"Who's your daddy?" "Not you."
March 6, 2013 9:31 PM   Subscribe

I am only approached by men who are much older than me. I approach men my age, and it doesn't go so well. How do I stop this?

I am 30, female, and have never dated. I would like to, and though I am somewhat shy, I make myself approach and speak to men, because I know that if I don’t, I will only have myself to blame, and I will never get better at it. My problem is that men that I perceive to be my age are consistently uninterested in me, and the men who do show an interest in me consistently look much older than me – 12 years or older, which I feel is too old for me. Do they walk around with their IDs in hand? No, but they frequently are gray-haired/bearded and/or resemble my father in appearance. This has been happening to me since I graduated from high school with no changes, and I don’t know why it keeps happening or how to attract attention from men who are my age.

Acquaintances and people who do not know me well who are invited to guess my age always guess correctly, or within one or two years of my correct age. I do not dress in a way that invites ogling, and in particular I avoid close that show off my chest too much. Friends and coworkers regularly comment on my fashion sense. I am careful to attend age-appropriate events and will leave if a bar gives off an “old man” vibe. I think that I am attractive, cute, and have a lot to offer the right guy. I don’t think my self-esteem is bad, nor do I think I give off vibes that would draw certain men to me. I am not always, or even often, “on the prowl”.

Some examples of what I mean:

1. I meet a man (early to mid-60s) while between jobs and networking who offers to mentor me. His wife (decades-long marriage, struggling with cancer) is publishing a book and I am interested in entering that field, so for a few months he periodically emails me with jobs he views or ideas of people I ought to communicate with. One day, completely out of the blue, he ends one of his emails with “If you don’t mind me saying so, if I was only a little younger I’d love to take you out for a good time. I know you’ll meet a nice man soon,” etc. To this day I wrack my brain trying to figure out what it was that led him to say this to me. I’m sure that I would not have mentioned anything about dating or relationships to him as it would be wholly inappropriate and outside scope of our relationship. I reply that his statement made me uncomfortable and that his wife surely could use all of his affection during this difficult time. He apologizes and declares that he will never email me again, and he hasn’t.

2. I was alone at a concert. There were a lot of attractive, age-appropriate men at the show. I attempted to chat with a guy who appeared to be alone, but when I spoke to him (about the weather, being purposefully mundane) he stared right at me, turned around 180 degrees, and marched off in the opposite direction. Then, temperature dropped considerably that night, so instead of waiting outside for my ride, I ducked into a restaurant next door (yes, I did make a purchase). An old man who did not work at the restaurant (I checked) came right up to me, put his hand on my shoulder, and said “sweetheart, are you ok? It’s really cold out there.” I thanked him for his concern and said I was fine, moving to another part of the restaurant. He nevertheless followed me and asked if I needed a ride. I declined again and went outside to wait in the cold.

There are many more examples, but I'm trying to keep this short.

It started out as being rather funny and absurd, but the older I get, the more depressing it is. I have committed to Yahoo’s dating arm and then OkCupid each for a year, but quit both in frustration when the men that I messaged either did not respond or responded with chilling politeness (addressing me as ma’am despite their being the same age as me, answering any question that I might have posed with a minimum of words), and the men who did message me were – surprise! – in their 50s, despite my having clearly stated the age range that I was ok with.

I realize that I can’t make anyone do anything, but if there is anything that I can do to understand why this is happening and to stop getting attention like this from older men, I want to do it. Google has been unhelpful, as other sites either advise that I stop doing things that I'm already not doing (hanging out in old man bars, wearing suggestive clothing, chatting with older men, even innocuously) or to accept and flirt with these men and see where it takes me, which I'm not comfortable with.

Thank you.
posted by koucha to Human Relations (30 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
In my experience, when friends say "I don't know why XYZ Type Of Man only approaches me, waah!" its almost always because they are (subtly? subciously?) either smiling at them or looking at them or otherwise not ignoring them. Are you sure you aren't sending off signals of 'openness' to these men? (In your first example, you're 'giving the signal' just by proactively engaging him in a friendly way; most long-time married men do not have friendships with single women, and even one based on professional pretenses is likely to feel exciting or unusual and full of possiblity to the man.) If no one else is giving them that signal, ie if they are older than most other people in the room, then... they'll come to you.

