It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single, attractive, heterosexual woman over the age of 40 must be in need of a man. Or so Carrie Bradshaw would have you believe; and she is mostly right. But for me, and my three best friends, the key word is “want” rather than need. We all have fulfilling careers, lots of good friends and interesting lives. We waited a long time to focus on settling down, and now we’re facing a somewhat distressing fact of life: Once you’re over 40, there is a diminished pool of men to choose from.
So we figured out – and accepted – that the right man does not magically appear when you’re ready for him. You have to work hard to find someone you really want and really like – or, as one married male friend put it, “someone normal” (apparently normal men are in short supply). The search is a kind of journey, and along the way you tend to learn a few things about yourself, and about the society we live in.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
1. Everyone knows lots of fabulous single women in their 40s
…but can’t think of any equally fabulous single men the same age. This is one of life’s big mysteries but sometimes I think the key is identifying the right places to look.
2. When you’re over 40, you’re usually pretty comfortable in your own skin
You know what you like, and what you don’t. Maybe you would prefer to hang out at cafes, museums, film festivals and art galleries. And maybe that’s where the cool 40-something men are hanging out, too.
3. A lot of single 40-something females look and feel fantastic
They do Pilates and yoga, they’re energetic, they take care of their skin and are into healthy eating. Perhaps the benefit of not haemorrhaging energy into family stresses? When you see them sitting next to women in their late 20s and 30s you can’t see a significant age difference.
4. You can decide you don’t want children
Whether you planned for this or not, there is something liberating about taking baby-making off the table. Children are not for everyone, but there’s a lot of social pressure on women to procreate. Sometimes I wonder if we convince ourselves we want children without really examining it.
Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love, explains in her follow-up memoir, Commitment, that she loved her nieces and nephews but did not want children of her own. That decision can be pretty liberating – especially when you’re dating in your 40s: There’s no biological clock ticking away, which can put pressure on new relationships.
5. You don’t have to limit yourself to men in your age group
Not to feed the cougar cliché, but by the time you reach 40, the social stigma of dating younger men is so passé. In my experience, younger men really don’t care much about age differences. Also, since you’re done with the aforementioned race to beat the biological clock, you can just date who you want, when you want, for as long as they are interesting to you.
6. When you’re in your 40s, you know a lot more about the nature of sexual attraction
Sure, you’re mature enough to think someone who might not be obviously attractive is worth investing some time in, but you also know that a guy who gives you a negative feeling – either physically or intellectually – is not someone you want to see again. And since you are now a wise, mature adult (or better at acting the part), you know it’s not a big deal to cut a guy loose by telling him that you’re not feeling a click.
7. On the other hand, you might feel a huge click with a guy who doesn’t share any of your interests
But since you’re more mature and wise, you get that shared values and personality characteristics are more important than shared interests.
8. Beware the newly-divorced
You will hear a lot of people talk about snagging good catches when they’re leaving their first marriages. And in theory, that is sound. But remember that newly-divorced men come with a lot of baggage. They can be bitter. They might not know how to take care of themselves, and they might have complicated custody issues that keep them from travelling. Look before your leap.
9. You might come to realize that marriage is not for everyone
I have plenty of happily married friends; but a couple of my closest friends compromised their happiness because they were afraid to be alone. Single, independent, accomplished 40-year-olds know there’s nothing to fear in being alone.
10. Even your feminist friends will treat your single state as a project they need to fix
…and they will spend much creative energy trying to find you a match. Depending on who it’s coming from, this can be flattering or very insulting (especially the friends who urge you to compromise). But remember this: It’s only human for people to want to feel validated in their own life decisions by seeing you reflect them with your own.