16 July 2011

No man's land

You're great, but I'm, um, just refreshing the, er, page.
When I saw the article saying that online dating leaves middle-aged women in the 'wilderness', I wasn't surprised.

I'm a veteran of online dating. I've been trying it off and on since I first divorced in my early 30s (ie, a long time ago).  And I've been single for most of the time since then.

In my early 30s, I found internet dating…well…not bad. This was when internet dating was in relative infancy – people who did it didn't really talk about it. But the guys I met were, generally, not bad. I didn't meet that many guys who lit my fires, but I met plenty of nice guys, so even if there wasn't a spark, I took heart from the fact that there were lots of nice available men out there.

Internet dating now – when I'm in my 40s, and when internet dating is much more mainstream – is a very different experience.

When a long-term boyfriend and I broke up when I was in my late 30s, and I tried internet dating again after being in a relationship for 4 years, I found myself in an entirely different landscape than the one I had explored earlier. I soon realised that I was in a strange place, demographically speaking. And it got worse the further into my 40s I went.

Men my age, I've found, aren't looking for women my age. They're looking for younger women. Now, whether that's because they want children so are looking for someone more…er… fecund, or are looking for a younger woman to validate themselves, or think that women over 40 crumble into decrepitude, I'm not sure. But whatever the reason, the men in my age group just weren't looking for me. They all wanted someone younger.

This left me with two types of men: the younger men, looking for a “Mrs Robinson” experience, and the much older men (and I'm talking pensioner here) who were, just like the men in my age group, looking for a younger woman.

Time after time, I would see a man in his early 40s like me, and his profile would pique my interest. Then I would look at his profile, and his age bracket for an “ideal” partner was, typically, 21–35. I would come up as an “incompatible” match because I had the temerity to be over 40.

In “real life” this isn't an issue. I may not be the spring chicken I'd like to be, but I'm not crumbling just yet, so on the rare occasion when I get chatted up, they don't run screaming from me yelling SHE'S FORTYSOMETHING! SHE HAS CATS! GET AWAY!

Unfortunately, “real life” doesn't turn up many available people, since either they're gay, married or just not out and about, so internet dating seems a natural and brilliant solution. What better way to meet someone with similar interests and desires?

But internet dating forces people into a “shopping list” mentality. If one doesn't fit into a very specific ideal, one won't even turn up in searches.

My last boyfriend was considerably younger than I am. I met him in “real life” and I didn't consider the age a barrier, but it did become one, because I was in a different point in my life. One where I knew I didn't want and wouldn't have children, and he was ready to start a family – which he did, immediately after we broke up. So a man my age would be ideal. But the men my age on dating sites still want that younger woman.

The other night, I idly mused “aloud” (ie I tweeted) that I was considering internet dating again – I've been single for about a year and I'm getting bored of the dating wasteland – but knew I'd find myself in the same old position of being too old for the men I'd be interested in meeting. This tweet met with incredulity. Age doesn't matter, does it? Especially when the men are the same age as I am? But in the strange world of online dating, it seems that it does.

And so I'm in a literal no-man's land. I don't meet men in “real life” and internet dating shuts out women my age.

So “Plankton” didn't surprise me at all. The only thing that surprised me was that it was newsworthy at all. It wasn't news to me.

Image: Ambro at freedigitalphotos.net