Dear Rosie & Sherry,

Being on the dating scene, I've noticed that guys in their late 30s tend to be socially awkward -- probably because they've been single for too long. Why is this?

I also want to know how soon in the dating process I can research whether the guy is a commitment-phobe. Obviously I want to get down to business as soon as possible, but I don't want to send the normal ones running.

Brenda

Dear Brenda,

We have written before about the problems with men over-30 relating to women in the same age bracket. In a nutshell, many (not all) men who are single into their 30s have become more one-dimensional as they age. Their lives are largely defined by their work. Their social circles have grown smaller over the years; they aren't as involved in religious, social or charitable events or in their communities in general; and they are less involved in courses, clubs, or interests that can enrich their lives and make them focus on others as well as themselves. Some even become more introverted as they get older.

Of course, this is a generalization, but it describes a good number of older, single men. The description is not meant to be a criticism -- it is simply an observation that we and dozens of matchmakers, singles events organizers, and Jewish community volunteers have made, based on years of experience with thousands of singles.

By contrast, it seems that the majority of women in the over-30 age bracket look much better "on paper." They don't have to be super-achievers to accomplish this "feat"; the average woman has been developing her horizons by taking courses, participating in community service projects, working out, maintaining strong friendships, and enriching her life in other ways. Once again, this is a generalization, but the phenomenon is widespread.

The biggest problem we've observed with this gender gap is that men and women aren't connecting. Matchmakers with lists of "fine" women and "nice" guys won't put the two of them together because they seem incompatible. Women may turn their noses because a man seems too dull or not polished enough; men think that some women are unapproachable...

We're not sociologists, but it seems that the reason for this wide gender gap has a lot to do with the basic nature of men and women. Women tend to be more multi-tasked, more in tune with their emotions, and more open to the idea of personal growth. Men tend to open up after they are in an emotionally intimate relationship, i.e. marriage, that enables them to become more in touch with their social and giving selves.

In a mutually supportive marriage, husbands learn certain skills and qualities from their wives.

Of course, this isn't a one-way street. Men positively influence their wives in a number of ways, too. Have you ever noticed that many married women are more sensitive to other people's inner qualities than when they were single? Oftentimes a married woman can ascertain if a single guy she meets is good husband material for someone she knows, while her single friend will look for the man's "date-able" qualities and quite possibly turn away someone who could be a great "catch."

We have two suggestions that might be helpful to bridge the "gender gap." One is for each single guy to try to expand his horizons in three different ways: 1) getting more involved in his community by finding a service project to work with on a regular basis, even for just an hour a week; 2) taking a class, joining a sports club, or finding an activity he enjoys that will enrich his life; and 3) cultivating more friendships, particularly with married friends he may have lost touch with. Many married women are eager to help their husbands' single friends network to find the "right" person.

We have a different suggestion for women. Ask your married friends for their perspective on what makes a man good "husband material," and focus on that when you're on a date. Try to look beneath the surface, which may not be as sophisticated or polished as the Prince Charming of your dreams. Remember that the right guy may be disguised as someone a little nerdy, or less dynamic than you would imagine.

You also asked how to identify someone who is afraid of commitment. We don't have a foolproof method, but here’s a suggestion that works for a lot of people, both men and women:

After you’ve been dating for a number of weeks (6-8 weeks is a good frame of reference for many people), and sense that you would like to see if a courtship can lead toward marriage, pick an opportune time to have a serious discussion. You can say something like, "I enjoy going out with you, but I would like to know where you would like our dating to lead." Or, "I like you and I want you to know that I am dating with the goal of finding my future spouse. I think our relationship may be heading in that direction and I would like to know if you feel the same."

If your date says that he is having a great time and wants to keep dating, you will have to ask if that means they would want to get married if things continue to develop well in the coming months. Be careful to listen to what he is really saying rather than what you would like to hear.

When someone responds with a vague answer, or says that they would like to get married someday, or tells you what a great person you are but insists that you are "too good" for them, or admits that they won't be ready to get married or even think about it for a few years, they may not a bonafide "commitment-phobe," but they certainly are not ready to get married.

We hope this has been helpful, and wish you the best of success,

Rosie & Sherry