It feels personal but it isn’t. It’s a new epidemic, with clear origins in radical if un-noticed changes in the shape of society.
Mid-life single women, does any of this feel familiar to you?
- I used to have a lot more guys looking at me, flattering, flirting with me, and asking me out. Now sometimes I go months…
- I’m still a babe. I have good genes and I look way younger than my age. Still, I get moments when I’m startled. Looking in the mirror I flash on this old lady. Yuck. I’m guessing others must see it too. Those flashes are only going to come more often until I’m just plain old. And plain.
- I’m yearning for a mate more than I thought I would be by now. Alright, so I bet on a few wrong guys but still, it seemed there would be plenty of time. It’s like I’ve been playing musical chairs pretty calmly all along now, calm enough to get out of an uncomfortable lap knowing the music would still be playing a while. Now I feel like the music is about to end. I look around and I can’t find an empty lap. All the good guys are taken.
- I’m startled by who’s available to me these days. Gray men, old farts, empty suits, guys in terrible shape, self-absorbed and boring.
- I’m hoping my expectations can keep pace with the decline in who’s available to me. But it also seems outrageous. I’m attracted enough to guys my age but they won’t even look at me because they’re all off chasing younger women.
- I deserve better. I don’t want to drop my standards to be with one of these ancient guys who think I’m young enough for them. Besides I can’t. Chemistry is important.
- My last few relationships didn’t go well, and I start to wonder if there’s something fundamentally wrong with me. How come I keep picking guys who are so feral, inconsiderate, non-committal, afraid of intimacy and unromantic? The only guys I’m attracted to are unavailable.
- There’s nothing wrong with me. The problem is men. They’re like little babies.
If any of those shoes fit, notice that in the time while you’ve begun to age, the ground beneath you has changed. A lot, most of it not in your favor. You are a member of the first generation to feel the full impact of the changes. In no particular order:
- Much fewer men are willing to cover a woman financially.
- Much more un- and under-employed men aren’t ashamed to share (exploit) your resources.
- Behind closed doors, men have discovered a milflode of unlimited ever-advancing state-of-the-art, accessible anywhere, too cheap to meter internet porn un-leashing galloping sexual extremism that substitutes for a lot of what drives a lot of men to pursue women.
- For you? Ever-advancing, state-of-the-art, accessible anywhere, too cheap to meter, romantic extremism, over-the-top chick-flicks, romance novels and love songs that doesn’t substitute for but drives women to pursue men.
- Technology, and commercial and public services now provide lots of what we could only get in partnership (e.g. TV keeps us company; prepared foods replace cooking, appliance replace housework).
- There’s been a steep decline in social consensus on moral absolutes. Women used to be able to counter male power by aligning with church and social standards about what it means to be an honorable gentleman. Those standards don’t have the credibility they used to. The moral high ground is eroding. It’s harder than ever for women to claim it.
- But morality hasn’t declined. Instead our moralizing has become more custom-tailored and self-serving, everyone liberated to demand their “rights” by whatever moral terms rationalize them.
- The boom in technology leaves everyone expecting more for less, and taking their preferences more seriously than they used to. Higher expectation drive couples to process-conversations and therapy, optimistic that processing will bring them profound intimacy. Processing opens a can of expectation-worms though, so resolutions don’t come as readily as we have expected they would.
- Gay liberation running off with some of the most eligible men: Sing You’re just too good to be straight. Can't take me out for a date…
- Women's liberation surrendered traditional sources of womanly power in exchange for unknowns or worse, direct competition with men where men still have advantages. For example, women finally feel freer to talk about their libidos and more base sexual inclinations, but in the process, they’ve unwittingly relinquishing moral high ground. A woman’s scorn is less credible after she’s admitted to appetites comparable to what she’s scorning in men.
- The yearning to nurture children is being upstaged by the yearning to nurture brainchildren. We’re workaholics in part because we’re in the rat race but in part because our vocations and avocations are rapidly evolving and exciting.
- Men often have more hobbies than women, hobbies they took up to impress women who were impressive without hobbies because they were gorgeous. Then with children, women had less time for hobbies. Hobbies have only gotten more exciting and distracting to guys as they age. Women as they age often wake up to an empty nest, and empty bed and no momentum or traction on any hobbies. A cold start in late mid-life is not very inviting.
- Many of us—men and women--have been as casual about mating for retirement as we have been about saving for retirement. We had the luxury of faith borne of the abundance we experienced in our formative years, the boomer boom, when love and financial security seemed relatively secure and free. The boom is lowering and we’re not ready for it.
