Saturday, July 16, 2005

Spelunking for Mr. Right

In a comment I made to one of my own recent post, I noticed that I considered that the possibility of finding a man who wanted the same level of physical and emotional intimacy that I desire might be, at this point in my life, a mere fantasy.

Then I realized that this is the same complaint that echoes thru the blogs of many single women over the age of 40.

Obviously, I'm not alone in my contention. And, as many of our blogs prove out, not alone in my frustration.

What is it that makes it so difficult for us to find Mr. Right...or even Mr. Okay? And are all those Mr. Wrong-for-Us guys looking for their own Ms. Right?

One aspect of adult life that is rarely discussed is the way socializing patterns change after the age of 30. Often, when we are in our 20's and early 30's, men's and women's social lives revolve around things like softball and volleyball teams, bars and night clubs, house parties, cocktail parties for professionals, and other types of events that are fertile meeting grounds. But when the friends start to marry off and settle down, these events either stop completely or change shape. We don't have time for team sports. The house parties that were once full of singles become chatty groups of couples with men in one room and women in the other. The people in the bars get younger, and the professionally-oriented cocktail parties start to be more about making network connections than personal connections (mostly because the participants are wearing little rings on their left fingers).

Along with the change in the social milieu, there are changes in our personal lives as well. Women often go out with groups of friends. When the friends marry off and have children, going out may be a semi-annual event. Even then, the conversation usually isn't about the hot guys in the room, but about the job, the man, and the kids.

The advice we got as young women--that there is safety in numbers--becomes hard to follow once we hit adulthood. The numbers aren't there. So, if we want to go to a swanky cocktail bar, we can either go it alone or maybe, just maybe, be able to drum up a younger friend to accompany us.

However, the older-woman-with-a-friend can sometimes be perceived quite differently than the younger-woman-with-a-friend-or-two. Older/younger women pairs even when dressed to kill, can be perceived as a lesbian couple out on the town. Chances then of meeting those two good-looking lawyers at the end of the bar, no matter how much eye contact is exchanged, won't happen. The world of upscale bars and swanky cocktail lounges, after all, are realms of appearance, and first impressions are indeed everything.

If a woman wants to chance sitting in the swanky bar or lounge alone, she will have to fend off the amorous advances of the prowling married man in mid-life crisis. Depending on the customs of the geographic area, even talking to one of these marauders could give a girl a "reputation," and completely ward off the smattering of singles that might in the room. She will also have to compete with the professional late 20 and 30-somethings that also show up at these places.

The odds, then, decrease as the competition increases.

What, then, is it that makes single men over the age of 40 both elusive and more sensitive than they might have been when they were younger? Men's lives, too, change after 40. Overall, men are not big on going out in large groups, even when they are younger, and there is little change in that once they hit middle age. Yet habits do change, and bar-going habits are the first to do so. Most men will seek out the proverbial "old-man bar"--the corner joint or sports bar where they can go, have a couple of beers, watch the game, and maybe exchange a few comments with the bartender or another guy or group of guys at the bar. The intention is specifically *not* to meet anyone (so women, take note: don't go to the old-man bar.)

There's something in men that often drives them away from people rather than to socialize more. Maybe they just get tired of talking with and supervising others, and the level social playing field of the old-man bar can then be most appealing. Also, in a time where the slightest remark can be interpreted as sexual harassment, the single-gender atmosphere of the old man bar is quite a comfort.

As the coupling of friends continues, men are more than likely to begin to shy away from house parties. Rarely will one find a single man among the marrieds at a houseparty (although there may be a single female or two among the women). Single men seem to have less and less to talk about with house-husbands, unless they, too, are condo/house owners concerned about yardwork. Still, most men will keep their married friends at a talking-over-the-fence-while-cutting-hedges place and not join in at the coupled-up social gathering.

As men get more into middle age, they might start to think about their fitness levels. Many will start going to the gym or joining hiking, biking or other outdoor activity groups. Gyms, however, can have the cachet of the swanky bar and are also realms of appearance. Men will more often than not consider hitting on the young hardbodies rather than consider talking with the woman who's more than likely at their own age and fitness level.

Hiking, biking or outdoorsy groups can have a modicum of single men. Many men are most comfortable re-invigorating an interest in a solo outdoor activity such as biking and hiking that they may have enjoyed when they were younger. There are levels of competition in biking and running clubs, but it is a different sort of competition than what exists in a softball or hockey team. Hiking allows a man to demonstrate a certain strength and mastery--he can also be with people or go far away from them. The socializing flexibility and personal athletic challege are quite appealing.

However, this is problematic for most women. Often, we've had trouble with the "athletic" stuff since high school. Being in a female-centered desk job can keep a woman even more non-athletic than ever. There is, then, the fear that taking up hiking and biking will make a woman look as if she is making that desperate, last-ditch and most humiliating attempt to meet Mr. Right. Men tend to look at middle-aged athletic novices as helpless ninnies, rather than as cute young things in need of mentoring and assistance (as our younger counterparts are apt to be perceived).

What, then, about charitable groups, such as Habitat for Humanity or the local food bank? The merits of volunteering (and even church groups) have been over-stated for many years now. Sure, men do volunteer for these sorts of activities, but the odds are far lower in these groups than for athletic pursuits. Once again, men's spare time has more to do with wanting to get away from people, not taking on more responsibility for them by increasing interaction with them.

What, too, about personal ads on Internet dating sites? I've done the whole personal ad thing, and find that it's also not the same for people over 40 as it is for those in their 20's and 30's. The pool is shallower and far less fresh. Some men have had profiles on those sites since their inception and it becomes something of a game for them. There are also some little-discussed pitfalls to internet dating. If you find yourself wanting to register for something like Match.com, also check out Alt.com, AdultFriendFinder.com, and Passion.com. Women just might find that the guy on Match.com who says he's ready for a long-term relationship is, on the latter three sites, looking for wild no strings attached sex with women, men, groups and couples. Some men will load up on internet dating and swinging sites to try to beat the odds and get some kind of action. Some get more than they bargained for, but, a lot, I believe, get even less.


What, then IS a woman to do?

Got me on this one. I can see the patterns, but have no clue what to do about them. How I meet someone depends on whether or not I'm wiling to see what The Fates will send me, or if I'm willing to endure a certain amount of ridicule pursuing "manly" activities. With knowing the patterns, I may not have the solution, but at least I know that not meeting someone is more about the changes in the social milieu, and middle-aged men's tendencies toward lonerdom, than it is about any way I appear or any thing that I say or do.

After all, it takes two to tango, but if one is at the ball and the other at the old-man bar, there won't be any dancing...

1 comment:

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