Over-40 blues

Men my age seem to be fixated on breeders who are under 40.

By Cary Tennis
Published August 3, 2004 7:48PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Despite all the hype about boomers "reinventing middle age," it appears as if many of the same old customs remain stuck in place when it comes to dating. On the personals sites I've visited in the last year, including Salon.com, hetero men of any age seem fixated on breeders younger than 40. I wouldn't trade my age and experiences for anything. I was born in 1959. Timing, luck and hard work have allowed me to attend good schools, engage in worthwhile work for sustenance and fulfillment, and see much of the world. I've been fortunate to inherit good genes and the sense to take care of myself, so I look and feel as good as I ever have. But it seems as if women my age are invisible. Nobody's looking to hook up with us, even if we are intelligent, emotionally and financially stable, and without dependents.

I'm African-American and not prone to whining or feeling I'm entitled to "have it all." I also see -- and empathize with -- smart, accomplished white women far outnumbering men in the personals ads of the Ivy League alumni magazines I receive. Like many of them I'm not looking to marry, just to enjoy some companionship every once in awhile.

Is it just me, or is it lonely in here?

Dear Lonely in Here,

If you don't mind, I'll confess my ignorance of the specifics of your problem while offering some general, meandering suggestions based on my own life. When I was about at the end of my rope and had very little in the way of success or good fortune, when I had just about pretty much absolutely nothing, when I couldn't even tell if I was going to get through the day without ending up drunk on the sidewalk, I learned to pare down my expectations to the ordinary, the achievable and the good, so that achieving even the ordinary became exquisite in its way.

For instance, when I was in early recovery from alcoholism: Getting to a meeting on time was ordinary, good and achievable. Yet once achieved, it always exploded with a kind of passionate grace. There I was, burning with an insane, priestly focus on the mundane, minute-by-minute facts of survival -- eating meals, shopping for food, negotiating the streets, earning enough money. So every day, just knowing where there was a meeting was a kind of salvation glowing on the edge of a bleak consciousness. Just knowing that if I got there on time I would get to sit there for an hour in relative peace, in the company of relatively benign individuals, was enough to get me through the day. I'd probably get some coffee. I might get a doughnut or a cookie. Somebody might say hello and clap me on the shoulder, and that shoulder would burn as if branded with the iron of fellowship. That shoulder would rejoice with the fraternal clap of another like me.

So what I'm saying is that although the world was not to my liking and I had a long way to go, I had pared down my expectations in line with what was achievable, and that made for a remarkably happy life, all told. I didn't want what I didn't have. I knew where to get what I needed.

Sometimes we lose focus on the particulars. All you need is one fairly good man. You might not be able to find the perfect man, or a string of perfect men, but I think there are people, probably people you already know, who can offer you some of what you are looking for, if you take the time to focus on them and try to find what you need from them.

You are probably right that the pickings are slim, and that the men are not that great, and that many of them want what they, too, cannot have. The world is full of people looking for what they cannot have. So it would be wise for you to stop thinking about what you want and do not have, and instead look around you to take stock of what you already do have. Look in your phone book. Look at the phone numbers there of men who are if not perfect at least adequate. These are men you already know; some of them, no doubt, have qualities that you may have overlooked. Dial back your expectations enough to just call them and spend some time. Ease off a little; try to let some humanity in between you. Concentrate on creating a suitable environment for pleasurable companionship to arise, and you may find that you have created some satisfying liaisons without having to bring in a whole new crop of strangers.

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Cary Tennis

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