Kevin McHale looks a little bit like Jason Priestley. He’s single. He lives in a “very large“ apartment in downtown Manhattan with an original Ralf Bohnenkamp hanging in the foyer and Philippe Starck chairs in the dining room. His closets are crammed with expensive rock-climbing equipment. On an average night, McHale works till eightish, then goes to the gym or to drinks with friends, or meets the pretty fashion buyer he’s been dating for the past few months. She’s 31; before her, he kept company with a 26-year-old. There’s always at least one woman in his orbit.
There’s nothing particularly unusual about that, except McHale, 40, is what you might call a born-again bachelor. He’s one of a new breed of divorced men who, far from struggling to find a niche for themselves as newly single, are having the time of their lives.
Since childhood, we’ve been hearing about the one in two marriages that fails. Not much has changed—a study released in 2005 by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that only about 65 percent of unions make it to the 15-year mark. But while the numbers are about the same as they were a few decades ago, the archetypal 21st-century bachelor is a very different beast from those who came before him—one who would be the envy of the Mr. Mom–style married man. He’s not a do-nothing charmer like Jack from Three’s Company. or Joey from Friends; nor is he Empty Nest’s Charley, an aging Lothario laden with medallions. He’s . . . well, he’s Samantha from Sex and the City.
This wealthy, formerly married guy is situated squarely in the marketing industry’s bull’s-eye. He’s not necessarily saddled with alimony anymore—the Equality in Marriage Institute reports that the number of prenup inquiries it received more than tripled from 2003 to 2005, to 5,000 a month. And divorced men from 25 to 44 have a mean income that’s more than $6,000 higher than their never-married counterparts’, according to 2004 figures from the Census Bureau.
In other words, childless, six-figure-salaried men are now catapulting out of marriage to find themselves not alienated but greeted by a smorgasbord of products and real estate packaged and marketed especially for them. High-end residences that were seemingly focus-grouped to appeal to newly single men are popping up in metropolitan areas, glittering with accoutrements like Food Network–ready kitchens, extravagant on-site gyms, and embedded sound systems.
“Marketers go after these young divorcés because they have much the same attributes as the 18-to-34 single males,“ says Ann M. Mack, director of trend spotting at the advertising agency JWT. “They’re young, they have disposable income, and they really have no obligations other than themselves.“ In early 2008, hotelier and quintessential high-rolling bachelor André Balazs will open the William Beaver House in New York’s financial district; when plans for the residence were unveiled, Balazs was quoted in the press as saying, “If you have kids, go to Battery Park City.“ The building, whose sales office opened last December, will have a glass-bottomed Jacuzzi positioned directly above the entrance, squash courts, and an on-site bar and screening room. The promotional website has a tongue-in-cheek, loungey soundtrack and stars a cartoon-beaver mascot holding a martini glass—as well as a number of drawings simulating life at the William Beaver that border on soft-porn animé. The message—C’mon in, single guys, we’ll get you laid—isn’t subtle.
“[These buildings] are for people who work hard and come home and don’t want to retreat to their apartments,“ says Balazs. “They’re up for a little social interaction. It’s nice to be able to have a community that does something other than sit in a nightclub.“
Balazs’ glossy fraternity house follows the example set by two previous developments of his that attract the young and single, 40 Mercer and One Kenmare Square in New York, as well as under-construction developments like Mei, in Miami Beach; the Murano, in Philadelphia; and the Frank Gehry–designed Residences at Grand Avenue, in Los Angeles. The legendary Hit Factory studio, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, is being turned into luxury units that start at just over $1 million; the lobby will be festooned with plaques from albums recorded there.
“It’s inevitable,“ says Michael Kimmel, a sociology professor at SUNY Stony Brook who’s writing a book called Guyland: The Inner Lives of Men 18–26. “Developers are looking for a way to get some of that disposable income. They’re accessorizing these buildings for men.“
Cushy living spaces aren’t the only thing making the world a friendly place for the new breed of bachelors. Women—especially those cultivating their careers first and marrying later—are welcoming the freshly divorced thirtysomething guy with open arms. It turns out that being divorced at 35 isn’t a red flag as much as it is a stamp of approval.
“If you’re single and you’ve never been married at this age, you’re the red-light bachelor,“ says Derek (who asked that his real name not be used), 36, an art director in New York who’s been divorced for six years. “Every girl’s looking at you like, What’s wrong with him? Is he gay? Is he crazy?’ Having been married, all that’s wiped away. You’re a single guy, you’ve already been married, so you’ve already been through the first interview.“
“Guys who get married younger and then go back in the dating pool are much less likely to be seen as damaged goods than they might once have been,“ Kimmel says.
“In some ways, I’d rather date someone who’s divorced—at least I know he doesn’t have commitment issues,“ says Ruth, 32, who works in human resources in Toronto. “I don’t view it so differently from a breakup. It’s just a relationship that didn’t work out.“
“While divorce is still a crisis moment for these men,“ says Richard N. Pitt, a professor of sociology at Vanderbilt University, “the long-term impact is lessened if he’s not bound to the ex-wife financially. And the market for divorced men is very different from the market for divorced women—with or without children in the mix.“
Single since the age of 32, McHale, the ad exec who lives in Manhattan, can attest to the warm reception many women offer formerly married men. The women he dates are “15 years [older], 15 years younger, and anything in between. It’s been . . . yeah,“ he says, recalling the years since his divorce with the misty-eyed joy of a middle-aged woman who got out from under a Neanderthal husband.
“These are my prime years,“ McHale says. “Every year I’m happier with myself and my life. I’ve got a great career with a very good company, I’m highly respected, so right now is a very fun time for me.“
Marc (who asked that his real name not be used), 33, a film and music-video director in Toronto, kept his house in an arty downtown area of the city after his marriage ended a year and a half ago and began dating with the abandon of a 23-year-old: “I’m rebuilding the years I missed. The feeling of being able to sit on your couch at 11:30 at night and think, I feel like going out, and just going, and not having to answer to anyone. That stuff is stuff we take for granted when we’re single. That’s a great feeling.“
And finding female companions to go out with has been made easier for guys like Marc and McHale by modern technology—some of which is rightly considered the domain of twentysomethings. “MySpace is the key to a single life,“ Marc says. “You wake up to a hundred girls telling you how hot they think you are, and most of them are like, Let’s hang out.’ It’s unbelievable the amount of people, especially girls, that I’ve met.“ True enough, his MySpace comments board is littered with remarks from the women who number among his 6,000 friends, including one very friendly magazine model.
“You can see why these guys would be a desirable marketing target,“ says Mack, the ad-industry trend spotter. “This is a prime opportunity for companies trying to build brand affinity. These men are making their own purchasing decisions without having to consider anyone else or compromise.“