At 32, I didn't think I was old enough for my age to be a sensitive topic. But apparently, it's the tipping point. This is the first year that men my age have begun to think I'm too old for them.
The rise of dating apps, with their made-to-measure filters for every human stat, has turned romance into a numbers game.
If only our hearts were better at math.
I can't figure out what age I should be dating for the equation to work out.
This isn't a biological imperative. The men I've met who seek out much younger women are trying to put off procreation, or any activity that demands responsibility, for as long as possible.
Before the apps, age was mismatched by accident. I was 23 when I started dating a lawyer I'd met at a bar. I sensed he was older, but it didn't feel it polite to ask until a few dates in, when he mentioned his forthcoming birthday.
"You don't know?" he groaned, "35."
I hid my surprise. It sounded so old then! (Now it sounds perfect.) I told myself the 12-year gap didn't matter, since we'd hit it off without knowing.
But I wondered if he liked me because I was mature for my age or because I wasn't. I was impressed by him, but would I be so impressed if I were his age?
Plus, he complained about his "emotionally unstable" ex he used to live with, and even at 23, the Jane Eyre vibes were too much for me.
I'd very recently been an English major.
I broke up with him shortly after.
The problem is, women are too old for men their age as soon as we become interested in them. When I was 16, I was definitely too old, emotionally speaking, for my 16-year-old boyfriend.
This only marginally improved through my 20s.
I was hoping my 30s would be when men and women were finally in sync.
I must have blinked and missed it.
Now I'm 32 and too old for 40-year-old men.
Like the 40-year-old I met on Bumble. His profile said he was 38, but he told me his true age in person, assuring me the discrepancy was because having your real birthday online puts you at risk for identity theft.
The only identity thief I saw was him, stealing the identity of a man born in the '80s.
I didn't mind, until he let slip that I was at the upper end of his age range!
He tried to explain why he didn't date women in their 30s but how I was different.
It went about as well as you're imagining.
To dig himself out of the hole, he ended with, "You look a lot younger."
"I am a lot younger — than you!"
I felt newly self-conscious of myself and skeptical of him. What is it about me, or a woman a few years older, that he fears will be too much? What hard-earned wisdom is he hoping I don't know?
I told this story to some friends, and one of my dearest guy-friends confessed he has his Bumble age settings capped at 27, five years younger than he is.
"So, no judgment, but why?" I asked. "What is it about a girl your age that's too old for you?"
"Nothing, but I just got out of a relationship. I can't deal with real feelings right now."
But … 27-year-olds have real feelings!
Women of all ages do! So do men!
Still, I knew what he meant — he wasn't ready for a serious match. And that's OK; we've all been there. But men and women should feel able to discuss expectations up front, instead of trying to assume things based entirely on age.
Not that those discussions are easy.
The last guy I dated was 39, and I was excited about him. From the beginning, he was unafraid of delving into deep conversations. He spoke about himself with candor and insight and asked me personal questions. I felt challenged but intrigued. This is maturity, I thought.
We'd been seeing each other for only a few months when he brought up that he wasn't certain he wanted to get married any time soon. I reassured him that we didn't need to get ahead of ourselves — we could just enjoy getting to know each other.
"But, Francesca…" His brows tilted with concern. "You don't have two years to lose."
I had to laugh. "Don't worry, I have plenty of time before my expiration date. But if you're asking permission to waste my time, I don't want you waste my weekend."
And I didn't let him. I broke up with him a day later.
But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. Not because I was gunning to marry the guy, but because I thought we had connected. As humans, not numbers.
I suppose I should take it as a compliment.
He thought I was too young for feelings.