(The guy in the second example didn't sound like he was hitting on you - he was either grandfatherly helpful or creepy, neither of which is flirtatious.)

Start being chillier to the men you're not interested in? Stop being less purposely mundane when you approach men you do like? (Mundane is not the right approach - do YOU want to date the men who seem boring and generic?)
posted by Kololo at 9:43 PM on March 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

I am old man bait too, except I also pass for 16 years old and every time a guy old enough to be my father or grandfather trolls on me, I...wonder about his preferences.

In my experience, certain old guys will troll on anyone if they are at least 20 years younger than they are. Anyone, they're not super picky and they seem to sniff out permasingle sorts like myself really well. I think they assume that we can't afford to be picky either. And then they tend to be pushy on top of that. About the only thing I can think of to do is to well, not have conversations with older men at all if you can avoid it. I hate to say it, but it really does seem like having any at all with a guy who isn't happily married (and in your case, not even then!) brings on the "she likes me!" in his brain. Guys are apparently more genetically predisposed to thinking that a girl likes them even if she isn't trying to be flirtatious or lead them on, and that is a pitfall I run into all the time despite my being as flirtatious as a rock.

As for why guys your own age won't go for you: I have no idea, other than like a lot of other dudes, they also want 20-somethings. Ugh.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:49 PM on March 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think it seems like you attract older men because older men tend to have fewer inhibitions - it's not you, it's them, and they probably behave the same way towards everything and anything, if that makes sense.

As for meeting men in your desired age range, how are you dating? Maybe try joining a club or activity (volunteering?) where there are more men than women? Ballroom dancing?

I don't think it's wise to try who you are (eg, don't stop smiling).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:55 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

This OK Cupid analysis of dating preferences and age may be relevant. Note especially how what men consider an acceptable age gap becomes wider and wider, but only with respect to younger women. Unfortunately, you've been in some much older men's acceptable age gap your entire adult life. So I'm not certain these few examples really suggest you're especially prone to getting hit on by older guys any more than other women would have been under similar circumstances (those guys, that environment, etc.). I would try to set that issue aside, not worry too much about your "vibe," and simply focus on how to meet guys you're interested in.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:56 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You mention clothes twice in a way that makes me think you have a conservative sense of style. It's amazing what changing one's look can do to be perceived differently by others. Perhaps you're not sending a "single and looking" vibe to others your own age. Try mixing up your different clothes and body language. In public, shyness is often misinterpreted as coldness.    

It sounds to me in those examples that the men honestly didn't mean anything by it, and were just trying to be nice. Except for the guy you approached at the concert, who is clearly a douchebag. Although if it's any consolation I unwittingly did something like that once; I realized that I had to make a phone call, walked away and felt like a shithead later.
posted by blazingunicorn at 10:01 PM on March 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

Honestly, this is a question that can't be answered without a picture of you. I am a 31-year-old man and from your description there's no particular reason I would find you uninteresting, but then, I've never seen you, so I can't say what it might be that is turning people off at a first impression.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:19 PM on March 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

Ugh, I wish I knew. Any time I go out in public alone, some dude 20 years my senior --always fresh from divorce court-- is suddenly surgically attached to my hip.

(And they never even buy me a drink. Dweebs.)

-Recent divorcees have been off the market for 10, 20 years. The last time they hit on a 30 year old woman at the bar, they themselves were 30, so it doesn't seem that weird to them. Hey, they're just picking up where they left off amirite! (blergh)

-I'm small and massively unthreatening, they figure I will neither verbally nor physically castrate them, and they are to be honest usually correct.

-They are too lame to score with women their own age, so they're trying to play the "surely she'll be bamboozled by my vast experience" card. More than once these dudes have been actively turned off to learn I'm in my 30s, since I sometimes look younger than that. Other times they are just mystified to see that I am not at all interested in hearing about their "wild years" at Oberlin in the 1970s.
posted by like_a_friend at 10:22 PM on March 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Just reading your question, you sound so serious and reserved, and it might be that you are dressing too primly that makes younger guys uninterested in you, rather than the other way around.
posted by empath at 10:37 PM on March 6, 2013 [25 favorites]

This happens to me, too. It's not your fault at all. My guess has been that it's their weird egos, their sexism, and their sense of entitlement.

