A Bachelor No More

September 03, 1994|By GLENN McNATT

My friend, a lifelong bachelor, finally got married the other day. I drove down to Washington for the wedding and celebrated his good fortune with a few dozen of our buddies and their wives, probably none of whom thought they ever would see the day when this lovely man ascended the altar.

The bride was beautiful. My friend, tall and handsome in a dark suit and immaculate white shirt and tie, was a picture of husbandly devotion. It seemed incredible that, nearing his 50th birthday, he had finally decided to take the plunge.

Naturally I was happy for him. Yet at the same time I was surprised by the sense of loss that suddenly came over me.

Weddings are occasions of both renewal and regret. We watcour friends and relatives solemnly take their vows and realize they are embarking on a new phase in life filled with promise and hope.

We also know the uncertainties and difficulties that inevitably lie ahead, and we pray that the couple, so happy at their nuptials, will have the wisdom and patience to surmount them.

For people like myself who have been married most of their adult lives, seeing an old bachelor friend tie the knot is a reaffirmation of the values we've tried to live by, even if things don't always work out exactly as planned. So many marriages fail these days that one more, even our own, cannot really surprise us. Yet somehow that doesn't shake our faith in the institution.

Still, until my friend actually got married, I always wondered whether he knew something I did not. He was, after all, a model bachelor, and for years he had seemed perfectly content with his life.

For example, when we met I was still in my twenties and already had been married several years. I remember visiting his apartment and being amazed by how neat it was.

He was the first guy living on his own I ever encountered who actually had an ironing board and a vacuum cleaner. Young men of that era either lived with their parents after leaving school or camped out in ratty apartments with no curtains on the windows or food in the refrigerator. But my friend had created a wonderfully comfortable nest for himself and seemed happily self-sufficient in his domestic life.

Of course he had girlfriends -- sometimes several at once. He loved them all passionately but the idea of settling down didn't interest him in the slightest. As time passed, we began to tease him about his escapades, some of which were truly unbelievable. Our wives clucked disapprovingly. Yet he was such a charming fellow no one could stay angry at him for long, not even the girlfriends and ex-girlfriends who trudged through his digs in seemingly endless procession.

At first we looked each new one over and thought, ''Will she be the lucky girl who gets to keep him?'' For we had no doubt he would be a prize catch. He was funny, intelligent, handsome and, if not exactly rich, extremely well paid for a guy who had grown up on the mean streets of New York City. He was marvelously cosmopolitan, knew how to manage his money and took an avid interest in the visual arts, literature, theater and music, especially jazz.

He never bit, though. Each grand passion served only as prelude to the next, and after a while we decided perhaps he just wasn't suited to married life. Meanwhile we were having kids, buying houses, getting divorced, marrying again -- the whole nine yards from which he had, mercifully, we thought, exempted himself.

Not that even he didn't have a few close calls over the years. Once, I believe, he even set a date. But nothing came of it. And to be honest, we were all a bit relieved when he called it off. We had known him so long as a bachelor it was hard to imagine him any other way. ''Why rock the boat now?'' we asked ourselves.

So when the dear woman who would become his bride arriveon the scene we knew how to react. Of course she was a delightful person, the sort of woman we'd love to see our friend wed. But when he began making noises on that subject we just smiled.

Later, he told us he had set a date. We smiled some more. Then he told us he was having second thoughts. It really was a scary prospect, he confided. We just smiled.

We were smiling right up to the day he got married, never really believing it would happen. And then it did. And suddenly our friend was a bachelor no more, and we felt as if part of our lives had ended, too, and a new life had begun -- full of bright hopes and promise, yes, but also a sudden, unexpected yet inevitable new uncertainty.

Glenn McNatt writes editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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