An hon­est eye on the mir­ror’s re­flec­tion

The Guardian Weekly - - Comment & Debate - Christina Pat­ter­son

I was first told that I was “past my peak” by a dat­ing agency when I was 36. Men my age, they said, wanted younger women, who wouldn’t force them into com­mit­ment or panic about their eggs. I should, in other words, be grate­ful for any odd­ball who would take me on. A de­cent man would be able to take his pick of the twen­tysome­things.

It wasn’t fair, but bi­ol­ogy isn’t fair. All around us, we see the re­sults: el­derly film stars, rock stars, chief ex­ec­u­tives and politi­cians bran­dish­ing their ba­bies and their much younger wives.

But from the age of 40, ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­search, a man’s fer­til­ity de­clines. It can take five times as long to con­ceive with a male part­ner over the age of 45 than with one un­der 25. The risk of mis­car­riage is higher. And any child you have is five times more likely to have an autism spec­trum dis­or­der and 13 times more likely to be di­ag­nosed with ADHD.

A woman’s fer­til­ity starts to de­cline in her early 30s. At 35, it starts to de­cline more rapidly. That dat­ing agency was fac­tu­ally cor­rect in say­ing that, at 36, I was “past my peak”. But this re­search shows it isn’t only women who are fac­ing a ticking clock.

Per­haps this re­search will re­mind us that we all need to be a bit more hon­est about the choices we face. Do we live in the world as we would like it to be, or the world as it is?

And if you’re a man who is now a bit tired and paunchy, do you carry on chas­ing women 20 years younger and as­sume they will be thrilled? Or do you look in a mir­ror and think: you know what, I’m past my peak. I think I’ll start look­ing at women my own age.

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