I had a guy friend who worked as a pharmacy tech, and a parade of old guys would come leer at the pretty young pharmacist. These were old guys who paid full price for Viagra and asked my guy friend where the "hot Oriental girl" (the pharmacist) was when she wasn't on duty. My friend who is white is married to a woman of Chinese descent, so he was offended by these old guys too.

It's nothing you're doing. Some old guys are just like that. It has nothing to do with you.
posted by discopolo at 10:39 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you may be misreading the situation a little bit? I don't think you're doing anything that is specifically getting you an unusual amount of attention from older men. You're experiencing a pretty normal level of attention from older men. You're given very evocative and well-described examples of two common ways that assumptions and entitlement play out.

1) Every woman appreciates acknowledgement that she's desirable. It's a magic glowy blown kiss of fundamental affirmation that can be stored in a little pouch, purified from any confounding ethical context. 2) "Gentlemanly Behaviors! (Got a list, it's totally common-sense according to me, duh.) That's The Way For Men To Respect Women!" Uhh, paternalism? Like, um, ohhh...is that...bad?

I think the problem is that you're not getting enough attention from younger men to put things in perspective. Maybe you're having a run of bad luck, maybe you're misreading signals out of shyness, maybe you're taking things personally that are not about you (like that guy turning away from you), maybe you're trying too hard and it's transmitting as anxiety. Heck, maybe you're dashing the hopes of dozens of interested guys who are outside the typical parameters of "your type" because you don't even see them.

Whatever the reason, my armchair diagnosis is that you've got some self-fulfilling prophecy going on with guys your own age. Don't beat yourself up about this, it's totally common, most of us fall into it sometimes. The advice is to be who you are, comfortable in your own skin...easier said than done, I know, but "trying" is usually close enough.
posted by desuetude at 10:45 PM on March 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

I was thinking along the same lines as empath. It actually is slightly unusual to be 30 and never to have dated. NOT abnormal, just unusual. (Full disclosure: I'm nearly FORTY, and single, so I am in no way a dating guru myself!! Please don't be offended.)

So I'm inclined to think that this:

It's nothing you're doing. Some old guys are just like that. It has nothing to do with you.

from discopolo, is on the money as far as the older guys go. It happens to all of us. But it would probably stand out in your mind less, and assume less significance, if it was 'diluted' by experiences with guys your own age.

Think about tweaking your style and approach. No, you don't have to start dressing slutty or bar-hopping. Just take a fresh look at yourself, your wardrobe, your body language, your assumptions around men. Ask a friend to help, maybe. I've done it, and it helped a lot.

(On preview: looks like desuetude and I think alike ;)
posted by Salamander at 10:53 PM on March 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Another vote for a) join mixed groups doing the activities you enjoy and do more things to mix with men your age, and forget about bars or even relationships- just have fun with people who like to have fun like you; b) perhaps your choice of clothing somehow influences the interest in you, or lack, by one age group or another. Maybe you should 'invite some ogling' and 'go on the prowl'!

OTOH, if you had rebuffed the writer's husband but still stayed friends on your terms, you might have become comfortable to ask him about this predicament, even in a sit-com-y way. No reason you can't be friends with men & women of any age. (and really, what he said, coming from a man in his 60's with a dying wife, it sounds more wistful and lonely than a come-on.)

But I'm not clear on how you describe this age gap- right now you attract 45-50 somethings- 10 years ago were you attracting 35-40 somethings? or more gray-haired divorcees?

If you've been attracting men always 12-15 years older than yourself, and you say you never dated, consider this- a 30 year old guy hitting on an 18 year old would be way out of bounds; a 45 year old dating a woman age 32 might be a bit unusual; a 65 year old man married to a 52 year old woman is not that uncommon. Love is where you find it.

