Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Passion for the New Bachelorhood

Joe Keller, Single Effort: How to Live Smarter, Date Better, and Be Awesomely Happy

Two generations ago, feminists rebelled against the idea that an unmarried woman must necessarily be merely waiting for a husband. Now the tables have turned: we accept women who remain single, but look askance at male bachelors. Joe Keller survived a painful midlife divorce and returned to bachelorhood, only to discover that, like millions of single men, he lacked core survival skills. So he set about to rectify this lack.

I wish more of what Keller writes in this book qualified as common sense. We’d all like to live in a clean house that celebrates our interests while looking inviting to women. We all think men know how to meet and court women. Yet common sense and experience reveal that bachelor living skills, which look so obvious in romantic comedies, are very rare on the ground. Keller helps close that gap by combining careful research with hard-won experience.

The title comes, obviously, from the effort of living single in a world geared to couples. But it also describes Keller’s belief that we can make one effort fill two goals. Keeping your house isn’t just about having a presentable place to sleep; it’s a way to maintain a relationship with your kids, and a cue to dates about your personal qualities. Self-improvement efforts, such as fitness classes, can double as low-pressure opportunities to meet women.

Some of Keller’s advice is specific to divorc├ęs: How to divide your marital possessions. How to make not just a living space, but a life worth living, at an age when you didn’t expect such upheaval. How to decorate a house so your kids feel at home, but your date doesn’t think you’re still hung up on your marriage. Some of this isn’t divorce-specific, though, considering that many engagements and courtships can outlast modern marriages.

Joe Keller
Other advice applies to men at any relationship stage, and even to unmarried women. What do you need to make a complete kitchen? How do you keep a clean house on a single person’s tight time schedule—and when do you consider it a good investment to hire a professional cleaner? What household appurtenances are worth the money, and which will turn into mere household clutter? When the time comes, where can you meet a potential mate?

Keller provides welcome guidance on living skills such as how to manage a kitchen. Too many bachelors live on carb-rich takeout, which shows on their waists, and their marriage prospects. Keller’s eminently readable, jargon-free guide to kitchen practice includes how to handle common ingredients, follow simple recipes, and pair food with wine. Your beltline and billfold will thank you for the knowledge. So will your date.

Speaking of dates, Keller dedicates the second half of his book to the presumption that, even if you’re single now, you don’t expect that for the rest of your life. Midlife courtship is categorically different than college romance, and many of the standards, like where to meet women and how to comport yourself, have changed. Dating is its own unique skill set, especially when you and she may both have kids, and Keller breaks it down into manageable, bite-sized nuggets.

For instance, many men see courtship as external. We don’t take the effort to make ourselves marriageable material. How we groom and dress make more of a difference than we care to admit. Likewise, bars and other meat markets make lousy places to meet committed spouses. Keller provides useful, nuts-and-bolts suggestions of ways to go where the women are, so you can meet and get to know them on favorable terms.

Perhaps Keller’s most important advice is not about dating, or housekeeping, or surviving the divorce. Underlying nearly every piece of advice, Keller wants to make sure you remain willing to live with yourself. You will never keep peace with your ex, maintain a relationship with your kids, build a life and career worth maintaining, and meet your next possible spouse, unless you first can stand your own company. That’s harder than it sounds, but Keller is there to help you out.

Many midlife bachelors have a passive attitude to being single. After all, our parents probably expected us to meet our spouses in school or early in our work lives; they never instilled the skills for late life singlehood. Keller provides the guidance we wish we’d had earlier on how to remain active in our own bachelorhood. Don’t wait for a wife to take control of your life. Be the man worthy of such a wife, now.

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