Are Professional Women in Their Mid-30s Too Independent To Settle Down?


Last blog post posed two questions. One had to do with how people discriminate based on age, and, by the time they get serious about dating in their early 40’s, often find that their options have become severely limited.

(This was the main reason for Lori Gottlieb’s famous controversial “settling” article — soon to be a book in February, 2010.)

The other question had to do with what independent, professional women in their mid-30’s REALLY want. To recap, let’s go back to our original poster, Adam.

I am a 42 year old single male who recently left a 5 year relationship for various reasons, but mainly because I wanted kids and she did not. I thought that since I was an attractive, fit, well-educated, financially and emotionally secure guy that I would have no problem finding a woman in her mid 30s to settle down with and start a family. I have tried a combination of online dating, speed dating, professional singles events, volunteering, happy hours etc. and have had very few dates over the past year. I thought that online dating would be great since you are essentially pre-screening people for dates. I have found that I get no responses from any women online and the only women who respond to my ad are usually much older and don’t meet any of my criteria outlined in my profile.

I am told that women want to settle down and have kids, etc., but their actions seem to be to the contrary. At singles events, women come in groups and are reluctant to talk to men. In online situations, women say they want desperately to meet a nice guy like me, but never answer my response to their profile. I am trying to remain positive, but two things are really bothering me. One, that younger women are no longer interested in dating men who are even just slightly (3-5 years) older than them and sometimes want to date men 5-10 years younger then them. Two, women seem to be content in the fact that they are independent and self-sufficient and have a career, family and friends that fulfills them and don’t seem to be interested in truly finding a relationship. I find the latter hard to believe, but find this mantra in every profile of every professional woman online.

There’s a cuter 35-year-old guy, and a funnier 38-year-old guy, and a richer 40-year-old-guy who are getting your women.

Any advice on how to navigate these new paradigms in the dating world?

Now, I must point out something that is uncomfortable, Adam, which is that you may be entirely overrating yourself. If this is the case (because we all like to think we’re attractive, smart, and secure), that might explain why you’re not getting results. It’s not that you’re not a good guy — but if you’re 5’7” or your profile is kind of bland, then guess what? There’s a cuter 35-year-old guy, and a funnier 38-year-old guy, and a richer 40-year-old-guy who are getting your women. In other words, in order for your perfect woman to fall for you, she has to “compromise” on age, since you’re not her ideal. The same way that you might have to compromise by writing to women 37-41. As always, you’re as valuable as your options and if all the people you desire aren’t responding, you either have to rebrand yourself or rethink your strategy. Blaming women for being unfair to you isn’t going to get you very far.

That said, you have touched on something important, and that is your perception — real or otherwise — that women are content being alone, with their fulfilling careers, friends and families, and are not all that interested in finding a relationship. Moreover, you intimate that this comes across in both their profiles and in their actions.

There’s been a lot of talk about this phenomenon here on my blog. And at risk of inciting the same women over the same issue for the umpteenth time, I’m just going to ask my women readers to put yourselves in Adam’s shoes.

Believe me, I know what it’s like for women — putting up with the players, losers, liars, weaklings, flakes, pervs and commitmentphobes that make up a good portion of the male population. I hear it every single day from my clients. That’s your reality.

But, for one second, I’d like you to consider Adam’s reality.

Let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s a solid, decent-looking, successful 42-year-old who has lots to offer. Let’s accept that he’s experiencing women who are busy, aloof, and uninterested in making an effort and commitment.

Is Adam wrong? Probably not. No more than you’re wrong that dating disinterested men can be a drag, as well. In fact, I think it’s highly probable that, yes, there is a certain group of women who are truly conflicted about what they want.

If your best friend met her husband in line at the grocery store, shouldn’t you get to meet yours in the same way?

In theory, they want to find love and have a family, but in practice, you’d never know it. They prioritize work over love, friends over love, travel over love, freedom over love, downtime over love — and still complain that they can’t find someone to love.

