How Men Make Out Without Traditional Family: Pretty Well

by W.F. Price on August 5, 2012

The NY Times has an article on four men who have lived together for the past couple decades, in apparent happiness. They are neither gay nor ideologically motivated; they simply prefer their chosen lifestyle.

New Yorkers in midlife crisis, meet the brotherhood of Fortress Astoria: Danaher Dempsey, Luke Crane, Rick Brown and Shyaporn Theerakulstit, best friends and artists.

They have no children, no linear career histories, no readily disposable savings. The four men, all heterosexual, approaching 40 and never married, have lived together for 18 years, give or take a revolving guest roommate, cohabitating in spaces like an East Village walk-up, a Chelsea loft and, now, a converted office space in Queens.

Their latest home, which they have nicknamed Fortress Astoria, takes up the second and third floors of a slate gray concrete block building with floor-to-ceiling windows on 31st Street. The setup is ideal for four bachelors. Bedrooms do not share common walls, and there are communal spaces both upstairs (huge television, sofa) and down (kitchen). There is a lovely garden out back tended by Mr. Theerakulstit.

New York, admittedly, is the kind of environment that tends to promote alternative living arrangements, but from a lot of men’s perspectives, their lives look pretty decent.

Splitting the rent four ways gave the roommates the economic freedom they needed to pursue their dreams. For Mr. Brown that meant making films; for Mr. Dempsey and Mr. Theerakulstit it was acting. Mr. Crane channeled his interest in fantasy into creating The Burning Wheel, a role-playing game he first published in 2002.

None have come close to making it big, although Mr. Crane is somewhat famous in the niche world of role-playing. But compromise has come hard.

For years, Mr. Brown dodged permanent video editing assignments for short-term gigs so he could write a screenplay and make a short film. But then, he said, he “crashed and burned” after investing 18 grueling months — and his savings — in the film, which received “disappointing” responses at various screenings. “I’ve kind of let go of the obsession and anxiety of expressing myself,” he said, “and just given myself permission to work and live.”

Mr. Dempsey at one point took a job as a data analyst at Pfizer that gave him health insurance and a paid vacation for the first time in his life. But he felt stifled by full-time office culture, preferring to work part time for a Web design company and pursue a career in the fitness industry while phasing out his acting career. “To my friends who were married and had kids, what I did was incomprehensible,” he said. “I knew that if I’d stayed, I’d probably be making tons of money, but I would have been unhappy.”

Soon he was completely eschewing Off-Off Broadway to become a personal trainer, and this fall he is to begin pursuing a degree in physical therapy. He said he felt insecure about his choices sometimes, but the benefits of his alternative, Fortress Astoria-based lifestyle have outweighed the losses.

“The freedom this has allowed me to have — to figure out my own quirks and foibles — has been much more important than investing in things that might have tied me down to something that would have kept me from figuring those other things out,” he said.

For many single men, one of the biggest problems is loneliness. For some, the solitary lifestyle is fine, but a lot of us will have to admit that it doesn’t suit us so well. These men have found a way around that, and perhaps their lifestyle is something that will be more common in the future, as more and more men realize that they can’t win in live-in relationships with women.

I’d recommend that young men who can find other guys they get along with and trust try a similar arrangement before living with a woman. It may not be as fulfilling as having a happy marriage and family, but it sure beats divorce and the solitude and poverty that all too often ensue. In fact, it might not even preclude having children, so long as you’re willing to work out a reasonable custody schedule with the mother, and you can always move out and start a family when you’re sure about it.

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