(written as a grey-haired divorcee)
posted by TDIpod at 10:54 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I agree with the poster above who said you seem serious and reserved. It's not a criticism- in fact, a lot of the time I am the same way. I also attract older and/or eccentric men. Maybe this is because these men have fewer boundaries? Maybe older men don't mind the commitment or intensity that a serious-looking woman seems to imply? maybe older men are a bit more confident, so they do not shy away from perceived coldness? (which is not really coldness, but reservation on your part).

As far as what younger guys are attracted to, it seems to me that girls who laugh a lot and make people feel at ease also attract younger guys. Younger guys tend to need a bit of encouragement and maybe ego-boosting to make a move.
posted by bearette at 11:05 PM on March 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

There's always going to be some men who are playing the numbers game, wherein they're not specifically expecting you to reply so much as to luck out in getting someone to respond. Don't waste your energy taking that personally. Also seconding that your experiences with older men sound about average (I say this as a fellow 30 yo female).

Honestly, try embracing the power of your own smile and sense of fun. Dating is already HARD for all those involved. I've a hunch that men will be much more receptive to you if they sense that you'll have a sense of gentle, flattering play regardless of the outcome --as opposed to likely to get seriously shot down pending incompatibility. It's not an easy skill, I admit, if your default mode is serious/reserved.

Another thing: when you approach appropriately-aged men, are you conscious to give off signals that indicate you find something fascinating about them? Guys don't seem so different than girls in that they like to feel interesting and fun to whoever's talking to them. Maybe try being less formal about the process and more spontaneous? Don't worry so much about the outcome as making a quick connection over something quirky, and let dating potential build from there?
posted by human ecologist at 11:53 PM on March 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think that you're attracting a type and not an age...

I am your age and my partner is a man who just turned 45... but he's not the type of "old guy" that you are describing or attracting- he is super sexy, smart, cute, dresses awesome, he works out every day, he's funny, he's introduced me to scuba diving... and he is just really super sweet to me... He's like a Daniel Craig 45...

the men you are describing sound a little bit stuffy and very un-cool, very un-Daniel Craig... it seems you are attracting the type of men who are looking for a serious minded lady that can appreciate the stability and responsibility that they feel they offer... or you are coming across as the type of woman who might find a stuffy and un-cool man attractive.

and I have a feeling, though I'm not sure why exactly, that you may come across to the younger guys as hard work... that maybe you very obviously have high standards so any man who just wants to get laid isn't bothering... (There are as many of those on dating sites as there are old dudes)

Finally, one factor could be that the guys that are your age (that you want to date) might be the kind that are still focusing on their careers and will start being a little more available in the next few years.

I think that you should worry less about wearing revealing clothes and go to meet-ups... and just smile all the goddamn time... (not really, but you know what I mean)
posted by misspony at 12:36 AM on March 7, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your explicit question is about stopping older men from approaching you, but it also seems clear that it's tied up with frustration over the lack of attention from younger men. Which is more important to you? Because some of what you're doing to fend off older men may also fend off younger men. You're shy to begin with. You mention dressing conservatively. Guys your own age address you as ma'am, and if this is a pattern then it has to be in response to some cue you're sending -- overly formal messaging, perhaps? You have every right to not engage with men over 38 if that's your preference, but the hoops you're jumping through in the hopes that you can prevent them from ever even saying hello sound really restrictive, and not much fun, and that alone may be a turn off for guys you'd actually like.
posted by jon1270 at 2:41 AM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

I do not dress in a way that invites ogling, and in particular I avoid close that show off my chest too much. Friends and coworkers regularly comment on my fashion sense.

This is me too, and this question made me think of something. A few years ago I was being given a tour of an 18th c. house by a guy from the SAR. He was maybe in his 60s, I don't remember exactly. It was summer and I was wearing an outfit I thought was cute and casual: a black cotton sundress, below the knee, with smocking around the bust and spaghetti straps, and a white cropped pointelle cardigan (open) with 3/4 sleeves. There was a period carriage or sled at the house, and dude asked if I wanted to sit in it. And then he said something jokingly about how I should be wearing period clothes to do so, and then he looked at me and said "Well you're not too far off as it is." He wasn't flirting with me, at all, the point is I thought I looked cute and summery, and he thought I looked like a proper lady from 1776.

