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Midlife Romeos in a buyer's market

By: Bettina Arndt (view speaker details)

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Bettina Arndt
Midlife single men are having their moment in the sun. They may have started their adult lives desperate and dateless, longing for attention from young women who never gave them a second glance. But unpartnered graying men are often surprised by their newfound popularity. A buoyant buyer's market awaits the older man seeking a mate.

His time has come - for a variety of reasons. Due to more people remaining unmarried and an upsurge in midlife divorce, there are more older singles than ever before. Unpartnered women outnumber men in every age group over thirty, by a solid 68,000 for singles in their fifties, according to 2006 Census data. But most importantly, older men everywhere now have access to these well-stocked dating pools. Internet dating has changed everything. Older singles no longer find themselves isolated, dependent on work contacts or friends for prospective dates. Internet dating has led to a huge slice of the very large numbers of older singles – perhaps up to a third - actively putting themselves on the market. And that means ripe pickings for older men, while midlife women come to terms with their dramatic loss in dating power.

"Keep meaning to spend a year with Proust, but who doesn't?" This cheeky cultural enticement graced the internet dating profile of a 65 year old financial adviser and part-time university maths tutor seeking a "cultivated, warm, wise and feisty woman who loves life." He attracted an astonishing 85 responses in the first hour his profile was on line.

"I was overwhelmed, almost embarrassed, by the response from women who, seemingly, were prepared to go to any lengths for an 'audience.' The whole experience was incredibly flattering, intoxicating and empowering," says a fifty five year old ex-journalist who was flooded with responses during the three weeks he tried internet dating.

The strong market value of the well established older man was brought home to a fifty eight year old accountant when he ran into one of the hot babes from his school days at a high school reunion. She told him she now regards him as a great catch, adding that "when we were at school I didn't look at you for a second." He boasts of his dating exploits including the time he dated eight 'good sorts' in a single week: "I'm like a kid in a lolly shop."

The sex ratios tell a grim story for older women. Women seeking high status partners - high earning, well- educated men - face stiff competition. For instance, of the 259,000 available men in their fifties, only 34,000 have degrees (13%) and 20,000 (8%) earn over $83,000 per year. There are 68,000 more single women than men in this age group, and almost twice as many of the women have degrees - 60,000 (18%) of the 327,000 available women.

To make matters worse, those highly desirable educated, high earning men are not necessarily seeking their equals.

Many high status men fish outside their pool, choosing younger and less educated women than themselves. This depletes the pool of available men in all the older age groups leaving educated women struggling to find an equal. Oh yes, there are cougars - older women who seek younger men. Internet profiles of older women do sometimes express a preference for men many years their junior but relatively few pull it off. Only 6% of the 1,671,000 partnered women in their fifties end up with men in their forties and a tiny 0.5% have men at least twenty years younger. Most (61%) of partnered men in their fifties stick to their own age group but plenty find themselves younger women - 30% choose women in their forties, and 2.7% women in their thirties.

Lori Gottlied's new book, Marry Him attracted media attention for her controversial advice that women should avoid missing out on Mr Good Enough by endlessly searching for Mr Right. But the most telling part of this forty year-old's story is her growing realization that every year she'd spent in the search for the perfect man, her market value has decreased while her rejected suitors enjoy increasing demand. Gottlied tells a humiliating tale of emailing an attractive 40 year old lawyer only to have him remind her they'd met five years earlier. Back then she'd knocked him back, she'd dismissed him as a five, now he was an eight and she was the one who no longer made the cut. "Maybe we need to get over ourselves," she writes ruefully.

Yet women continue to aim high, showing little interest in men without a bulging wallet. The losers in this thriving market are low income men, as Monash researchers Bob Birrell and colleagues showed in their analysis of partnering patterns - Men and Women Apart. Unemployed and low income men are swelling the numbers of unpartnered older men and their prospects remain grim. Women who reach midlife with a carefully preserved nest-egg are rightly nervous of partnering men who might threaten that security. And as many dating men comment, older women continue to be picky because they see a man in their lives as a welcome addition rather than necessity. "Men want and need women more than women need men. Despite the odds in our favour, we men still have to work hard to find the right woman," says senior executive (58) who has finally struck gold after a strenuous search involving 120 contacts, and 33 dates over a fifteen month period.

They may be picky but women still find it maddening to be confronted by men who flaunt their dating power. In her book, Kissing Frogs, fifty something Melbourne psychologist Andee Jones is put out when on her first foray into internet dating she meets Mitch a witty university lecturer who confesses that she is his 30th date that month. She’s irritated by the over fifties men looking for younger women – "Where does that leave the women in their fifties and sixties?' she whines. And she sends up the man who confesses he wants someone he finds physically attractive, with big breasts. "Yes, I know many women believe outside appearance shouldn't matter. Do I deny this part of who I am?' he asks disarmingly. Jones offers a bitchy female retort to his frankness, pondering on how his chosen partner would deal with breast cancer facing mastectomy. With similar grace to the wife whose high flying husband ends up bankrupt, I would imagine. Kissing Frogs - to be published by Finch Publishing in July - is witty, clever, but oddly revealing as Jones brushes over the humiliations of her reduced market value to send up the misfits she meets on her dates.

Sure there are many men behaving badly in internet dating - men who cruelly fail to respond after viewing a hidden photo, men who drift away after one date with no explanation, men who are evasive, rude or discourteous. Many men acknowledge that knowing 'there is always something else in the offing' brings out the worst in them. But some of the stories about women are equally shocking. One man was flooded with responses when his enticing profile mentioned being 'in finance,' and just returned from a few months travel in Europe. He was working his way through 30 or so meetings with eligible prospects when lunch with a charming, professional woman concluded with her tightly buttoning her coat and visiting the loo just prior to their departure. He escorted her to her car and was stunned when she suddenly flung open the coat to reveal her naked body as she whispered she had plenty to offer him. During the trip to the Ladies, she'd removed her clothing and stuffed them into her handbag. Harsh times call for desperate action.

For all the shenanigans, the midlife internet dating market is a success, with numerous stories of couples pairing up happily. The figures are extraordinary. Over fifties are one of the fastest growing internet dating groups. The leading Australian site is Fairfax's RSVP, which boasts 1.6 million members and reports a 221% growth over fifties members in the last five years. Their figures suggest that about 92,000 women and 85,000 men in their fifties use the site - which means a significant proportion of all unpartnered women in their fifties are now on line. (These figures are improbably high, possibly swollen by people who come off and on the site using different identities). Yet evidence of the popularity of this thriving market is seen in glowing couples now going public with romances made not in heaven but on line. The odds may favour men but older women too can strike it lucky in this challenging new world of internet dating. (Ends)
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