On Being a Bachelor

My dad told me that I live like a bachelor. I’m not sure exactly what he meant by that. But I suspect he really wasn’t talking about my marital status or rather lack thereof.

Partly my lifestyle is different because I’ve spent around three quarters of my life severely depressed along with some cognitive deficits (e.g., learning disability). That relates to my having dropped out of college and now have a working class job, even though I’m smart enough to do a higher-skilled job. In thinking about the bachelor lifestyle, my dad might have been talking more about class. I’m fairly sure that, if I were either a rich bachelor or a poverty-stricken bachelor, I’d be living a far different lifestyle than I do as a working class bachelor with a unionized government job. Other than my inhabiting a small apartment, the way I live is probably more similar to the average working class married couple than to bachelors as a general category.

My parents grew up in working class communities. They spent their early years in smaller houses that weren’t up to middle class standards, which is to say a bit cluttered and not pristinely clean. As my parents moved up into the world, they both sought to escape the world they grew up in. I’m not sure what it is, maybe a slight sense of shame of where they came from. I know my mom was embarrassed to bring childhood friends home because of the condition of her family’s house.

I, on the other hand, grew up middle class. My childhood house, because of my mother, was always perfectly clean. And some of the family houses from my younger years were fairly nice, such as our South Carolina home (built for a judge) which was a stately two-story brick structure with a large front porch, balcony, and walled garden. My parents have gone to great effort to become not just middle class but upper middle class, and they’ve succeeded.

For whatever reason, I haven’t exactly inherited this upward mobile aspiration of good living and class respectability, although my brothers are more middle class in their sensibilities. I dress working class and my living space would look working class, if not for the walls being covered in shelves of scholarly and literary books. I have no desire to act or appear middle class. Despite raising me middle class, my mom instilled in me a working class attitude about life and apparently I took it to heart.

Class is such a strange thing. As my dad’s comment implied, class is often spoken of indirectly. More than anything, class is an attitude. If it was important to me, I could dress middle class, act middle class, and maintain a house to a middle class standard. I’m not poor and I’m intimately familiar with what it means to be middle class (proper manners, how to set a formal table, etc). I just don’t care to try, maybe simply because of depression or whatever. I’m content being working class, as it’s a simpler and more comfortable way of living. For example, I like my Carhartt clothing because it’s practical and, on a basic level, I’m all about practical (as my mom raised me). I didn’t grow up on a farm or in a factory town. I’ve never gone hunting, much less owned a gun, and I’ve never driven a pickup truck. I just look like that kind of person.

Here is where the issue of marriage vs bachelorhood fits in. It used to be that marriage was most closely identified with working class. But that has changed. Marriage rates are now higher with the middle class or what is left of the middle class. As the economy has gotten harder, there have been fewer advantages for the working class to get married and more stress driving working class marriages apart.

In the past, it was common for a man to have a good farm, factory, railroad, or mining job. This might even have included job security and good benefits. This often paid well enough that his wife didn’t have to work, instead her staying at home taking care of the house and kids. It was the traditional American family and, for generations, it was standard for the working class. But hard economic times, along with more opportunities, caused an entire generation of working class women to look for employment to help offset costs.

The traditional family came to have less value, as people had less time to spend with family and were less economically dependent on one another. Being married has increasingly become a luxury of class privilege. For the working poor, it can be cheaper for an individual to live alone or easier to get on welfare, especially in poor communities where most potential spouses are unemployed. The incentive structure at the bottom of the economic ladder doesn’t encourage marriage, as it once did.

So, bachelorhood and bachelorettehood, along with single parenting, has become more common among the lower classes. It’s a survival strategy or simply a hard fact of life. If you’re poor with a job, you have little reason to marry a poor person without a job. And if you are a poor person without a job, there is little reason for someone with a job to marry you. As for two unemployed poor people, even if they weren’t feeling desperate and with no future prospects, marriage would have little meaning or purpose, not even offering comfort in sharing misery with another. In communities with low employment rates, marriage has become rather pointless.

Being a lower class single person has a similar stigma to being lower class single parent, just without the kids. If I were rich and someone said I had a bachelor lifestyle, they’d mean I was living in a large empty mansion or upscale penthouse, living the high life involving vacations and traveling the world, parties and dating beautiful women who presumedly wanted me for my money, not to mention a maid to clean my house. But if I were a severely poor unemployed bachelor, my lifestyle would likely involve at best living in a single bedroom eating Ramen noodles and at worst living under a bridge drinking myself to an early grave. As I’m not either of those extremes, that isn’t what my dad meant when he brought up my bachelor status. But the implication was that my lifestyle was closer to the latter than to the former.

My aspiration is to one day live under a bridge. And with the economy going as it is, my dream may eventually come true. Maybe I’ll meet a nice homeless lady to shack up with and keep me warm at night. Oh, to dream…

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8 thoughts on “On Being a Bachelor

    • Actually, my parents have never been the kind to put pressure on their children. I don’t feel judged for being a bachelor or even for having a working class job. I know it’s not the lifestyle they’d choose for themselves, but they’ve always been fine with what choices I make.

      It was just the underlying class element that caught my attention. I had to tease it out. My dad’s comment was made in passing and so it didn’t have any grand significance. It just caught my attention, as I sensed more to it.

      You’re probably right that a bridge isn’t necessarily a great choice in much of the US. Here in Iowa City, though, we have well-kept infrastructure and much of it has been fixed or rebuilt in recent years because of major flooding. Living under a bridge around here wouldn’t so bad. It’s a decent town to be homeless in, if you must choose a place to be homeless, although winters can be cold.

      So, you’re saying the problem isn’t merely that we need better quality and safer bridges for the homeless to live under. Interesting.

    • There are obviously worsening conditions that have real world impact on many Americans. But the worsening has hit certain demographics worse than others. And not the demographics that people typically assume. The mortality rates are worsening for middle aged whites and rural whites. Meanwhile, mortality rates have still been improving for other demographics, such as minorities. Of course, minorities have to deal with other health problems, including higher rates of lead toxicity.

  1. I’m convinced the US economy is a lot worse than people are willing to publicly admit.

    Obama says “America is already great”. Yeah maybe for his social class it probably is. For the rest of us though, it is really, really ugly.

    There’s a reason why Trump got into power. Obama promised change in 2008 and a better quality of life. People didn’t get it. Only the rich did. In other words, not too different than Bush.

    • My sense is that many things are “a lot worse than people are willing to publicly admit. We live in a time of great promise and peril, but as long as the latter isn’t dealt with the former is meaningless. The promises can even worsen the problems when it allows people to not face those problems.

      The fact of the matter is we could solve or cut down to manageable size every major problem in the country and on the planet, if there was the public and political will to do so. But there is no such a will and going by the evidence it is likely to arise, at least not prior to mass catastrophe.

  2. I should note something. The reason I brought up my parents was simply my dad’s comment. But comments like that happen all across the country. There is nothing particularly unique about my parents. We live in a class-based and class-obsessed society. It goes without saying that, if you look almost anywhere, you will find numerous examples of class identity, conflict, judgment, anxiety, shame, etc.

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