I recently went to a professional matchmaker in New York City who set me up with a man who'd had a facelift and stared approvingly at himself in the mirror behind the bar the entire evening. When he wasn't self-admiring or sniffling or licking his lips wildly, he was in the loo. Maybe he just had a bad cold and was poorly self-medicated.
I was also introduced to a 51-year-old Michael Bolton clone with a mild, but noticeable, speech impediment who lives in another city where he writes scientific textbooks for a living.
Call it female intuition, but somehow I knew I wasn't going to be walking down the aisle with either of these men.
When I reported back to the agency to see if there was perhaps a more suitable match, the male owner -- a self-professed metrosexual -- informed me that my age (34) is a "hard sell" because most of his clients -- primarily men over 35 -- pay a chunk of change to meet smart, successful, attractive and -- drumroll -- younger women.
"But I look 25! But someone with decent eyesight once said I look like Angelina Jolie's lovechild! How can this be?" I cried.
"It's biology," he said bluntly. "Everyone knows women have fewer eggs as they age."
While this biological factoid is no newsflash, I bit my tongue as he continued on: "We only hear about the one woman over forty who had the baby, not about the millions who couldn't."
I didn't even realize that men wanted children so badly. What was this, a procreation agency?
Or was this just a jerk being a jerk?
Of course I'm not in denial about the realities of a woman's fertility after a certain age. Society constantly reminds us of our biological clocks. We've all heard that a third of women have fertility problems after the age of 35.
But I still don't think that having only a handful of months left before I reach what Mr. Matchmaker delightfully calls the "turning point age" for women is reason enough for me to shack up with facelift guy (and thanks to that little catch phrase, I now feel like my female organs will spontaneously combust on my next birthday).
Needless to say, it was not a heartwarming experience to have the male owner of this agency talk to me about my eggs. After we hung up, I cried for an hour like the sensitive fool that I am. I'm never going to have babies! I'm DeadEggs! I sobbed into my pillow like it was the end of the world.
As if he of all people had the final say on that matter. After all, this was a man I'd only met once when I was invited into the agency's chic offices, where I was briefly inspected by him, his staff and the office pet, a large poodle that repeatedly lunged at my crotch as I awkwardly tried to express what I was looking for in a man. I dished out my checklist (why not ask for the moon?) and left the agency feeling buoyant and happy to have passed on the responsibility of matchmaking to a professional after many half-hearted attempts by myself.
Of course, I had my reservations. I couldn't help but wonder -- if these men are paying for dates, what's wrong with them? But online dating -- although definitely a source of amusement -- strains my eyes and the bar scene is, well, vaguely soul-destroying. Besides, when it comes to New York, as Millionaire Matchmaker's Patti Stanger aptly put it: "Where are the men?" She says women in New York have to be more proactive than in any other city in the United States. Being reminded of the widely reported five-to-one female/male ratio is enough to convince me that I have to make more of a solid effort in order to find a soul mate in this city.
Although online dating freaks me out a bit, I do currently have 258 unread messages in my OkCupid inbox when my profile clearly states my age. They may call themselves "NeedThemEggs," "milkybunees" and "fire_crotch," but at least they're not ageist. I don't have time to go through them all, but apparently there are men out there who would consider dating a woman as ancient as I am.
So you can imagine my surprise when Mr. Matchmaker came down hard on me, telling me I needed to be more "open-minded" because the pickins' were slim at my age; that I should give the Michael Bolton look-alike a fair chance because he really liked me. But he wore bellbottom jeans, I insisted, has no hair and doesn't get my jokes -- not even the funny ones. Yet I was made to feel that because of my dinosaur age (note: sarcasm), I'm not allowed to be so picky. How dare I demand a sense of humor when I should just be happy he has legs! Clearly, I'm getting just what I deserve for not putting my love life first all these years.
Although I don't recall putting "keen on immediate procreation" in the agency questionnaire, I would be lying if I said it doesn't cross my mind every time I spot a pair of chubby little feet sticking out of a stroller. However, I know many women my age and older who don't feel this way at all, some who are entirely indifferent about having children and some who simply don't want them.
Yet I do understand where his clients are coming from. They may want twenty-somethings for superficial reasons, or perhaps these men already have spawn from previous relationships and are in no mood to reproduce in the near future, or they want children, but eons from now and the idea of dating a woman in her mid-thirties causes them to experience repeated nightmares of being dragged to Babies"R"Us nine months after a first date. Or maybe they don't even want kids, but they like to keep their options open just in case.
And for the matchmaker, this is a business and the women are commodities. Aging pieces of meat. Forget the sanctity of a relationship. Yet love in the real world is much more complicated, nuanced and spontaneous. If you look at marriage through an old-fashioned lens, perhaps professional matchmaking makes sense -- bringing people of similar socio-economic backgrounds and shared goals together. And I'm sure it can work, as it has done so for centuries.
But for me, a hopeless romantic -- admittedly unwilling to settle for a butterfly-less union -- I sensed it was too inhibiting, too formulaic, based on circumstances that were out of my control (e.g., date of birth); that it didn't allow for the natural course of things, for people from different walks of life to cross over and perhaps fall in love the way I always expected it to happen to me. At a friend's dinner party or in the airport, at Pret a Manger or while climbing Mount Everest -- you really just never know.
"It's a number's game," says my friend's therapist. I may have to kiss a lot of frogs before landing my Brad Pitt, or, at the very minimum, a guy with a decent pseudonym. But I don't think I'm a hard sell at all. I just think it's a tough market.
I guess the important thing is to just get out there, whether or not you go through a matchmaker.
But if you do try that route, just be sure to lie about your age.
Follow Natasha Scripture on Twitter: www.twitter.com/natscript