Is There a Romantic Life After 40? Check Your E-Mail.

By Jeannie MacDonald
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 31, 2008

So, there I was, still single at 40, feeling about as marketable as flesh-eating bacteria.

Dating at 40 is like having the measles at 40: It's not terminal, just painful and a little embarrassing. Officially, I was a grown-up. I had an IRA and a mortgage. I didn't need a husband to "complete me," but I wanted to share my life with someone. Yet after a while, the thought of yanking on pantyhose for another pointless McDate held all the allure of passing a kidney stone.

I mean, let's do the math. I'd been on Soul Mate Patrol since the Ford administration. I'd scaled the Boys-to-Men Food Chain, from high school and college steadies to 20-something flings, to having my heart sledgehammered in my 30s by the one I thought I'd marry. Next thing I know, I'm turning the Big 4-0, feeling like an adult with a full set of baby teeth, wondering how many more dates I can take before I roll up my uterus and call it a life.

Ironically, married friends envied my freedom. Others accused me of being "too picky." (Hey, if you're not picky about love, what should you be picky about? Waxed or unwaxed floss?) Then there were the smug, married-by-25 women who viewed me with pity, convinced I'd die one of those horrible spinster deaths: surrounded by cats, identified by dental records.

I'd been as proactive in searching for Mr. Right as one can be without tripping a restraining order. Well-meaning pals fixed me up with anyone who had a pulse and a prostate. I joined a gym. Tried a dating service. I went out with men of all ages, heights and hairlines. Some would swear they were smitten, then vanish, as if they'd entered the federal witness protection program. Others I liked, but they didn't like me. Help! I'm trapped in a middle-school flashback.

By 40, I also hit the baby-shower wall. It got to the point where it just wasn't worth two days of Haagen-Dazs self-medication to recover from them. Yep, nothing says "rock-bottom remainder" like being the only singleton in a room filled with women bonding over Diaper Genies.

Then, one September morning, after taking the summer off from a run of dates culminating with an engineer who spoke fluent Klingon, I received an e-mail from a stranger. The subject line ("We both know Teddy Teller") was the only thing that stopped me from pressing "delete." Teddy was my first boss after I graduated from Boston College. If they were friends, it seemed safe to read on.

John introduced himself as a single dad who worked with Teddy in Seattle. He suggested we correspond. Instantly, my default mode -- hardened by two decades of dates-from-hell scar tissue -- kicked in. He sounded sweet, so there must be something wrong with him. Cyclops, I decided.

After calling Teddy to confirm John wasn't a serial killer, I thought, why not? He lived three time zones away. Nothing could possibly come of this.

I wrote back. We fell into a rhythm, like longtime tennis partners. Ping (he talked about his 9-year-old daughter, Ann). Pong (I told him about my dog, Spencer). Ping (he described the pain of divorce). Pong (I shared my dreams and regrets).

We wrote daily, conducting a 19th-century-style courtship, getting to know each other from the inside out. No in-person pheromones to distract us. No phone calls, either -- the spell would be broken if he sounded like Elmer Fudd.

By late October, we'd grown too close to stay apart. John sent flowers for my birthday, and wrote, "This is ridiculous. I've got to meet you." Taking a deep breath, theme from "Rocky" buzzing in my head, I typed, "You're right," and clicked "Send."

The first hug felt like coming home. Within two days, we were talking marriage. Imagine that. My last serious relationship lasted three years and ended in a draw over commitment. Now, 36 hours after meeting, John and I were ready to take the leap, and it didn't feel rash. It felt right.

That July, we married. Teddy was John's best man. Ann was my bridesmaid. That was eight years ago, and I'm here to testify, if you're 40 and single, check your spam catcher. Somewhere among those Viagra ads and Nigerian bank scams, you just might find what you've been looking for.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company