It’s September 13th, which means I’m forty-and-a-half. This is a little worrying, both professionally and personally. Professionally because I’d hoped to turn this site into something more over the course of my 40th year – an online magazine at least, a book deal at most – and I only have six months left. I’d better get my thinking cap on, or maybe my doing cap.
And personally because I’m six months off 41 and, while I think I coped with turning 40 quite well – embracing the liberating side of it – I’m not sure I’ll feel the same about moving up another year. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against the ageing process per se. I like how I grow and change over the years, particularly on the inside. And while sometimes I’d rather the lines around my eyes or mouth weren’t so pronounced, I can appreciate they’re the marks of 40 years of smiles, laughter, frowns and tears.
I guess the main problem with advancing through my 40th decade is the baby dilemma (which I’ve written about in previous posts: The baby conundrum and The baby gap). Of course, it might be too late to have my own child already. It might have been too late at 35. Who knows? But for any woman who still holds out hope of giving birth, I imagine that every birthday beyond 40 takes away a little bit of hope.
And while I like to think an active lifestyle, a good diet and a healthy BMI will help preserve my fertility, it’s clear that’s not the case. This New York Times article Are You as Fertile as You Look? spells it out for us all. “Forty may be the new 30,” it says, “but try telling that to your ovaries”. Glossy hair, a great complexion and regular menstruation may suggest good fertility but, according to the article, most doctors agree that by the time a woman is 40, her chances of getting pregnant each month are about 5 percent. Yes, that’s 5 percent. And what if you’re 40 and you’re hair isn’t glossy, your complexion isn’t great and your menstruation is all over the place? Where does that leave us?
Which brings me back to the title of this post. How does a woman in her late 30s or early 40s who thinks she’d like children approach dating in a sensible fashion? In the good old days, say pre-35, I don’t think I had on my baby goggles (a variation on beer goggles for anyone who was wondering) every time I came across a potential boyfriend. It was much simpler. Did I fancy him? Did we get on? Did we have a laugh together? I can’t remember sitting down at any point in the first few weeks and asking if he wanted kids. But for any woman in her late 30s or early 40s who’d like to at least try for a baby, it seems we have to cut to the chase. But then doesn’t it all get too serious too quick? Do we end up ruling out perfectly decent guys just because they’re reluctant fathers. And what if we discover we’re infertile anyway?
As you can see, the dilemmas are numerous, which is why I’d really appreciate a little help on this one – from men and women. I’d love to hear your comments. Is it ridiculous to talk about parenthood at this age on a first or second date or is it highly sensible? How do you relax about the whole baby thing and date as though you weren’t aware of your ageing internal organs? Do you decide a great partner is more important than trying for a baby? Or do you take a gamble and assume that any man who truly fell in love with you would want you to have his babies, despite earlier protestations? I think I know the dangers of that last one – going in to something expecting someone to change is generally a recipe for disaster! I know from previous posts that this will also strike a chord for would-be mothers who are in long-term relationships with reluctant fathers and are wondering whether to stay or whether to go.
And what do men think about all this? How do they cope with women who can’t take their baby goggles off? And do they have their own baby goggles on? It seems that many do. If you check out internet dating sites, many men in their late 30s and early 40s won’t consider women their own age. They generally only want to look at the age category beneath them. For some it’ll be because they simply prefer a younger woman but others, no doubt, will want to date someone with more childbearing years to spare.
Of course, as a 40-year-old single woman, I know what I’m supposed to do and I’ve written about it before on this site. I’m supposed to trust that if it’s meant to be, it’ll be. I’m supposed to put it all – both a relationship and motherhood or a childfree future – in God’s hands and not fret. But I have enough experience – through friends, people I’ve interviewed and through what I’ve read – of how painful the whole process can be to know ‘letting go and letting God’ won’t be easy in this area. And just because I trust, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t make sensible choices. One thing I do know is that I really don’t want to put my body through years of prodding, poking and injecting to try to conceive. Melissa Foss, the 41-year-old who spoke to the New York Times, had 15 unsuccessful rounds of IVF. That’s 15 rounds of emotional and physical pain. But nor can I say I wouldn’t try the IVF route if it came to that.
At this point, I should also pause and reflect about whether I really do want children. Is my body telling me that’s what comes next or is it my mind, shaped by everything I see around me? I’m not sure I know the answer but it might be time for some serious thinking.
But even if you take the baby thing out of the equation, there are plenty of other dilemmas that come with dating at this age. I should probably resist the temptation of writing about them all at once, though, so I’ll be back with more thoughts in coming days on relationships, particularly on commitment and commitmentphobia, on the perils of too much independence and on healing from past hurts.
Before I go though, I did a Google search before I began this post on ‘dating at forty’ and I can’t say I liked what I found. I came across a few dating sites for over forties and words like ‘middle-aged’ and ‘mature’ seem to appear rather frequently. I guess I can accept I’m just about ‘middle-aged’ although that phrase still makes me grimace a little. But mature? I’m not sure I’d go that far! Although I’m working on it.