Sex and the Gray-Haired Woman

Do men think women with gray hair are sexy? One woman conducts a daring dating experiment.

By Anne Kreamer

Gray Hair: Hot or Not?

Not long after I announced to my husband that I planned to stop coloring my hair, he delivered what he intended as an upbeat insight into his own feelings about gray hair on women. He’d seen a 35-ish woman on the subway with distinct gray-white streaks in her dark hair, and he said he found her "very hot" because of the gray. That reminded him, he told me, of his assistant at a job a dozen years before, a woman who developed white streaks at age 30. "And I found that extremely hot too. Although she was sexy in general. Still is."

Great, Honey! Thanks so much for sharing. Could you maybe have told me that before I spent about $65,000 coloring my hair for 25 years? But in fact, it was interesting. And comforting. And it kind of stopped me in my tracks. Maybe the truth is that men actually like gray hair (or at least don’t mind it), and it is we women who are our own worst enemies.

I realized that there was a close-to-the-bone experiment I could conduct to test whether going gray would be a detriment to romance for a woman my age. I could fudge my marital and parental status and offer myself up on an Internet dating site to men in the New York City area. And with the miracle of Photoshop, I could do it as both a gray-haired and a brunette 50-year-old.

My plan was first to create a post with a photo of me with gray hair and leave it up for three weeks. Then, a few months later, I’d post the same description and the same photo, but this time with brown hair. I chose Match.com for my experiment because its membership of 20 million seemed to me most interested in no-strings-attached dating; I didn’t want to mislead anyone into thinking I wanted to get married.

My husband, Kurt, is not a particularly jealous person, but I imagined that this idea would test even his limits. With genuine trepidation, I announced my plan over dinner one night. Kurt was a little unsettled by the notion of my pretending to date ("In the movie version of this," he said, "you actually meet a guy and fall in love with him"), but he’s a writer with a sense of mischief. And he’s sort of a data nerd besides, so he ultimately endorsed the experiment. My teenage girls just thought it was one more weird, embarrassing thing their weird, embarrassing mother was doing.

My Profile

The day I sat down to write my profile for Match.com, my heart started to race. I was going to thrust myself into a public forum, asking thousands of men to judge and rate me — and even more terrifying, friends or acquaintances might see my picture and think that my husband and I had split up. ("That’s the first act of the movie version," Kurt said.)

That same week I happened across a survey of 7,000 cyber daters that seemed to confirm the conventional wisdom: "An overwhelming 86 percent of women and 91 percent of men said they would not date someone with gray hair, preferring instead someone who looks younger." Well, I thought, we’ll see.

I wanted all my answers to the Match.com profile questions to generate the largest possible response pool, but it was too upsetting to write that I was divorced. (Have I mentioned that I’m superstitious?) Kurt convinced me, however, that no guy would want to get embroiled with someone who was separated — too messy, too "not ready" — so divorced I’d have to be. I also hated erasing my children from the picture, but the same argument held: Having kids implied complications, and I wanted men to think I was available at the drop of a hat.

For the rest of the questions, I tried to portray myself as youthful and fun. I said I didn’t care about a man’s education, income, religion, or any of the rest of it. I didn’t answer any of the mortifying Playmate-ish questions about what turns me on — long hair, piercings, thunderstorms…sorry, no answer. I did offer these up as my favorite things: meat loaf, aquamarine blue, sunny weather, big dogs, black cats, Death Cab for Cutie, Philip Glass, jeans, and yoga. By the end I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to date me; my profile made me sound as if I were an emotionally inaccessible android.

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