When it gets right down to it, the process of finding love — with all of its ups and downs, its failures and frustrations — is just too much to bear. Why put energy into something when it’s much easier to just wait for it? Shouldn’t love happen when you least expect it? Doesn’t it happen when you’re just happy living your own life — working out, going to yoga class, taking salsa lessons, working 50 hours a week? If your best friend met her husband in line at the grocery store, shouldn’t you get to meet yours in the same way?

Yeah, that would be nice, wouldn’t it?

I just got off the phone with a new client. She’s 38. She has a great career, she owns her own home, she has a personal trainer at the gym, maintains good friends and family. She’s very dateable and very likeable. As far as I know, my new client is FLAWLESS.

If you’re a woman who is reading this and is getting a bit angry, I will repeat myself: you may be FLAWLESS.

However, if you want to fall in love, get married and have kids, but have done everything in your power to avoid searching for a man, then guess what? You’re gonna stay single.

My new client joined Great Expectations…and didn’t go on the dates they offered. She’s a member of eHarmony…and never logs in to sort through the 300 men they’ve sent her.   So if a man like Adam has been paired with her in either of these places, is he to believe that he’s a bad guy? Or is it just that my new client has been ambivalent about putting herself through the topsy-turvy, insecure dating process?

All I’m telling you is that every time I hear some woman tell me “there are no good guys out there,” I am reminded that there are millions of men like Adam.

This isn’t a judgment. It’s an observation. If every waking hour of your life is filled with work, friends, travel and hobbies, when exactly do you expect to fit in a husband? Fact is: it’s nearly impossible to fall in love if you never meet single men, nearly impossible to fall in love if you don’t go on first dates, nearly impossible to fall in love if you don’t make an effort to be available for a relationship. You can have a great, fulfilling life, but you will not find a partner unless you get really, really, really, lucky.

To recap: there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with being single. There’s nothing wrong with being alone. There’s nothing wrong with leading a rich, fulfilling solo life. There’s nothing wrong with staying in on Friday nights. And, no one is telling you to be desperate, to settle, to give up your dreams, or any such hooey. So please, don’t even go there.

All I’m telling you is that every time I hear some woman tell me “there are no good guys out there,” I am reminded that there are millions of men like Adam.

But if you don’t take the time to let him in — because it’s simply easier to NOT let him in — both you (and Adam) are going to have a hard time finding each other.

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  1. 21

    Here’s the other issue: Adam is implying that his efforts to date these supposedly otherwise awesome women is blocked by some mysterious force: that their self-absorption, career worship or narrow focus are like an ugly coat, once it’s discarded there’s a perfect woman underneath.
    So not true.
    What these things mean is that these women have issues. Maybe small ones, maybe big ones, but far from being a frustrating impediment, these traits are big red flags Adam should be glad he saw.
    Of course, that’s with the LIVE women – the online dating world is a different animal. Every decently attractive woman is bombarded with responses online. You have to cut through. It might be helpful to get advice (or dare I say coaching?) to make sure your online presence matches the person you believe yourself to be.

  2. 22

    I long ago realized that all is fair in love and war, as well as that there is no logic, reason, consistency to anything in the dating arena. So, please take no personal offense at my next comment, as I freely admit I am not an exception.

    Reading the comments in this thread I can’t believe that women routinely complain about single men being full of themselves.

    Glass houses people.

    I would like to end this with a sentence about how it is no skin off of my nose, but while I am not dating anyone in this thread I do encounter their counterparts.

    One guilty pleasure I have with reading EMKs blog is that in the process of helping people he gives them a reality check ( ie cutting them down to size ).
    Good luck everyone, we are all imperfect human beings with a narcissist in us barely kept in check like the cold germs that are always dormant in our body.

    I wish you all a happy Tuesday, a fantastic lay and a desire that you find that special person.

  3. 23

    Offwinger #12,
    Excellent post! I am older than you (48), but you summarized everything so succinctly about how I feel about dating. That’s it in a nutshell. It’s the energy and the effort. My job is demanding and stressful, so I don’t want to give up any of my weekend time unless I already know the man is worth it. One strategy I am implementing is that I will suggest we meet for an after-work drink. This way, I am already dressed, hair done, makeup, etc that I would have to do if we were to meet for weekend “coffee.”

