This is a question that came up during another date with my newly divorced guy. While he was married he envied his single best friend, Jack. At parties he would watch Jack chatting up women, by midnight he'd be heading home with one. He would collapse into bed with his wife and go immediately to sleep in preparation for the 5am onslaught of his kids. He envied Jack, going at it like Tiger Woods with a cocktail waitress until the sun came up - and beyond.
I had always assumed married men were secretly yearning for the life of a single guy; no strings sex with a variety of women, no exhausting kids acting as passion-killers, and no chance of sex ever becoming boring or repetitive. I thought they wanted the ego boost of sleeping with a succession of different women and the constant excitement of new conquests. All of this had come from the string of married men all desperately trying to behave like single men, telling me why they needed extra excitement, and how, if they could, they would be single in a heartbeat.
That changed when I came upon Ethan, a man who had left his wife and family after the relationship died, with an optimistic view about being single. I was surprised when I discovered reality was nothing like that. Most of his life involved sitting on his own on week nights watching Coach Trip and wishing one of his shacked-up friends was available for a drink.
He told me, even if he did get lucky with someone he didn't know, it was far from guaranteed to be a success. He wasn't the typical dirty guy that women on the net were hoping to meet for an 'encounter'. He had been married for 17 years, he didn't realise dating had changed. He didn't know how to talk dirty online, let alone in person. He had no pictures of his genitals but practically every woman had asked for them, and he had no idea that women had become so bold, asking or demanding sex acts that he'd never heard of or experienced.
He had romanticised his single days, he had loved the freedom, and watching his single friend enjoy it had made him think he was missing out. Before he was married he couldn't imagine having sex with just one person for the rest of his life, and when his marriage failed he realised he could go back to having sex with as many women as he wanted, but he didn't want it once it happened. He found much of his life, outside work and family commitments, was downright dull and dispiriting.
Of course he found new encounters exciting, an excitement he could never get in his marriage but if it was a one-night stand he saw it as a failure, and if she wasn't The One then he felt despondent because he was 'back to the drawing board' so to speak. He had assumed his life would be a whirl of parties and passionate nights, but discovered after 40 he found himself going to speed dating events and leaving in tears. He's had a few flings that have come to nothing and they have just left him feeling worse than before. At this point I need to make it clear that the breakdown of his marriage wasn't caused by his need to be single. It was dead in the water seven years ago, but he had stayed for his daughter. However, he had taken the decision positively and decided to grab life with both hands and embrace being single, with all the fun and games that status came with. What he'd discovered though, a man's view of singledom from inside a long-term relationship is very different to when he's actually single.
He remembered the glorious nights when his eyes would meet a girl's in a club, they'd start chatting and a couple of hours later he'd be in her bed. He remembered quiet nights in, watching the football without any complaints, reading a book without any noise and sleeping in on weekends. He had forgotten the nights of rejection when his eyes would meet a girl's and she mouthed the word 'loser' at him, or the Saturday evenings when all his friends were 'having a quiet one in with the girlfriend', or the difficulty he had finding someone to go on holiday with. And now he was coming to terms with being single over 40 and the sheer grind of being on his own, the loneliness and the dull ache of want.
When he first got together with his wife it was everything he had hoped for, and loved even the dull times where sex wasn't everything, but there is only so long you can live in a relationship where the other person doesn't want you, so he broke away, hoping life would be everything he'd been missing for years. He's searching for The One but is only recently out of his marriage that it could well be too soon. As most newly single people discover, it's very difficult to be in your own company. It takes time to be happy with yourself and the complete silence that comes with that option, but it's something that needs to be done before you can move on. He's simply not taken that time yet.
I know I'm not The One he's looking for, and he's not my One, we've already had that discussion, but I am filling the time while he discovers what he needs. We make good friends, and he appreciates the fact that I understand him so well. After all, I've been there myself, with no one to go to see that film you wanted, nothing to do on Saturday night and no one to share a pint on a summer evening, and it's very easy to end up wallowing in that, so I'm going to be dragging him kicking and screaming out of any depression that cares to set in. And offer a shoulder to cry on when he tries to work out if he wants to go back to his wife or not. And help him through the dark days after a one-night stand with a woman he liked, who had chosen him simply because he was the best option at the time.
As much as he relished the idea of being single, and now hates the reality of being single, with the help of his friends he'll get used to being single because right now, it's just how it is!