Missing The One, Marriage Odds and Other Lies We’re Told

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By now I’m sure most have you have heard about the movie, What’s Your Number? According to the trailers and reviews, it’s about a woman who believes she’s going to wind up alone for the rest of her life thanks to a magazine article that cautions anyone who has had 20 or more relationships: you might have missed out on an opportunity to find true love. Our star has, you’ve guessed it, been with 20 men (oh my!), so she ventures on a journey to see if any of her exes might have been “the one.”

While this is fiction, the scenario rings irritatingly true: there are numerous articles published in magazines every month that make blanket statements about people out in the dating world, which only serve to make them feel this great sense of urgency leading them to cling to bad relationships they’ll later regret or to chase after someone—anyone—else instead of finding him/herself first and waiting until the right fit comes along.

Admit it, you’ve heard some variation of this one: A woman over age 40 has a better chance of being killed by a terrorist than of getting married. In the movie The Holiday, that age was lowered to 35; on the television show Frasier, it was age 30! The original gem, by the way, was borrowed from both a formal (but later found-to-be flawed and unreliable) study about university-educated women in the mid-‘80s—and an article in Newsweek magazine.

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Add to that the science that tells us the fertility rate drops in our mid-30s, and the risk of miscarriage and genetic abnormalities to babies increases, many women of a certain age already feel enough pressure as they date beyond their 20s. One of my friends was so terrified by this, and understandably so due to family history, she rushed to start a family before her 32nd birthday even though she was in the process of getting a master’s to advance her teaching career.

Yes, she did graduate, but she never taught again. She and her husband still struggle financially and frequently have severe fights leading to genuine concerns about divorce. Sometimes I wondered what another year or two where she could teach and save more money might have done to add to the stability of their family, but hey, I respect that they had their reasons.

But I am taking a big detour, so let’s get back to What’s Your Number? The movie plays on the fear that women who sleep with too many men are, well, sluts and, as the astute Simone Grant sums it up, our main character becomes determined not to go over the number 20, thus “goes back through all her past lovers determined to recycle one of them.”

In the NY Post article Simone contributed to, Wrong Number: NY Women don’t worry about their sex lives going too far too fast, the cosmopolitan ladies scoff at the idea that real woman of today would worry about their number. The idea that people discuss the number of people with whom they slept with others seemed old-fashioned, and when asked by your partner, rude. I agree that things like this in general never come up outside the movie screen or chick-flick novels. But in reality, my life has held a few exceptions.

Four or five years ago, my boyfriend at the time, V-Man, and I were talking on the futon while half-watching TV. I’m not sure how or why we got into this discussion, maybe it was something somebody said on a show, but I laughed at the idea of the average woman having only three lovers when she gets married. The V-Man looked at me confused, saying something to the effect that I was like that average woman…wasn’t I?

I looked at him, asking him how many relationships I’d had before him. I said he knew it was more than three. So then he started questioning just how many others had I been with. I told him he didn’t really want to know.

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We did the dance. Is it more than 5? Is it less than 30? And so forth. I didn’t want to tell him because I knew his ideas about me would change, but he forced the issue. Finally, I gave him the number. He gave his, which were a few less than mine. I was younger and woman. He liked to say he was pickier.

I felt more awkward than he did at the time, but I still wonder if knowing changed how he thought of me in general. He liked to think of me as the near-virginal girl, who was a little bit naïve, sweet and old-fashioned at her core. Truthfully, knock out the near virginal, and he wasn’t half wrong about his impressions of me when it came to life in general.

While this conversation we had was within the first year of our long and winding relationship, sometimes I still wonder…

The topic came up again just a few days ago with a guy friend who I went on a few dates with earlier this year, but whom I realized fairly quickly wasn’t the one for me. We’ve stayed in touch, solely over the phone mostly because getting together in person never works out. Anyway, we were talking Saturday night during one of our marathon phone calls where we just cover the gamut of topics: job situations, childhood experiences, music and, of course, former relationships.

He started telling me that due to his strict Christian upbringing, he was a virgin until age 24. While he was shy and unsure of himself at first, he’d quickly made up for lost time in more recent years especially. Then the numbers question came up. Why? For no other reason than curiosity, I suppose.

In fact, I think he wanted me to guess his number first, but we agreed we’d share to be fair. “Is [the number] bigger than a bread basket?” I joked. Anyway, we did the whole range guessing game first. We did the comparison—larger than a soccer team, but smaller than a whole football team? I realize how childish it sounds, but I think once our numbers were revealed, we both felt reassured.

I think it made us both feel like our exploration and appetites were normal. We were within the same number range. I was six years younger in age when I lost my virginity, but he is five years older than I am. We’ve both had our share of very serious relationships, including the one that shocked us when it ended, and we’d both floundered our way past pain and confusion, having fun along the way, while trying to find love again. We both followed our hearts, even if it meant putting it all out there to possibly get hurt again.

While I don’t think I’d ever tell any of my girlfriends my number, I think telling someone felt freeing. See, that wasn’t so bad. I’m not a freak. I’m just a single older girl in the modern world. And wherever my number ends, with whomever it ends, I will still love myself in the morning. And I think in some way subconsciously or otherwise, my partner/husband will be grateful for the time and experience it has taken me to find him.