    I agree it is easy to meet people IRL if you are open and accessible, and I am going to focus more on finding more time for hobbies, going to sporting events. Because frankly, I don’t like online dating.

    I will also say I have met some good men online, just not anyone that I wanted to go to the next level with. But I do know there are good men out there, and one of them I will click with.

    The argument about chemistry has been debated ad nauseum on Evan’s blog. I will just say I am a romantic and I have to have it. That said, meeting naturally (via friends, work, hobbies, church, etc) provides for a FAR better incubator for chemistry, passion, etc. than perusing a profile online and crossing your fingers that this person is worth a meet. It is almost unfair to the other person that you have to make very rapid judgements about their viability.

    I think online dating is a tool, but should not be the only way we connect with people.

  4. 24
    A Reader

    Hey Evan,
    Why is it that when WOMEN complain about the way men are, you just tell them to face facts and not try to change men, but when MEN complain, you write these long blog entries and ask women why they don’t want X-Guy because he’s so great? You did that with that Tom character and now with this guy.
    Just wondering.

  5. 25
    Evan Marc Katz

    Dear A Reader at fake email address:

    You, like many dissenters, only find the facts to support your own case – namely, that I have a bias towards men, as opposed to a bias towards truth and objectivity. In fact, I started this post by telling Adam that he may be overestimating his value to women, as many younger, fertile women may not want to date a 40something year old guy. Not exactly sure how this blindly backs Adam or all men in general.

    My job is to be as nuanced and truthful as possible. Sometimes it means supporting the original poster (Dump Him, He Sucks!), but more often, it means challenging the original poster (Look in the Mirrror!). If you peruse dozens of other emails written by clueless men, you can see when I gave them the smack down. But you chose to ignore those and focus on the 2 or 3 where I validated the OP, who happened to be a man.

    This is why you can’t believe anything you read on the Internet, folks. Everything can be taken out of context. Thanks for making my case, A Reader.

  6. 26
    A Reader

    About my fake email address, of course it’s fake. I NEVER give out my real email address unless I know the person I’m giving it to. This is the Internet. I’m protecting my privacy and safety.

    And yeah, you did start out by telling this guy that he might be unrealistic to limit his search to women who were at least 7 years younger than he is. But then you proceed to rag on women because we work 50 hours per week, etc. and by the way, try to see things from HIS point of view and that women who complain about there being no good men out there should think of this guy. Um, OK. Unless she happens to be his age, but that’s another topic. Anyway, it’s your blog and people pay you for your advice so who am I to dispute it? I’m out. Peace.

  7. 27
    Dear Julia

    I do think that professional women can be seen by some men as too independent to settle down. The reason I believe is that many of these women don’t need a man to take care of them in the traditional sense (financially). Men like to be in control to a certain extent. I understand that, they want to be needed. From time to time, men have pointed out to me that I come across as overly independent, like I don’t need anyone. It isn’t that. If you are the kind of guy that is confident in yourself and your own success, you’ll win the woman’s heart, my heart would be won by such a guy. I like my career and am very driven. However, if I find a fun guy to enjoy things with, thought of my job goes out the window, afterall, it is a means to and end. I am all about the fun. I hope that other women are this way too. So, don’t think successful women are too independent to settle down. We will settle down if you are the right guy. Then you’ll have it all, a girl who is crazy about you and someone who can help you meet financial goals as an equal partner… there is nothing wrong with that, right?

  8. 28

    Here’s another possibility: learned helplessness.

    There was an experiment with a maze and some cheese and some mice. The mice were put in the maze, but always before they were about to get the cheese, it was taken away, or a gate closed between them and the cheese so they weren’t allowed to have it. After so many attempts leading to failure, the mice gave up. The scientists left the gate open, with the cheese in full view of the mice, but at this point, the mice had already given up on ever having the cheese – even when it was made completely attainable.

