The Thorny Topic of a Woman’s Age (pt 3)

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.

Interview with my blog’s first follower

Since starting this blog a couple of weeks ago I have been excited to see who is following, and taking great interest in you wonderful people. This is how I ‘met’ Christine Feminist and found her tantalising and raunchy blog, Sexandthesinglefeminist. I asked Christine a few questions, keeping in mind our similar interests and the common ground in our blogs.

About Sex and the Single Feminist

Welcome to Unleashing the Cougar! I’m so excited to have you as my very first follower, and I’d love to know more about you. Give us some background or a blurb about yourself and your blog.

I’m basically not the person one would picture when you hear the world ‘slut’ but it’s probably accurate. Up until age 40 or so, I would say I was your typical serial dater. I mostly followed the three-date rule for sex and mostly had fairly conventional sex. I wasn’t uptight, but if I wasn’t dating someone, I might not have sex for a year or more. And then it dawned on me (around age 40) that I didn’t want to be in a relationship and I really, really wanted to experience more varied and interesting sex. So, I sort of threw together a dating profile one night that talked about being really, really happy with my life, not wanting to change it, but wanting to have sex on the regular. I didn’t expect to keep the profile up very long…but years later, here I am with the same (revised) profile and very happy. Even a lot of men who meet me off my profile comment that I look so innocent and they wouldn’t guess I was so sexually open.

I started the blog to just normalize sexual exploration and experimentation.  I think we need to talk about what we desire, do, and wonder about more, not less. And this especially important for women.

So, why did you start your blog? What does it do for you and how does it make you feel? It comes across as a diary entry and I like the intimacy and vulnerability we glimpse, as well as the juicy details about your exploits!

I started my blog because I was telling close friends about some of my more interesting encounters (for example, a guy with a tattooed dick (I don’t think he ever made the blog because he was before the blog started,) and my friends kept begging me to write a book. Even the happily married (and monogamous) friends wanted me to challenge so many of the preconceived ideas we have of women and sex, plus the stories are just fun. I knew I would never sit down to write a book, and the chances of me actually keeping a formal diary were low, so I figured an anonymous blog would be a good way to tell my story without a big time commitment. I think your other questions hit on some of my motivations too, but I just wanted to tell the story from a person who no one would expect has this type of private life…I am the kind of person you would assume goes to bed early, gets up to battle injustices in the world, works a bunch, and is kind of a dork. All this is true, but I find sex to be a very fun outlet and way to escape from all the responsibility I (willingly) take on in my life.

Your blog SEXANDTHESINGLE FEMINIST conveys its focus but I’m interested in knowing more about how feminism plays into this – how has being a feminist influenced your ideology and life choices?

I always say feminism informs my sluttiness and my sluttiness informs my feminism.  The essence of feminism to me is to strip away societal expectations and conditioning. That requires pushing boundaries, expectations, and reclaiming power that society strips from women.  To be clear, I don’t want to suggest that an asexual person, or monogamous person, or anyone who isn’t that into exploring sexual boundaries can’t be a feminist. Of course they can! But the question is WHY are you making your choices? Know when you’re making choices because of society and when it’s because of your own interests. I’ve long had sexual fantasies and desires that I didn’t feel I could act on because I didn’t want to be seen through society’s lens as one of THOSE women. And, at some point, I said fuck it. I will regret not doing this far more than I would regret exploring these options out there for me. Mind you, I still keep the sexual side of me private-ish. Friends know some. And of course partners hear about it. But when a co-worker asks what I’m doing that weekend, I don’t say, “I may or may not have a threesome…let’s see how the weekend plays out.” I just say that I’m seeing friends. Sex is a part of my life, but it isn’t my entire life. So where it isn’t convenient to talk about my sexuality, I don’t.

You’re a sexy older woman, obviously, but are you a cougar? What do you feel about the cougar mythology or stereotype?

I reluctantly accept the title of cougar since I typically get involved with younger men.  I don’t particularly like the title because I think it implies a woman who doesn’t accept her age and is predatory. I’m neither. I am in my early/mid 40s and do not pretend that I’m not. I will go to bars for a date or to meet friends, but do not frequent bars and you wouldn’t catch me dead in something too short or too tight for my body. I go to bed at a reasonable time, barely drink, and just don’t party at all. And I only date ‘actual adults’. To me this means an absolute lower limit of 24 (though 25 is the youngest I’ve done) and someone who seems to have self-awareness of his (or her…on occasion) sexuality. Men who are virgins approach me a lot. I have no interest in that. Nor am I interested in someone I just sense is…searching/young. I’m ok with someone who might be less experienced, but only if I sense they are comfortable with whatever they discover about themselves by experimenting.

