The “toxic bachelor.” It was a term we’d never really heard of until a 33-year-old male friend, fresh off a breakup, mentioned it. “I want to settle down,” he said. “I want to start a family. Plus, I’m getting to that age where if I don’t do it soon, I’m in danger of becoming a ‘toxic bachelor.’” A toxic bachelor, he explained, is when it’s no longer cute to be single, and seems sad and desperate instead. For this particular friend, his “toxic bachelor” age was 35, and we wanted to know if other men felt any kind of desperate pull to settle down. So we asked them. Over IM.
THE EDITOR, 36
Amelia: Do you ever worry about being labeled a toxic bachelor?
The Editor: What’s a toxic bachelor?
Amelia: Like, a guy who’s been single for so long — i.e. into his mid-late 30s — that he then becomes viewed as undateable because he hasn’t settled down so there must be something wrong with him. So, I’m wondering if this is a general dude concern — if men feel there is some magic cut off age when they should have a committed relationship sorted out.
The Editor: It’s not an internal thing for me. I don’t think I’m toxic. But I have sensed from people around me that they’re starting to think that of me. That I’m broken. Forever. It’s kind of enraging, actually.
Amelia: Awwww! So, the stereotype is that women supposedly have a biological clock or a timer set for a particular age that they’d like to settle down by — do men? Do you?
The Editor: I don’t have an internal clock, no. Though I was aware, to the day, of when I was as old as my dad was when I was born. And at that point I kind of had a clock in my head ticking off time. Kind of like in “The Hunt For Red October” when Ramius delays the submarine turn for several seconds. (I’m sure you get that reference.)
Amelia: Oh yes, totally
The Editor: But to be honest that doesn’t bother me THAT much. I am bothered by the fact that friends of mine do seem to view me in that toxic bachelor light, however. Like, really close friends of mine. Friends who’ve let me watch their kid. Clearly they think I’m okay, but because I’m still single, they assume I’m some sort of relationship monster.
Amelia: Like you can’t have a “lasting” one?
The Editor: I think it’s twofold. One, that I don’t want a real relationship. And two, that I’ve behaved awfully in previous relationships.
One isn’t true. And as for two, EVERYONE has behaved badly in relationships at one time or another. I don’t think I’m all that bad, relatively speaking. I’ve actually heard how friends of mine have described my previous relationship to a girl they knew who was interested in me. And the way they portrayed me was both untrue and monstrous. I was seriously upset when I heard. And I really do believe it’s all because I’m in my mid 30s and still single.
Amelia: Really?? That’s pretty fucked up.
The Editor: I once heard someone say that if she were in her mid 30s and divorced, no one would bat an eye. But because she’s in her mid 30s and never been married, people assume she’s damaged goods. That goes for men too I think. And it’s bonkers. It’s so weird that people care so much.
Amelia: Well yes, and also, I think women internalize it. So it’s interesting to find out whether men do too. It sounds like you don’t. But you’re aware that some people are judging your singleness.
The Editor: Ha, I’m quite aware of the things about me I need to work on, and I am working on them. There are a billion married dudes who have no idea what those things are, and don’t work on them. Marriage/singlehood has nothing to do with being screwed up or not. But why isn’t the reaction, “Oh, he didn’t get married before he was ready,” or “Oh, he didn’t marry the wrong person for him.” Why isn’t the fact that I’m still single a positive thing? Again, I think it’s really weird how people react to it.
Amelia: Well, you could say the same thing about women. I think the common assumption is that Never Married Women are, like, desperate to be and they’re pathetic. While the common assumption about Never Married Men is that they don’t want to be serious or settle down. That’s the “toxic bachelor” label I’m talking about. I mean, in a perfect world, we would try and figure each other out by asking questions, rather than assuming.
The Editor: Yes but I think people are especially weird and judgey about relationships. I mean, I’ve had people in clearly bad marriages and relationships essentially ask me what my problem is. I’m not toxic. I just have a pretty good idea of what I’m looking for, and I’m done with dating just for the sake of dating (i.e., knowing it’s going to end before it begins).
Amelia: That is what happens when smug marrieds become resentful of your freedom. They lash out!
The Editor: Ha, I disagree. I have maybe one friend who envies my singlehood. And I have lots of friends who envy the fact that my time is all my own—but that’s because they have kids. It doesn’t have to do with being married. But I think most people would be terrified to be in my position. Which is why they assume there’s something wrong with me.
Amelia: Well, if it makes you feel any better, I do not think you are a toxic bachelor and I look forward to maybe having sex with your enormous penis one more time before you settle down and become a Smug Married.
The Editor: Haha, that had better make it onto the site.
THE PRODUCER, 34
The Producer: Nope, I think timelines and cut-off dates are mainly a female pathology driven by biology/society cocktail.
Julie: So you don’t worry that if you’re not wifed up by 40 you’ll be a failure?
The Producer: Nope. I’ll be “distinguished.”
THE COMIC BOOK WRITER, 35
Julie: Do you worry about being a toxic bachelor, that like, at a certain age your singleness will make you undesirable to women you’re pursuing?