    Many singles in their 30s and 40s have dated and been disappointed – a lot. Some experienced disappointments that were Titanic in scale. Many are probably experiencing a form of learned helplessness – the kind that makes you not check your eHarmony emails, even though you have 300 matches waiting to connect with you.

    The cheese is there, and it’s helplessness/fear that stops them from taking it.
    I think the only cure for it is to do everything you can to maintain a positive attitude. Law of Attraction expert Michael J. Losier has a free ecourse available on his web site at lawofattractionbook dot i360net dot com, called Law of Attraction – Attract Your Ideal Relationships. He recommends making a list of what you *do* want in a partner, and celebrate every time you date someone who meets at least some of these requirements. By focusing attention and energy on the things you *don’t* want, you will tend to attract more of that. By celebrating only the things you find that *do* meet your dating hopes/desires, you will attract more of that.

    I think a negative dating mindset and fear of failure is the outcome of the “learned helplessness” older singles develop through one or more disastrous relationships in their past. Positive thinking, and deliberate positive actions, are the only ways to overcome that. It takes work.

  9. 29

    One question: Why are single women in their thirties always assumed to be successful and “career-driven?” Most single women I know are no more successful than the taken ones.  I don’t see how being career-driven actually decreases women’s chances of finding love, unless you’re working 12-hours a day (and on weekends!) and really don’t have ANY time to meet people. However,  I do think it’s a very convenient excuse.

  10. 30

    I am a 39 year old woman who fits the type Adam is looking for (maybe a little older than he would like) and contrary to what he has experienced, I was looking for a relationship, online, with someone in my age group or a little older.   I feel so extremely lucky to have met a man who had much the same experience that Adam had online and I fell in love with him.   You see,   I want kids and   a husband and I made it my priority, over everything else, including my job.   I found a compatible loving man because I made it my priority, and honestly it didn’t take a long time, maybe because I made myself available.
    On the opposite end of the spectrum are my peers…successful, independent women from age 29-39, who have never been married, act like they want a relationship, but every guy they go out with has some sort of flaw, real or imagined, and they continue to “keep looking” for Mr. Right, half-heartedly, IMO.   Their priority is work, Coach purses and vacations with the girls.
    So I can see where Adam is coming from, because there are many women like this out there and they aren’t “available”, even if they pretend to be.   They are not willing to compromise for a man AT ALL.   I know this because a lot of these women are my friends.   It saddens me because they can’t see what life is truly about…love, children, family..things that a job and money just can’t provide.
    The mystique of a relationship is the fact that no relationship is ever going to be perfect.   There is no perfect man or woman out there…yet everyone seems stuck on looking for what does not 100% exist.   Relationships are compromises upon compromises.   It’s about merging 2 separate lives into a new life, not continuing the same old single life but in a relationship.   Until these women realize this, they are going to remain out of reach for any man, not just Adam.
    And Adam, it may help to look for women a little older than mid-thirties.   First of all, you are going to have a lot more in common.   Secondly, if a man is worried about having his own biological children, let me remind everyone that it’s not only a women who loses fertility with age…men start losing their fertility at age 40, so to be fair, it’s not fair for a man of age 42 to only want a younger woman just as it’s not fair for a late 30’s woman to only want a younger man.

  11. 31

    Adam does have a point to a certain extent.   A lot of women, especially professional women, in their mid-30s are still holding out for the “perfect” man even though they themselves are unlikely to be the “perfect” woman for that idealized man.   In my own experience a lot of women try to play this game into their late 30s until they either simply give up on ever getting married or they drastically lower their expectations to something that is much more realistic and obtainable.

    I suppose that a lot of men are also very picky into their late 30s, but men can get away with this to a certain extent because we don’t have the same biological clock as do women.

  12. 32

    I get the impression that view think that a career women who engages in certain behaviors is “independent,” whereas a lot of men view the same woman as being “self-centered” for engaging in those behaviors.   There is a fine line between being very self-centered and being very independent.

