Single on Valentine's Day, and I couldn't be happier

Leonardo DiCaprio is a poster boy for single men.
Leonardo DiCaprio is a poster boy for single men. Photo: Kevin Scanlon/New York Times

Each Valentine's Day, amidst the cuddly-wuddly bears and traffic light red roses there's a group of men thinking: this'll never be me.

And, yes, they really mean it.

Shae Courtney has made the choice to remain single.
Shae Courtney has made the choice to remain single. 

What's more, that group is growing. The proportion of single Australians has increased from 38 per cent in 1986 to 41 per cent in 2011. It's an international issue, too – the Japanese government is panicking at its declining birth rate; almost 40 per cent of Japanese men have thought "marriage isn't for me – I prefer bachelorhood".

Bachelorhood. The word is loaded with baggage. Conventional wisdom says a bachelor is a cad, a player, someone shirking his responsibilities to society who just needs to grow up. He doesn't live in a cosy home; he lives in a "pad", like a wanker. Similarly, "singleton" has negative connotations for men and women alike – the implication being that they're lonely, desperate, a failure, pitiable.

An informed choice

But what if these personas no longer ring true? With such a large chunk of the population now single, there are many men for whom this is no accident and not a case of a sports car-driving Peter Pan. It's an informed, sensible choice. Being happily single is no longer an oxymoron.

It can seem, though, that the whole world is geared towards coupledom, in the process stigmatising the single person. Dining out with a glass of wine has usually been perceived as the preserve of the loved-up. Cooking for one is often tricky – most supermarket meals or measures serve two. An Australian study towards the end of last year revealed that single renters are most likely to be poor.

Nevertheless, Australian men are wising up to the Disney-fication of their lives: idealistic romantic dreams packaged up and sold back to them. These men reject the peculiar language around "settling down" – something you say to deflate the positive energy from an overexcited person.

They aren't trying to find their "other half" – they already feel like a whole person. If they have lovers, these men don't want them to be their "best friend". Their best friend is Dave or Gaz who already does a fine job in that role, thank you.

Let them eat cake

One such man revelling in the post-bachelor age is Shae Courtney, 23, a copywriter from Sydney's Surry Hills. He's suffering from "relationship fatigue" after his last one finished a year ago. He has now made the choice to remain single.

He defies the culture "that the married couple is prescribed as the bastion of security, happiness and fulfillment". He has reserved his 20s and 30s – at least - for "building a career, managing money, moving around". He feels invigorated by this considered choice: "Let's face it, being single is pretty bloody incredible. You can have your cake and eat it."

For Courtney, the manifold benefits of remaining single can be summed up in one word: time. "So much time to dedicate to a career, time for a glittering social life, time for travel. Who can say no to that?" he says.

"Some say loneliness or even selfishness are the downsides of choosing to be single. They're wrong! You can enjoy a buoyant social scene and dedicate time to your job and giving back to the community."

Pros and cons

It's not just the Gen Ys who eschew the compromises necessary in partnered life. Matt Melcher is 40 and a self-employed writer. Born and raised in Australia, he recently moved to the US; in neither country has he chosen to enter relationships because "in short, I don't have my shit together".

There are positives to his chosen path, though; three, it turns out, isn't always a crowd: "When going out with a good mate and his girlfriend, there's always extra attention from the waitresses and other single girls. You're pre-screened and it adds to the effect when said girlfriend gives play-by-play advice on what the single women in the venue are thinking."

He adds: "I want all of the benefits of being with a woman, without all the negatives. Yes, that means you'll be alone at times. But it's a small price to pay."

Infinite infantilising 

Professor David Buchbinder, from the University of Western Australia's School of Humanities, says the GFC and rise of nerd culture play their part in more men shying away from partnering up:

"Nerd culture – the fascination with electronic gaming and media as a sort of toy for adults – results in the infantilising of otherwise adult males," he says.

"Add to this the fact that many men experience extended periods of youth into their 40s or even 50s, and men no longer leaving the parental home in their teens – and you find a whole generation of men not emotionally mature enough for adult relationships."

Uncertain economic times and the particularities of the Australian employment market also account for an increase in men choosing to be single: "Since the Global Financial Crisis, many men may feel it's hard enough keeping their own individual bodies and souls together, without entering into a contract with a life-partner which might require financial support for them. It's easier to remain single if your profession requires extensive travel, as with fly-in, fly-out miners."

Shedding the stigma

The language we use in the post-bachelor age is also shedding its stigma. Professor Buchbinder says: "There used to be an enormous stigma about being single; particularly for men over a certain age: phrases like 'not the marrying kind' or 'perpetual bachelor' were often code for 'being gay'."

The beauty of today's society is that being gay and being single are both finally being destigmatised. You can be your own man.

Nevertheless, for some it'll make uncomfortable reading to face the inconvenient truth: we could be better off alone.

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