For my fortieth birthday, I made plans to meet a guy I had met on Nerve for a drink.
He was 33. Okay, he was actually 30. All right, he was 28. Fine. You got it out of me.
Normally I wouldn’t consider dating someone that young, but the big four zero was looming and I had decided that I wanted to have a date on my birthday. I would have loved to book plans with someone closer to my age. Unfortunately, the men on Nerve had other plans for me. As in no plans. It was like I didn’t even exist.
Somewhere around 39, things took a turn. I went from getting two to three responses for every 10 messages I sent out to maybe one. By 40, I was lucky to get one response to every 12 or 15 messages. The kicker? At 40, I was about 30 pounds lighter than I was at 38.
It’s not like the attention slowed down over time, either. It literally came to a halt the moment those digits on my profile went from 39 to 40. I had aged out of the popular search range.
For years, I had been fielding letters from single women in their forties bemoaning what it was like to try and meet men. Thanks to my experience of organizing hundreds of singles events from my early thirties onward, I knew how hard it was to get men to sign up for mixers targeted to the 35+ age range. I was also well aware of the single woman to single man ratio in Manhattan. I was prepared for this shift. I knew what to expect.
I had fallen into a bit of a black hole when it came to dating. Most of the men in their late thirties to mid-forties were looking for a partner with whom they could have children. At 38, I selected maybe as my answer about wanting to start a family. At 40, I decided to just come clean and say no. Kids were never on my To Do List. I didn’t see the point in leading someone to believe I would give them something they wanted knowing I wouldn’t.
Another change I noticed? I literally fell off the island of Manhattan as far as OK Cupid was concerned. My profile views included very, very few peeks from men between 37 and 47 in New York City. I was the Belle of The Ball for men in the suburbs, though.
The true sign of being 40 and single on a dating site? That would be the emails from 20-something brahs.
“I know I’m younger than you’d prefer but….”
“The truth is I’ve always related better to women older than me…”
It’s as if these guys from Scarsdale and the frat bros assumed that, at my age, I’d be grateful for whatever attention I could get.
I knew that the one thing I didn’t want to do was exhaust myself by trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. With the thousands of letters I’d received over the years, the first tone I learned quickly to detect was hopelessness. The second was frustration.
I didn’t want to go down that path; chasing men I knew probably didn’t want me. I also didn’t want to pursue men that I thought I was supposed to want. By 42, I had started to become quite comfortable with the idea that it may end up being just me for the foreseeable future. Rather than burn myself out, I decided to embrace it.
Kids were not on the menu. Marriage was unlikely for some time if at all. With those two things off the table, I realized that there was no reason for me not to take advantage of my options. Yes, that’s right, all you men’s rights activists and red pill ascribers, women over 40 have options. Quite a few, I began to learn. Especially once I clearly identified what it was that I sought.
Not having as many dates forced me to become really comfortable being alone. I have always been someone enjoyed my own company. Getting cozy with me and creating various networks and outlets (oh hai, xoJane) that had nothing to do with dating provided a great source of interaction and stimulation.
I never felt like I had to go out because it was date night. I stopped caring about that. I know women who refuse to log on to a dating site or send a tweet on Saturday evenings after 8pm because they are terrified people might think they’re sadsters sitting by themselves on a Friday night trolling OK Cupid. I refused to live like that.
I also stopped caring about the long-term potential of a certain person and chose to simply enjoy their company. Once I re-organized my relationship priorities, I redefined my audience. While I have yet to be able to consider a guy in his twenties, I stopped ignoring the men in their mid-thirties.
If a 34-year-old wants to meet for a drink, and he’s not awkward or crude in his messages, I’ll meet him. Why not? Same goes for the man in his early fifties that I once considered “too old.” What’s the harm? It’s just a cocktail and conversation.
Here’s what I noticed once I stopped caring about meeting other people’s expectation: I started getting more dates. It wasn’t some magical potion or love spell that I chanted that made this happen. I just chose the path of least resistance.
If I didn’t get any replies to my messages, I didn’t dwell. I channeled my dating energies toward the men who did want me. My visitors list was a goldmine. If I saw someone cute whose profile was snappy, I emailed them and said, “You should have messaged me. I would have replied.” Winky face!
If they requested more pictures or asked probing questions, I declined. I had no problem telling them I wasn’t about to jump through hoops for some stranger. The thick skin I had developed during that time I wasn’t getting much attention made it exponentially easier to take risks and say no.
Oh, and I also erased all those rules and guidelines our well-meaning friends pass along. You know. To help us.
Sex on a first date? If the chemistry was right, sure. Casual dating without commitment? Fine by me. Being able to sit back and let things unfold naturally sans some stopwatch over my head allowed me to really see people for who they were.
There were no voices in my head warning me that a particular relationship might not lead to commitment or marriage. Um. OK. I was enjoying myself, which is really what dating is all about. Everything doesn’t have to lead to happily ever after. Or, at least, not how other people define happily ever after.
I think a lot of women my age forget that we have the power to write our own script. We just have to allow ourselves to do it.