Older, single and the age difference

(Names have been changed to protect the wrinkly.)

I met Angie for lunch when she visited here recently. She is almost sixty, single, and lives on the west coast of Canada.

Angie wore a bandage that wrapped her forehead, and pressure-sleeves from forearm to armpit. This was her first outing after the latest round of surgery (arm lipo, forehead lift), which she hides from her son and friends by having it far from home, and affords by getting a deal from an old classmate's cosmetic-surgeon husband.

She said, "Men my age want women at least twenty years younger, and I have to compete."

I've been surprised at how many single men around my age are looking for quarter-century age differentials. "Forty looks good, and thirty-five very good", said Rick, sixty-six. My heart sank. I told him, "If I were single, that would make ninety-five year olds and up my dating pool!"

I used to be live-and-let-love about big age differences, and have seen felicitous unions with twenty or more year spreads. Among heterosexual couples I know, men have been the senior partner, but I took exercise classes with a woman who was happily married to a man twenty-eight years younger.

I always said it's the business of the consenting adults, and meant it. So why am I now perturbed by generation-hopping mate-shopping, which I see happening with men I actually know, not Julian Schnabel?

Because of the stats.

As Renee Fisher wrote on HuffPost, 
"At ages 60-64, there are close to 2.3 single women to every single man. By ages 70-74, the ratio is 4 to 1. The last actual sighting of a single man age 75 or above was made in July of 2008, and he was later proven to be an extraterrestrial. Thousands of older women expressed interest in dating him, but, after several unsuccessful dates on Match.com, he fled to his home planet."

I know a number of vibrant, single women over fifty-five who hope for a relationship, whether serious or casual-but-connected. Someone to travel with is the most often-expressed wish, but companionship for more quotidien activities would be fine too. Their yearning is kept on the down low, but if I catch them on a bad day, they are distressed. Some have plain given up.

Should they get something going, they are a bit surprised; a friend said of her new sweetheart, "And he actually wants to be with a woman his age!"

They read the young-men-want-older-women articles with bemusement; some have dated men much younger, but as Angie said, "Been there at forty with the Australian surfer dude, not doing that now." She wants plus/minus five or six years.

Rick met Kirsten, thirty-six, on a dating site. When when she returns from Scotland next month, they will go to a concert; in the meantime, they text. I caught the boast in his voice when he broadcast her age. I said, "And what does she want with you?" That was mean, and I apologized. But when he crowed, I didn't like it.

Men who date women younger than their daughters can encounter a disconnect between two life stages. Louis told me about his buddy, Michel, who is sixty-two: "His girlfriend is thirty-four and makes plans for them to hang with her friends at those restaurants that turn into clubs at 10:00, but by that time, he wants to be home, watching a movie."

I asked Louis, who is in his early sixties and single for twelve years, if he dates much younger women. "Never wanted to", he said. "We'd have so little in common." However, some men leverage their worldliness. Linda's sixty-eight year old ex, Paul, is with a woman thirty-three years younger. She says he "enjoys being a 'Professor Henry Higgins'".

And now I post the sentence I've deleted several times: And a terrific woman around his own age sits home alone. 

My sensible neighbour Lou said, "But aren't our friends better off without immature, superficial guys like that?"  The men I'm thinking of didn't seem that type. I'm wondering what's happened. Do women near their age remind them they're getting on?

Meanwhile, Rick's trying to figure out what Kirsten's texts really mean (irony's a bitch, Ricky), and Angie is waiting to get the stitches out before she flies home.


