Perhaps having been too much influenced by the sexual tint that pervades everything in our culture, I have often thought of “the confirmed bachelor” as a gay man whom everyone pretended was simply a fellow who avoided marriage and liked living alone. John Derbyshire has a few paragraphs in his discussion of former Conservative U.K. Prime Minister Ted Heath that causes me to reflect a little more deeply:
The bachelor life. Heath never married. He showed not the slightest sign of being homosexual, though, repressed or otherwise. He was a specimen of a type that, it seems to me, used to be much more common than it now is, and was certainly more socially acceptable: the confirmed bachelor. He simply had no interest in sex. Nowadays such a person is thought to be strange, to have issues, but the generality of people didn’t think like that 30 years ago.
Whatever you think of his politics (I detest them), it can hardly be denied that Heath lived a full and useful life. He reached the very summit of his chosen profession. He had an absorbing and uplifting hobby — playing and conducting classical and sacred music — to take his mind off his work. He was a keen and accomplished sportsman (racing sailboats). He had close friends, who loved him, spoke affectionately of him, and were loyal to him. In his youth he led men into battle, bravely and capably. He wrote, or at any rate dictated, half a dozen books. From the humblest of beginnings, he rose to wealth and power. He was very intelligent, though unimaginative and not well read. (Among his recorded remarks are: “I never read novels.”) He stuck to his principles, returned loyalty for loyalty, and committed no crimes.
Not many of us can hope to get as much out of life, or to leave as much of an impression on the world, as Ted Heath. Yet in that full and vigorous life, sex apparently played no part whatsoever. He simply wasn’t interested.
We used to be much more comfortable with that than we now are. (That “we” refers to we Anglo-Saxons: I think these remarks apply equally to both sides of the Atlantic.) There was a whole bachelor culture, certainly not homosexual, and not particularly hostile to women, though regarding them as a bit of a nuisance to be got away from as much as possible — in men-only clubs, on the golf course, on walking tours with other bachelors. Philip Larkin, who was heterosexual and liked sex, but unfortunately did not much like women, wrote very affectionately about that culture. It’s all gone with the wind now, alas. If I were to suggest to one of my male colleagues at National Review that we go on a walking tour in the Catskills together, I should get a very strange look.
The discussion reminds me that I have known some men of this type. They often end up living with mother after dad dies and plan trips to go golfing at St. Andrews because they have enormous disposable income. The part about the walking tour is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis who was a confirmed bachelor for many, many years before he met the woman he would marry as a pretense (for immigration purposes) and grow to truly love. He and his friends tromped all over England during his single days.