Some night when you have nothing else to do, take a drive at 3am. If you would always rather sleep, this can be a thought experiment rather than a physical exercise. Try to find a high-traffic road or get on the freeway. If the place you live is anything like the place I live, you'll find a surprising number of people.
It's easy at this time of night/morning to imagine what these people are doing, why they're driving at this hour. That man is on his way to his job in a hospital. That couple is of their way to the same place to give birth to their first child. The teen is on her way home after a late night watching movies at a friend's house. You get the idea.
Realize now that each of them is embroiled in their own story, living a life full of just as much detail as your own. Each one experienced childhood, some happy and loving, some neglectful, some abusive. They went to school and had friends and rivals, favorite teachers and the worst classes. In some cases their lives have extended beyond what you have experienced. They've lost a spouse or fought cancer or watched their body wither with age.
The point is that to each of them their own life is the center of the universe. The everyday stressors and the huge, life-changing events are all so important. This is true for every single person you see.
If you want to really blow your mind, think back to their birth. The parents certainly had profound emotions that day. In fact, that was likely one of those very important days in two entirely different lives, each with its own birth, growth, and perhaps death. The web of near infinite moments and details of life extends back in time, generation upon generation.
Estimates place the total number of humans who have ever lived at over 100 billion. It's easy to separate ourselves from "the other"–people in far off countries with very different cultures, people from the past with low levels of technology. But in fact, their mental faculties, their emotions, their thoughts and lives are very similar to your own. 100 billion people think they're the center of the universe. But they're not.
The truth is that nothing you or I or anyone does is outstanding in the global, long-term scheme of things. There are billionaires and superstars you've never even heard of. Throughout time there have been countless dukes and kings and queens, Ozymandiases all.
Some people look at this and see the miracle of life. Through all of time and space, everything conspired exactly as it had to in order for me to exist. My response is so what? So I can worry about that $60 credit card bill or fret because my car broke down or my daughter broke her arm. As a once famous person in a distantly fading movie once said, "it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people [or 100 billion] don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world."
Maybe it's impossible to truly internalize, but the next time life seems crazy or overwhelming, try to remember that you and yours, and everyone you know ultimately don't matter.
To clarify, I will discuss the problems of dating as a 40-year-old man, not the problems of dating 40-year-old men. To further clarify, I have actually done either. I'm more than a year into my forties, ok, almost two years, and I haven't dated anyone in those years. I had a dream this morning that illuminated part of the problem of doing so. (Yes, this is a dream story, but I promise to keep it short and on topic, no polka dot giraffes appearing out of nowhere. Wait, aren't all giraffes kind of polka-dotted? Sorry, I digress.)
I was taking a college class with a very diverse student body. Several classes passed in a montage during the dream. During that time, some of my classmates and I worked together in small groups repeatedly. We started to become friends, as people are wont to do.
One of said classmates was an older woman, kind and motherly. She seemed the type of woman who would bake you a pie for no reason other than she's nice like that. Now I'm not the world's most physical guy, but in time, we started hugging on meeting and departing. Soon she started pecking me on the cheek. Sometimes I got the impression that she was heading for my mouth, and I would quickly turn my head to intercept appropriately. Still, I was pretty oblivious until she started giving one kiss on the cheek quickly followed by an attempted one on the lips. This created an uncomfortable nodding as we jockeyed for kiss position.
The realization that she may want to be more than friends startled me. Then, as I thought about it more, it shook me. I mean, this woman was old! She must be 50. She wasn't all that wrinkled or grey, but her demeanor was that of a kindly mother or even grandma. Analyzing further, she could in fact be in her 40s. Oh my dog, she could be my age! In fact, I could very reasonably be a grandfather right now. And as I thought about it further, she reminded me of an ex-girlfriend of mine if I aged her forward to the present. To make matters worse, what if she was 50? That's certainly not a huge age gap. I had just dismissed out of hand the chance of dating someone who was entirely appropriate.
This next part is hard to admit but truly illustrates the problem. In the same row of seats as me was a very attractive Asian girl. (I use those words, not to be racist or sexist, but as legitimate descriptors. To me Asian emphasizes her beauty, while girl is entirely appropriate. She was twenty-something. Ok, twenty-ish.) This girl started dating a guy a few seats up and one row over. As I watched their budding romance I became jealous. The fact is, other than a cursory hello, I had never spoken to her. I had no idea what kind of person she was other than her attractive looks and demeanor.
Thus the problem. In my head I'm still the 20-something I was 20 years ago. (Not that I would have had a chance with her then either, but shut up.) My insides haven't changed other than getting wiser and maybe more jaded. Every time I look in the mirror, all these lines in my face getting clearer. The past is gone. It went by like dusk to dawn. (And if you get my reference, you're old too! So pay attention.)
Worse still, the craven reptilian part of my brain will always want the 20-year old. There's a quote I couldn't find a source for that goes something like this: When I was 20, I admired (or fill in an adjective of your choice) 20-year old women. When I was 30, I admired 20-year old women. When I turned 40, I still admired 20-year old women. Now I'm 70, and, yes, I admire 20-year old women.
I realize how creepy this is, but it doesn't change the truth of it. I could cite biology, that the young are more fit to procreate and thus more attractive. I could blame society's idolization of youth and beauty. But it is what it is, for whatever reasons. I'm not justifying it or saying people should date without any thought to age or stage of life. But I do have some ideas to smooth over the generation gaps.
If you're a man my age, try to realize that the women our age are in the same boat we are, young people trapped in middle-aged bodies. They like aging no more (probably even less (yes, I'm being sexist)) than we do. Give them a chance. Look for that spark of youth and tell your lizard brain that your cerebral cortex is in control! Realize that that 50-year-old woman is closer to you in age than a 30 year-old. She is also likely much more similar in life stage as. Can u like actually imagine, like, dating a 20-year old? ikr (And now I'm being ageist.)
If you're a woman my age, realize that men of any age appreciate women of a certain age. When their mind or eyes stray, remember that their cerebral cortex, which chose you, is the part that matters. It also might help to be blunt in your intentions if a man seems oblivious.
And if you're a 20-something woman, why the heck are you here? (tldr) But just in case, here's your advice. Yes, we find you beautiful, but that doesn't mean any effort at communication is a pick up attempt. We're not about to start kissing you on the cheek. If an older man does talk to you, realize that his body has changed, he's had more experiences, but in his head he's a person just like you. It may be difficult to listen to, but he might have something interesting to say. And please, please don't simply turn away or roll your eyes or visibly throw up in your mouth. And don't call us "sir."
In the end, I awoke without finding out what happened in my mini romantic drama. Did I grow up and give the sensible woman a chance? Did I continue to pine over the forbidden fruit? Who knows. But in waking life I can make the smart decision. (If I ever left my house and met anyone I could date.) There, I kept it on topic, if not exactly short.
UPDATE: I realized after I posted this just how hetero biased it is. I've written from my experience. I imagine that women and gay men find younger men more attractive as well, and all the other iterations. So please transpose genders to fit your circumstance. And I'd love to hear if you agree.