Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Death of the Respectable Bachelor

It was not so long ago that if a woman failed to marry at a certain age she might earn the title “old maid”. Now, after the rise of Feminism and freedom of choice, the idea that women are breeding machines that have failed in their natural purpose by not walking down the aisle has become quaint at best.

Contrary to this is the death of the respectable bachelor, who has been forgotten in all the long suppressed social strides of his female counterpart. It is true that in the past, men were also expected to marry and “do their duty” but, if a man chose to put off his duty till death might intervene, well, it could be overlooked. Today nothing seems sadder than the middle-aged bachelor. Many may know, or have in their own family, the stereotypical uncle about whom you just don’t feel right. Who sits alone at family gatherings and seems a source of concern for the grownups.

The idea now of a man who chooses bachelorhood (or has it chosen for him by temperament or circumstance) without at least the appearance of an active social life, is considered intolerable by most people, especially other men. Such a person is believed to be somehow deficient in some fashion, either mentally or physically. An inadequate male specimen. And while the modern businesswoman becomes an image of energy and virility, the retiring gentleman seems to lose face.

Not everyone, however, is suited to family life. Had Immanuel Kant not taken so long to propose to a young girl, philosophy might have lost the Categorical imperative. Likewise, if Edward Gibbon had been a bit more romantically inclined, the massive project of the Decline and Fall may have been waylaid by the pitter-pat of little feet. Even Karl Marx, who had a large family, was obliged to spend many long hours in the British Museum Reading Room. One wonders if not so much for the research material as to escape to an island of solitude.

In literature I am brought to mind of those two eternal bachelors, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, in the adventures of which there is even a story entitled The Noble Bachelor. Though it is never quite determined if Watson is married or not, he would never give an impression of a dutiful husband as his relationship with Holmes is almost like a marriage in its self, something that has led a few to speculate upon homosexual tendencies in Conan Doyle. The idea that in the Victorian age, as in most eras before the present one, men had their closer relationships among other men is seemingly overlooked.

A few studies have shown that married people live longer and healthier lives than single ones. Reading one of these studies, I found a woman comment that, considering the hell her ex-husband put her through she was much better off alone. Obviously, it is important to find the right mate, not just anyone will do.

Love is more a matter of chance and personality than anything else. Some of us are born commoners of the heart, capable of finding our one and only every day of the week in the communities where we were born, but some have higher standards. Those few bachelors and bachelorettes are the aristocrats of romance, for they are never willing to settle for less.

In old terminology, a bachelor was a young knight. For me, still a young man, the definition seems fitting. Many men and women like myself are still questing, still seeking to fight windmills and save their Dulcinea's----or Quixote’s. And perhaps many of those who have grown old in the quest see it more fitting to walk the road alone than to abandon their ideal. Though their quest may seem antiquated and unreasonable, I think no one could deny it is respectable.