Monday, May 25, 2009

Bachelor boys

'I would hate to be 70 and have nobody give a s*** about me'

Most men would love the life of a bachelor and all it entails, from fabulous apartments uncluttered by girlfriends' shoes to constant hot dates and parties. Or would they? Susan Daly investigates why 40-plus singletons are now starting to rethink their status

By Susan Daly

Saturday May 23 2009

The lifestyle of the modern bachelor inspires envy. Footloose fun and frolics in a world lined with fast cars, penthouse pads and beautiful, disposable women; they're living the dream, right?

But filter out the roar of private jets and the clinking of Martini glasses, and you may hear murmurs of dissatisfaction from some of the world's most eligible bachelors. Gerard Butler, the 300 actor with the six-pack torso, recently betrayed the brethren by saying: "I find playing the field less and less exciting. I enjoy being single less and less." He turns 40 this year. Fellow actor Orlando Bloom came to his single crisis a little earlier, when he turned 30. "Everything outside my job has begun to pall -- the jet-setting, the nightclubs, the bachelor lifestyle; now I need some permanence and stability," he said mournfully. "I feel it's about time I settled down."

Even Hugh Hefner, who claims to have invented the concept of the babe-magnet bachelor in the 50s, has been playing hard and fast with the playboy principles of love 'em and leave 'em. The 83-year-old, for whom women have been interchangeable props in his Playboy Mansion, went on record last week as saying he wants the "love of his life" Holly Madison back -- eight months after she left him for a TV magician.

What in the name of George Clooney is going on? Michael O'Doherty, publisher of VIP magazine, despairs of the assumption that bachelorhood is a bed of thornless roses. "I would like to get married," he says. "I would hate to be 70 and have nobody give a shit about me."

O'Doherty appears to have all the trappings of gold-plated singledom: the quayside apartment with panoramic views of Dublin city, the orange Lamborghini (which he traded up to from a red Ferrari) and the publishing empire which sees him preside over such glam awards ceremonies as the VIP Style and TV Now awards, top-heavy with beautiful models and socialites. For a working lunch, he suggests we meet in the opulent private members' club, Residence on Stephen's Green. It is one of his regular haunts.

Yet, as he sips his glass of Sancerre and recommends the tarte tatin, he says the presumption is not that a man who is single at 44, as he is, has the life of George Clooney -- it is that he is gay. "At about 36 or 38, the gay rumours start to hit. The minute 40 starts to approach, people start to question why you haven't settled down," he says. "I have seen the term 'confirmed bachelor' written about me. The term 'eligible bachelor' means a great catch, form an orderly queue ladies. 'Confirmed bachelor' means don't bother queueing ladies, because you will be out all night and when you get to the till, all the goods will be gone."

It is not the gay rumours that concern O'Doherty about 40-plus singledom. He was thinking the other day about how old he might be at the 21st birthday party of any hypothetical child of his. "Would I still be attractive; could I still flirt with my son's girlfriends or my daughter's girlfriends?" he muses, with what one suspects is tongue firmly in cheek. "And 66 is the youngest I could be!"

He remembers his own father, who died suddenly last year at the age of 71, schmoozing the room at O'Doherty's own 21st. "He was only about 46 at the time. He could certainly get away with it, and there is a certain roguery element to it. But a 66-year-old flirting with a 20-year-old girl is outrageous! It's utterly wrong."

However, age-appropriateness remains a relatively fluid concept for bachelors. O'Doherty blanches at the thought of going out with a woman who has the syllable 'teen' in her age, but two years ago, when he was 42, he dated a 21-year-old. "The best thing about it was people saying, 'Oh Michael, how could you? She's literally half your age'," he says, leaving room for a deadbeat pause. "She was a mature 21-year-old."

You could be forgiven for thinking that there are any number of Irish bachelors running around living the life of Reilly, whoever he was. Former F1 driver Eddie Irvine, for example, is not just one of Ireland's most notorious playboys -- he's world class. (Although class might not be the correct word for a man who once advised: "You have to speak to a beautiful woman but if she's average, you can nail her without bothering.") Unmarried Irish hotel millionaire John Fitzpatrick has a lifestyle that would turn James Bond green -- the 49-year-old splits his time between his house in the Hamptons and his bachelor pad in Manhattan, rides a Harley, snowboards, kiteboards and flies planes and helicopters.

