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Sheryl Sandberg Is A Role Model For Middle-Aged Women

She’s busting the narrative of finding love later in life

Whether you are a fan of the advice in Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 best-seller , or not, the Facebook executive has made a lasting impression on working women. And she’s doing it again — this time when it comes to finding love.

Last week, Sandberg, widowed when her husband died suddenly in 2015, announced she’s engaged to Tom Bernthal, whom she’s been dating for less than a year.

Just like inspired many women in the workplace, Sandberg can be seen as an inspiration to women — especially middle-aged women — who are seeking a romantic relationship.

At midlife, Sandberg is busting the narrative in numerous ways:

She had a starter marriage

In 1993, Sandberg married Washington, D.C., businessman Brian Kraff. She was just 24. Her parents told her to find a man in college in addition to focusing on her schoolwork, and she did. But they split just a year later. As she said:

I got married at 24. By 25, I was divorced. For years, I felt like I was wearing a scarlet letter “D.” I was worried — that no one would want to date me, that I wouldn’t have children, that I would end up alone. It wasn’t until a decade later that I understood who I was and what I needed in a relationship. That’s when I found the right life partner: my husband, Dave.

Takeaway — A starter marriage can help you clarify what you need and want in a partner.

She’s been dating — at midlife!

You know the narrative about middle-aged women, right? We’re washed-up, past-our-prime menopausal messes who’ve lost our beauty as well as our interest in sex. No guy’s going to want to date that!

Oh really?

Sandberg was widowed at age 45. About 10 months later, she began a relationship with billionaire Bobby Kotick, which ended three years later, shortly before she met Bernthal. Kotick was 52 when they started dating. What do you know — they’re both middle-aged men who are interested in a middle-aged woman.

If Sandberg can find two guys like that, so can a lot of other middle-aged women.

Takeaway — Don’t let anyone tell you middle-aged men aren’t interested in women their own age. The smart ones are and do.

She’s older than her fiance

Sandberg is 50 and Bernthal is 46. OK, that’s not a huge age difference, certainly not like actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who’s 24 years younger than his wife, director Sam, or French president Emmanuel Macron, who’s 25 years younger than his wife, Brigitte Trogneux.

But still.

A 46-year-old man could easily marry a woman a decade or more younger. That Bernthal isn’t interested in that sends a clear message — confident and smart men have no problem committing to women older than they are.

Takeaway — Women should never buy into the narrative that they can’t date and marry younger men. We can and we do.

She’s a multiple marrier

This will be Sandberg’s third marriage, making her typical of a good number of modern marriages. In fact, among women who married in 2017, 27 percent had been married before. I predict that number will increase soon; given that we are living longer than ever before, with some predicting we may live to be 150 years old, multiple partnerships are almost a given. In any event, marriages don’t have to last forever to be successful.

Of course, Sandberg’s second marriage didn’t end happily or by choice. But her first ended like many do, by divorce. No one should be shamed by getting a divorce and feel as she did — “that no one would want to date me, that I wouldn’t have children, that I would end up alone.” Her own experience has proven her worst fears wrong.

Takeaway — There’s nothing shameful about being married more than once. And if a marriage ends in divorce, it does not make you damaged goods.

She’s the real breadwinner

Sandberg is worth about $1.7 billion. Bernthal is estimated to be worth $5 to $7 million — substantial, sure, but nowhere near his soon-to-be-wife’s worth. We’ve all heard the stories about women who make more than their husbands — the men feel threatened and the couple is more likely to divorce.

Maybe that’s not an issue if you’re both multimillionaires and then some, But given how much Sandberg has talked about the importance of finding the right partner, one who is as hands-on and supportive as you are, I’m pretty sure they’ve had this conversation at least once — how are we going to be equal partners?

Takeaway — You can make the same or more than your partner and be supported in your career if you have the right partner. It’s not your income that matters; it’s your partner. And if you can’t find a partner who’ll do that, stay single.

She’ll be a stepmom

Sandberg has two children from her previous marriage; Bernthal has three, making them a soon-to-be blended family of five kids, thus the five tiny diamonds in the engagement ring he presented to her.

More children are living with parents who are remarried, about 15 percent, and 16 percent are living in blended families — a household with a stepparent, stepsibling or half-sibling.

It’s true that having children makes marrying again challenging, especially for women. But friends of the couple say part of why they were attracted to each other is their shared values as dedicated parents.

Takeaway — Just because you have children doesn’t mean you can’t find a partner who’ll care for your children as much as they care about you. Having similar values matters.


Written by

Award-winning journalist, coauthor of “The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels,” mom, changing the narrative about older women

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