I believe in capable consent and that requires a certain level of self-awareness.

You say you’re interested in writing a piece about women, sex and aging – without giving too much away, what are your thoughts? Issues? Do you find men (or younger men) have any preconceptions about women over 35?

The reaction I get from men closer to my age versus men 30ish (and younger) is VERY different. Men who are, say, 36 and older tend to see me as a bit desperate. They assume I’m interested in a serious relationship (even when I say I’m not) and think they’re doing me a favor by paying attention to me. I laugh every time a guy who is 37 or 38 asks what I think of younger men…since most of my partners have been more like 26-31 years old. I find men who are at least a decade younger than me (who are interested in me, I recognize the selection bias!) see older women as confident, self-assured, and more sexually adventurous. I think MILF porn has impacted their views of older women. When I was their age, I don’t recall men my age being into older women. Now it is legitimately ‘a thing’ where we’re seen as sexual creatures without the baggage and expectations younger women often have. I don’t say that to knock younger women. But I do think it takes time to find true inner confidence surrounding sex as a woman – society sends us so many mixed messages about our sexuality.

Do you have a ‘type’ – what do you look for in a man? Is age a factor at all? What do you like about younger men vs older men, and vice versa?

Well…I’ve already indicated my sweet spot for age seems to be 26-31. It seems like a lot of men in that age range are legitimate adults, but not ready to settle down into something serious. So what I offer, interesting company and fun sex, is very appealing to them. And since it’s what they want, they tend not to make demands of me and my time that I don’t want. Physically, I like men who are conventionally attractive – lean, muscular, nice faces (especially nice smiles), dark hair…but occasionally I venture outside my type and have been with women in 3somes and enjoyed it…so would even consider a woman if the expectations lined up.

I like the way you write about sex in a graphic and honest way, but sometimes I feel as if your writing obscures or ignores the feelings you have about anyone or a situation. Is this intentional? With my own writing, I think I go the other way – I am more interested in telling a story from a neutral position, coolly observing and noting my feelings.

Some of this probably is my personality. I’m a straightforward and pragmatic person, so I can come across (both in person and in writing) as a bit detached. But I think some of it may be that I challenge the stereotype that women can’t have sex without emotion. For me, actually physically sleeping with someone in the same bed is FAR more emotionally intensive than sex is (sex can also be deeply emotional with someone I love, but with someone I just find fuckable, it’s simply not emotionally intensive to me). I think that’s sort of the key and maybe an unintended part of what I share – that I enjoy sex simply because I enjoy sex. It’s not very complicated. It’s a very animalistic thing that is more about desire than it is about emotions.

I have to admit I am really envious about the opportunities you have – both in available partners and in what seems to be unlimited freedom (beyond your work). This is living the dream as far as I’m concerned. Do you feel sexually fulfilled by the lifestyle you have developed for yourself – if not, what’s missing?

Awww thanks.  Living in a large city, I don’t worry that the availability of men who want a casual sexual relationship will dry up too quickly.  And I’ve worked hard to cultivate an intentional life. It’s not perfect, but it’s me. Most of the time I feel very sexually fulfilled. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my days when I wish I had a very regular and consistent partner who I could see in my gross t-shirt and sweats and hair all messed up…but I also recognize that even if I did have that situation, that doesn’t mean the person would be available every time I wanted sex with a human. I suppose the biggest issue for me is that thing we all struggle with – will there come a time in life when I am the unfuckable one (at least for anyone I want to have sex with) and will I be ok with that? But I suspect that everyone wonders that. So I don’t dwell. I enjoy what I can.

Do you have any tips for managing your busy schedule? You say that you can’t be bothered dealing with flakey people and organizing meet-ups when you are busy or stressed. How do you manage to make it all come together? (Again, my envy is showing!)

I would say that, more than anything else, it truly helps to be an introvert when it comes to this approach. I know that sounds weird – what is an introvert doing having sex with all these people? But if someone flakes or cancels, I am perfectly happy having extra time to myself. I’ve also figured out that if I set up three dates in a weekend, I probably will only have one (if they’re new people). Previous partners are more reliable usually. But something I always try to keep in mind – this is supposed to be fun! So, if am too overwhelmed or too busy or too stressed, I don’t make a date (no matter how horny I am).  I try not to cancel dates made, but I will under the same circumstances.  I also usually make men come to me. I have a few bars I like within a five-minute walk, so I say that’s where we’re meeting most of the time (I have wondered if some of the bartenders notice…but I don’t really care). I kind of have figured out patterns of engagement from partners/dating. Tuesdays are the dead-ish day of the week. No one wants to meet up then and rarely are people thinking about the weekend.  Oddly, I get just as many inquiries about weekend availability on Mondays as I do Thursdays – some want to lock in plans with me, others realize the weekend is looming. So I sort of know if I have no plans by mid-day Thursday (and want them) for the weekend, I may have to make some inquiries myself. And, finally, I have plenty of vibrators and dildos. Sometimes I just want to get off and that can be done pretty quickly if needed!

