The Truth About "Born-Again" Bachelors

By Peter Rubin, DETAILS

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.

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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."

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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."

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."

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