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Odds long for divorced women

The number of divorced women in the Tampa Bay area outpaces the number of divorced men by 33 percent. The ratio used to be worse: 25 years ago, it was 52 percent.

Part 3 of a four-part series

Published April 25, 2006

TAMPA - She is 6 feet tall, her blond head well above the crowd. She's heading toward the entrance of the tent now; in her mind she is already gone.

He taps her on the shoulder and she spins around.

"Weren't you on the recent singles cruise?" he asks.

Willow McLaughlin shakes her head but sees he's taller than she, and he's attractive in a fair-haired, broad-shouldered kind of way. He produces a business card. He's president of a company that makes jeans that split in half and can be interchanged with different legs.

That's original, she thinks.

She is 56. In the last year, she has been on 73 dates. This is the latest in her effort to meet someone, a singles expo in a big white tent outside The Grand Hyatt Hotel in Tampa. She thinks of what her pastor told her when he slipped into the booth of her restaurant, Willow's Diner, in Largo: "When the time is right, he'll drop out of the sky."

When will he come along, she wonders. Is it now?

Divorced 18 months, Willow faces an uphill battle to find a man. Not because she is not beautiful or too tall. But because there are roughly 39,000 more divorced women than divorced men in the Tampa Bay area. That's 33 percent more divorced women than men. In Hillsborough, it's 50 percent more. Nationally, it's 40 percent more.

If one divorce logically produces two people, why the huge imbalance? Some experts say that Tampa Bay's job growth and exceptional weather has attracted more divorced women. Plus, men tend to remarry faster than women.

"Men, I think, for the most part are really freaked out about being single," said Pepper Schwartz, a professor of sociology at the University of Washington and a relationship expert on "Most men try extremely hard to be repartnered. They're not used to taking care of themselves."

Many women, on the other hand, aren't in a hurry to remarry.

"You know I don't necessarily see the need to get married again," said Laurie Martinsen, 51, an account representative for a mortgage lending company who has been divorced twice and recently moved to Tampa from California.

"But I would like to have a partner. I'm not going to have children. I'm comfortable in the lifestyle I'm living. All I miss is having someone to pal around with, to care about, to cuddle with. I'm probably like many women in this area."

Willow gazes around the singles expo, which incidentally was dreamed up by a single mom with two kids who couldn't find a singles group when she moved to Sarasota.

On the dance floor in front of a DJ, hundreds of people dance, eat and bat eyelashes.

Willow sizes up the problem: "There are at least 10 women for every man."

In 18 months of singledom, Willow has gained a new perspective.

She would like to find a man to do things with, maybe marry. But she's content with her life and not willing to settle. On, there are 500 men between the ages of 40 and 60 in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, and she's working her way through them. She's starting to think she's too picky but ...

"My last date fell asleep in his soup," Willow said. "He was older and tired. I'm not a boring person."

Then there was the guy who told her he'd already been to bed with several women he had met on - that week. Another guy wanted to know her bra size. That was the end of him.

The jeans company guy was getting more interesting by the minute. And he was the first one she has met outside

Jim O'Brien, aka jeans guy, has been divorced 11 years. Three years ago, he decided he really wanted to meet a woman and needed to get it in gear.

He placed an ad in a little magazine in his Westchase neighborhood, saying he wanted to start a singles club. He included his e-mail address. He got 11 responses - all from women.

Today, his group, the Westchase Singles, has 1,560 people on its rosters. About 60 percent are women and 40 percent are men. Jim, who won't reveal his age, has dated seven women from his group, but he hasn't met that someone. Like Willow, he's picky.

In addition to his jeans manufacturing company, he builds $25,000 model airplanes and runs the singles club.

"Usually what happens is that when I meet a young lady that I really like, she starts to find out how deeply involved I am and thinks, "this guy is not for me, he has no time for me,"' Jim said. "I'm looking for someone to fit into my lifestyle."

After their chance encounter at the singles expo, Willow and Jim talked on the phone several days in a row, some of their conversations as much as two hours long. They went out to dinner at Catch 23, an upscale fish restaurant in Countryside.

But when Jim called for a second date, Willow didn't call back. Jim called again. Again she didn't return the call.

Jim moved on to an attorney he met on the singles cruise. Willow, who had decided Jim wasn't for her, went on a date with a man with bad teeth and a belly. date No. 74.

Staff writer Matthew Waite and researcher Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report.

[Last modified April 25, 2006, 21:53:46]

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