Lucky last – what apps do you use and do you have any recommendations? Which part of the world do you live in?

I live in the US in a major city. I find I have most luck from OK Cupid because I can explain what I’m looking for. But I also have met some really great men and couples on Feeld (formerly 3nder). I’m pretty sure I’m still a Tinder and Bumble virgin…

Thanks so much to Christine for so candidly sharing her thoughts. I found that a lot of what she had to say resonated with me, particularly the gems I have picked out below:

Normalizing female sexual exploration and experimentation

Christine says, “I think we need to talk about what we desire, do, and wonder about more, not less. And this especially important for women.” Never has a truer word been spoken. This is also a motivation I share, especially after feeling like I was the freak instead of the nomal woman with normal reactions and a normal body! I will be sharing my views on my current first-ever reading of the ground-breaking The Hite Report, written by Shere Hite in 1976. I honestly wish I had discovered this bible of female sexuality much earlier in life! Another common theme I will explore is the mixed messages about sexuality that we receive first, as girls and later, as women.

I also admire the way Christine’s blog challenges conventional ideas about a woman’s role in initiating sex, having a rabid sexual desire, and being gutsy enough to say what she’s into and what she wants. I think I can learn something from her!

The other element in this topic is that Christine is honest about wanting sex and not a relationship. This is going against all of society’s preconceptions about women being lesser sexual creatures, who are only interested in sex to please our man. It also taps into an undercurrent of fear that permeates many societies about what might happen if a woman’s sexuality remains unchecked. I love that Sex and the Single Feminist bucks the status quo – something that I passionately support.

Sex is a part of life – but not all of life

This is pretty obvious when you pause to consider, and yet browsing dating sites or any realm where sexual tension rides high, you’d think it was the most important thing, ever. We are all sexual beings (apart from those who identify as asexual), and we all have needs and desires – however, these don’t override other life interests and passions, and our sexuality does not define us.

The cougar stereotype is a mixed blessing

Like Christine, I somewhat grudgingly accept being called a cougar. Like her, I wouldn’t be caught dead in ‘something that is too short or tight for my body’. Nor do I wear a lot of makeup and I definitely don’t have a mane of huge hair! These are the images I have of cougars in my mind – the cliche of the predatory older woman with zero empathy for her prey, and a selfish desire for lustful satisfaction. While that sounds rather fun – it isn’t me. It probably isn’t many other women over 40 either. I prefer to be seen as a person first and I value someone who sees my age as irrelevant. Like Christine, I also avoid virgins and I certainly don’t want to be anyone’s trophy fuck. At the same time, I am grateful for the way society has developed a niche for older women that didn’t really exist a decade or two ago. Because I spent the first half of my life with one partner, having choices again – many of those involving men significantly younger than I am – is an unexpected blessing.

A lot of middle age men see women their age as mostly undesirable

Boy would I like someone to prove this one incorrect! I picked up on what Christine had to say about men her age and their biases and assumptions about her sexual status and level of happiness with her life. “The reaction I get from men closer to my age versus men 30ish (and younger) is VERY different. Men who are, say, 36 and older tend to see me as a bit desperate. They assume I’m interested in a serious relationship (even when I say I’m not) and think they’re doing me a favor by paying attention to me. I laugh every time a guy who is 37 or 38 asks what I think of younger men…since most of my partners have been more like 26-31 years old,” Christine says.

Yeah – totally! I find this pretty damn insulting to be honest. I have mostly detected this condescending attitude as an undertone, but I’ve also had one explicit example of this age bias from a peer. (I suppose I should consider myself lucky). Our messaging was heating up and we’d already arranged a first date after a day or two of chatting via kik. We had a bit in common and he was keen to escalate things to some sexy talk. Then he asked my age. He’d seen a few photos of me and clearly thought I was his type, however I playfully suggested he might like to guess how old I was. He replied sternly, “no – tell me.” OK, I thought, might as well spit it out. Want to guess what happened? He deleted our chat and blocked me! Unbelievable! There was a two-year age difference between us (he was very slightly younger), compared with what I am used to – a 10 or 15-year age difference! At the time, my poly partner was 27 – and this guy was 40. This type of arrogance and assumptions about women and aging is a theme I will be exploring a lot, so if it’s sparked your interest, stay tuned.

And finally, here’s a stimulating piece of writing about the odious terms fuck buddy or friend with benefits – expressing, again, that female sexuality is so much more diverse than society gives us credit for.