So what’s a single, mid-life woman to do?
Many seem to cycle through these compromises.
- I should just retire from romance. This is fucking ridiculous. I like my life plenty. I don’t need a man and over and over I get evidence that they’re jerks, much more trouble than they’re worth. A pet dog is a much smarter solution, maybe even smarter overall. I have friends. I have things I love to do. Enough already with guys!
- There’s no way I’m going to be able to go it alone to the end. Besides, I know plenty of women in my situation who eventually found wonderful guys. Yes, good men are needles in a haystack, but I only need one needle. I have to brave the thicket of hayheads and go for what I want.
- Realistically there’s no way I’ll find a ‘til-death-do-us-part partner at this point. The more I hold out for that, the scarier I become to the available decent men. If I could relax about them coming and going, I’d have my freedom too. This partnership for life thing is juvenile; it’s an antique way of life. It’s a hoax. If we demand that men commit forever, they’ll demand that their women stay thrilling forever too, which is why they go for the young ones. I hate to admit it, but friends with benefits, meeting people practically and realistically, not making such a big deal out of sex’s implications. That’s the practical solution for me. I could pretty much get what I want if I relaxed. And who knows? Fooling around we might just fall in love.
- Except that there’s no possible way my body and mind could ever go along with the more casual approach. I don’t have it in me. I’m a one-man-woman and can’t pretend I have it in my repertoire to do anything but that. My head explodes at the thought of dating or sleeping with someone where there’s no long-term commitment. I won’t respect myself in the morning.
- Repeat one through four in any order, ad nauseum.
I’m a guy, so what do I know? Still, that it’s not my problem makes it safer for me to look at the challenge squarely and strategically. And, being a guy, of course I have some suggestions:
- If you decide to keep looking for Mr. Goodneedle in the haystack, rely on what's left of your hotness as a first, but temporary glue to get a guy to stick to you. But you’ll do better if you have a second stronger glue to keep him sticking after that first glue weakens. A relationship takes work and therefore needs a reason to keep working it, a project that brings you together. What's going to be your enduring project? By our age, not the kids you bore together. And no, not dinner and movies. And not some vague thing like "intimacy." The second glue should be something that’s already high on both of your discretionary-time to-do lists that you’ll want to do together.
- Time is finite. To add anything to your to-do list—like being together--means either doing less of something else, doing something else more efficiently, or doing something else simultaneously something else. You’ll do better if you assume that in the long run there’s a limit to how much he’ll drop off his to-do list to be with you. Make sure that early on you learn to co-process. Learn to love the parallel play where he can get to what’s on his to-do list while you get to what’s on yours.
- Men have their hobbies. You need something to turn to when he's not available or you'll become the clingy nag you can't stand being. Don’t make your lover become your first priority. And never pretend it's a virtue to do so as a way of trying to persuade him to show up more.
- Stop lamenting men. We are what we are and besides you were too back when it was your world and you could flick us away when we bored you. The customer isn't always right, but you'll do better if you assume he is. You're going to have a better twenty years if you pay closer attention to who we are, than who you wish we'd be.
- Yes many men can be boring by middle age. Some just are and some were forced that way by circumstances that domesticated and conventionalized all insight out them. But don’t judge them by how well they entertain you when you give them audience on a date. That worked when you were younger but now, you are going to have to learn how to entice them into better conversations. Now that you're not a full-time fox you can't count on looks alone as their stimulus to better performance in conversation or anywhere.
- Men (and women too) don't have to hold out for the uber-fox if they're not making a forever-commitment. Many women agree that friends with benefits makes good logical sense for their later years, but doubt they can handle it physically and emotionally. It may work for you, but only if you figure out your physical work-arounds, how to connect with guys in ways by which you'll respect yourself and him in the morning. You have great skills for this cultivated in years of pushing a man’s hands away. Apply those skills. Say “I’m loving this, but I know my body. If you touch me there I’m going to get all stuck on you, which neither of us want. So let’s tiptoe around it, OK? Don’t moralize at the guy when you do it. It’s not you and your bod conspiring to wake up an immoral man. It’s you and the man conspiring to keep from waking up your commitment-demanding body.
I apologize if I’m out of line with these suggestions. I’m trying to be helpful. Feel free to tell me where I’m off base or at least off sides. And if I come up with any more helpful strategic suggestions, I’ll be sure to share them.
Above all, let me say, my sympathies. I think it’s much harder to be a woman than a man these days. Still, and in some ways even more so than in times past.