LauraH said…
None of this comes as a surprise. When I decided, in my late 50s, to try and find someone to do things with after being widowed, it was very clear from the online sites that most men my age were looking for a much younger woman. The men interested in my age bracket were all about 15-20 years older than me. It baffles me why men do this - is it just the age-old attraction of youth? But why do younger women want to be with them? Is it that the men you describe have money and/or position and that's the attraction? May-December can work, I know couples who do but it's the overall pattern that astonishes me. It will be interesting to see how these relationships work as illness and disability hit the older partner.
Ros said…
From the perspective of someone who spent my early to mid-20s dating (ahem. casually sleeping with. let's be clear about the level of seriousness involved) men about 15-20 years older, what I was looking for that older men generally provided: they had clearly labeled baggage, and the ones with LOTS of baggage were easy to identify (aka: if they were looking for someone to handle their emotional well-being, it was pretty clear up-front and easier to avoid). They were (on average) house trained (could do their own damned laundry, and also washed their sheets at least semi-regularly), and you had a general better bet that some other woman had made them at least semi-competent in bed prior to setting them loose on the general population. (Guys in their early 20s seemed to be... well. Not quite reliable on any of those points. And the guys who were tended to want Serious Relationships, which is not what I was offering up). And to be fair: I'm bisexual, and was also dating some women during that time period, and they tended to be in their late 30s/early 40s as well, so... maybe I just had a pattern. Of expecting adult interactions that college students in their early 20s weren't providing.

And the women I know who are my age now (mid/late 30s) marrying guys in their early/mid 50s? Have explicitly stated that an attraction factor is that the dudes are slowing down their careers and want to stay at home with their kids (... like they missed out on doing with their first wives, usually, insert catty comment here), and guys our age tend to assume that any kids will primarily be the wife's responsibility while he focuses on his career (yes, I also thought that was an outdated attitude, AND YET), and they're seeing the opportunity to have a career and a family with a guy who supports them having that. (And then I've seen a few divorces that leave guys in their 60s trying to keep up with energetic 5-year-olds in joint custody arrangements, and... yeah. It's a mess.)

Not that that helps anyone, but... perspective?
Mardel said…
Here I am, right in that demographic, single widow about to turn 60. Dating sites haven't really been promising for the reasons you mentioned and the same from the commenters above. I was married to a man older than myself, and although I loved him, I am not interested in such a big age difference again. Men my age are mostly looking for younger women, the few that are close, at least that I have dated, are looking for someone to take care of them. Neither appeals.

So don't understand it but I'm also not going to pretend to be something I'm not, even if that means accepting that I will remain single. I'd like to think I can remain quietly hopeful that there may be a relationship of equals, of people who've lived enough to accept each other without wanting to change them, and can agree to walk the path together wherever it leads. At the same time it seems worthwhile to pursue life with gusto, even if it means a solo life. If I can't live the life I want by myself, how can I honestly share a life with someone else? It seems like a lot of people are looking to fill some gap they perceive in their lives. I'm not sure I could live with that.
Marla said…
I have been single since a long term relationship ended unexpectedly and abruptly seven years ago. I am now 63 and just starting to think again I'd like to have a companion and traveling partner. I'm pretty sure the odds are astronomical against it due to men's preference for (very) younger women.

People generally think I'm 10 years younger than I am, my health is perfect and I am active. I own a beautiful home in a beach community. I have two volunteer gigs I love. I had a successful professional career and enjoy a generous pension and now work part time in my profession and am making way more than I made in my best year working full time. I'm financially and mentally stable and have no kids, so I am fairly free of responsibilities beyond myself. I'm intelligent, personable, outgoing. My problem? I don't want to date men in their 80's. I'm open to the possibility that I could meet a man close to my age that would be interested in me, but honestly, I'm preparing to be on my own for the long haul.
Duchesse said…
LauraH: Rick has only a modest income, and no "position", but more significantly, in the years I have known him he never seemed like he would go that route. Paul is wealthy; Louis is between the two- and in fact has turned down interest by women a generation younger.

Ros: Thank you for bringing the perspective of the younger woman. I agree that when one is in her twenties and thirties the older man can appeal for the reasons you name. Age does not always confer maturity or emotional competence, and I suspect you know that! I certainly can see what a person in his or her thirties and forties offers a twenty-something, and dated a few older men when I was in my early thirties for the same reasons as you.

