of the characters talks about loving the freedom of being single. He dies – and hardly anyone shows up at his funeral.
Wynne admits to having fallen for many of these kinds of matrimaniacal and singlist offerings in his younger days. Now he deconstructs them.
Do embrace the books, songs, movies, TV shows that validate and celebrate single life
I’ve found that the members of the Community of Single People are constantly looking, and not for romantic partners. Time and again, people ask for suggestions for things to watch and read and listen to that are not full of the same old tedious romantic plots. Craig Wynne has an entire chapter on that, with lists of books, songs, movies, and television shows, and brief descriptions of the singles-affirming value of each.
Learn the Practical Skills
In 1936, Marjorie Hillis wrote an enormously popular book, Live Alone and Like It: A Guide for the Extra Woman. Its appeal was so enduring, it was republished more than 70 years later, and then a whole book was written about that book.
The 1936 guide for women included some very practical advice about matters such as food, finances, and housekeeping. In How to Be a Happy Bachelor, Craig Wynne offers some of the same kinds of down-to-earth suggestions for the twenty-first century single man. From cooking, cleaning, dressing, and budgeting, to caring for your physical and mental health, it’s all there. There are nods to divorced and widowed men, as well as single fathers. Pet dads are included, too.
Know Your Mind, Mold Your Mindset
Early in the book, when Wynne is explaining why he used “bachelor” in the title instead of “single man,” he offers this observation:
“Even the phrase “bachelor party” is still used to celebrate the occasion when a man loses his bachelorhood, rather than a celebration of the state itself.”
How to Be a Happy Bachelor is the celebration I’ve been waiting for. Wynne lets you know that it may not be easy to get to the place of happy bachelorhood. (It wasn’t always easy for him.) You know the cliché about how romantic relationships take work? Living single can, too – especially if you want to embrace your single life, and not just live it grudgingly. You may need to change your mindset and learn some new skills, but ultimately, I think you will find that it is a true joy to be your own best self.
Now I am going to add How to Be a Happy Bachelor to my collection, Badass single people: Dozens of books for you. Enjoy!!