  13. 33

    Star and Kurt,
    I know the type of woman you’re speaking of… actually, it seems like many of them have blogs about their “fabulous” lives with girlfriends, travel, their cat/dog and stories of yet another guy they’re dating… or tales of the four-year relationship they had in the past with some troubled soul.
    The same theme runs through all of these blogs — they say they want to meet Mr. Right, but they come up with a bunch of qualifications for him. One is often that he can’t live more than a certain distance outside their city limit — understandable when you think of traffic, but I dunno… if Mr. Right could possibly 45 minutes away by subway, it’s not worth it to try?
    I remember some of my guy friends saying that they would see an attractive woman at a singles event and plan to go talk to her, until they see her return to where her girlfriends are sitting and exclaim loudly how all men are pigs and no one better attempt to approach her that night when she’s out with her faaaaaaabulous girlfriends! Maybe that was the alcohol talking, but I bet in a different setting, she’d complain about the fact that she never meets nice guys without realizing that a potential one was a minute away from trying to talk to her.
    I honestly don’t think that men are as “intimidated” by a professional woman as many of us might think… but they don’t want to bother with one who seems to not be interested in putting a relationship on the front burner. When a 35-year-old woman is telling a guy about how she’s using a Fulbright to go to Rome to do a documentary on ancient architecture or how she’s going to spend the summer in Spain in intensive immersion Spanish courses, he might think that’s wonderful… and then mentally cross her off his list. Not because he has a problem with what she wants to do, but making those types of plans signals to him (rightfully or wrongfully) that “settling down” might be far from her mind right now.
    But she probably has no idea she’s projecting that, and happily skips along to the next “adventure.”

  14. 34

    SS, I have also noticed that a lot of career women have an obsession with traveling and expect a woman to have the same obsession.   Women might think that they are “cool” if they travel a lot because their friends might be impressed, but the fact of the matter is a large % of men (if not a majority) aren’t impressed by the fact that a woman has done a lot of traveling.   I am a professionally successful man myself, but traveling internationally is not something I would want to do very often and certainly not every year because it is kind of a hassle.

  15. 35

    Oops – I meant that those women expect to find a man with the same obsession with traveling.

  16. 36

    Kurt 34/35,

    Maybe I can shed a wee bit of light on that, as yet another 30-something professional woman who’s done a fair amount of traveling in my lifetime. 🙂

    I think women get the message (from mostly other women and some men as well) that men like women who have their own lives. That it’s totally unattractive to be sitting at home every night eating cereal in our pajamas putting our lives on hold for Mr. Right, and Mr. Right will be more attracted to a woman who has a life and loves living it.

    So, while we’re single, instead of people telling us that if we want a healthy relationship that we should perhaps put more effort into finding one, we’re instead told to keep on living! Whee! And along the way, some man will come along and love hearing about our interesting lives and all that we do (versus saying that we sit at home every night in our pajamas, eat cereal for dinner and watch TV).

    The problem is, while I think men DO want an interesting woman who enjoys life (whether that includes travel or not), they are not necessarily impressed by WHAT we’re doing in our pursuit of enjoyment. When I met my future husband, for example, he said he liked that I had hobbies and a lust for life (compared to other women that he dated) BUT if I was always on the go and never made time for him, then it wouldn’t have mattered how interesting my life was. He liked that I liked to travel, but only in the sense that he figured I wouldn’t be bored if we went on a short trip and he suggested going to a historical museum. When he later learned about my roster of countries visited when I was in college, he said that was pretty cool, but it didn’t make me a better MATE prospect… as I said, the part about my traveling history that was important to him was the fact that I would probably be open to traveling with him in the future.

    He said one of the biggest problems he had pursuing other women was that they said they seemed interested in going out again, but they couldn’t plan a date for another three weeks or a month because they continually had pre-set plans to do other things. He understood that, but then it seemed that they never tried to fit him in after they got done with those plans.

