I'm a 38-year-old woman who has been single for three years after my divorce. I've recently started using online dating sites and am trying to meet someone and hopefully start a new relationship. But I'm noticing a weird trend.
The men my age who seem interested are very few and far between, but I'm getting a lot of attention and responses from men in their 20s. I don't really know what to make of this, and am a bit wary that these younger men are just out for sex, rather than a relationship.
First, well done on getting back out there; readjusting from such a huge life-shifting event such as a divorce is hard and strange, and I’m glad you know that you deserve to find another great relationship.
Second, dating is weird for most people, no matter their age or relationship history, so don’t be discouraged by any odd trends you experience. If you’re looking for one great person, then you only need one great person – and they do exist, even if you have to wade through some less than ideal conditions to find them.
But let’s acknowledge these less than ideal conditions. For women over 30, dating can be a minefield. There are fewer single people generally, and yes, there will be some men your age specifically seeking out younger women.
This may be because they’re looking to have children and assume that this would be harder with an older woman. But sometimes, it’s just because they prefer younger women.
We live in a society that worships at the altar of youth – particularly when it comes to women. Older men are still socially revered, because historical (and still all-too-current) gender norms associate men growing older with growing in social power, whether that’s capital wealth, professional accomplishments, social power – or all three. However, as these forms of social and professional capital have historically been denied to women and undervalued in women, older women don’t enjoy the same sense of desirability.
Indeed, because women have primarily been valued for their beauty, a concept deeply rooted in ideas of youth, women are socially devalued as they get older.
These deeply gendered value systems normalise older men seeking out younger women, because if we value men for what they acquire, and treat women as objects, of course some men are going to view women as another symbol of their status, and want the most desirable model. But older women who seek out younger men are judged; they are called derogatory names such as “cougars”, a term that has connotations both predatory and pathetic, indicating that these pairings are bizarre.
But being aware of damaging social attitudes doesn’t mean being innately suspicious of every individual – it just gives you the awareness to recognise red flags.
Luckily online, men who perpetuate these attitudes will usually wave their red flags pretty visibly; they’ll be the ones who set their preferred age range as 15 years below their own and only one or two above – if at all.
But don’t automatically write them off just for this. Everyone has a learning curve, and just like you, most people want to be bowled over by someone amazing. You could be that person.
Meanwhile, as for the young men who are interested in you, don’t write them off either. Younger men who have grown up around discourse around gender equality may indeed be impressed, rather than intimidated, by all you have to offer. And there are mature men in their 20s and 30s looking for relationships, too, so don’t assume they’re just in it for sex. Again, online dating has the beautiful option of filters, so you can chose only to interact with men who are open to relationships.
To avoid those who are just looking for sex, set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t put up with overly sexual overtures that feel premature or objectifying, and observe how the men you’re talking to react when you do put up boundaries – are they respectful or do their push their own desires?
But the most important barometer is your own happiness. Are the men you’re dating making you feel good about yourself, are they kind and respectful, does the dynamic feel equal, do you share values, and vitally, are you having fun? Because while there will be bad dates and dull spells, dating is ultimately about optimism, about hope, about embracing possibilities. Be aware of social attitudes, know what you want, feel the fear – and do it anyway.