Many months ago, I interviewed a dating coach for one of the chapters in my book, The Baby Gap. The chapter is called ‘Dating with baby goggles on’ and I wrote a feature on the topic a few years back (NB newspaper headlines and captions are out of my control).
The pre-edited version of the article read like this:
I saw him across a crowded room. Nice eyes, great smile, decent height and a full head of hair. Good genes – very promising. My gaze then honed in on his wedding finger. No ring – even more promising. And was that Spanish I could hear him speaking? Perfect. I’d always wanted bilingual children.
I’d spent my 20s surveying men through beer goggles – through the haze that clouded my vision after a couple of vodka tonics. Now 40, single, childless but still hoping to be a mum, I’d taken to looking at every man through baby goggles.
This was a completely different haze, one filled with images of a good-looking man holding a cute baby or of me blissfully pushing along a designer stroller.
My baby goggles had powerful lenses, unlike the beer variety, which had always been a bit hit and miss. They could spot an eligible man from a considerable distance and they zeroed in on an empty ring finger like a precision-guided weapon.
They also came loaded with some searching questions. Did he want to be a dad? Would he make a good dad? Could he be a dad? And this was before we’d even got talking!
Dating as a 20-something, in hindsight, seemed so simple. I could try someone out for a few years and if it didn’t work, we both just moved on. But dating as a would-be mother whose fertility window was closing was a whole different story.
Since writing that article, I’ve learned first-hand about the perils of dating with baby angst and done my best to try and stop my imagination from hurtling off like a runaway pram. I’ve also come to terms with the possibility of a life without children or at least I’m on that path.
On the other hand, I’ve gained two more years, bringing the dilemma of dating at this particular stage of life into even sharper focus.
So back to the dating coach. During the interview, she gave me a piece of personal advice – to lie about my age online. Apparently, 39 is the magic number. For every 40-something female on dating sites, there are scores of fake 39-year-olds, hoping to beat a potential mate’s age filter and at least get a look in with guys who still want to be dads. It’s common practice, she told me, for women to lie about their age and men to fib about their height.
I didn’t take her advice. I’ve spent the last decade or so cleaning up my act, getting honest with myself and others about who I am and what I stand for, letting go of a desire to control and manipulate. So knocking a few years off my age so I guy would think I had greater childbearing potential just didn’t seem right. Take me as I am or not at all was my philosophy.
But was or is that wise? After all, I’ve spoken to enough men – socially and for my book – who’ve told me they’d avoid contacting or dating women my age because they don’t want the pressure of being rushed into big decisions around family life. They want a few years to get to know us, to see if it’s going to work out. And many of them aren’t ready to change dirty nappies just yet.
And boy, do we understand that. I don’t know many women around my age – those living in the baby gap – who want an instant infant or who have a desire to go from first date to family in a flash, even if our imaginations can sometimes get the better of us. Given the choice, we’d gladly enjoy our freedom for a few years more, living, loving, having fun and forming a strong bond with our potential mate.
But the unfortunate truth is we don’t, necessarily, have the time. So we understand why you give us a wide berth (excuse the pun), really we do. But is that fair? After all, us 40-somethings may be just as fertile as the 35-year-old women you’re eyeing up. Early menopause, blocked tubes,unexplained fertility – these could strike at any age. Or perhaps you guys are firing blanks – have you thought of that?
There are no guarantees with fertility – it’s like a game of roulette.
So should we put our morals to one side, shave a few years off our age and at least bag ourselves a date with a man who isn’t old enough to be our dad and who would still like to be a father himself?
Interestingly, not long ago I came across a man who lied about his age on an online dating site.
He said he was 49 and in some of his photos he looked younger than that. To his credit, he confessed a little further down on his profile that he’d told an untruth – he was 51, looking for a younger woman as he still hoped to be a dad.
So it seems, some men are just as aware of prejudices around age, particularly when it comes to being judged as potential fathers. And I wonder how many fake 49-year-olds there are on these dating sites.
But the brutal fact remains that in the often cruel game of fertility, the odds are well and truly stacked in a man’s favour, while we women, fairly or not, are often overlooked as potential partners by those men who hope to have families – simply because of the number next to our names.
So, dear readers, is it acceptable to lie about your age online? It’s an interesting debate – and I’d love to hear what men and women have to say about it …