    So I think a lot of us in the professional 30-something set receive a message that might be beneficial in a general sense (live an interesting life, enjoy yourself, etc.), but in practice is often very much counterproductive because it leaves no room for us to devote effort and time to finding someone. He is supposed to just magically come along while we’re out being fabulous, but in one’s 30s, that’s not as likely.

  17. 37

    We live in a society where women are told we ought be able to be all things to all people.   My ex’s biggest complaint about me was that he felt I never made enough time for him.   But yet he expected me to hold down a full time job, come home and cook, clean and be the primary caregiver to the kids.   He felt put upon if I asked him to give the kids a bath so I could clean up after supper.   I was emotionally and mentally drained most of the time.   The women’s movement hasn’t done us too many favors.

  18. 38

    SS, I guess I understand your point.   I personally like to exercise and run races, etc., and would like to find a girl who is into the same things.   For my point of view, a woman who likes to do those athletic-type things does have her own life and has a certain demonstrable ability to focus on a goal, which I also like.
    I recently signed up for eHarmony and have been really surprised at the number of profiles I see for women who go on and on about traveling in their profiles.   On eHarmony, we are supposed to list a passion, and one woman actually wrote in capital letters, “I LOVE TO TRAVEL!!!!!!”   I immediately closed that match because in my own probably limited personal experience, women who like to go on and on about how much they travel tend to be extremely narcissistic.
    I also noticed that the mid-late 30s women tend to list traveling as a passion more often than younger women for whatever reason.

  19. 39

    Kurt, thank you for your insight. You’re reiterating something I’ve heard a lot from men (all of whom are in that mid-late 30s range), so I plan to share this with some of my single female friends, especially since many of us have been sold the idea that being well-traveled makes us MORE attractive to men… when in fact, it doesn’t have much of an impact at all!
    If these women enjoy travel, by all means, they should continue to do so, but if they are advertising themselves this way online (and in person upon an initial meeting), it could be sending a message they don’t intend to convey.   Maybe the mid-late 30s women have also had more time to travel, and because of that, consider it to be a hobby/passion versus the woman who might have studied abroad in college and not done much more than that.
    Funny you mentioned running… I enjoy running 5Ks and the occasional longer race!

    1. 39.1

      I have never seen a man’s profile on a dating site but women tend to have a ton of interests I have four and they are not strong ones

    2. 39.2

      I think this may also be regional.   In the large metro areas I’ve lived in LA/Chicago/NYC BOTH men and women in their late 30s talk about how much they travel (and list it in their profiles)   So it may matter where you live and what demographic you are seeking.   In my group of male/female colleges no one was impressed that I have been to 15 countries, b/c most people had been to more.   My search of bumble profiles men and women list a lot of traveling destinations and pics.

  20. 40

    I remember some of my guy friends saying that they would see an attractive woman at a singles event and plan to go talk to her, until they see her return to where her girlfriends are sitting and exclaim loudly how all men are pigs and no one better attempt to approach her that night when she’s out with her faaaaaaabulous girlfriends! Maybe that was the alcohol talking, but I bet in a different setting, she’d complain about the fact that she never meets nice guys without realizing that a potential one was a minute away from trying to talk to her.”

    Well, okay …

    granted, I have a general policy of keeping opinions like that to myself when under even a little of the influence, if you will.

    But …

    I’ve sat at black-tie events all night and then heard the next morning (from, say, a friend’s husband) that there were four men standing in the corner that wanted to meet me, but none of them could get it together to come over and introduce themselves.

    So — how many minutes was he supposed to take?

    She may not have expressed it in the best manner at all — but I don’t blame her for feeling impatient if he “was a minute from coming over to talk to her” and stayed in that minute all night till she was tired and ready to go home.

    (And yes, I know, men are terrified of rejection, blah blah. I know, I know, I know.   Here’s the thing:   We are just as rejected if you all don’t come over and introduce yourselves.   I know you don’t know it, and you probably don’t care — but I say it because men talk like they are the only people in the world that deal with rejection.   Women do too.   It just has a different face on it.)

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