Mardel: "Quietly hopeful" is such a resonant term. I think the personals ads are tailor-made for men looking for much younger women. If they want that, there's an ample population on those sites.
Duchesse said…
Marla: You sound like exactly the women who are my friends here and are irritated by this trend. One of them said recently, "If it happens, fine, but I'm not expecting it."
Gauss said…
As a woman in my mid-30s, I cannot imagine dating somebody that much older than me. What would we do? What would we talk about? What kind of future could we have? I see Ros's point, but not for me...
Duchesse said…
Gauss: When I was 33, single,and childless I dated a man of 55; he was an extraordinary person and his qualities enriched my life and do to this day. I never though of living with him, much less having a family. He ended it; I was sad. But now, if I were single I am not sure I would be eager to date someone in his 90s. A significant age gap is a different matter at various stages of life.

satsumi said…
Thank you for bringing this up. I am 42 and sick to death of men aged 70+ hitting on me in a serious (not tongue-in-cheek) way. "Seriously, dude," I want to say, "your daughter would be lucky to look as fit and chic as I do. Are you kidding me?" It rankles because it reeks of narcissism-- these men seem not to interrogate themselves as to their own sexiness; they'd rather look over women with a superficial and consumerist eye, unilaterally finding "a good match". I guess I'll just echo here what I've heard many wise women say, which is that a beautiful mature woman is better off without that type!
Ros said…
Gauss: let me be clear: there was something to be said for vaguely casual relationships with older men when I was looking for casual. When I was looking to build a life with someone? I married a guy who was 3 months older than me. There's a lot to be said for being at a similar stage in life.

Marina said…
I am 49, almost 50. I've been a widow for 2.5 years now and am still not ready to date. Frankly, when I give it even the slightest thought I realize, my chances for another success story (aka being happily married until the end) is close to a zero. I have a beautiful house in a great little town in San Francisco Bay Area, 2 grown-up and well-established sons and 12 yo boy, who is not ready to see anybody taking his father's place either. So... what does it leave me? Travel with him, my sister and my girlfriends, which I am happy to do. I am NOT ready to date somebody 20 years senior, I'd rather stay single.
Divorced less than a year and have had three encounters...one with an old boyfriend who is 3 yrs older and was LOADS of fun in his 20s but has become the most right wing/religious (not my type)/ conservative old fogey with two replaced hips. He came to visit and I could not get rid of him quick enough. Another very nice also recently divorced lawyer who was obviously looking for a wife (“I don’t know how to cook, I need some help hanging paintings”) Both men would be considered catches for the right person and they are in the 65-66 age range. I’m 62. Met a gentleman at work who is 9 yrs older but great shape, LOTS of stamina, matches me in bed and over all we are very compatible. Is he perfect? No. Definitely not. But better than the ex for sure. And he knows how to cook and enjoys doing it, owns a house, can take care of himself. Maybe I lucked out but it seems that men near my age aren’t that hard to find. I’m even in a very rural area. Although the first two guys were in my old state of Texas and the new one lives an hour away but at least in the same state!
I have zero interest in remarrying but enjoy company, although truthfully, between working, taking care of the animals and house and this man and having my own life....I’m exhausted. Too much life! But a wonderful complaint to have.
Maybe the secret is stay away from the dating sites?
Beth said…
Irks the hell out of me...but I'd never want to be with a guy who needed a much younger woman to boost his ego. Men are insecure, it's as simple as that. Many want flattery and someone they can show off, not competition or equality. If I end up alone, female companionship might be my lot, but I'd miss men -- because I do like them.
Jeannine said…
I have a good friend who is 55 and a widow. She had a wonderful marriage, missed her husband terribly, and never thought she would find someone else - but someone else did come along and she's very happy. He's five or six years older than she, they're very compatible, and very happily engaged. One never knows what might be around the corner. My friend is as surprised as anyone about the turn her life has taken.
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
When I read a post like this, I want to prostrate the ground and give thanks to the Universe that I don't feel the need for a man anymore in my life.
I was terrified for a few years after becoming a widow, that I would be lonely and fall into yet another relationship where I was the giver and he was the taker.
Well, it's been almost 5 years now, and I am still not lonely and I am the happiest I have ever been. Life is wonderful.
I wish I knew what the secret of my "success" was, so I could share it with others. But I really think it has to do mostly with declining hormone levels...LOL!
Bunny said…
Your comment on the male/female ratios sprung a memory. My 78 year old mom was in a lovely housing complex for the elderly. There were three floors, all filled with women. There were three single men in the entire building. The competition for these three men was something to witness! Casseroles and invitations were always at their doors. I never saw such competition for male attention. It is heartening to hear we've come a long way baby from your responders and that a fulfilled and happy life can be had with or without a partner.
Miss Bates said…
Wow. Today is my 57th birthday and this post hit me hard. I haven't had a date, much less a relationship, in more than a decade. I am told I am pretty, I'm slender, nicely-dressed, funny, highly-educated, financially successful, well-read, well-traveled, and live in New York City. Despite a stressful career, I'm involved in a couple of charities that are meaningful to me and I take full advantage of the unparalleled cultural life here, in particular classical music. Nonetheless, I exist in a social "ghetto" of terrific middle-aged single professional women in precisely the same situation. I don't know ANYONE in my circle & beyond who even bothers with internet dating because of the very issue you describe in your post. (The only men we would expect to hear from would be well into their 70s.) The sad fact is, though, that the situation in "real life" is just as bad, and the "spinster stigma" is alive and well. Yes, that's right, even in Manhattan in the 21st century. We socialize pretty much solely among ourselves. Married women friends who might meet us for lunch do not include us in invitations to dinners, or holiday "open houses," or barbecues in the suburbs, etc. -- I suppose because of the "threat" we might present. (I long to say, "Honey, if I wanted to steal someone's husband, I could do so at work, for God's sake. I don't need to be invited into your home to be given an opportunity in that regard.") Even the lovely gay men who used to enliven our circle have fallen away as (good for them!) they've gotten married, adopted children, and settled into a lifestyle previously denied them. So my life, which from the outside probably seems like an enviable existence, is in fact soul-destroyingly joyless.
Duchesse said…
satsumi: A friend's daughter same age as you told me she is tempted to haul a mirror in front of thye many men her father's age who hit on her.

