A recent wedding announcement in the New York Times recorded the happy pairing of a couple that met through “America’s Test Kitchen.” He founded the TV show and hired her ten years ago. He’s 62; she’s 37. The announcement ended with this paragraph: “Both say they have never really given much thought to the difference in their ages. ‘Others may have concerns, but we don’t,’ he said. ‘I’m in love with someone who seems the same potential in the universe as I do.” May they live long and happily.
The pairing of male boss and younger female employee is a familiar pattern. I can see the announcement being greeted with resigned sighs by women like the one who wrote in this week to Yo, Is This Ageist?:
I am a 37 year old woman and I am suffering through online dating. Not only do I have to face the insecurity of not being attractive or witty enough to engage a man’s interest (supported by my 0/22 success rate for replies from men I have emailed), not I have to face that I am considered to OLD for many men my age. The number of men in his late 20s, early 40s who list their age range for women as 24-33 is staggering. I never thought that at age 37 I would be viewed as an “older.”
This unhappy dater is the same age as the new bride, and if she read the wedding announcement, I bet she was concerned – not for the couple’s marital prospects but because it’s just another nail in the digital coffin of women like her who are seeking partners their own age. Perfectly reasonably.
It’s not the age difference that’s the problem. Yo, that would be ageist, and plenty of issues loom larger in compatibility. It’s the convergence with sexism: the well-worn fact that men, unlike women, conventionally fish in a much larger pond than their female peers. It’s the rare boy bird who’s willing to date someone even a few years older than he. My sister fared no better on Match.com with the condition that any takers had to be willing to date someone their own age. (To be fair, her other conditions were that he live relatively near her in Cleveland and not have a boat in the picture. Maybe the boat jinxed her.)
In his book The Magic of Middle-Aged Women, Daniel Evan Weiss sums up the sheer unfairness of the situation this story from a friend. When she was in her late teens, her uncle tried to set her up with a guy in his late twenties. He wasn’t interested; she was too young. Encountering the same man online 32 years later, she dropped him a note. He still wasn’t interested. Now she was too old.
The ostensible justification is fertility, the proverbial ticking clock that benches women’s ovaries while the rest of them is still out on the playing field. Men are supposed to seek young babes with young eggs, and women to bag high-status provider types, which is why bankers marry bimbos. Leaving aside the fact that that decline in fertility has been way oversold, how about including fertility information in dating profiles? (Have you had children, do you want ‘em / do you want more of ‘em? Would they have to be biologically yours?) Would-be breeders could request a fertility write-up along with recent STI test results. Men too. When’s the last time you heard a woman worrying that her date might be infertile? Or, for that matter, about the fact that birth defects and mental illnesses rise with the father’s age? Which is another reason the fertility issue is largely a red herring.
Weiss makes that point at the evolutionary level, writing that, “The survival of our species no longer depends on our ability to find a fit, fertile partner. Mankind is well established . . . . The future of humanity will be much brighter if men of power learn to choose for a mate Abigail Adams rather than the much cuter Eva Braun.” His book is a paean to the social, psychological, and sexual charms of older women, and an argument that more men of all ages should reap the benefits. “I have learned that I am much better off with veteran women, and so it is natural that they look good to me,” he writes. “I don’t think I am violating my genetic mandate; rather, I am accelerating its adaptation.”
The key word here is “learned,” because it’s going to be a long wait for natural selection to catch up to social imperatives. Weiss learned to think differently. What would it take for other men to follow suit, in significant numbers?
I have a suggestion: dating sites should omit age and age range.
My friend – smart writer and online dating expert Virginia Vitzhum – respectfully disagreed with this brilliant idea when I posted it on Facebook. “I think hiding your age feeds ageism (like “passing” feeds racism),” she commented. “People want to know, and at some point, it’s weird not to tell the person you’re dating how old you are.” Virginia’s with my sister on “guys whose own age isn’t in their target range. F*** ’em. (Or don’t, actually.)”
Hiding or lying about your age is one thing, and misguided in too many ways to count. But if all profiles on the site deliberately omit age and age range, that question becomes moot. After they connect, people can ask via chat or in person. Age is not secret. It simply ceases to be a data point for first-order screening. Unless you’re into numerology, why make a person’s birth date the prime indicator of compatibility? It’s illegal to ask for age on a job application because it fosters discrimination. It has the same effect in the world of online matchmaking. Why should it be any more acceptable?