I don't really get hit on much by older men, they just seem to acknowledge me as a woman and as a person more often than younger men do. I have a friend who gets older male attention a lot, and though we do not look alike we both have a certain "should have been born in another time" aspect to us. I wonder if you have that too. I've never experimented with this on purpose, but the last two times I did wear outfits that were sort of "too young" for me and cleavage-bearing* I got a heavy thing lifted for me and a discount on tires.

I'm not saying you need to be scantily clad all the time if that's not your style, just that something about your appearance might be inadvertently sending off a signal of prim or old-fashioned.

*I didn't even wear them on purpose, it was more like "Oops I would never have gone out in this if I'd known."
posted by DestinationUnknown at 4:13 AM on March 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

I completely agree with kololo and discopolo:

It could be partly about what you're doing. A lot of times (in my experience and in others') you're going for X type of man but all the men who are interested are Y types. I think it's because when you categorically rule someone out or don't think of them "that way" for whatever reason, you aren't as invested in the interaction and come across as more confident and carefree, which are pretty universally attractive qualities.

A lot of it could be about men that age. I work with a number of men that age and there does seem to be a pervasive sense of entitlement and complete cluelessness that they are no longer 28 and the world has actually changed since 1982, when they were.

And then there just is the reality that such age differences do exist/are acceptable in our society (especially between a 42 year-old and a 30 year-old, which I wouldn't bat an eye at) so even though I don't blame you for finding it creepy/undesirable to date a man 30 years your senior, it happens enough that *they* may think it's a legitimate possiblilty.
posted by loveyallaround at 4:53 AM on March 7, 2013

A lot of it could be about men that age. I work with a number of men that age and there does seem to be a pervasive sense of entitlement and complete cluelessness that they are no longer 28 and the world has actually changed since 1982, when they were.

As a 42-year old guy, I'm inclined to think that denial is more likely than mere cluelessness. It's pretty obvious to me that I'm not 28, but I'm not eager to embrace every consequence of that fact. Rather than entitlement, their judgement may be impaired by frustration.
posted by jon1270 at 5:12 AM on March 7, 2013

I have a not-at-all serious persona and older guys hit on me a ton. I joke that 40-something men are my base (in reference to electoral politics). Men with girlfriends hit on me quite a bit too. I'm sorry these men treated you inappropriately.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:23 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't really think the two are related: figuring out how to ward off old men won't help you pick up guys your own age.
I make myself approach and speak to men, because I know that if I don’t, I will only have myself to blame, and I will never get better at it. My problem is that men that I perceive to be my age are consistently uninterested in me


I attempted to chat with a guy who appeared to be alone, but when I spoke to him (about the weather, being purposefully mundane) he stared right at me, turned around 180 degrees, and marched off in the opposite direction.
Talking about the weather isn't a very good opener, that response seems kind of strange, but who knows what was going on with him.

I think the best thing to do would be to lead off with a complement. There's no reason at all to be mundane, since the point is you want to engage his curiosity, at the least. Men don't have random women coming up to them and complementing them very often.

Also, have you considered your makeup, style of dress, and for online dating how your photographs look? If you glam yourself up somewhat it should increase the amount of interest men have in you.
posted by delmoi at 6:28 AM on March 7, 2013

If you want to send me a picture of you in a typical outfit, I could tell you if I think it has anything to do with your look/style. I'm a woman.
posted by stoneandstar at 6:36 AM on March 7, 2013

by send I mean MeMail
posted by stoneandstar at 6:36 AM on March 7, 2013

I'm guessing you've always been pretty mature for your age (by this I mean mentally/emotionally, not physically). I was the same way. Because of social circumstances (groups I was involved in), from my teenage years onward, I spent the majority of my time with people who were older to much older than me. In my 20s, I had a hard time relating to guys who were my age and I think that's because there was a big maturity mismatch. I always felt like it was easier to talk to older people (men and women) because they didn't have the insecurity, self-consciousness and/or awkwardness that I, and other people my age had. As a result, I never really learned to relate to people in my age group until I hit my 30s. I wonder if that might be your issue. You don't look older, but you seem older (or, more mature) and might subconsciously be attracting people who are similar?
posted by young sister beacon at 7:03 AM on March 7, 2013 [3 favorites]

-I'm small and massively unthreatening, they figure I will neither verbally nor physically castrate them, and they are to be honest usually correct.

