Ah, the half-century mark. Turning 50 is viewed with dread by millions of single women who wrongly assume their best romantic years are behind them, and their futures will be spent tending herds of feral cats, watching reruns of Seinfeld,
and immersed in some kind of hobby that requires yarn.
Wrong! Oh, so wrong. Midlife sisters, take heart: Our options are myriad and the news is good! Not only are middle-aged single women rocking the planet, but we’re in the majority now! In case you missed it, a study by the New York Times
and the U.S. Census
bureau established that there are now more unmarried women than married women in America. What’s more, a large part of the reason the singles set is booming is due to single boomers.
Why are there so many of us? Two reasons: In the 21st century, we’re marrying later — and sometimes not at all. And if we divorce (as so many of us do), we often don’t marry again (been there/done that/shoot me if I do it again).
And, the report quickly pointed out, being married is no longer considered the only pot of gold at the end of the aging rainbow; single life can be pretty sweet, indeed — especially for those of us past baby-making age. We have endless options, both personally and professionally. We are the new style-makers, the new big spenders. We are movie stars and secretaries of state and big-name columnists. We have friends to entertain us on dateless Saturday nights. We travel to exotic locales. We are buying homes without partners in record numbers.
Banish the stereotype of the sad spinster. We are queens of our domains.
The challenges of looking for love in midlife
OK, I admit that there are also challenges. Single women over 50 must deal with what I like to call “The Invisibility Syndrome.” Like an illness that creeps up on you slowly, somewhere around the 45th year of a woman’s life, she becomes invisible to the opposite sex. Men at parties who would normally look straight in your eye for a hint of interest are now looking straight over your head — usually at a 20-something with heavy eye makeup and a short skirt. How else, other than invisibility, can we explain this unfortunate recurrence? Because we are clearly smarter and wittier and more together at this age than ever before, so that should make us more attractive — not less!
But this is merely a petty concern. There are still plenty of (more evolved) men who understand that, like a fine wine, a woman is just starting to get good at 50. Lads, think of the many things in which a woman can become an expert by this age! Cooking, earning money, baseball stats… and, of course, where it really
counts: in the romance department. With any luck and a little motivation, we should all be skilled seducers by the time the laugh lines start to sprout. You can’t tell me that Nick Cannon didn’t think of that when he asked Mariah Carey, 10 years his senior, on their first date.
Why dating after 50 is less stressful than people might think
This brings us to possibly the best reason why it’s cool to be a single woman at 50: We can finally date for all the right reasons, like companionship, sexual chemistry, affection and because we enjoy
it. In one’s twenties, thirties and even forties, dating takes on a certain grim urgency for women with child-rearing on the brain. You fervently scour happy hours, websites and workplace events looking for someone to marry, someone to have children with... even possibly to support you financially. That puts a huge amount of pressure on the pursuit, and the mating game ceases to be played for fun.
But at this age, there is no need to find a mate for the same reasons. The urge to procreate is either satisfied or moot, we are hopefully supporting ourselves just fine, and those of us who were part of a couple for decades have discovered the sweet joys of copious personal space. The table is set for the best kind of dating: for pleasure
In fact, you’d almost expect to see hordes of 50-somethings dating around like they’re still in college. Not so. In my experience, women and men my age show excellent discretion in that regard. Flings are not out of the question, but we’ve all learned from experience that nothing is ever free — especially love. Complications can arise from even the briefest encounter.
Single mid-lifers are more satisfied than their younger counterparts
And finally, here’s the best thing about dating after 50: You don’t have to do it at all to be happy
. I know women who have established such rich, contented lives that dating has become just one more interesting thing they can do on a weekend — along with tango dancing or kayaking. They don’t need flattery and the touch of a man’s hand to feel validated like they did when they were younger. They have other things that make them glow.
I admit that achieving happiness as a single woman over 50 is no cakewalk. But just as married life requires work, so does single life. It’s not enough to wish and hope for joy, love and peace of mind — you have to actively pursue it. I advise women to get fit — less so you can attract a man and more so you can feel good about yourself and better enjoy all life has to offer.
And then open the door to the world and really take a look at what’s out there for you to do. Get involved. Discover something you’re passionate about (animal rescue, grassroots politics, the environment), and volunteer! You’ll meet new people and be so inspired that loneliness will be kicked to the curb. And you just might also meet like-minded men! Or not. But at least you’ll feel great about yourself, and we all know inner beauty is the far more important of the two. Well, OK — it’s at least as important as outward beauty. I’m working on it. But I’ve got plenty of time to find that balance! Fifty? No problem. I’ve got all the options in the world and plenty of years to try them out.
Jane Ganahl is author of Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife, editor of the anthology Single Woman of a Certain Age, journalist of two decades, and codirector of San Francisco’s Litquake literary festival.