Promoting The Cougar Club has me thinking (and talking) a lot about dating in mid-life. It's a fascinating subject, perhaps because it's not something most of us imagine we'll ever do, not when we're in high school and crush-worthy subjects are abundant. Worrying about possibly being single for the rest of your life isn't even a big deal when you're out of college and embarking in the real world, becoming bridesmaids in your friends' weddings and pursuing your dreams instead of Mr. Right. Then all of a sudden you're forty, and your mother's bemoaning the fact that she may never have a grandchild. Or worse, she makes comments like, "If you get pregnant by that adorable guy you're dating, it's okay. I'll be there for you. In fact, I can babysit whenever you need me." And she does it with a straight face.
Initially, I didn't dwell much on the fact that I was still single when I crossed the big 4-0. After ten years of working like crazy to get published and several more after that building the foundation for my career, I was just thrilled to be writing mysteries for Avon that were selling well. I loved being on the road, hanging out with writer friends, and meeting fellow book lovers across the country. It felt like heaven to me.
So while I was too busy to worry about becoming a notorious cat lady, my relatives apparently weren't, something I realized at any/every family gathering. I believe it was at my brother's wedding that a male cousin asked if I might be a lesbian. When I told him, "No. I like men," he nodded and leaned in to whisper, "But it would be all right if you were." Thank you, Dr. Phil. My sister (who is a year older and still single) never seemed to get as much scrutiny about her love life. Perhaps because the myriad dating stories she theatrically shared (she's an actress at heart) made everyone afraid to comment or ask questions! By the way, she's the real Cougar in the family, having dated younger dudes since high school. My family calls her "free-spirited." As a kid, I imagined she'd grow up to be a go-go dancer or a magician's assistant. Not the kind of gigs that demand marriage and stability.
I, on the other hand, had a lot expected of me. I was the responsible one, the driven one so I expected a lot of myself, too. I was all about setting the bar high and meeting my career goals, not sitting at bars trying to meet men. Besides, the guys I ran into at book-related events, in airports, or through set-ups weren't ever people I could imagine spending two dates with, much less the rest of my life. Wasn't there a study that said women over forty have a better chance of being killed in a terrorist act than they do of getting married? Let me tell you, dating when you're over forty sometimes feels like a terrorist act, especially if you're looking for guys your own age. Here's Kat Maguire's Facts of Life for Women over Forty from The Cougar Club, which sums up the situation rather neatly:
The older you get, the harder it is to find a single man your own age who isn't either: (a) married or gay; (b) divorced with insurmontable baggage; (c) looking for a girl half his age.
The idea of finding a soul-mate sounded oh so appealing, but how to locate the pearl among the swine? I soon learned what I had to do was open my eyes a little wider. I needed to chuck the list of "must-haves" that I used to judge potential boyfriends in high school and--not settle--but realize that maybe lack of fashion sense isn't the kiss of death, that a doctorate in computer science is far more valuable to a writer than a doctor of medicine, and that humor and wit outweigh bulky muscles by a long shot. I should have written a book about my epiphany before someone else did. (Because it's too late now. I just heard about a book this morning called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, which is really about looking for potential, not settling. It's written by a 42-year-old single woman who had a baby via a sperm donor because she set her standards so high she blew off every guy she might have/could have/may have loved).
I feel extremely fortunate that I met Ed at a time when I was satisfied with the direction of my career and feeling very happy with myself. I still look back and shake my head, amazed at how events lined up so fatefully in 2005, leading to the introduction to my husband. So many "ifs" could have taken us in separate directions: if my mom hadn't sent in an email to St. Louis Magazine asking them to consider me and my sister as "top singles" for that year's issue, if they hadn't selected me, if I hadn't filled out the questionnaire, if I hadn't made friends with Jeremy Nolle (Ed's former co-worker) at the magazine shoot, if I hadn't been talking to Jeremy when Ed showed up at the Contemporary Art Museum for the party the magazine threw...if so many little pieces of the puzzle hadn't come together perfectly, I would have missed finding my own Mr. Right. (Ed and I honestly think that our deceased grandmothers had a hand in things somehow, meeting up in Heaven and saying, "Oh, your grand-daughter is single?" "Wait, you have a grandson?" You know the drill.)
I had always felt independent--lived independently--so much so that I imagined it would be very hard once I fell in love with someone I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. My family used to tease me about a comment I made long ago that even when I married I'd want a duplex so I could have one side and my husband the other. "I need time alone!" I would insist while they quietly chuckled. My mom even mentioned this in her toast at Ed's and my rehearsal dinner. As it turned out, I never feel like Ed and I have enough time together. We'll be celebrating our second wedding anniversary on February 24, and I love him more now for all the things we've been through together than I did when we were at that dewy "OMG, I could just suck face all night" falling-in-love stage.
If I hadn't been part of the mid-life dating game, I wouldn't have married an amazing man (who just happens to be younger)...and I would never have written The Cougar Club. The moral to my story: ladies over forty, it ain't over 'til it's over! Or maybe it's that there's always a book in everything. Hmm.