So you’re 41 but know you’ll probably get a lot more interest if you post your age as 38. Or maybe you are a 52-year-old who shops at Urban Outfitters and listens to the same music as your college-age kid; would it really be so wrong to post your age as “40-something?” We gathered this roundtable made up of single people and some online dating experts to find out.
Q: Why is age so important anyway? Is it more important in the online dating world than out at a party or bar?
Stacy Kravetz, author of The Dating Race: An Undercover Report from the Front Lines of Modern-Day Romance: Age is an issue, no matter what age you are. Just when you’ve swallowed the big 3-0, it seems like every celebrity on the cover of People magazine is barely out of her teens. Online dating only magnifies the issue, because we’re given the option of preselecting for all the characteristics we find important, including age. And we get all this information about a potential date before we’ve even decided whether to meet the person. So age becomes even more important, because we’re using it as a criterion before a date, rather than a piece of information we learn on the date itself. Also, men tend to worry that women between 35 and, say, their early 40s are bound and determined to have kids. So even if they’re 35 themselves, men tend to look for women who are younger just to take the pressure off the situation. Not that women over 35 are all looking to mate for life on the first date — but to see the way men run for cover, you’d think they were.
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Jack Conway, author of the eBook, Guaranteed To Get A Date Guide: We live in a youth-obsessed culture. Whether we like it or not, our society equates youth with beauty. But it goes beyond that: In order for a relationship to work, people need to have common interests, goals and lifestyles. These things tend to be age-related. So there’s very little chance that a 20-year-old woman will view her interests, goals and lifestyle as similar to those of a 40-year-old man.
Q: Exactly how many years do online daters typically shave off their age?
Cozette, online dater, 38: I delete four years — it’s closer to the age most people guess I am, and it’s closer to the age I feel. When I posted my real age, I didn’t get any email messages for the first two months. Not one. So I changed it to 34 and within days I had literally hundreds of responses. So far, no one has ever questioned it.
Debbie, online dater, 53: I say I’m 47 because that’s around the age I’m looking for in a date. I’ve had a lot more emails since I adjusted my age. Now people I’m interested in — and the ones who are interested in me — are actually finding me.
Pamela, online dater, 50: I reduce mine by three years. We all discount our ages — you have to since people are using age ranges as part of their search criteria. If you’re fit, attractive and hoping to meet the same, you have to lower your age.
Jerry, online dater, 53: I’ve been tempted many times to fudge my age online, but I think it’s a mistake because once you start lying, you’ve got a big mess on your hands. But I do steer around the issue when I meet someone face-to-face. If I sense that the conversation is moving in that direction — like, what year I graduated college — I’ll change the subject. Women usually misgauge my age by about five years.
Q: When, if ever, is it time to ’fess up with your actual age?
Debbie, 53: Once someone contacts me by email and it looks promising, I tell the truth before we meet. I explain why I lied in the first place, and it’s never been a problem.
Pamela, 50: At the first meeting, so the truth is on the table as soon as possible. As long as you confess right away, it’s not really lying... more like “truth in lending.”
Cozette, 38: I think I’d mention it over the course of becoming friends. This way we’ve already made a connection, and hopefully, he’s less likely to bail. But sometimes the truth comes out before you get the chance to confess. Last weekend I took one of my online dates (who was 28) to my brother’s birthday party, and my brother slipped about mentioning my real age. Luckily, we already had a rapport building, so my date didn’t seem to mind too much. It’s funny... he wants to be exclusive now. He doesn’t seem to care about the age difference at all. But I might.
Q: How do dates react to the confession?
Pamela, 50: Actually, my date was relieved. I was 49 at the time, but I could pass for 38. I told him I was 46. When we first met I was wearing this short skirt — I tend to dress young — I looked really cute. We sat down, started talking. I said, “Look. I have to be honest with you. I’m not 46. I’m 49.” And he said, “Thank you.” It turns out that he’d lied, too. He claimed that he was 49, but he was really 52.
Kirk, online dater, 40: Lying of any kind was an absolute deal-breaker for me. This happened to me twice with women I’d met online through a dating service. They had some system where they divided you into age categories and assigned every group a letter of the alphabet. I was an F because I fell into the 35-39 bracket. I found interesting women profiled in the Fs. But in both cases, they admitted over dinner that they’d altered their age because they felt they belonged in the younger category. One of them was truly the most beautiful woman I’d ever met. She said, “I just couldn’t consider myself a G. All the other women in G look so much older than me.” She really did look a lot younger than her age, but that insecurity about her age was not attractive.
Let me tell you a quick story: Last October, I got married to a wonderful woman I met online. She was 42, I was 39. She was honest about her age and I was absolutely charmed. She said, “I treasure my maturity,” and when I heard those words, I knew I’d met the woman I wanted to be with.
Q: How do you handle it when dates turn up looking older than they say they are — should you say something?
Jack Conway: If you’re having a good time with your date, you may not want to bring it up at that very moment. But you don’t want to start off a possible relationship with a huge doubt, either. If the date goes well, you’ll most likely be talking with this person afterwards, probably by email, maybe on the phone. That could be a good time to bring up your concerns. But subtlety is the key. That way they feel at ease and are more likely to spill the beans. One way to bring up the issue might be — and you’ll want to say this with a bit of humor — “You know, I know you’re only 34, but you come off as someone who’s a bit older and wiser.” I’m not saying you have to say this word for word, but if you have any concerns at all, about age or anything else, it’s in your best interest to deal with it early on.
Stacy Kravetz: It would be tough to broach the subject. Some people just look older. And once we reach a certain age, say, over 30, it’s pretty hard to tell how old anyone is based purely on looks. You could try to be subtle. Get into a conversation about awful music from the 80s, for instance. Couch it in terms of what life stage you were at then — grade school, high school, college, starting your first real job... Anyone who was in high school in the mid-80s is under 45 years old.
Erin, online dater, 42: I’ve come up with a surefire way of getting guys to tell the truth. When a man tells me his age and I suspect he’s lying, I’ll say, “That’s really too bad, because I prefer older men.” Right away, he’s scrambling to explain why he lied and even breaking out his ID to prove that he’s older.
Q: What should you do if you spot the profile of a person you’d love to meet, but he or she is looking for someone younger than you — should you make contact? And should you lie about your age?
Jack Conway: I’ve found that most people use these age ranges only as loose guidelines. So, I’d say go for it. Don’t lie about your age, but go ahead and make the first contact. Most of the time, if two people are connecting and really seem to enjoy each other’s company, it won’t be a concern.
Kirk: I firmly believe that if you can’t be honest in online dating, you shouldn’t be dating at all. It’s not fair to the people out there who are being honest and trying to meet someone they can be with.
Jerry: Women are skittish enough — you tell them you lied about your age and they’ll be wondering what else you’ve lied about. Next thing you know, they’re wondering if you served time in San Quentin.
Stacy Kravetz: Most men can get over knowing that the person they’re dating is older than she originally stated more easily than knowing that she lied about it in the first place. If you see an amazing profile asking that only younger women get in contact, why not just send a lighthearted email admitting that you’re having the 5th anniversary of your 30th birthday and see if he’ll raise his age range requirements? But I don’t think you should lie. The problem with lying is that if the relationship works out, you’re eventually going to have to get honest — or perpetually hide your driver’s license. How long can that go on?
Debra Kent is a freelance writer and author ofThe Diary of Vseries of books.