It sucks that this is true, but....this. I flat out asked a guy (17 years my senior, who himself eventually became very pushy and insistent that my casual friendship with him meant I had no right to turn down his sexual advances further down the line....he also wasn't the sharpest pencil in the box) why I was always fending off sexual advances from (physically unattractive, not so educated or successful in other areas that sometimes get you a 20 years younger girlfriend) men old enough to be my father in our shared social setting. He said, "It's because you're so safe!" Even though these were men who very often hadn't even managed to date a women their own age in years, they knew I was the rare, conventionally-attractive 20-something who actively tried to practice compassion, and would at least not "verbally castrate" them so why not ask?
posted by availablelight at 7:24 AM on March 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

I would suggest searching for previous posts where women are observing that or are lamenting that they are only attracted to older men and have little to no interest in men their own age. Extract the details concerning their demeanor, dress, world view, to name a few, and you might come up with a profile of why it seems to be working in reverse for you.
posted by teg4rvn at 7:52 AM on March 7, 2013

The issue is only why guys your age are not jibing with you, or why you have that perception. Older guys are paying attention to all kinds of younger women, that's not unique to you. Do you have male friends your age? They might be good ones to give you any insight, if there is any insight to be had, about why you are not clicking with men your age. Or you might find that this is just a perception skewed by certain events and not necessarily true.
posted by Dansaman at 7:53 AM on March 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not sure it's related to age so much as individual differences; I've got some years on you and have the opposite problem (my demographic appears to be sometimes scarily younger men). I probably do fall on the friendly/informal side and prefer non-conservative (not so much 'scanty' or trendy as form-fitting) clothing. Which makes me wonder, with others, if there could be something about your presentation, if you're shy, a bit serious/formal/reserved, or express deference to older people (and/or dress conservatively?). I can see this constellation attracting the kind of vaguely paternalistic attention described above. Maybe tell us the kind of thing you like to wear?

What kinds of events are you attending, and what are your interests? I see guys in the 25-35 age range in recreational sports leagues/clubs and gyms, at gigs or music- (vs pickup-) oriented clubs, pubs, and art and community events. (I guess I do think bar-hopping might help, if you were up for it.)
posted by nelljie at 8:09 AM on March 7, 2013

People are giving a lot of good advice here, and I agree with most (except those who suggest you should change yourself somehow). But I would like to suggest something that goes against your basic point. Why not date one of those older guys? I know some of them are creepy and hit on you out of a sense of entitlement (I'm a woman. Certain older men hit on every piece of live flesh in space). I'm not suggesting you date a creep. I'm suggesting you date an attractive older man. They exist. And dating is not marrying. While dating, you go ahead in the exact speed that fits you.
My personal taste is younger men, which has its own set of problems. But one of my best friends often dated older men when we were in our twenties and thirties. And she had a good reason: she is an unusual person. Young men often prefer the ordinary, for a number of reasons. Or they go for the wild sexy thing, something she was and is not. The older men gave her confidence she was fine, even if she was special. Today, her life partner is her own age, and a very attractive person. But because some older men are more generous and wise, they let her become even more wonderful than she was when we first became friends at 20. While my boyfriends and eventual husband were always doing the drama-thing.
At some point, I tried her advice, and in my view, she is totally right. dating elder men has helped me become a human being, dating other humans, which has made me more attractive in general.
posted by mumimor at 11:30 AM on March 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

I can't help you with the problem of being approached by older men, but good on you for taking matters into your own hands and approaching guys your age. As a guy your age, here's the thing: The approacher will get rejected. All the time. So much. Keep at it, it gets easier each time.
posted by benbenson at 3:27 PM on March 7, 2013

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