Dear Rosie & Sherry,

I am 36-year-young woman, and until recently, I was feeling pretty decent about myself. I finished graduate school, got a good job, and for the first time in a long time, felt emotionally secure. However, I am so upset about the articles that are being written (in "Dating Maze" and elsewhere) about women who have entered my age bracket.

I don't consider myself old, nor do I look it. I am told frequently that I am very attractive. However, there have recently been some highly publicized articles about women's declining fertility (that are not written by fertility experts!) that the general public seems to be accepting as the word of gospel. I have seen my mother, my sister, and other women in this age range give birth with no complications to healthy children. I never felt that stereotypical desperation to "get married and have children" the way that others have. I assumed that I had some time, but not forever.

However, I feel so devalued, passed over, and "confirmed as sterile" by a dating pool and by over-generalizing statisticians. I am also disturbed that men who are older than me -- who have taken the time to look for a partner, due to "not being ready or emotional immaturity" -- are under the delusion that they can have any woman they choose. In addition, I feel that it is making me look like a less desirable date.

I have always been healthy, and sincerely doubt that I'll have difficulty conceiving. (My sister got pregnant on her first attempt at trying at ages 35 and 38.) However, I am depressed that these articles consign my life to be over before it has even started.

I'd appreciate your thoughts on all this.

Stephanie

Dear Stephanie,

No matter how young you may look and feel, the fact is that fertility does decline for women in their late 20s on up. For every woman who has had an easy first conception after age 35, there are many more who find it difficult to become pregnant. That's a simple truth, as is the fact that men who want to have families prefer to marry women who are more likely to be able to have a couple of children; e.g., women in their mid-30s and younger. We're not passing judgment on this preference -- we are just stating that it exists.

We have known this fact long before the recent spate of articles publicizing the decline in women's fertility. In our work with hundreds of single women, we have seen the difficulties that older women face trying to conceive, and we read a tremendous amount of material on this subject than have most of our readers.

Women who have always expected that they would get married and have a family at some point in their lives (but never quite knew when that day would come) can't take that life choice for granted. We know that many career women in their mid-30s look and feel young and wonderful and believe that they have plenty of time to marry and begin a family. However, that is not the case. It isn't just because of declining fertility rates; it's also because the longer you remain unmarried, the more entrenched you become in your lifestyle and the harder it can be for you to open up to someone else.

The reality is that as each year passes, it becomes harder for a single woman to find a good marriage partner.

It can also be hard for some older singles to make a transition from being a self-sufficient adult with a well-ordered life, to someone who is one half of a whole. Even though many singles are kind, compassionate and concerned for others, the longer they spend on their own, the more difficult it can be for them to get accustomed to the idea of a "we"-oriented lifestyle, rather than "me"-oriented life. This fact alone impels many singles to delay the "loss" of their independence a little longer... and a little longer... making it more difficult to achieve the goal of marriage as time goes on.

What can you do to help yourself to break out of this cycle and focus on attaining your goal of marriage and family in a reasonable period of time? You may want to start by reading the book, "What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us - Why Happiness Eludes The Modern Woman," by Danielle Crittenden. It gives a number of well thought-out reasons why women who ultimately want marriage and family should focus on these goals now, rather than later.

A second book, Shaya Ostrov's "The Inner Circle" (Feldheim.com), examines the challenges that older singles face when they want to date for marriage, and suggests useful ways to overcome them.

After you've read these books, we encourage you to sort out your priorities and your long- and short-term goals, since finding a future spouse begins by looking for someone whose values and goals are compatible with yours. To narrow down your search, we suggest you identify four qualities that you possess that really define who you are, and then think of four (and only four) qualities that you feel are most important for your future husband to possess. Look to date men who have 3 or 4 of those qualities, and let the people who set you up know about the four important qualities that you possess.

We also suggest that singles learn how to change their style of dating from one focused mainly on enjoyment, to one that builds toward marriage. We discuss this process in our book, "Talking Tachlis," and in a number of prior Dating Maze columns that are archived at http://www.aish.com/dating/advice.

We also recommend that you develop a network of friends, co-workers, relatives, etc. to help you meet marriage-minded men who are suitable for you, and also find a happily married person to be your dating mentor.

We've made these suggestions because we have seen them work for hundreds of men and women. Many of the post-30 single women we have worked with do get married and have families. Without exception, they have focused on achieving their goal with the same seriousness and effort they would use to find a good job.

We hope that when you decide to do the same, you achieve success very soon. All the best,

Rosie & Sherry