Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Divorced, Over 40 and Dating: Feast or Famine?
The stereotype of the older, single guy chasing the younger babe is hammered into our brains via the media and pop culture. We've all read stories and seen movies where the distinguished gentleman with the graying temples snags the vivacious, 20-something blonde. We've read about how Hollywood actors, like Michael Douglas, are often doing the same thing in real life. And the age discrepancy is not just for men. We see celebrity cougars with their boy toys, as well. They may be yesterday's news, but Demi Moore had Ashton Kutcher all to herself for years, and the media couldn't write stories fast enough to satisfy the public desire to peer into their relationship.
With that stereotype and my seemingly contradictory experience in mind, I started researching the topic. What I found was that there is lots of anecdotal evidence but little proof of the trend.
One of my first Internet findings didn't paint a good picture of the divorcee dating scene. A British woman—over 45, divorced, and with kids—recently launched a blog called The Plankton. She chose this curious title because she feels mired in a "relationship no-man's land," condemned to be alone for the rest of her life. Like the sea creature her blog is named for, she feels she is barely noticeable to the opposite sex and "at the bottom of the food chain for love and relationships." Yikes.
Ms. Plankton's plight made me wonder about how many women are in her situation. According to USA Today, of almost 127 million Americans age 40 and over, more than a third are unattached. These people are either casualties of the divorce explosion (13%), widowed (11%), or never married (8%). Of those singles, more than 25 million are women. That's a lot of ladies potentially at the bottom of the food chain.
Despite my continued research efforts, I never did uncover evidence for or against the theory that older men, in general, are looking for younger women. My personal sample of four said it was just a myth, but I couldn't prove it either way. That made me think about why women get so concerned about an issue that may or may not be real.
It seems that the real obstacles that keep some women from meeting eligible men who are of similar age may be something they have lost: confidence and patience.
Let's face it, when a marriage fails, we often question our decision making, and our ability to attract and retain a man. Making matters worse, we are getting older—we can deny it, but that won't change reality. Being older makes most of us feel less confident, particularly because we are constantly bombarded with images of youthful beauty in everything we see, from magazines to movies to billboards.
To make matters worse, impatience sets in as we watch our children growing up and see the nest slowly emptying. We don't want to be alone in an empty house, so we think about companionship. When we were young, if we waited to marry, we heard all about the biological clock. Later, on our own, the fear of a new form of ticking clock may emerge. Each wasted lunch with a match.com suitor or date with failed chemistry makes us worry about our ability to find someone.
So, how can you address these all-too human issues? Here are some ideas.
First, you need to take your time. Work on yourself before you devote a lot of time to finding someone else. Hit the gym and focus on building your strength—physical and mental. If you feel like a Debbie Downer, then talk to someone who can help you, such as a therapist or a few close friends with whom you feel comfortable sharing. Really examine what went wrong with your marriage so you can try to learn from your mistakes.
Next, you need to make plans that excite you. Nothing generates optimism like having things you look forward to, so it's important to put yourself out there. Find more divorced friends to connect with and spend time with supportive people who are married and welcoming. Be open to new adventures, especially those you have not tried before. Sulking at home is surely a dead end, so it's important to get involved in activities you enjoy. Now is your chance to find more ways to be social.
There's no guaranteed way to find success in the dating pool. Sometimes luck of timing, geography, or events is what it takes. However, you can improve your odds. As the old Seneca quote goes, "Luck is when preparation meets opportunity." My divorced friends are all active, involved at work, and devoted to causes they care about ... and they relish the time with their children, family and friends. They know who they are and what they want. They are prepared. When faced with opportunity, we were ready and excited to find someone new and we did. You can, too.