I’m a 28-year-old woman. Over the past few months I’ve dated several guys, each time pretty much the same thing happened. We went out three or four times, the dates went great, then things petered out. I’m feeling frustrated. I’m wondering if it’s something that I think shouldn’t matter, but maybe it does: I’m prematurely gray, and not like a few wisps here and there, I mean serious salt n’ pepper. It never really bothered me before, I’m in good shape and overall feel good about how I look. The thing is, I don’t want to dye my hair, I’m allergic to hair dye and don’t want to deal with the hassle. Am I doomed to be alone because of this? What do you think?
Why the more enlightened and mature among us often have the most challenging experiences in the dating scene is one of the great cosmic mysteries. Much like black holes it may go unexplained for all eternity. Please know I completely empathize with your frustration. Believe me, I’ve dealt with my fair share of it. What’s interesting about your question is that I think we can take your situation and see how the possibly warped perceptions of these guys affect not just you, but speak to a larger misconception on the cultural level.
Why do we fear and revile aging so? One could make the argument of aesthetics, but I don’t really buy that. I’ve seen plenty of attractive people well beyond what our warped tastemakers would dub the “prime of life.” I think if we were to really look into this source of this fear, we’d find the proto-fear that really generates all the others we deal with in life: The Fear of Death. I’ve said before that we live in a culture that denies our humanity, and part of the denial is the denial of mortality (although it is darkly humorous that this is one denial that will for sure be proven false for everyone at some point). Rather than confront and accept that yes, our faces don’t look now as they did twenty years ago and that yes, by extension, we are older and have used up a bit more of our time, we spend millions every year on cosmetics and even put ourselves through traumatic, excruciating, nevertheless “elective” surgical procedures, all in the hopes of holding on to something we no longer are. Now, I’m not saying people shouldn’t put effort and energy into making themselves look good so they feel good, and there are certainly times when plastic surgery might be appropriate, but I sometimes wonder if the therapist’s couch might not be a better place to work out these issues than the operating table.
So, Amy, what does any of this have to do with you? Nothing. That’s what’s so baffling to me here. You’re, pardon me for saying so, practically still a kid (eleven years ago you were still a child in the eyes of the Law, so there). Unless you’ve been living under a Keith Richards like regimen of drug and alcohol abuse, I can’t imagine you look like anything but a lovely young woman. In fact, I’m a bit surprised that your unique hair hasn’t drawn more people to you: I had a male friend in college who was essentially completely gray before we had even finished undergrad. Yet, he was quite the ladies man; I think because his grayness loaned him an air of sophistication and maturity. I suppose the same doesn’t apply for us girls. Yet another gender-specific double standard reveals itself in our culture. Shocking. (Yes, that is sarcasm you smell.)
Last year someone wrote in, concerned by their inability to “measure-up” to the impossible standards of beauty set by the media and the cosmetics industry. Two of these silly ideas forced down our throats are that: One, women should never weigh more than ninety pounds, and two, women should never appear older than twenty something (thirty something if you really want to push it). So, even though you’re twenty-eight (you’re still in your twenties for Pete’s sake!), in the context of the Great Illusion (and possibly in the eyes of these guys you’ve dated), your gray hair, rather than being an interesting anomaly on a young person, is viewed as liability. Moreover, you are, (gasp!), OK with your natural appearance, without the application of some kind of chemical. This may not gel in the minds of these guys (no pun intended). Also, as I said, my college friend’s gray hair was viewed as mark of maturity and sophistication, so perhaps these past few suitors were not looking for that in a partner. So much the better. In fact, if we really wanted to play armchair therapist with these guys, we could hypothesize that perhaps it wasn’t even so much the color of your hair, it was the empowered confidence you carried yourself with that put these fellows off. Needless to say, someone threatened by strength and confidence in a woman wouldn’t be my first choice for a partner.
Despite this, I truly hope and urge that you do not allow yourself to become bitter in this process. For as many incompatible people there are in the world I truly believe there are an equal number of workable matches. Don’t think of it as trying to find “The One,” but rather be on the look out for “One of the Ones,” if that makes sense. In your letter you come across as an intelligent, interesting and witty person. Don’t change or hide any aspect of that, not one silver hair.
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