To paraphrase Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) in “Sex and the City,” when it comes to single people of a certain age, “Everyone knows a million great single women; no one knows any great single guys!”
I’m not sure how the math on that works, but there is some truth to it. I’ve known that first-hand for a long time.
All changed for me last October. That’s when, at age 49, after eight years of being a single working mom to four kids 24/7, well, that’s when I married the love of my life. A brilliant scientist and cancer researcher with a great sense of humor, a big heart and a big smile.
So, naturally, I get asked all the time: How did that happen? Translation: “How did you get that guy?”
The answer, of course, is God’s grace. But it’s also true that I learned a lot about dating and relationships in those single years. So for any “woman of a certain age” hoping to find love this Valentine’s Day or beyond, I offer some undoubtedly countercultural suggestions.
Eight, to be exact.
You are probably already trying online dating, taking interesting classes and asking friends to set you up. Great. What about when you finally meet a terrific fellow? (And they are out there!)
1. Respect him as a man. Men and women are different. He’s not going to be your best girlfriend, and you don’t want him to be, anyway. He’s not a mind reader, and won’t always understand your emotions. That’s OK. He has a lot of great traits you don’t. Enjoy.
2. Don’t make your template for relationships anything that you take from drippy, if sometimes entertaining, chick flicks. I call them “romantic pornography.” These films air-brush love into something it just isn’t, and would be pretty shallow if it were.
3. Drop the “I’m happy as is and I don’t need a man to make me whole” nonsense. The reason you are dating is because you don’t feel complete on your own. That makes you human, not needy. Almost every man I dated in those single years told me how refreshing it was to know a strong woman who clearly wanted a man in her life.
4. If you desire to be married, and most women do, be open about it. If you can’t be transparent with your fellow on something so important, that’s a red flag. And red flags do not change their colors.
5. Do not pursue him. My mother said, “Girls don’t call boys” – meaning, “The worthy ones call you.” Need proof? Ask 10 married couples at a cocktail party how they met. Nine will have stories — often exaggerated, sure — of him sleeping on her doorstep until she gave in and said “yes” to his proposal. But if she says she had to sleep on his doorstep to get him to marry her? Ouch. “Awkward,” as my kids would say. If he’s not pursuing you, he’s just not that into you, as one well-known book puts it. Move on.
6. One way to not waste your time is not to sleep with a fellow until you marry him. OK, OK. Though that was my practice — seriously — I’m likely not going to convince many of you reading this to follow the same course. In any event, remember that sexual intimacy changes everything. It gives you a pair of rose-colored glasses that you are supposed to put on after marriage, not before. Abstaining allowed me, among other things, to make really good decisions about relationships for my four kids and me.
7. And there’s a big one. If he’s not willing to see you and your kids as a package deal, to believe that there’s “privilege in the (albeit complicated) package” — well, bye-bye.
8. This may be the most important one of all: A man is not a project, and he’s not to be remade into your image. We can encourage, sure. We ought to be honest about what we hope for from him. (We should encourage him to talk about what he needs from us — guys are typically not good at that.) And, yes, every loving wife knows when to give some direction by nudging her husband under the table. But the biggest growth in your relationship, your greatest happiness, may actually come when you simply learn to accept and love and respect and enjoy him as he is right now.
Happy Valentine’s Day.
Betsy Hart’s latest book, “From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports),” has just been newly revised. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.