For a time during the Celtic Tiger, such decadence was not just for rich, single businessmen. Property developers spent the best part of a decade upping the ante on the traditional bachelor pad -- and they had no shortage of customers.

"People were indulging themselves," says Gary Jacobs, director of Allen and Jacobs estate agents in Dublin. "It evolved from timber decking in a penthouse apartment balcony to lights in the decking to speakers in the decking, to a hot tub on the roof. Jacuzzis with mood lighting moved into bathrooms, plus waterfall showers, wireless stereo systems and smart home technology throughout. It was toys for boys, essentially."

Michael O'Doherty agrees that certain bachelor accessories have a "bang" off them. His Lamborghini -- which he says he doesn't use that much -- certainly has that effect. "It is a two-seater car and it doesn't have any luggage space. It does reek of the single man," he says. He claims that he didn't buy it as a potential babe magnet. "I drive it for the fun and enjoyment. I'm not driving around in a chest wig, with the wind blowing in my hair, a gold medallion and pointy shoes with no socks, thinking, 'Everyone look at me, Billy Big Nuts'," he says indignantly.

Which is just as well -- a girl he went out with last year would refuse to get into the car. "Mostly, it would be married men who like looking at it and saying, 'Jammy bastard, he can get away with that'." However, O'Doherty has a sell-by date in mind for the car. "I wouldn't want to be driving it at 50," he says, "What is sad is some bald, old guy with a woman in her 20s, trying to get his beer gut behind the wheel of a sports car and needing a chairlift to get out of it." Heaven forfend.

This expiry date extends to bachelorhood. O'Doherty was best man four times within two years, but never the groom. He went to a wedding on the May bank holiday weekend on his own, something he found "a bit sad". He wants children, a house, security and comfort. But the dilemma of ageing bachelors everywhere is the pool of marriageable women gets shallower as you get older, mature 21-year-olds notwithstanding. Simultaneously, O'Doherty says he is choosier than ever. "You get higher standards; you can't tolerate the same stuff you could at 25 because you've heard it all before."

Despite the snaps of him posing with models and minor celebs at parties related to his magazines, he claims not to date much at all. "My entire lifestyle is based on work, and my whole attitude to work is informed by the fact that there is nobody else impinging on my time," he says. "Although it is a very flimsy excuse for not having a relationship."

The impetus in older bachelors to get hitched could have some basis in the natural instinct to survive. Dr Noel Richardson, director of the National Centre for Men's Health Research and Training, says a report done on single older men in Kerry showed that they had a higher incidence of depression and mental health issues in general. "And women tend to have a crucial role in supporting men in health roles, encouraging them to go to the doctor," says Dr Richardson. "

Two years ago, American professor Robert Kaplan reported that a study of more than 67,000 people showed that single men had a shorter life expectancy than married men. "Accumulated evidence suggests that social isolation increases the risk of premature death," he added. "Marriage is a rough proxy for social connectedness." It gives a new meaning to the term 'toxic bachelor', originally coined by Sex and the City writer Candace Bushnell. The only person a long-time commitment-phobe is hurting, it seems, is themselves.

It is not all doom and gloom, however, for the rootless bachelor. Last month, the University of Maryland in the US picked up on a new social phenomenon for men to enjoy a 'golden age' of renewed male friendships in their late 40s. Instead of juggling family and work, these men have created an alternative supportive structure of male camaraderie and loyalty.

RTE sportscaster Marty Morrissey, a bachelor of the "45-plus" sector, he jokes, recognises this "inner circle" in his own group of friends. "I am not married, my father was an only child, my mother was an only child, and I was their only child," he explains, "So the things I might tell a sibling or a wife I tell my close friends. It can be tough to be unmarried, especially in rural Ireland, where the marriage culture has traditionally been strong. If your life has run a different course, loyal friends are very, very important."

Dr Mark Rowe, a Waterford-based GP who has just published The Men's Health Book (all proceeds to the Marie Keating Foundation), agrees that loneliness can cause stress and distress in a man who, to the outside world, is footloose and fancy-free. "They need friends; even a pet dog can provide company. And it is important that they make time for what is important -- healthy eating, exercise -- rather than what they think is urgent in work."

So, it appears that the only man living the life of George Clooney is, well, George Clooney. "People say it must be great to be in your 40s and single, like George Clooney," laughs Michael O'Doherty. "Much in the same way as they say, 'Oh, there's nothing wrong with being bald -- look at Sean Connery'. Realistically, Sean Connery is the only good-looking bald man on the planet."

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