Ros: It is also my experience that the kind of person you will date when you do not want a serious relationship can be entirely different from one when you are considering a commitment. And good to get out of your system if you want one.

Marina: Another marriage or serious relationship is not a requirement for a content life; it;'s all in what you want. I know women who feel exactly as you do. A widowed friend felt that way for five solid years, then began to think about dating. Did meet someone through colleagues and has a second happy marriage... life surprises us sometimes.

Nelson Bartley: If you publish your coordinates you may have some women who will relocate. I had to laugh when you grouped boyfriend into same phrase as "taking care of the animals, the house and this man". My friend M. recently broke up with a boyfriend because he required so much care and feeding.

Beth: I think ego has a lot to do with it, too. But also, such men seem blind to the disparity; it is if they figure, Hey I feel 30 inside so why think about the outside? That kind of man applies rigorous standards re his partner's looks and thinks he is just fine.

Jeannine: Yes, it happens- I tell my friends who want another committed relationship not to give up. I have seen marriages between couples in their 80s.

The Widow Badass: I read your comments, then Miss Bat4es. Similar situation, but different level of satisfaction. Some women simply do not want a relationship, some want occasional company, others want a marriage. The one immutable fact is the stats; the supply dwindles. So if not looking, some women will thank you.

Bunny: Oh yeah. My mother had two friends whom she could no longer invite to the same bridge game because, as she told me, "Hazel stole Monica's boyfriend." The women were in their mid-70s.

Miss Bates: I agree that internet sites court the kind of man looking for much younger women. (Though not all the men in this post met their companions that way.)

I have heard about this exclusion issue, and even when I was single in my early 30s, felt it. One time, at a dinner party, I was seated next to someone's husband and had a conversation (about his work). The next day his wife called me to tell she had seen me flirting and that she did not "share her husband". I was astonished and told her that, truly, I was not doing that. What I did not say is, "Your husband is a very dull man; the only thing he can talk about is labour law. If that's good enough for you, great, but very few women would sign up for that."

The women whom I know do a lot together, like you and your friends. A great deal depends on the zeitgeist of the group. (A group of low persons can keep everyone down.) A "social ghetto", no matter its composition, is enervating.

