Our resident agony aunt Rhona McAuliffe has some advice for a forty-year-old who might need a sexual awakening
I’ve just celebrated my fortieth birthday and can’t understand why I’ve never met my soul mate. I’ve seen a few guys in the last ten years but it’s never led anywhere and now, just after my ‘big’ birthday, I’m asking myself why? I’ve never been mad about having kids but turning forty was a reminder that I’ll probably never have that decision to make. Even though I wasn’t wishing for it, I thought I’d at least be in a situation where I weighed up the pros and cons of a later pregnancy with my significant other. That’s not going to happen now.
I look after myself, have a decent career, own my own house and seem to have what it takes to attract men, I just can’t seem to keep them interested for more than a couple of months. I hate dating apps but have tried a few of them with pretty poor results. I don’t live in a main city which means I either know most of the guys on the app or they’re in their sixties, so I end up travelling to one of three cities if I’m dating. My friends have set me up with a couple of guys, friends of their husbands (I grew up with some of them) but it’s never led anywhere. That’s usually down to them backing out at some point.
I haven’t slept with anyone in almost five years as we’ve just never made it to that point. My self-esteem is rock bottom and I just can’t figure out what’s wrong with me and why it seems so easy for everyone else to meet someone. I know that’s not a good place to be in if I want to meet anyone but I’m losing all hope. How can I find out what’s wrong with me?
Okay, we better kick off with one truth: I can guarantee there is nothing ‘wrong’ with you. It’s definitely a case of it’s not you, it’s them. And by them, I’m referencing the increasingly cold and ruthless mating arena a.k.a. Emotional Carnage. But, I can offer you some tips on getting out of this fug and moving on with your life.
Socially, we are still biologically conditioned to hunt for love, to snare ‘the one.’ Originally, we wanted to find a mate to procreate, and later to protect our young. Now, we can order cryopreserved sperm to our doorstep within 24 hours and no longer need male security. And that’s no disrespect to our prehistoric sisters who needed all the back-up they could muster to face down the local T-Rex.* Different times. Yet, we share the same primal goal.
Hollywood vs Reality
Hollywood has continued to sell the romantic ideal of true love, well beyond the crash of rom-coms. In the last couple of years blockbusters include Me Before You, the Fifty Shades franchise and Fault in Our Stars, with almost every couple navigating a complex maze to prove their undying commitment. Spoiler alert: even Wonder Woman was left holding the smoking helmet. And then there’s every second belter on the radio. Beyoncé wants you to put a ring on it, Ed Sheeran says loving can hurt and Freddy Mercury calls it a ‘crazy little thing,’
Beyond the big media sell, there are mums, sisters, friends, distant relatives, work colleagues and complete strangers asking if you’ve scored recently; if you’ve met anyone nice. Or worst, they stop asking. You might be excluded from kids, family and couples events because you wouldn’t enjoy it or it might be weird for you. This only serves to further ostracise you and positions your imaginary future partner as a social enabler, a human ticket to all the best gigs in town. (Or what you perceive to be the best gigs in town).
The reality is 26% of 40-49 year olds in Ireland are in the same boat. I know that’s no major comfort but the number has been steadily growing since 2003. Relationship expert, Esther Perel, blames the avalanche of choice that swiping right on your dating app brings, leading to a constant sense of FOMO and no relationship accountability. This, coupled with the decline of societal empathy and compulsive multi-screening does not bode well for our romantic future. Look at Japan, where up to 70% of under-35’s are single and 44% said that they were virgins, in a 2016 study.
So what can you do? Changing your language would be a great start. You talk about wanting a ‘soul-mate’ or ‘significant other.’ Not only are you setting an almost unachievable bar here, you are also suggesting that you need a partner to ‘complete you’ (hello, Jerry Maguire!) which implies your life will only be half-lived until then. It sounds like you’re keen to fast-track to serious relationship status without enjoying the ride - and I mean that figuratively – which is the fun part.
Easier said than done, I realise – especially as your local options are limited - but taking a ‘lighter’ approach to dating would be a great experiment for you. You can only do this if your primary goal is living your best solo life, with all that you’re thankful for today. Challenge yourself, step out of your comfort zone – which can be a paralysing, negative space – and yes, I’m going to say it: join a club. It could be a poker club, roller disco collective or archaeology crew, something that clicks with you, feeds a passion and broadens your life experience.
Take the pressure off
The worst thing you could do is waste your life waiting for ‘the one.’ As a recent US study confirmed, not only is the divorce rate 50% but an additional 17% of Americans admitted to staying in toxic marriages. Which means that only 33% of couples are happy with their lot. Best case. Bear this in mind as you continue to plan casual coffee and drink dates. Once you take the pressure off, you’ll naturally be more self-assured and ultimately selective.
You might even feel ready to have sex again? Maybe you don’t need to tick long-term relationship markers to sleep with someone? Maybe a passionate tryst will be the perfect shake-down? Better still, plan a passionate tryst with yourself. If you’re low on inspo, and have €15,000 to spare, look out for the Realbotix ‘almost human’ male robot who boasts a bespoke (to you) bionic penis. He is not the answer but you might have a bit of craic Googling him. Best of luck.
* Yes, I know dinosaurs were incinerated 60 million years before humans evolved. I’m just rolling with some 80’s TV gold here.