Dating in your thirties
What it’s like to be a single woman in her late thirties.
If Lena Dunham can get naked on TV, then I publicly can state the following: I am 38 and single. I’d rather be in a relationship, but I’m not.
It’s not like I don’t ever date. But as you get older, there are longer spells in between dates. My perception—and that of my many thirtysomething, unattached girlfriends—is there’s a run on single men our age.
In my twenties, it was easy to meet guys—at work, at a bar. They weren’t always marriage material, but who cared when they were cute, smart and funny? As each relationship or fling flamed out, I never got too discouraged; I knew there were more in the wings.
But into my thirties, I started to feel as if every man who was attractive, intelligent and had a personality was taken, a sentiment echoed by most of my peers.
“Anna” (everyone in this story has asked to be anonymous), also 38 and single, says a lot of men are stalling, avoiding commitment and keeping a few women on the back burner. “I know so many more women [than men] who have their shit together,” she says. So what are these guys waiting for? “I don’t know. I’m not even sure it exists.”
If you think we’re making excuses, journalist Kate Bolick posited the same complaint in her article “All the Single Ladies” in The Atlantic in November 2011. Through research on the changing landscape of education, marriage and employment, she demonstrates that women are gaining on—and sometimes surpassing—men in education and employment; as of 2010, women held 51.4 percent of professional and managerial positions and earned 60 percent of all bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Meanwhile, men have been declining in these areas relative to women. Bolick notes that almost three-quarters of the 7.5 million jobs lost in the depths of our recession were lost by men. The result, she writes, is “a new ‘dating gap,’ where marriage-minded women are increasingly confronted with either deadbeats or players.”
I have had experience with deadbeats (one guy invited me to a wedding, then couldn’t afford the cab fare to the church) and players (usually guys who evade any sort of meaningful communication outside of a “what are you doing tonight?” text). But I also know it’s reductive to assign men into two categories.
And just like all men can’t be neatly labeled, it’s worth mentioning I don’t fall squarely in the category of “marriage-minded” merely because of my age. While I adore children, I’m not sure I want any of my own. I do want a life partner, but I’m not feeling anxious about my biological clock. That abates some of the pressure I know other women my age feel. It may kick in (possibly too late, I realize), and that’s something I’m prepared to deal with.
So I continue to be hopeful and date, often online, which can feel like a second job: writing an online profile, checking and responding to e-mails, venturing out on 15-degree nights when you’d rather stay home. It’s not like it is in your twenties, when—in big cities, at least—the majority of men around you aren’t married.
Recently, I was trading e-mails with a few guys on OkCupid, including 41-year-old “Nick,” a writer with a quick wit and a nice smile. A week later, we met for drinks at Silver Cloud in Bucktown. Our date was feeling platonic, so I decided to ask him dating questions that had been nagging me. First up, what’s with all the 38-year-old guys seeking women 26 to 33?
Nick acknowledged that, generally speaking, guys do want to date younger women. “It’s a sex thing,” he said. He once went out with a 23-year-old. “We had nothing to talk about,” he admitted, and said of course he’d date someone his own age, but men chase the fantasy when the right woman’s not in front of them.
But Nick also thinks women have it easier. “If you’re at a bar and there are ten guys there, you decide if and who you talk to.” When I said it’s hard to find even a few single guys my age at a bar, he said I should be striking up conversations with men at Whole Foods. I thought that was crap. I’m supposed to walk up to a man and ask him if my melon is ripe? But it made me wonder: Am I doing all I should?