The Comic Book Writer: I definitely do worry about that. Age is a factor. In occasional paranoid brainstorms, I sometimes wonder if being divorced is preferential to be single at a certain point. Because at least you tried and someone tried with you. Two classic comedy bits come to mind — Jerry Seinfeld talking about being thin and neat and Chris Rock talking about how you don’t want to be the old guy in the club. My college roommate is that guy
Julie: That guy! UGH.
The Comic Book Writer: He seems to enjoy life though. Perhaps i’m projecting my own shit on him But when he talks about dating someone born in the 90s is a real possibility (1990 turned 21 last year) …
Julie: That’s FUCKED.
The Comic Book Writer: It’s depressing to me.
Julie: Do you think there’s an age cut off — like a point of no return?
The Comic Book Writer: Obviously women feel that. For men, 40 seems an obvious tipping point and it’s earlier than that if someone isn’t involved with anyone. But New York City adds 10 (more) years to both men and women’s mental cut-offs. My Barry Bradshaw voice-over: “If women have a biological clock, could men have a biological COCK?”
THE MUSIC CRITIC, 32
Julie: Are you ever concerned with being a “toxic bachelor”? That being a single dude over a certain age makes you unattractive to women?
The Music Critic: THANKS FOR PLANTING THIS SEED OF ANXIETY IN MY MIND, JULIE. I’m kidding! I think there’s a tremendous disparity between the genders when it comes to this sort of anxiety.
The Music Critic: HUGE. For me, it isn’t such a feeling of being “toxic” as being “creepy.” But I will say that women my age, shouldn’t worry about this stuff. I understand that our society creates this kind of psychic pressure, but it’s a tremendous turn off when you’re meeting someone. I think as single people, we’re all out there searching for a sense of possibility and this mentality can really impede that vibe.
Julie: So you’re not thinking, “If I’m not married by 35, I’m a failure”?
The Music Critic: No, I am. Hahahaha. I will say this: I think men also feel an anxiety when their friends are partnering off and having children. My friends constantly tell me “you’re so lucky!” and “you’re free!” But they don’t understand that it becomes more difficult to connect with people as the years trundle on. And this perceived “toxicity” is part of it, I think. But men absolutely feel a sense of shame or anxiety when their peers are all booed up and they’re not. In my experience, women just feel it more acutely.
THE COMMUNITY ORGANIZER, 37
Community Organizer: Okay. The thought occurred to me when I was breaking up with my last girlfriend. “Oh no, I am nearly 40 (37) and single” — What if I am one of those sad sack bachelors hitting on too young women at the bar? I’m already often the oldest guy in the room at social events. But I haven’t had a hard time dating and finding someone who is interested.
Julie: So it’s not a concern for you?
The Community Organizer: Just as it is a concern for women. “All the good ones are taken.” But also: “Am I broken?”
THE TEXAN, 37
Amelia: Do you ever worry about being labeled a toxic bachelor?
The Texan: What is that?
Amelia: Basically a guy who’s single/not settled down for so long that he fears he won’t ever settle down because he’ll be labeled a guy who isn’t capable. I’m wondering if this is a general dude concern — that if they don’t settle down by a certain age that they’ll be written off.
The Texan: No? I mean, that sounds like a term invented by a woman projecting.
Amelia: Don’t turn this around!
The Texan: I have to turn it around. I have to be therapy-ish about this.
Amelia: With me? You’re annoying.
The Texan: I can’t answer this seriously, Amelia. I just can’t.
Amelia: I don’t think it’s that crazy of a question, but I’m assuming, then, your answer is no.
The Texan: I don’t care what people think about me. I just don’t. I never have and I never will.
Amelia: Okay, take other people out of it then. I’m asking if you have a time frame in mind for when you want/wanted certain milestones to be reached.
The Texan: I think women are obsessed with milestones?
Amelia: But I’m asking about men. A simple no will suffice!
The Texan: No.
The Texan: It’s a stupid concept. As stupid as anyone who would judge a woman for being single at 40 or 30 or 22.
Amelia: Grr, but I’m now asking less about being judged by others than judging yourself. It’s a perfectly reasonable question to ask and examine whether the same pressure to settle down exists for men and if it does, where they feel it coming from.
The Texan: Many men, I think, wake up one day and realize they didn’t really choose to be a bachelor, and that it might be too late to have a family.
Amelia: And there is a somewhat common assumption —- if you’re the type of person to assume things about someone you don’t know or know well —- that a Never Married Guy is not married because he doesn’t WANT to ever settle down. THAT is the Toxic Bachelor label I’m referring to.
The Texan: Who is he supposed to be toxic to? The woman? Himself?
Amelia: Monogamy. “Settling down.”
The Texan: So monogamy is settling down? Having sex with one person and one person only is settling down? What a twisted concept.
Amelia: Oh Christ. I’m using certain terminology, but I know you know what I mean. A “toxic bachelor” just wants to fuck around, not ever really get to know someone, etc.
The Texan: How about this — all men are toxic bachelors until they choose not to be. It’s not being single that is the choice, it’s the commitment, because the reverse isn’t true. Anyway, I just can’t validate or confirm the existence of a bogeyman.
Amelia: I’m not confirming the existence either. I’m talking about an idea. That exists. The Toxic Bachelor. It may be a bogeyman. But it’s a concept that exists, a label that is applied to people/men.
The Texan: Fine. Does the Vagina Bear Trap exist?
Amelia: YES AND IT HATES YOU.