My high school class is having a 35-year reunion soon, and class leaders have set up a Facebook page for the occasion. Clicking through the profiles this week, I was struck that some of my classmates, now in their early 50s, are already grandparents.
Then here I am, 53, with a son in pre-K and another in fourth grade. I've always known I was late to the parenting party, fathering children in my 40s, but the Facebook pages made me feel like a real outlier.
I had a flashback to the early 1990s when I sometimes wondered if I would ever become a husband, much less a father. Back then, I was mystified by the whole dating scene and enmeshed in a career, journalism, that actually rewarded reporters who chose the lone-wolf path.
Being a lone wolf works in your 20s, but that wolf skin becomes sodden in your 30s and 40s unless you are resigned to a lifetime of canned soup and solitude. So I've always had a soft spot for unmarried people in their 30s who want to be in a committed relationship but don't know how.
Recently, a book landed on my desk that promises to help people over the hump. "Meet To Marry: A Dating Revelation for the Marriage Minded" was written by Bari Lyman (Health Communications, Inc., $15).
In the book Ms. Lyman, a self-described dating coach, notes that demographic trends show a startling drift away from marriage, with more than 100 million adults in the United States now single. She thinks that for most singles, dating has become purely recreational and that people have forgotten how to sort through potential mates to find the right fit. A 50 percent divorce rate among first marriages validates her theory.
"When people dated in generations past, they dated to marry," she wrote. "They married young and dated within their communities, within their cultures and within their houses of worship or their clubs, and the expectation was that they were looking for a good husband or wife."
Now, Ms. Lyman said in an interview, singles engage in something she calls "mystery dating."
"They date based on interests and physical attraction," she said, barely taking time to compare notes on their long-term relationship goals.
In her book, Ms. Lyman outlines a three-stage process for finding a lasting mate. The stages are: assess, attract and act.
Her "Marriage Readiness Quiz" includes such questions as:
1. Are you "over" your past romances?
2. Do you feel good about yourself?
Answer no (or give a squishy response) to either question, and you might not even be a prepared for the marriage path.
"People have no idea how to date," she said in an interview. "They sort of just hope for the best."
Ms. Lyman encourages people to create a dream board with cutout photos and images that represent their ideal future: scenes of family life and romantic moments captioned with notes of encouragement.
She even instructs ready-to-marry singles to set a target date for their wedding.
Pledges include a specific number hours each week spent searching online dating sites and responding to emails; going on a set number of coffee dates each week; contacting friends and family members to see if they know marriage-minded singles; and attending events such as gallery openings and sports events likely to attract single people.
Ms. Lyman says met her husband, Michael, through an online dating site and felt an instant attraction on their first date. After all, flirtation and fate are still part of the formula for finding love.
But first comes focus.