Single Mom Over 40: The Case for Online Dating

My best friend is 44, single, and has never been married. According to her mother, she’s too picky. Someone suggested she read Marry Him! The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gottlieb. Ha! Having been married and divorced twice, my advice book would be called Do Not Marry—Him or Anyone Else! I’m 43, mother of a five-year-old, and have been single for over three years. I’m not perfect, but two failed marriages later, I believe I wasn’t picky enough.
Who was this Lori Gottlieb anyway? I immediately assumed the worst: Raised by erudite, still-married parents, blissfully in love with her doting husband, mother of two, a golden retriever, a pantry filled with food she canned herself. Turns out Gottlieb is over 40 and a single mom herself, and yet she blames women for their single status. She, too, says we’re too picky.
Women she interviewed compiled upwards of 300 relationship “deal-breakers,” whereas men had about two: Is she nice and does she like me?
Aimed at women in their late twenties and early thirties who are in a quality (enough) relationships but still wavering, Marry Him! outlines how women—until their mid-thirties—are inundated with propositions from men. (No matter how a woman rates by traditional beauty standards, men will find her attractive. She has T and A for crying out loud!) Because of this constant stream of male attention, women fail to realize that one day that stream will dry up along with their skin. And if she hasn’t wed by age 40, a woman’s prospects shrink considerably: only 40% of women over 40 will marry. In other words, fewer than half of us.
In her search for a mate, Gottlieb tries online dating and discovers that she, too, had more deal-breakers than deal-makers. According to her online dating advisor, if a man over 40 has never been married, there are five possible reasons why: mommy issues, job issues, he’s gay, has fear of commitment or an addiction. I searched some stats and found that men over 35 who have never married likely won’t. And its not because there’s a women shortage: In the US, unmarried women outnumber unmarried men by three million four hundred and twelve thousand.
Why is this? The reason is that men can—and do—date younger women. So a 50-year-old man who may still want to have children will choose women aged 40 or younger. Totally valid. But what about the men who prefer younger women for other than reproductive reasons? That’s life in an ageist society.
By the way, the same five reasons for still being single-over-forty apply to women too (if you switch mommy issues to daddy issues), but women have that pervasive excuse that trumps the other five: the man shortage.
Gottlieb warns readers against ending up like her, heading off to a sperm bank at the last minute and then, over 40 with a child, realizing just how slim the pickings can be. Gottlieb is cute, successful, and lives in Manhattan where half the adult population is single, unlike my city, Portland, Oregon, where couples move from Brooklyn to raise families.
And Gottlieb is smart. But is that good or bad? My mother used to tell me I was too smart for a man, that a college education and my tendency to over-think things limited my chances of settling for a normal guy and a normal life. My pre-feminist mom is no scientist, but she survived the ‘50s and ‘60s as a wife (more than once) and mother, and she blamed feminism for doubling our workloads—we now had to work and take care of the kids.
Growing up post-feminism, we learned that women could not only be independent, they should be. We could have it all: bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. Studying feminism as an undergrad, a professor of mine said women do 90 percent of the world’s work. I don’t know how statisticians measured this, but if you look at lifestyles in third-world countries, a pattern emerges to defend the statement. Consider early humans: Women collectively did the child rearing, the pot stirring, the basket weaving, all while scanning the perimeter, while the men were off doing one thing: hunting rabbit. What I learned in college, and from observing my own family dynamics, was this: Do not marry! You’ll end up doing all the work.
The workload was not the reason I became unmarried (either time), though I maintain this fantasy that my soul mate will also be a helpmate. In my twenties, my feminist tendencies had me rejecting possibly great mates simply because I didn’t aspire to become a wife. I still don’t, but I do want to share my life with someone—preferably someone fantastic.
For us readers over 40, Gottlieb’s book could be depressing, but it didn’t make me want to curl up under the covers avowing a life of celibacy. The morning after I finished Marry Him!, I joined an online dating site for the first time in years. Not because I felt desperate (though the prospect of turning 50 and loveless did light a fire under my ever-growing ass), but because I realized I, too, had about a thousand deal-breakers. Anything from wearing Birkenstocks, riding a recumbent bike, annual treks to Burning Man, a suburban address, or a close resemblance to an ex were enough for me to click out of a man’s online profile never to return. This time, I thought, I will approach online dating with an open mind. This time, maybe I’ll meet someone.
There may be over three million more single men in the US, but there are twice as many men online as women.
There is one caveat to online dating that Gottlieb calls the “grass-is-greener” phenomenon. On sites like Match.com, the instant you look at a man’s profile or send him a message, you automatically receive three similar profiles for consideration. If you like him, here are others you may like as well! I used to think online dating didn’t work, as evidenced by seeing the same men online who were there three years ago. Now I believe the opposite is true. These men are still online because it is working. They’re getting “hits.” They’re communicating with women. And if they fear commitment, online dating sites are full of women to help you keep searching-and-never-finding.
Apparently, lying about your age online is commonplace—one stat has it up to 50%. Search for women ages 35 – 50 on OkCupid and you’ll find a disproportionate amount of 39-year-olds. One woman lists her age as 36, but within her profile she explains she’s “actually 42 but looks 36.” (She also claims a desire to bear children, however she’s currently focused on her singing career.) My supposedly picky best friend swears that over-40 is the kiss of death online, so she fudged her age a bit. Because you can search for potential mates using age ranges, 40 is an obvious demarcation, but we live in an ageist society where 40 is a mental demarcation as well.
After a year-plus on Match, she a great guy, a great 32-year-old guy, who searched for women up to age 42. Another friend of ours, a smokin’ hot 50-year-old, posted her online age at 42, met a great 41-year-old guy, and they’re talking the M-word. In both situations, these couplings wouldn’t have happened if not for the lies that preceded them and, in both cases, by the time they found out they’d been duped, these men were already smitten. To reject these wonderful women because of a number and a tiny lie would have implicated them in their own ageism. The point here, however, isn’t to lie about your age, but to consider upping your age-range search.
My personal ad states my actual age and my photos are recent, and I am now beyond the age my two friends lied about being. It’s good to be “out there,” even if it is from the comfort of my own home. Online dating makes me feel proactive—without going to bars (as if that works!) and I’m not going to meet anyone sitting on the couch watching Colin Firth films. Though I still can’t recommend marriage, I can recommend Marry Him!—but only if you’re in your early 30s and sharing the couch with someone great, but still on the fence about him.

-Spring 2010

Update: A year later, A and her man are going strong. We’re all pretty sure they are each other’s person. T, however, tried settling for her “match” and found it unhealthy for both of them. Her conclusion: “Marry Him is just stupid.”

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