The Stigma Of Being Over 40 & Never Married
Hi there. As I get older, I am becoming more insecure in the dating scene. I'd like to have a family one day, but men seem to think that women over 30 have an expiration date. While they are interested in me at first, the age thing comes up and I think they realize they would like someone younger. I, too, in a way, would prefer someone around my age or 2-3 years younger. However, I keep getting interest from older men that fall out of my age range. Any advice on how to stop feeling guilty for my age and not being married with children yet?? Thanks. P. - 40 yrs old.
Stay with me here, because I have a question.
Men: Why? What are you for, sirs?
I'm only half-joking. Obviously, we need men. Not to keep the world running because, history has proven they have a tendency to display, shall we say, poor judgment. No, we don't need them to keep the globe spinning on its axis, but we do need them, if only to maintain a semblance of balance and assist in perpetuating the species.
I think the inner-conflict you struggle with about being 40 and unmarried is actually a conflation of guilt and shame. Guilt because you were likely told from a young age that marriage was something you were supposed to want but never made a priority. Shame because society places a higher value on women who marry because we live in a patriarchal society that values men more than women. If a man marries you, you receive society's stamp of approval. If a man doesn't marry you, well, you've somehow failed.
You have no idea why they men you're attracted to decide not to date you. Could some of them prefer to date someone a few years younger in order to buy time before they have children? Sure. Most likely, though, you're head-hopping, making assumptions about what people are thinking because you haven't quite come to terms with where you're at in your life. Shame is something imposed upon us by external forces; it's something we internalize and that often manifests when we project those feelings on to other people.
In order to stop feeling that guilt, you have to get to its source. Why do you feel guilty? Because you prioritized your career? (Have you ever heard of a man feeling guilty about that?) Because you stayed in a relationship too long, hoping things might work out or because you felt invested too much of yourself to leave? Because you were too picky? (Yes, that's a thing, despite all the articles and Facebook posts that say otherwise.) Whatever it is, confront it, understand you are not the only man or woman ever to make that same choice, and make peace with it. I truly believe we are exactly where we are supposed to be at any given time. You didn't disrupt fate's design for you. This was the path you were always supposed to take.
Now let's talk about these older guys that show interest. I understand the desire to date men a few years younger. As women, we're warned our entire lives about aging and expiration dates. How we have to stay fit and trim, etc. We fall for this bullshit. We buy the creams, we dye our hair, we're in pilates and hot yoga five days a week. Then we go on Bumble and search for men our age, say 45-55, and we're like, "Wait. WHAT? I do squats FOR THIS?" As Carrie Fisher once said, men are allowed to age. Women haven't yet been awarded that luxury.
That's why there is such a disparity between how women over 40 look and how men over 40 look. So, guys, if you're wondering why you have a hard time on dating apps or traditional online dating sites - this is a big reason. You can either stop putting pressure on women to look a certain way...or step it up.
Now that I've finished that little rant...
One general rule of thumb that often leads to dating success is to date the people that show interest. You can continue to pursue men that eventually decide you're not for them for whatever reason or you could start considering some of those "older" guys. I think many single men and women over forty are hesitant to date people their age or older because of the implications, namely that it makes them feel "old." Ageism and misogyny runs rampant on dating sites. Getting older is a privilege many are not afforded, especially now as we fight this pandemic.
We need to start normalizing being unmarried or never married at forty, because it's, well, normal. Common, even. I happen to think the only people who make a judgment call about someone being never married at forty are women. If a man is forty-something and still a bachelor (another icky term we need to ditch), women assume there's some nefarious issues at work keeping him from settling down. Men - especially married men - just think, "Eh. That tracks."
Here's the thing: there comes a point in every person's life where they have to decide if what they've been doing is working or not. Maybe it's in their career or in a marriage. Or maybe it's when they're trying to find a partner. As a wise person once said, "Nothing changes if nothing changes."
You don't have to do a complete one-hundred and eighty degree turn, but it might help to re-adjust your expectations. I see a lot of people - men and women - in their forties struggling with the reality that they can no longer attract the same kind of people they could when still in their thirties. They're like lost souls, haunting social events meant for a much younger crowd and doing Hinge searches for matches ten years their junior, refusing to go into the light.
Maybe that family you eventually have will come in the form of being a foster parent or adopting. Maybe you'll decide you'd rather travel and retire at fifty. Maybe you'll find a hot fifty-two year old who wants to start a family with you. You won't know until you let go of the vision of what you thought your life would look like.
Girl, go into the light. It's so much better there.
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