Kay: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

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“You’re pulling my hair, and my neck has a crick in it.” Finding love might not be so easy after 30.

About a week ago, a bunch of the Ladies were on our private loop, deconstructing from web searches, interviews, and other disparate sources, exactly which agents are looking for what. Some of us were concerned about doing pitches rather than sending out queries, because agents might be dissuaded by the age of the writer from making long-term commitments to her. Michaeline suggested that we participate in NaNoWriMo and choose as our central topic the older protagonist. Where are the romances of women re-inventing themselves in their 40s and 50s? she asked.

I must confess that I’m not much interested in writing about a heroine that’s my age. With time, I’ve narrowed my circle of friends. I have less patience for foolishness. I’m happy to stay home. I’ve made a lot of my life decisions. Somebody could write good fiction—maybe even romantic fiction—about a person at my stage of life. But for me, I need a heroine who still has those decisions ahead of her, because that’s often where I find conflict. I need a heroine who’s in her twenties or thirties.

So age was on my mind when I ran into an article about Tinder, a popular dating app, and what might be construed as ageism. Tinder has launched a paid version of the app, and how old you are determines what you pay for it. If you’re younger than 30, you pay $9.99 per month. If you’re older than 30, you pay twice as much. (In the UK, the differential is greater: UK users 18–27 will be charged 3.99 pounds per month; users 28 and older will be charged 14.99 pounds per month.)

Tinder claims that younger people are “more budget constrained,” but this tiered pricing system has infuriated some. Critics point to the implied ageism and say the implication is that old people are desperate.

In fact, dating for the over-30 isn’t exactly a cakewalk. As people age, their dating pools shrink. In one study of unmarried men and women aged 40–59, both genders had fewer sexual partners, although women had far fewer, the result of both ageism and sexism.

Moreover, University of California-Santa Barbara psychologist Bella DePaulo says that there’s a social stigma of being alone. “[People] just assume you’re not as happy, you’re lonely, you’re self-centered, you’re not fully adult.” But DePaulo says that for people who like being single, the older they get, the more of a “complete, secure, happy person” they become.

And for those over-30s who are not content to be alone, there are more people to date than ever. For the first time in the country’s history, there are more single American adults than married ones. And especially for those over 30, finding a mate online is a safe and attractive way to meet people.

What do you think? If you’re older than 30 and single and unhappy about it, is finding a mate worth paying Tinder twice as much? Should the Ladies write the older protagonist? What’s love got to do with it—age, that is—anyway?

12 thoughts on “Kay: What’s Love Got to Do with It?

  1. That’s fascinating!

    (-: I think the difficulties are what would make an older-romance more interesting to write. And also, sometimes (sometimes!) literature can be a guide to doing stuff — here’s one way to do this, here’s one way NOT to do this, here’s is definitely NOT the way to do this, but our heroine managed to find a happy ending anyway.

    I really don’t know what the dating site is charging for. I think it would be harder for older people to find a mate for many reasons. First, experience makes a person pickier. Second, one doesn’t have as much energy anymore to put up with game-playing and nonsense. Third, very few of us are as physically attractive as we once were — maybe we used to bedazzle the opposite sex, but now we have to be kind, generous, witty and wise. That’s a tall order!

    On the other hand, women and men are constantly doing the dating game and finding second chances. This is a little old, but http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/11/14/four-in-ten-couples-are-saying-i-do-again/ says four in ten couples getting married in 2013 had been married before.

    What catches my imagination is the woman who has suffered through a bad first marriage. What would it take to get her to commit again to a relationship and an institutional binding? (LOL, this is explored in Komarr and A Civil Campaign, and I love the way it unfolds. But, I kind of would like to try it fictionally myself.)

    What’s in it for older couples?

    I do often think if I were widowed or divorced, I wouldn’t want to get married again. But, I might enjoy finding a platonic companion to live with. Unfortunately, platonic companions are not romance . . . (-: women’s journey?

