To the Married, Middle-Aged Men Who Wish They Were Single Like Me

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The closer I get to 40, the more frequently I encounter married, middle-aged men who claim they envy me because I’m still single — and it’s starting to get just a little bit irritating.

Before I go any further, I need to point out that some of the men who have confessed their jealousy to me are clearly stuck in unhappy marriages, and I certainly don’t blame those men for feeling the way they do. On the contrary, I sincerely hope they manage to either find a way to repair their relationships with their spouses or, failing that, escape from their marriages altogether and start building happier lives for themselves.

I also don’t blame those men for taking advantage of opportunities to vent about their problems to strangers like me. Barring any unexpected admissions of violence or abuse, there’s no incentive for me to reveal their private thoughts or feelings to anyone they know personally, which of course means that there is virtually no chance that anything they tell me will ever make it back to their significant others. In their eyes, that makes me a convenient and trustworthy confidant, a role I’m happy to play for just about anyone so long as it doesn’t require me to compromise any of my own values or principles.

That being said, most of the middle-aged men I encounter who lament the loss of their bachelorhood aren’t the victims of bad marriages. I spend most of my workday conversing one-on-one with married men and women, and it’s become fairly easy for me to pick up on the subtle clues that help distinguish the sincere disillusionment of heartbroken husbands from the juvenile delusions of self-styled playboys. And over the last few years, I’ve encountered the latter far more often than I’ve encountered the former.

It seems to me that many of the married men who yearn to be single again have a bad habit of looking back at the past through rose-tinted glasses. They remember what it was like to be a confident, carefree, twentysomething bachelor and become trapped in an idealized version of that memory. They then extrapolate from that memory quixotic fantasies about what their lives might look like if they could shake themselves free from the confines of marriage. But those fantasies, however appealing they may be, are so far removed from reality that it makes me feel sad for the men who refuse to let them go.

That’s not to say that being single at (almost) 40 is some sort of spiritual death sentence, mind you. My single friends of a similar age, both men and women, are no less passionate about life than any of their married friends or relatives. Each of us has relationships, careers, and ambitions into which we’ve invested a great deal of time and energy. Those investments bring with them a sense of purpose and meaning that keeps our collective hearts beating hard and fast. At the same time, they’ve never quite been enough to fill the void that the absence of a loving partner has created in my life. And many of my peers, if you were to ask them in earnest, would confess to feeling the same.

I often catch myself roaming around my apartment and thinking, “It would be nice to have someone here with me right now.” When you’re single and live alone, you see, home doesn’t always feel quite like home. To call a place home is to entrust it with the honor of bearing witness to the memories you make with the people who mean the most to you. Take those memories away, and all you have left is a shelter — a place where you eat, sleep, work, and bathe, but where moments worth remembering rarely ever happen.

Not all single, middle-aged men feel this way, of course. There are those who insist that the freedom and flexibility of an independent life are pleasures too precious to abandon, and that liberation from the emotional and financial responsibilities of a romantic relationship is too extravagant of a gift to pass up.

That view, however, surely doesn’t constitute the dominant view among middle-aged men. Human beings are, by and large, hardwired to seek out love. The inimitable bliss of being bound in love to a kindred soul is perhaps the most distinctly human of all possible experiences. In love, your partner’s dreams and aspirations become your dreams and aspirations. You suffer through their pain as you would your own pain and celebrate their triumphs as you would your own triumphs. You make sacrifices that serve to bless your partner with the comfort and security they both desire and deserve. You do these things, willingly and happily, because it is in your joyous lover’s smiling eyes where you find the ultimate reason to keep rolling out of bed at each and every sunrise.

To be in love, even if only for a brief time, is to taste the finest, sweetest fruits of a human heart’s labor, fruits of a flavor unlike any other. There are some men who have, I think, forgotten what it’s like to be deprived of that experience. They forget how it feels to return to an empty house at the end of a long workday or to an empty bed in the late hours of a chilly winter night. They dream dreams of greener pastures while the ghosts of temptation draw them closer and closer to the barren, frostbitten plains of solitude. They take for granted the companionship to which they’ve grown accustomed and never once stop to consider just how lost and incomplete they might feel if they were to wake up one morning with no one to kiss, no one to hold, no one to tease, and no one to spoil.

To those men specifically, I can only say this: do not be too eager to throw away that which you might later find you cannot live without. Go home, kiss your spouses, tell them how much you love them, and dedicate this new year to being the best, most attentive, and most loving husbands you can possibly be. In time, I believe most of you will find that the fulfillment you seek is already well within your reach.

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