Can I Make It Happen at 40?
August 24, 2010 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I am a newly single 40 year-old woman who’d like to be in a stable relationship and to start a family. I’m afraid that the man I’m looking for does not exist.

I am a 40 year-old woman with an advanced degree and a newish business that is on its way to succeeding but is definitely still in the early days, so while I know I’m on the right path, I’m still not making a lot of money. I am divorced - was with my ex-husband for about a decade, but we’ve now been apart almost as long as we were together. In the years since, I finished up an advanced degree and moved several times as I completed various steps on the path to reaching the end of my career. I’m now settled in one place geographically, and what I’d like more than anything is to be in a stable relationship and starting a family. My most recent relationship lasted two years, but ended a few months ago.

I am a good catch. I’m cute and look much younger than I am. I’m often told my energy seems more like a much younger person. I have good self-esteem and know that I am a lovable person. I’m willing to give a lot in a relationship. In short, my point is that this is not a question about, “Can someone love me?” The question is more, “Are there men in this world who are age-appropriate for me who still want children?” I have started to feel like they don’t exist. I meet so many men who are 30-45 who still aren’t sure they are ready for children, and I guess that’s their right since they can continue to have children much later than women. It seems like the men who want children have them and at much younger ages.

I guess I’m looking for hope, and if there is none, wondering where I go from here. I’m posting this question in hopes that a nice discussion will ensure, and I will see new angles that I had not thought of before. Meeting people is not hard for me, but I feel that the man of my (current) dreams, does not exist.

Is it my fears and bad experiences that make me think that the only men available are terrified of commitment? Or there some basis in fact here? It feels so real to me.

More detailed responses can be sent to this temporary email address.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (35 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Hey, if Ashton Kutcher can have a successful marriage to Demi Moore, anything's possible. I do believe that the kind of man you are looking for does exist. Finding the right person could be difficult, but I see no reason to think that it is impossible. Aside from the celebrity example that I have given, I also have a cousin who married a 40 year old woman (an ex-nun, and a very charming and lovely person) and they have a son now, so it all happened essentially as you would have wanted for yourself.
posted by grizzled at 10:10 AM on August 24, 2010

Is raising children by yourself not an option? I'm starting to feel the pressure of the biological clock myself, and I've decided that if I haven't met anyone in the next three years I will just go ahead and do it myself. There's no time limit on finding the man, but the uterus and ovaries have an expiration date.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:14 AM on August 24, 2010 [11 favorites]

why stick only to your age or younger?

many slightly older men (45-60) are very much interested in starting a second family (some sadly consider them their 'do over' opportunity since they mucked up the first time), or a first, even, if they were that 35 year old who couldn't imagine getting hitched. consider aging up to a man who has aged just as gracefully as you, who looks at you not as a "young for age" but a verifiable young hottie. there are lots of 'older' men out there with fantastic stamina and zest for life!
posted by curiositykilledthelemur at 10:24 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do they have to be YOUR biological offspring? Many otherwise great divorcees come with young kids as part of the package, and you might find that the bio mom is not in the mothering role anymore, so you could be a mom in every sense but the genetic one. It's something to stay open to as you date.
posted by slow graffiti at 10:24 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

My husband was 49 when we had our kid -- he had never wanted kids before, but slowly came around to the idea. And he's a great dad. Does that help?
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think there are men out there who still want kids in their 40s. If it helps to hear anecdotal evidence, my male friend (in his early 40s) always wanted kids and a family, but hadn't met the right woman. He ended up falling in love with a woman of the same age and they recently had a baby.

The father of another friend of mine was 45 when he got married for the first time. His wife was 35 and they ended up having 2 kids.

My point is that there are men out there in their 40s who still want to have kids.

