First off I should say that at this point I don't mind this question, although I think it reflects some assumptions that I don't share. The subtext, as I read it, is quite a flattering one, and in fact it is always asked of me in a tone that reinforces the sense that it is meant to be a compliment. What I'm wondering is whether it is simply a sweet observation, along the lines of "you seem to be a great guy, how could you be single?" or whether it is, in fact, the actual question it appears to be on the surface.
I should learn to do a better job of simply responding to what I read as the subtext, and say "Thank you, that's very kind of you to say." It is a very kind thing to say. But it certainly has the appearance of being a sincere question, and is not generally asked as part of light small talk.
But what could you say in answer to such a question? I usually mumble something along the lines of, "Evidently that has never been a specific goal for me, or so it seems in retrospective analysis." Sometimes I want to say, "I don't know. Do you actually know anybody who strikes you in an abstract sense as being the sort of complementary soulmate of whom we're supposed to spend time and energy in romanticized pursuit? Because offhand I don't."
There's the rub, though. I have, on occasion -- in truth on extremely rare occasion, especially averaged over a lifetime -- felt that abstract sense, despite no conscious seeking (and not such a great sensitivity to its presence in the first place). So I know what this can feel like, which means that I know just as well what its absence feels like, and what a compromise it would seem to try to convince myself, through artifice, of its presence or possibility. But would discussing this be at all appropriate, conversationally, in response to the why-no-boyfriend question? Would it be appropriate, conversationally, ever?
What if I were to answer, "I don't know, maybe because I'm broken in some basic way." Or what if my answer were, "Because I've been watching the encoupled for four decades and I don't particularly see that behavior as something to emulate." Or "Because there's evidently something inherently unattractive about me." Or "Because at that level I have no tolerance for other human beings." All of these are conversational possibilities, ones that could even engage the asker of the question into considering his or her own approach, but could this be the category of answer that's being sought here?
Is there a suitable answer to this question at all? Is one ever really expected?