‘I’ve never done this before,” says Tracy, a sexy black-haired stylist, 45, eyeing the crowd at a midtown party for middle-aged singles. “I was married for twenty years, and I have a 16-year-old son. But I’m ready to meet someone else and go on with my life.” With the divorce rate rising and more people choosing never to marry, almost 40 percent of Americans over 45 are single—but they’re not staying home to lick their wounds. On a frigid January night when a blizzard hit the city, 300 brave souls have shown up at the nightclub Branch for a Gotham Parties mixer targeted to the 35-to-55 set. The figures aren’t perfect, the hairlines are receding, but there’s some eye-popping cleavage and dapper suits. As Casablanca plays on flat-screen TVs and the D.J. spins songs like “Lady in Red” and “Don’t Stop ’Till You Get Enough,” the guests dance, schmooze, and ogle, hoping to find people who don’t remind them of their exes.
“The stakes are a lot higher now,” Tracy says. “I’m not going to go out on a date because I’m bored. I have to really want to spend time with the person.” So far she’s met one cute guy, who bought her a drink but then disappeared. And though several more have approached her, so far they’ve been “really geeky.”
The men, to be fair, are not all geeky. Though one guy is wearing a piano-keyboard scarf, there’s an older Bruce Willis type doing a decent approximation of hip-hop moves. And though the women outnumber the men, it’s still early. “There’s some cute-looking guys around,” gushes Bridget, 55, a petite blonde with a chin-length blunt cut who’s standing by the bar. “I just asked someone to dance and I had fun!” When I ask if she gave the guy her number, she says no, and I realize some guests are here more to socialize than to wind up with a lifelong mate.
“As you get older,” she says, “you’re willing to have less of the love affair and romance and more of the going for a walk, the museum, seeing a movie.” What about sex? “Sex matters, too! What people don’t understand is how much post-menopausal women love sex—as long as they have the right partner. I feel like I could hold my own with a 20-year-old.”
As Bridget moves away to mingle, a boyish-looking guy comes up to me and introduces himself. When I tell him I’m a reporter, he says, “That explains it.” Being a 30-year-old woman at a party like this is kind of like wearing a really good padded bra: dangerously false advertising. His name is Mark, and he’s 40, a schoolteacher, and divorced. Though he’s dating older and younger women, he says older women are “more secure, more settled in their career, and they have a better idea of what they’re looking for.”
“Are they better in bed?” I ask.
“They’re not afraid to ask to be pleasured,” he says, “and they’re more free with their bodies. They’re not as free with their emotions because they’ve been hurt before.”
The party has begun to heat up—half a dozen couples are jiving to “Brick House,” and the ratio of women to men is now about even. And yet there are still complainers. “I don’t think the men are all that attractive so far,” says Susan, a slim brunette, 38. “I saw one good-looking one, but he was the magician. He was very cute, but he’s married and his wife is having a baby in three months.”
There’s a cute balding guy near us who looks to be in his forties. What does he think of the women so far? “It’s geared toward the older age range, but I guess I was looking for a little more disparity. I’m trying to say this delicately.”
The D.J. begins playing “Turn the Beat Around,” and as I stride toward the bar, Bridget tells me she met a guy, a lawyer and motorcycle rider, and they exchanged numbers. So where is he? “He had to go walk his dog.”
Standing near her is a striking Cloris Leachman type with high cheekbones and short, white-blonde hair. She looks nervous, not sure whether to leave. I ask why she came, and she says, “There aren’t a lot of these things. I go on the Internet, but I’m not a writer. I’m more of a people person. Why am I here?”
“To meet a nice guy?” I offer.
“But do I really want to?”
“I don’t know why you’re here if you’re not interested in meeting a guy,” says Mark, the teacher, sidling up to us.
“It’s very difficult being here,” she tells him, seemingly too down on herself to see that he’s interested. “You and I are very far apart in age. My oldest child is married.” We press her a bit about her age, and she admits she’s 57. Mark and I emit spontaneous whistles.
“You’re smokin’!” I tell her.
“So what are you looking for?” he asks, leaning against the bar to face her.
“The first time around, I was looking for someone to be my life mate, the father of my children, et cetera, et cetera. Now I don’t know. I would love to find love, but I don’t have those expectations and it’s scary. Attractive men my age want much younger women.”
“Then who are all these guys?” I say, angling my head toward Mark.
“I don’t know,” she says, sighing. “Losers?”
Mark raises his eyebrows and says, “Not all of us.”
“I’m a loser, too, in my own way!” she adds. “In five and a half years, I’ve gone out with probably twenty men.”
“My ex-wife had you beat in a matter of months,” he says. She nods in commiseration, and I realize that talking about exes at a party like this may be an acceptable form of foreplay.
“I’m a recovering divorcée,” she continues. “I’m still dealing. I’m finished with him sexually, but not emotionally. So, do you have kids?” she asks him. He nods. A teenage daughter. “What are you looking for? Do you want to have more children? Start a family?” As I head out the door, they’re still talking, their heads leaned in close.