I know meeting people you actually like can be rough. How about having a baby on your own? There are men out there who won't mind having a read-made family.
posted by parakeetdog at 10:29 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've noticed the same thing you are noticing, and so have my single female friends my age. The biological-clock part of the issue can be solved, but each solution comes with significant problems. For me, I've decided that having children or being child-free each have their own advantages and disadvantages, and that I should concentrate on the advantages of being child-free.
posted by Houstonian at 10:35 AM on August 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

I think you will still find available men who want children. My next door neighbor got married around 40 (his first, her second) and had a child shortly thereafter.

However, if marriage doesn't seem to be in the cards: A good friend of mine was in her mid-30s when she realized she badly wanted children but was not necessarily interested in getting married and did not see any man on the horizon to whom she particularly wished to BE married.

She became a foster parent for children who badly needed homes and loving parents and is an absolutely kick-ass mom, hoping to keep the two children that she has fostered. (Their parental rights have to be terminated and so forth, which is a long process.) In one of those Murphy's Law twists, she met the man she is going to marry this October only AFTER she'd been a foster parent for two or three years. They fell in love while she was single parenting, with no problems, the kids love him, and he wants to have a family with her, whether that's the kids they already have, more kids they take in, or more kids they create the old-fashioned way.

(And of course if fostering/adoption isn't for you, insemination is also an option.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:35 AM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

I'm in your shoes: 40, single, childless ... and hoping that changes at some point.

One of the things that helps me with the maternal urge is volunteering. I read weekly to children at a homeless shelter and it is by far the most rewarding thing I do all week. And sometimes, when the kids are especially rowdy, I find myself grateful to return to the peace and quiet of my home.

As for men your age and older looking to start a family, I've met many. Someone mentioned upthread that for many of these guys, it's their "do-over" but for others who, like you, spent their early years chasing education and careers, and are only now ready to start a family.

Are you online? You really should be online. This way you can narrow your search to men who also want families. I don't have a recommendation for any sites because I think they're all hit or miss ... but don't give up. I read somewhere recently that part of finding your life partner is to really believe he/she is out there. Good luck.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:37 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't tell you how to find them, but I know they exist. I have some colleagues, 40-45ish, who would love to start a family. They have the same fears, too: that women that they meet would have already started families if that's what they had wanted. But like you, they've found themselves in relationships that didn't yield a family for whatever reason, and also like you, they aren't ready to give up on the idea yet! My dad was one. He was 44 when I was born. My parents were each previously married and divorced before having me. You can definitely make this happen. Sounds like you have a good attitude about yourself, and that's always the best place to start :)
posted by Joannalaine at 10:43 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm 46, single, dating AND want a child or two... so we ARE out there ;)
posted by strongdad at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Absolutely. There are plently of good men out there looking for the same thing as you.

I know many people who connected at a similar age and are starting families. The bigger question is how to meet someone. It's a cliche', but there is truth to the saying "it will find you when you least expect it."
posted by smelvis at 10:44 AM on August 24, 2010

A lot of women in the 39-40 range who do online dating put this right at the top of their profiles and I think that's probably a good idea; even though I'm sure it tanks the number of contacts you get from guys at least the guys who do contact you know what you're looking for. A woman very similar to you contacted me on OKC at one point; she was gorgeous, super educated, an executive at a non-profit with an awesome mission, etc., so I was sort of bummed but also I guess glad that she had the kid piece right up front when I looked at her profile so I could at least let her know that unfortunately I'm not the dude she's looking for and I didn't want to waste her time. We have an awesome conversation about a certain neighborhood in North Philly we both spent time working in and wished each other luck. I remember seeing quite a few profiles like hers, whether or not they are having any success meeting anyone to start a family with, I have no idea, but with the time factor being tight it seemed like a reasonable way to go about it to me.
posted by The Straightener at 10:48 AM on August 24, 2010

Anything is possible.

Is it my fears and bad experiences that make me think that the only men available are terrified of commitment?

Keep in mind that the only ones you're meeting and having these conversations with are the ones you are choosing to meet and have these conversations with. You may just be choosing guys that fit the bill in all other aspects except this one.

In other words, broaden your horizons. I can count several friends that claimed an inability to meet good people, then got out of their comfort zone and BANG met someone instantly.

