In part 1 of this topic I talked about the rise of the cougar and the increasing social acceptance of women over 40 as sexual creatures, and desirable ones at that. In my interview with my first follower, Christine commented that she didn’t recall this trend when she was in her 20s, affirming that it’s definitely ‘a thing’ now. But this doesn’t change the rotten apple in the barrow – the prejudice and discrimination against older women that surrounds us in the West, and infiltrates our minds and belief systems.
Here in Unleashing the Cougar! I am narrowing down the focus to the online dating world. (I read a blog recently that referred to dating ‘in the wild’ meaning old-school dating pre-internet!)
If you are a woman who chooses to maximise your options by massaging the truth about your age, there are good reasons behind this strategy – mostly, but not always, backed up by rather depressing research using access to millions of online dating interactions (OK Cupid Says Men Are Looking for Older Women and Just Don’t Know It 21 Feb 2010, Ok Cupid Co-Founder Finds Humanity In Data’ 14 Jan 2015, Older Men Only Date Younger Women’ 22 March 2014 all from www.datingsitesreviews.com, Bettina Arndt’s article Love at First Site? The Games People Play In Search Of Partner Perfection Weekend Australian April 2015, Online Dating Statistics http://www.statisticbrain.com/online-dating-statistics/ Accessed 31 July 2017).
Unlikely though it is that you might be a woman in your early twenties reading this, relax, you’re considered to be at your peak in terms of physical attractiveness and desirability, and therefore ‘hits’ online.
What has been described in one article as, “the enduring problem of age discrimination when it comes to online dating – especially towards women,” has long been a topic of discussion and speculation about the online dating world of statistics and trends.
Men can chill and put their feet up, because, apparently, women prefer men who are closer to their own age at any stage of their lives.
By 48, men have twice as many online pursuers as women. “According to studies released by sites like Ok Cupid, young women are more sought-after by men, no matter how old the guy is,” writes Elyse Romano in the above-quoted articles from http://www.datingsitesreviews.com. “Once female online daters hit the magic age of 30, they are blocked out from opportunities – some reports pointing to as much as an 80% decrease in messages and matches – as the majority of men prefer to meet women in their twenties.”
Deborah Orr writes in The Guardian, “how many articles have there been about how awful it is that ‘middle-aged women’ can’t meet ‘middle-aged men’ because all the ‘middle-aged men’ are snapping up ‘younger women’?…Women are culturally programmed to go into some kind of existential panic if they find themselves single in their forties. Men? They’re culturally programmed to believe that whatever they do, they mustn’t get mixed up with an ‘incredibly lonely’ and ‘incredibly vulnerable’ woman in existential panic. Which, frankly, is fair enough.” (Deborah Orr Helen Bailey and the Lethal Darkness Behind This ‘Middle-Aged Woman’ Myth 25 Feb 2017)
I have to admit that in my part of the world (small-ish city in Australia), I have certainly found it difficult to meet men my own age, which partially skewed my cougar-ish choices and behaviour. I think this is also because my availability is so limited and I’m not really interested in traditional ‘dating’ routines.
Although naturally attracted to younger men, I am not immune to the charms of men of my own generation – on those rare occasions when I find an eligible single. The chances are that men in their forties are not looking to their female peers, however, but to twenty-somethings, as the data above cited by OK Cupid claims.
Stella Grey cites the example of Andrew, who “it turned out, was one of the dating site men-who-don’t-reply, one I’d approached the year before. He’d blanked me there, and now, in person, it didn’t even occur to him that I might be a prospect. He was focused on women 20 years younger and I was just a buddy, and his demarcation was absolute. There are people with fixed ideas, who aren’t even going to see you.”
But in another study of 26,434 men between the ages of 30 and 49, 58% said they would consider dating a woman if she was older than them.
It’s not all bad news
So there are some positive aspects to take out of the research. One article says that, “the overall attitude [is that] the older woman is better adjusted …that women in their forties have significantly high levels of self-confidence, are happier with their lives overall and feel that the best days of their lives are ahead of them.” Even better for men with commitment phobia, “96% of women in their forties are content being in a relationship that may not end in marriage, but only 62% of 18-year-old women can say the same.” (Stella Grey From Oddballs To Indiana Jones: My Online Search For Love, The Guardian Mid-Life Ex-Wife 2 April 2016). By the way I adore Stella’s hilarious columns, though her experiences and attitudes are so very British!
I’ve never had a problem finding younger men who like older women. This is despite the fact that most people online have ‘standards’ – regardless of whether you are a woman or a man, you will probably have an idea of what is acceptable to your tastes and preferences. I don’t believe it’s true, as I have heard claimed, that men online will ‘screw anything’. At least not the ones who are reasonable looking!
From the beginning, I felt that I had a right to be silent on the subject of age, and a right to explore this new world without judgement or bias. I still believe that my age is my business and no one else’s. Unless I’m doing this dating thing with someone who clearly states their intention to settle down and raise a family, why does it matter? Why does anyone have to be judged by their age, or why should anyone have to state it upfront in flashing lights and lay themselves bare to the endless assumptions and stereotypes about what that age entails?
Stella Grey has more words of wisdom about the bias against women as they age. “I bet you were gorgeous when you were young,” she was told recently, via message, “like that was supposed to be a compliment… What does it mean to us, as women, to be told that we’re worth less than we used to be? No man I know has ever been told that his powers, his allure, his charm have faded, and that he has to face up to that redundancy. Many women I know in their fifties talk about their invisibility in public places. I’m sure a case could be made for invisibility as a liberating force in a woman’s life, but I am not the woman to make it, not this week at least, when I’ve been dissed or else flatly ignored by all the men I’ve said hello to.”
More than ever, ageism is a topical issue for women over 40 – and in many areas of life, not just the facile world of dating. Ageism is real and though some could argue that funky, attractive and interesting women have a social obligation to buck the stereotype and proudly declare their age, that’s not what I’m here for.
My main motivation on this sexual and personal journey of middle-life awakening has been opportunity, making the most of it and experiencing the variety and spice of life. I have never doubted that stating my age would reduce my opportunities, and so my tactic has been to bend the truth or allow other people to be the judge.
In Part 3 I will talk more about this broad and complex topic, touching on the value given to looking youthful in the online dating world, and an intriguing social experiment I conducted for a few months while on kik’s Match&Chat.