“Ok, my friends say I’m too picky, so I lower my standards. I go out with the guy that’s short, bald and has cats. Because he has a great personality and I’m a personality person. So we have a great time, go out on a few dates and then he disappears. He ghosts me. Even the short, bald, cat guy disappears.”
At 38, Connie* is a successful marketing executive with a thriving social life, owns her own home with enviable amounts of sunlight and… is still single, despite years of attempts to change that fact.
And she’s not alone.
Meet Francis*. Like Connie, she thought she would be partnered by this time. She moved out west in her early 30s to get away from the deluge of weddings and baby showers in her east coast city. She was sure she’d be better situated to meet her match in a midwestern location where she was offered a great teaching opportunity in a place she’d be able to climb mountains on the weekend. When she arrived, she made the conscious decision to remain a teacher so she’d have time for her dream of a husband and 3 kids. No academic ladder climbing for Francis!
Then, after 5 years of online dating, attending networking events and parties at great emotional cost, Francis realized that her career was stagnating while Mr. Right was not forthcoming. Now, the importance of her career and her interest in making more of an impact in education became paramount. At the same time, she continues to desire marriage and family and understands she deserves and should be able to have it all. So what is getting in the way?
Well one reason is actually quite clear and it has more to do with math than it does with these single women. According to Jon Birger, the number of available educated men are in short supply. In his 2015 book, Date-Onomics: How Dating Became a Lopsided Numbers Game, he writes, “The shortage of college-educated men is not just a big-city phenomenon frustrating women in New York and L.A. Among young college grads, there are four eligible women for every three men nationwide. ” When Birger looks closely at the census data, and accounts for sexual orientation and the high number of successful, educated gay men he discovers that “you wind up with a hetero dating pool with 39% more college-educated women than men age 22-39”.
As a practicing relationship therapist for over a decade, I am no stranger to hearing about the plight of single life in the city. While a key component to a healthy relationship is tolerating and working through the difficulties that come along for the ride, you need to have the opportunity to get into a relationship in the first place. For so many of the single women of “a certain age” who come into my office, the trial of having to live up to the societal pressure of being partnered is immense. And dating is exhausting x 3 – physically, mentally and emotionally. In an effort to understand their unique concerns, I decided to take a deeper look at the struggles facing highly successful, professional women between the ages 36 and 42 when it comes to dating. To this end, I will be writing a series of articles over the next few weeks that delves into their stories.
Women like Connie and Francis, who may find themselves wondering, “Is it me?” find themselves having many thoughts and fantasies about why they’ve been ditched again.
“Am I too intimidating?”
“Am I too picky?”
“Am I too tall?”
“Am I too perfect?”
I hear these questioning, self-attacks over and over again. It is difficult not to obsess over what might be wrong, but the answer to all these questions is unequivocally no!
According to Birger’s extensive research, the simple truth is that when women outnumber men, they are less likely to settle down and more likely to embrace one night stands and short term flings. The pool got too small and the numbers are not skewed in favor for women.
But it is not impossible. In my practice time and again I’ve seen women in this demographic meet meet men in various ways and go on to have long term intimate relationships. So, what is their secret? Here are 3 of things that I have seen:
- Keep your eyes open, your gaze up and out of your phone. Especially if you live in a walking city similar to Manhattan or San Francisco where there are countless opportunities to meet people on the street. Bird watching at Crissy Field, a walk by the dog whisperer in Washington Square Park, that cute guy online for coffee at Philz. Start a conversation about that very mutual experience you are sharing in the moment and who knows where it may follow.
- Delete your laundry list. It’s great to keep your standards up when it comes to values, generosity, financial responsibility and such, but does he really have to make more money than you, have a full head of hair (that full head of hair might just go someday), go to the gym every day and like all of the same music as you do? Life evolves, activities are fluid, and interests change and they should.
- Lose those inner voices! Self attack keeps you small, takes away your energy, and is generally bad for your health. Relinquish them to the atmosphere. Better yet, write them down on paper, place ‘em in a tin, add some sage and set ‘em on fire (don’t try this at home). Find some kindness for yourself. You deserve it.
While the madness of the math may dishearten some, there may be comfort in knowing you aren’t to blame. Slow and steady persistent effort with breaks as needed is sure to pay off in the long run. Be patient with the process, and most of all be patient with yourself.
*Name and identifying information has been changed to ensure privacy.