Also ...

I meet so many men who are 30-45 who still aren’t sure they are ready for children...

When and how are you having this conversation? When the kids question gets posed too early, the "I'm not ready" excuse gets used as a graceful exit from an uncomfortable conversation. They may be ready. They might not be ready to talk about it. With you. At this time. etc, etc.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:51 AM on August 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

Please don't just stick to your age or younger. I met my partner (online) when I was in my late 30s and he was in his early 40s, and within 5 minutes I could tell he was more together and comfortable in his own skin than anyone I'd ever met before -- which, he told me recently, had actually been a function of turning 40. I've also known plenty of other guys who didn't get their shit together and decide to settle down/have kids till their 40s as well.

Also, here is my obligatory recommendation of How to Be an Adult in Relationships, which I think can be just as valuable when you're single as when you're actually in a relationship.
posted by scody at 10:54 AM on August 24, 2010

As a data point, I am the man you are looking for (40, single, wants kids), so I know we are out there.
posted by JJtheJetPlane at 10:55 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would think it would help to live in a large city—a larger dating pool is a larger dating pool. I presume you do.

And the answer to your question is: OF COURSE. What are you even talking about??? Do you not have friends your age who are also dating? Go read the LRB personals, at least. There's people of all ages and interests that would like to mate, all over this world. They're all around you!

Though I'm not a woman, I'm barely a couple years younger than you and in your same work situation and I recently got engaged. A close age match was never of interest to me, which expanded my dating horizons; your mileage may vary.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:59 AM on August 24, 2010

They are out there. The question is (assuming you want biological children), will you be able to find one and form a meaningful relationship before your biological clock runs out? If biological children are your goal, I highly recommend that you see a fertility specialist to undergo testing to try to get a better idea of what kind of time you have left.

And as elsitheeel said, consider that you don't necessarily have to do everything in the "right" order. You could always have a kid on your own and meet the guy later.
posted by amro at 11:05 AM on August 24, 2010

If your question is, are there single men, 35-40 who want to settle down and have a family of biological children. Of course there are.

In fact you knew that already. But you are easily frustrated. I would also suspect you aren't as aggressive as you could be and might be waiting around for guys to make the "first move." Every study I see says that the woman usually makes a first gesture showing she is interested and available, even if she herself is not aware of it. See if you are putting yourself out there enough.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:05 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

More anecdata: My father was 41 when he married my mother (who was a good bit younger than him). It was a first marriage for both my mom and my dad. He had kids at 45, 47 (that was me!), and 51, and was an absolutely terrific father. Backing up what scody said, I believe that he was a better dad because he was a bit older. See ... a lot of guys get married before they really know who they are as individuals. Then they have kids before they know who they are as a husband. So they're trying to figure all of that out at once. My dad was already a tenured professor before he even met my mom, so that was all taken care of.

(I don't believe people are always better off getting married when they're older ... my wife and I were young when we got married, and it's been exciting getting to grow up together. But I don't think that being older automatically puts you into some B-level class of spouse/parent material.)
posted by Alt F4 at 11:13 AM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

FYI: the temp e-mail you listed seems to not be accepting messages. May want to fix that and have a mod change the note if possible...
posted by Pufferish at 11:19 AM on August 24, 2010

Those men are out there, but it probably is true that they are rarer as a percentage of the population. You are probably going to have to do some "market research" and find out where these men go, or are being told to go, to find women like yourself. And then go wherever that is, and bite the bullet and go on a ton of coffee-type dates.
posted by gjc at 11:42 AM on August 24, 2010

Here's one possibility: look for men in The Arts. I bring this up, because though I know (from pop culture) that they syndrome you're talking about exists, it's the polar opposite of my experience. Most of my 40-something friends (including the guys) are just now having kids.

I was trying to figure out why this was and I realized it's because my friends are mostly actors and directors. Which means they got out of college in their mid-to-late 20s and immediately chose CAREER over family.

