05/18/2007 11:24 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Seeking Love Online

The animal-loving, beach-walking Buddhist attorney stares at me with dreamy eyes from his dating website page. Studying my computer screen as if it were the Mona Lisa, I am drawn to his thicket of graying hair (a little wild around the ears), his comforting crows' feet, and his devilish smile. He is exactly my age: 55. He is here for the same reason I am: to meet someone with whom he can engage in intellectual exchange, discover life's secrets, make romantic inquiry. And maybe dance a mean horizontal cha-cha.

Tell me more, GrayCharmer15.

He wants a woman, his prose gushes, who is funny, politically progressive, loves the Giants, walking on the beach, and evenings in front of the fireplace. A woman who is as comfortable in jeans as she is in a cocktail dress. I am enthralled. This is ME! I breathlessly scroll down the page. What else does he want in a mate?

Education: Bachelor's degree or more (Check)
Smoking: Non-smoker (Check)
Drinking: Social (Check)
Age range: 28-40...

What? What the hell? He's 55 and wants to meet someone my daughter's age? Where's your enlightenment now, Buddhist Beachwalker? Did you sleep through the feminist revolution?

I'd suspect a misprint, but this has become a stunningly common reality for middle-aged women seeking love online: men my age want to date women younger than me. Sometimes a lot younger. I'm surprised I don't see more profiles listing kindergarten as the desired education level.

How common a reality? As a little experiment, I cruised three popular websites, looking for 55-year-old men who wanted to date a 55-year-old woman. I looked at ten profiles on each site, employing the time-trusted WITIH (Who I Think Is Hot) method, and here were the results:

* (for Jewish singles): Number of men who would date someone their age: 2.
* (the Wal-Mart of dating sites): Number of men who would date someone their
age: 3
* (ostensibly for edgier singles who read books and other cerebral pursuits):
Number of men who would date someone their age: 3.
*Number of men among the 30 on all three sites who would date someone a year or two
older: 2.

Was I surprised? Not at all. Trolling the 'Net has become, at my age, humiliating and aggravating - and the main reason I rarely do it anymore. Same with my friends, and I have some dazzling friends. "What's the matter with these dudes?" puzzled my friend W, a 50-year-old former model and author. "Are they so threatened by feminism? By someone who's their equal and not a worshipful child?"

I was also flummoxed. In my early years of writing a column about single life for the San Francisco Chronicle, I got an inbox-full of email from middle-aged women complaining that they had become invisible to the opposite sex. At the time, I found it hard to believe that this was true. Then again, I had not yet turned 50. But when that happened, things shifted dramatically - and I went from fending off unwanted advances to feeling like a potted plant. Had I suddenly become a troll? A slobbering basket case? A Republican? No, if anything I was getting more fabulous every year. It made no sense.

I decided I needed to ask some guy friends about this. Whether Boomer men were perhaps scarred or intimidated by same-age feminists, whether their psyches become fragile at middle-age, forcing them to seek out form over substance. Whether they might just be... well... lame and insecure.

"They are lame and insecure," affirmed one male friend, a famous journalist who shall remain nameless so he won't be drummed out of the boys' club. "They know women your age - especially feminists - have developed a wisdom and savvy that are threatening. They know they won't be able to get away with anything, and that's unappealing."

Is he saying younger women are simpletons and that's appealing? Things are worse than I thought.

Another guy friend noted that men like to be influential in relationships; they like to "teach a woman things." He frowned when I asked if one of those things was the multiplication tables. "Why don't you just date someone older?" he demanded. "The same rule of nature applies to a man who's 70; to him you're a spring chicken and that's hot!"

I shook my head. To do so would A) make me complicit in this unfair romantic conspiracy, and B) make me a caretaker, not an equal. (And I'm too young and vital to be going on dates to restaurants that offer Early Bird Specials to seniors, thank you just the same.)

It's really just this simple: I want to date someone my age because I value equality, stimulation and challenge. Men my age want to date younger because they don't.

End result: I don't date much.

"How about this?" suggested W. "We forget about men our age, and go on one of those 'cougar' websites for women who like to cradle-rob - and find us some young stallions? Boys that will admire us and look up to us and be intellectually undemanding... yet tireless in bed?"

Somehow, I told her, I don't think that fixes the problem or salves the wound. And yet, perhaps at this moment and in my weakened state, a Band-Aid is all that's really required. A Band-Aid named Chad with washboard abs who surfs and presses espresso at the local café. Perhaps I'd be doing my feminist duty to plunder the ranks of impressionable thirty-somethings for lovers, in the interest of training a few. Perhaps I could even ensure that the next generation of middle-aged men will see women as their equals. Maybe even superiors!

This, I would do for feminism. I am always fighting the good fight.