In my last two articles I shared my thoughts about how women over 35-40 are perceived, messaged and portrayed in our modern world, and why this might be cause for concern, or deep irritation!
Ageism is real and though some could argue that funky, attractive and interesting women have a social obligation to buck the stereotype and proudly declare their age, that’s not what I’m here for on this online dating journey.
My main motivation so far has been opportunity, making the most of it and experiencing the variety and spice of life.
I have never doubted that stating my age would reduce my opportunities, and so my tactic has been to bend the truth or allow other people to be the judge. Just look at the data if you don’t believe me – unless you’re a woman in your early 20s, you’ve already passed peak desirability!
The dodgy social experiment
‘With this aspect in mind, I conducted a sort of social experiment over a couple of months on kik’s Match&Chat. Unlike the very young men desperate to get into ‘the adult club’ (especially with an older woman), I was keen to shed some excess years and slim down to a numerical figure I felt more comfortable with.
I already knew from countless online interactions (in excess of 150 during my first gung-ho year online dating), that men tended to see me as significantly younger than my biological age. This was flattering but looking at it beyond ego and through a cultural lens, I was interested in how a stated age determines opinions, reactions and beliefs about you.
I did not want to buy into this age stereotyping. I was more than curious about, given an open canvas, how my age might be interpreted by a ‘neutral’ viewer who only had my pen-name and my headshots to go by.
On kik’s Match&Chat there are no other accompaniments to influence a person’s perception of age. This is different from the majority of ‘dating’ or hook-up sites, where stating your age (even if it is massaging the truth) is mandatory.
I began my experiment whenever the prickly but predictable question of age raised its head. In nine cases out of ten, my age was asked within the first five interactions. Instead of replying with a numeral, I asked, “Guess – and I’ll guess yours.” This was a fun micro ice-breaking game, and the revelations were astounding. I carried on this approach for about 50 interactions and I observed two distinct trends.
Two scary trends
The first was that men universally and in all cases underestimated my age by at least a decade, and in many cases, well over a decade. I don’t even use ‘beauty-face’ or air brushing filters in my pics, the way so many people do.
Apparently if you show a photo of yourself laughing in an online dating profile, you have more than three times the chance of communication from site members. And it’s no surprise that 47% of men and 27% of women have encountered a first date who looked nothing like their dating profile image! (Online Dating Industry Facts and Statistics)
But before I start congratulating myself on positive responses, there’s more.
My second finding – and this might be obvious – was that guys in their teens and early 20s tended to view me as much closer to them in age.
It seemed that the concept of ‘an older woman’ in their minds meant a woman in her late-twenties to early-thirties.
I found that hilarious and when I revealed my age, the shock, surprise and the general wowing compliments were indeed gratifying. Keep in mind that this is no recommendation of my good character, behaviour, intelligence, kindness or compassion or any other worthy quality. This was purely a comment about my ‘packaging’ and it pays to keep a humble foot on the ground at all times.
What I find amusing and slightly galling is that, especially for very young men, the idea of a sexy mature woman does not, in their limited imaginations, stretch beyond mid-thirties.
This is infinitely sad and a sign of our social conditioning around women aging, and the obsession with youth in first-world countries.
Why is it inconceivable that a 49-year-old woman or a 53-year-old woman could be ‘hot’ and attractive? I found it very funny to read that women apparently experience two periods of adolescence – perimenopause being the second!
No wonder so many cougars are searching for sexual satisfaction online!
People over 35 are the highest users of online dating
The statistics also bear out the rise in people over 30 using online dating. American research in 2011 showed that singles over age 55 were visiting dating sites more than any other age group! And the number two spot was occupied by people aged 45 to 54. (Elyse Romano The Brave New World of Senior Dating http://www.datingsitesreviews.com)
Being considered ‘attractive’ and to some extent ‘young looking’ holds a pivotal place in the online dating world, where people are judged in a microsecond by their photograph.
I can only speak of my own experience and my own reactions. I was sometimes merciless in my ‘ticks’ or swipes and in the broader sense, about who I wanted to spend time talking to or meeting, if they lived in my city. Was I prepared to invest my precious time and energy in a man I was not attracted to?
No. It’s a brutal answer and I have absolutely no doubt that it is echoed not only across the board in terms of the choices other women make, but also in the choices men make.
Some might even argue that men are even more predisposed to judge a book by its cover. Research shows that men judge a woman’s physical appearance significantly higher (33%) than any other factor, whereas women judge a man’s sense of humour as the most important factor, at 24% ahead of 21% for physical appearance. (Elyse Romano The State of Dating: What Do We Look For In A Mate? http://www.datingsitesreviews.com)
On the subject of photographs, I admit that I choose my photographs carefully. I have often presented several images and always one with a natural smile (I loathe smiling in a selfie). What has been a surprise more than once is when a young man comments on a date that I am ‘far more gorgeous’ in real life! That is dating gold, I have to say. Balm for the ego – and let’s be honest, we could all do with some of that.
Age is definitely in the eye of the beholder.
It’s a social construct in the sense that by omitting reference to it, we are immediately free to be ‘other’ than our age, to shed the stereotypes we all share, even if buried deeply. We are free to be ourselves no matter how we defy conventions or unspoken ideas of what a woman of a certain age should dress like, look like or how she should behave.
Yes, age is a biological fact, as my mother constantly tells me. We can’t escape it forever, but my goal on this online dating journey and at this stage in my life has been to hold back the tsunami tide of ageism.
Even with internationals I didn’t ‘lie outrageously’ and agree that yes, I was 23 or 34. I could have had some fun with ridiculously bending the truth. A friend helped me shape my philosophy about this. In a world where there is pressure to ‘age gracefully’ and accept our place in the shadows as we grey up and fill out, she said, “if you’re never going to meet them, what does it matter? Just have fun!”
How liberating to accept that not only can I behave any damn way I like, (consider our previous sexual horizons or constructed personas that we build and carry throughout our lives) but online, I can be any damn age I like!
And that’s nobody’s business but mine.