At which point we get to a fork in the road: either they "made it" and, finally, by their late 30s felt financially stable enough to have children; or they didn't make it and, by their late 30s, they got burnt out and left The Arts -- and started having kids.

There are probably other industries like this -- ones in which people feel pressure or excitement to put off childbearing; ones in which people are finally setting into something as the approach 40.
posted by grumblebee at 11:44 AM on August 24, 2010 [2 favorites]

Is it my fears and bad experiences that make me think that the only men available are terrified of commitment?

As a single man in your age group who craves commitment, I can only assure you that "terrified of commitment" and "doesn't want children" are two wholly different things.

So yes, it's your fears and bad experiences.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:00 PM on August 24, 2010

There are 3 billion men in the world...therefore, the answer to are there men who (fill in blank)? is almost always yes...

Just a data point: Strom Thurmond fathered a kid at 74. He was in his 90s when said kid graduated from high school.

Oh and this is the featured wedding in the NY Times this week.

So yes, there are men in their forties, fifties, sixties, and even seventies(go strom) who want to have kids.
posted by bananafish at 12:04 PM on August 24, 2010

grumblebee's got it. I just married someone who prioritized career over family for 20s and 30s; we met, married and had a baby when he was 42-43. they're out there.
posted by pipti at 12:41 PM on August 24, 2010

I'm a single fortysomething woman - unlike you, not looking for children - and I can testify that there are men out there. They're often a better caliber of man, too (not by any means "leftovers!") because they'v gotten all that 20something immaturity out of their heads and graduated from the school of hard knocks. (not all but most) You will, however, have to cast a wider net - through online dating, asking every friend you know if they know someone, and not being too picky when it comes to race, height, high earnings, or the presence of future stepkids.

One small point about older men - they can be fantastic, but you want to be sure they are on the same page of life as you are. I've just started a business which I love and hope to nurture and work at until I drop. Sitting on the porch sipping lemonade, or God forbid, playing golf, is not my idea of a good time. If your career is still going great guns at 55 and he wants to retire, what will you do then? Certainly there are compromises and non-negotiables with all age groups, but this is the most common one I've seen in couples where the man is more than 10 years older. OTOH I've known some exceptionally happy male-older couples who are compatible life-stage-wise. YMMV.

Also, DO NOT rush into a marriage simply because you MUST REPRODUCE NOW! and he's "good father material." If you must have a baby as a single mom, it's very do-able, especially as a well-educated single mom. If your window of fertility is running out, having the baby first and then looking for the husband is just fine. (Just be sure you are prepared for all that single motherhood entails.)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:57 PM on August 24, 2010

I hated this book but it seems like you are the target audience and it might have some good strategies for you to try.
posted by bq at 1:41 PM on August 24, 2010

Remember the old high school football cheer, "Be aggressive, be be aggressive"? That, a million times. Alot of us guys this age (me, 39) who find ourselves "in the game" again are really pretty tired of it, and maybe tired of the rules a little bit and slightly fearful of rejection to the point where apathy about the whole thing sets in and we get stuck in a little bit of negative inertia, and being asked out and not having to lead the way and do too much thinking is really an attractive prospect.
posted by vito90 at 2:16 PM on August 24, 2010

I'm sure there are men in their late 30s and up who are single and want to have children. But if I were a man who was really serious about wanting children, my ideal mate would probably not be 40 years old, unless she'd had children before, because of the fairly high risk that a 40-year-old woman who's never had children will have problems bringing a child to term.
posted by palliser at 2:32 PM on August 24, 2010

[updated contact email address, carry on]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:43 PM on August 24, 2010

hi there, you're me! well, sorta, more like me two years ago, with the caveat that I hadn't really thought about kids, didn't think I wanted them. About 2 months after I turned 40, I wound up being single (again) and figuring I'd be That Crazy Catlady. I felt like I was over the whole Relationship Thing for awhile and pretty much prepared myself to be out on my own.