If life is "soul-destroyingly joyless" it's time to take some action, shake things up. I'm not suggesting an "Eat, Pray, Love' year-long sojourn, but getting out of your routine seems to me like a place to start. We cannot alleviate all our suffering, but at 57 you have a lot of time to live (one hopes) so please think about this. I am not telling you •how to be•, but I am hoping you can take steps to truly live.

Just one example: Isabella Rosselini went back to school to study animal behaviour and conservation in her 50s.

s. said…
I see this all around me and I find it distressing. To be sure, in my 20s and 30s I could find the attention of an older gentleman flattering, but more than 10 years difference made (and still makes) a fellow of no romantic interest to me.

I am flabbergasted by how many men truly believe that they look and act far younger than their years. A handsome 58 year-old assured me that women assume he's 40, when they meet. He has all his hair and is in good shape, but he looks like a well-preserved 55 year-old, perhaps. I am also shocked by how many financially successful single men see a significantly younger mate as a right and as a foregone conclusion.

The fertility issue does appear to be a dividing line in many guys' minds. Men see that they can have sex, fun, laughter, companionship with a revolving door of attractive, interesting women. More than one has explained the only compelling enough reason to give up his freedom and to put himself at financial risk (a strong disincentive to many, when considering cohabitation) is to give stability to children. If a woman isn't likely to get pregnant, he's unlikely to settle down with her.


Duchesse said…
s.: You deepen the discussion. It is not "dating", it is "dating toward what end".

Men looking to have a second family will of course be looking for companion who can bear children, or at least rear them. In my experience, there is one truly ticking bomb, it is the opposite situation, when much older husband says "Absolutely no children". I have seen the younger women eventually want a child; in several cases this destroyed the union. I have concluded that it is dangerous to tell a woman under 30 that she must agree to never bear children as a condition of the marriage (or relationship). I have seen women agree, then change their minds, and it's a painful reckoning.
Duchesse said…
s.: re your last para: Men who don't want to settle down, may I introduce women who don't want it either? At least three quarters of the women who inspired my post do not want a marriage or exclusive relationship. Many feel well out of confining or troubled relationships. They are pissed off that men their own age are not interested in them. Double sigh.
I know several women who married much older men. While they love(d) their husbands, not all would make the same choice again given what they know now. While uneven aging can happen in any relationship, it's almost guaranteed when your partner is 20 or more years older than you are. They have either ended up young widows, with a decreased chance of finding another partner for all the reasons mentioned in this post, or they find themselves at 60 or so, newly retired and wanting to travel,etc. with a partner unable to keep up with them. As an active 70 yo married to a 90 yo told me recently: "I love my husband, but my lifestyle will change once he's gone."
Maggie said…
A male friend, 66 and residing in the US, met a 30-something UK resident online. After a few weeks’ correspondence, she said she’d love to visit and meet, but couldn’t afford the airfare. Could he help her out? He’s a photographer, not a lot of money, but he sent the amount requested. You know where this is going, of course. She “ghosted” him. He wrote back. Incessantly: What happened? Was she okay? Finally, a reply: Terribly sorry, she said, but she had to use the money to repair her car, which she needed to get to work. She’d love to come, though, if he wouldn’t mind sending more money...

Which he did. Thankfully, he cut his losses after the second bite.

This is not the first time I’ve heard that tale. Insecurity makes these older men easy prey.
Duchesse said…
Gisele et Nadine: Yes, and I find the choice to deal with a wide age gap is different when made in earlier life. Now, the men of whom I wrote seem to think they still have a lot to offer- that they, despite hip replacements and tricky shoulders and the other natural effects of age sixty and beyond, will still be suitable, active companions for a thirty-something.

Maggie: Oh, yes, and your friend got off easy. Women fall for it too. I have been shocked to receive a few unsolicited FB messages from men who look like they are playing this angle. You don't have to be old to be vulnerable, but when you combine loneliness, boredom and insecurity with the ease of online "connections", it certainly makes it easier to be fished in.

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