  2. I also wondered what Tinder was charging for. I thought it was that they were discouraging older people from signing up because they were going after a particular demographic (i.e., young) to hit an advertising sweet spot. But there could be more to it.

    People definitely do try again. I think that’s fascinating, because for all the people who got divorced, were abused, suffered grief—that is, had the hope and then the loss of love—they were willing to give it another shot. Those are brave people. And that story is definitely worth telling. I’m just not sure by me. 🙂

    • I wonder if older-woman romance is a perceived threat to established marriages. I mean, I know women who have stayed with awful men because “I luuuuuv him”. As if there is only one true love for each person. I haven’t met a man who stayed with an awful woman because “I luuuuv her” — the one case I can personally think of in my circle, it’s more a sense of duty and “for better or worse” because the wife has become more mentally ill as life progressed.

      If romances showed this alternative, that a woman could have loved and lost and gone on to love again . . . could that encourage women to think that maybe a new romance is not impossible? That it’s an alternative?

      This argument is dangerously close to the anti-romance argument that, “These women are living in a fantasy; it’s not healthy to live life like a romance novel, blah-blah-blah.”

      Do you think the hurdle is the “one true love” thing? Because I know a lot of women who are doing interesting things in their middle age. A lot of them involve men, but don’t revolve around men. And of course, the “middle age crisis” story for men has been popular since the mid-50s at least. Possibly for much, much longer.

  3. I thought Tinder was a hook-up site not a ‘looking for a relationship’ site. And I don’t really want to read stories about older people falling in love, although Nora Roberts has one that I liked – Black Rose. SEP often has subplots with older heroines, too, that I like.

    • I was clueless about Tinder until I read the article. The author said the site had moved past hook-ups and into get-togethers of all kinds, including “Boston snow shoveling,” with a link I didn’t click on. I’ve read books where older people falling in love are the subplots—Jenny wrote one of those. But as the primary plotline, I think they must be a tough sell. Nora has probably written every possible story line!

  4. Nice to discover this blog! With 8 ladies writing, how could it not be good! Anyway, I’d like to see older protagonists re-inventing themselves without a romantic plot-line!

    • Hi Bella—thank you, and it’s interesting you should say that! I just read someone’s blog somewhere (sorry, so many blogs, so little memory) about how a survey had found that readers felt that even in romance novels, there wasn’t enough friendship. I did a quick scan of my own books and the books I’m reading and…right. The subplots don’t seem to involve friendship that often. Maybe now’s the time to start!

  5. I think you could write an older protagonist and make it work, though I bet selling it would be a challenge 😉 . I love Jenny’s book Anyone But You, and I think one of Anne Stuart’s Ice books (Ice Storm) also has an older heroine – haven’t read it recently but from what I remember I liked it a lot.

    Later life can be a time of great change – a time when people finally figure out what they want and go after it. If the story had a kick-ass heroine with lots of agency (Helen Mirren, anyone?) I’d read it!

    • 10 years ago I had an idea that needed a super-hot, ageless beauty for a character, and in the movie I cast Sharon Stone. Ten years later, I’d still cast her. There’s probably no shortage of actresses for the movie! Now it’s just thinking of the story that would suit them.

  6. I loved Something’s Gotta Give with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson. Also, It’s Complicated with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin. I think I’d happily buy a romantic comedy with an older H/H. Probably nothing in a more serious vein, though.

    Now I’m thinking about casting an older H/H in a romantic suspense and wondering if I could pull that off….

    • I think you could. Susanne Brockmann had a 70-something female character (but in a subplot) that was captured by the bad guys and escaped out a second-story window. She didn’t have an HEA except in flashback, so that gives you a unique opportunity!

  7. Not sure what age you’re talking about, but I’ve seen older romance stories done well and think there is a market for it. Nicholas Sparks’ Nights in Rodanthe was great! Also, I have read a number of regency era romances in which the older couple romance was excellent.

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