Reader, beyond all hope and logic, I am now engaged to be married next June. And I am that weird girl up the block who played with GI Joes and climbed trees, so yea... the whole wedding planning thing is sort of happening by osmosis.

I'm with the others: you need to broaden your net and stop thinking about a specific set of guidelines or whatever. There are tons of great guys out there who don't tick all the boxes on our checklists, but who will, ultimately turn out to be spectacular life partners. You just have to be a) open to the idea and b) willing to go get them.

What worked for me was to be actively social, and socially active. If this is not you, then by all means, get with the online dating thing. I tried that but I'm more of a hands-on type. My fiance is someone who happened to have known me for several years on my cycling team. I don't think we had ever even exchanged 3 words prior to me becoming single, and then him working up the nerve to ask me out. What this means? Eligible dudes are ALL AROUND YOU. Usually in the last place you'd ever suspect!

Granted, we may or may not be capable of (personally, I mean) having kids owing to my age, but we're also agreed that it's not the end of the world. He very much wants at least one sproglet, and if it turns out I can't for whatever reason, then we'll adopt, foster, or investigate other solutions. I mean, one couple I know is having fertility problems in their late 20s, so... yea, statistically it's more difficult later on in life, but ANY couple can stumble over this. Again, like the others are saying - first of all, why wait? and second of all - there are always other options. Hell I recall recently reading something about a pair (who are like, grandparent age) adopting a new baby in their late 50s.

So... yeah. All that there is to say that: There is Plenty Hope. Anyway, life's too short to limit yourself to some predetermined path that (western, middle class) society tells us is the Right Way to Do Things.

Good luck and absolutely don't limit your age pool to just that small subset. I have dated plenty of men in the 40-55 age group, and whether they come with kids from a prior marriage or not, the good ones really do have a lot to bring to the table. Not to over-simplify or anything, but as a rule they tend to be more stable, better housebroken, and have greater self-sufficiency, coping skills and fortitude. Don't let the odd outlier who's let himself become embittered by a bad divorce or is going through some mad midlife crisis fool you. Those are outliers, not the norm. They only seem like the norm because they make good media stories and sitcom plots.

Finally, you also shouldn't rule out a great match (someone you really, truly do click with) for some completely random $RULES violation (again, go easy with the checklisting). I originally brushed off my fiance's advances because he was 29 when we started dating, and I was convinced that the whole idea was just too weird, and that he was simply engaging in a little post grad school cougar-hunting. I was completely and utterly wrong about that, and I'm glad I gave him a chance, and grateful that he was stubborn about it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:27 PM on August 24, 2010 [5 favorites]

You need to do a different kind of dating at age 40, looking to settle down and start a family, than you did when you were younger and found the ex. It is a numbers game. You are finding men that are not ready to settle down because you are going about dating in the wrong pool. If you're looking for gourmet pasta, you shouldn't be shopping in the local corner grocery store that only has kraft mac & cheese.

Are you social? You need to get social. Join clubs. Go to meetups. If you're active in a church, volunteer for everything. Volunteer, period. Online dating if you can hack it, mostly because you can be VERY specific in your profile, and I don't think it's too early to say "I want to settle down and have a family, serious-minded only."

You'll quickly adjust your criteria, or expand it, if you are out and meeting people. But you have to give yourself a fighting chance to meet someone who's suitable.
posted by micawber at 6:14 PM on August 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

you say" It seems like the men who want children have them and at much younger ages."

Are you ruling out these men that had children at younger ages and are now single? Would you be willing to be with a man and have step children in addition to biological children? I find that men who already have children can be a lot more open to the idea of having more children in teh context of a new relationship than men who do not have children at all.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:14 AM on August 25, 2010

I hated this book but it seems like you are the target audience and it might have some good strategies for you to try.

I would actually advise against reading that book if you haven't already. It'll further heighten the sense of scarcity but using statistics. Also, the author labels men "a 7," "an 8," etc. (on a 1-10 scale) based on superficial and status-oriented reasons.
posted by salvia at 5:28 PM on August 25, 2010

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