My husband and I were together for 19 years and then just two weeks before my 49th birthday he asked for a divorce. Happy Birthday to me and then almost before I knew what was happening I was single and thrown into the dating world again. Looking back I remember that my mother was only 50 when my father died. As far as I know she never dated or slept with another man again. At the time that didn’t seem the least bit strange to me, but now it occurs to me that perhaps she understood more about men than I ever gave her credit for. She always had admirers, even at 85 she had a gentleman sending her poetry about her beauty, but she just smiled with a twinkle in her eye and carried on alone.
Recently I received one of those funny emails where someone had written eloquently (and humorously) about how men and women view their bodies at different stages of life. I wish I knew who wrote it (actually I wish I had written it myself!) and I would give her credit here. What she said so profoundly is that women feel very differently about their bodies at every stage of their lives until around age 50 when we finally all figure out that regardless of our body shape…we’re awesome! Men, on the other hand feel the same about their bodies at every stage until old age. They have a penis, it works, and they’re obsessed with it!
It was right on target and it made me think perhaps this is one of the reasons why men and women find dating so hard in middle age. We’re finally at a stage of acceptance and the men we’re dating still feel the same way they did as teenagers. It also explains a great deal about why so many middle aged men want to date women who are so much younger than they are. Because they have a penis, it works, and they’re obsessed with it. Wow, I never realized it was so simple!
Seriously though, sitting here today after suffering yet another middle-aged heart ache, I have to admit there must be more to it than that. I swore I would not become one of those bitter, middle-aged women who hate men and have given up on relationships altogether. But, it’s been seven years, and I have to admit to dating a lot of men, and each time things became serious, one by one, they broke my heart. Some slowly, some quickly, some in person, some over the phone or with a text! And every time I got up, brushed my heart off, and got on with my life.
Somehow, today feels very different. This was, by all accounts, a very good man. A nice, well-educated, well-spoken, attractive, fun, sexy man who just two days ago told me he wanted a “relationship”. Just forty-eight hours later, nothing at all has changed in the world, and he calls me at work to let me know he can’t do it.
Is everyone so broken down by their previous heart aches that they just can’t do it again? I try not to be cynical but I’ve heard it all before. He actually said the “I’d like to be friends” phrase! What is wrong with men that they think after you’ve slept with them and given a piece of your soul up you can just turn back the clock and be friends? I can only determine they don’t “feel” things the same way women do.
I miss my twenties. Not just the hot, firm body I had. Not even the fact that everyone else was single too and there were a lot more men to choose from. Mostly I miss that there were rules. I have fond memories of dating in my twenties. The rules were clear and everyone was aware of them. You met a man somehow… through friends, or out at a club, or in the grocery store, or the parking lot of your apartment building. You struck up a conversation. If he was interested in getting to know you better he asked you out, usually for lunch first. If that went well he’d ask you out again — usually for a Thursday night — because Thursday night was official first date night.
If you weren’t in a relationship, Friday night both men and women went out with their friends and continued to try and meet people of the opposite sex. Saturday night was serious date night. You didn’t ask a woman out on Saturday night unless you were serious about her or already in a relationship with her. If you wanted to see a woman on Saturday night you had to call and ask her by Wednesday. No self respecting woman would say yes to a weekend date any later than Wednesday. If all went well after your first Saturday night date…you began to see each other regularly. After a few weeks you began having sex and you were now a couple. It was simple, everyone knew the rules, and it worked really well.
The Beach Boys knew what Saturday night meant. In their famous cruising song, “I Get Around”, they sang:
“None of the guys go steady ‘cause it wouldn’t be right
To leave their best girl home on a Saturday night”
We all followed the rules back then and a good time was had by all. Now dating again at middle age it appears there are no rules. For one thing dating was designed for two people to spend time together in order to see if they have the possibility of making good partners. In middle age, very few people are looking for a life partner any more. In fact most of the men I’ve met have no idea what they’re looking for.
You can date a man for weeks, sometimes months, and it usually never gets past lunch or a walk by the river. (Walking by the river seems to be big with men over 50. Don’t ask me why because I can’t answer for them. I suspect it’s for budgetary reasons, since they’re all divorced and have been hit financially, but that would just be a guess.) After hours spent talking, eating, walking sometimes you get to the sex part but you still have no idea what it means to them.
For me, sex means we’ve reached a new level of intimacy. We now have a new dimension to our relationship; a joyful, exciting, fresh area to explore. For men it appears to mean one of two things: either they now own you and expect you to be with them every free moment, or the relationship is now over. They become uncomfortable, don’t want to talk about what it meant, become frightened about commitment and ride off into the sunset.
Most recently: I met a man. That’s how it usually starts! We enjoyed a lot of the same things and had a lot in common. We met for coffee and couldn’t stop talking. We enjoyed some lunches and dinners and a wonderful trip to the coast. We dated casually for a while and then one Saturday night I invited him over for dinner and a movie. We had some dinner, we watched part of the movie, and then in the middle of a quiet boring patch…he made his move… and we ended up having sex. The next morning we got up and took my dog for a walk, after which he went home.
No flowers were delivered. No phone call telling me what a wonderful evening he had. Days came and went with no phone call, email or text. Finally, being a person who has a need to know, I called him and asked why he would walk away without so much as a word. He hadn’t called because: he didn’t know what to say; it was too soon; he shouldn’t have done it; it’s not me it’s him; he didn’t want a relationship, etc. Oh my God — I’ve heard it all before – from men I’ve dated and similar stories from my girlfriend’s forays into the dating world.
Sometimes I wish they’d make up some fascinating new reason simply for entertainment. Something like this: His first wife, who he believed walked out on him, really was in a car accident in New Mexico and suffered from amnesia. She just recovered and remembered she was married and showed up on his door step the very morning he left my house. If you’re going to dump me at least be creative so I have something new to write about!
It makes a woman wonder if she’s no good at the sex thing –but over the years I have had the opportunity to learn that can’t be the case. Sex just simply seems to turn most middle aged men back into foolish teenage boys who treat girls badly because they’re embarrassed by their own behavior and it’s easier to make light of it in front of the other boys in the locker room.
I’ve been thinking of writing a sitcom entitled “Another One Bites the Dust” wherein every week a middle-aged woman meets a new man who for one reason or another isn’t ready for love. My girlfriend said she can’t see the humor in it but I think if I’m going to survive middle-age and not become a bitter, old woman I’m going to have to find a way to laugh about it.
As I sit here alone again tonight, just having been dumped by my most recent love and drinking the bottle of wine he bought me and told me to save for a “special occasion”, I find myself wondering: Is heartbreak one word, or two? (Because that’s the kind of things writers think about even when they’re in pain.) The other thing I’m wondering is: Is getting dumped “special” enough of an occasion? And: Is this it for me? Is there a limit on the number of heartaches one person can endure? Have I reached mine? Will I now become that cliché I so wanted to avoid? Will I have to learn to live alone for the next thirty years? Other than the spelling of heartbreak, I don’t have the answers. We’ll have to stay tuned to life and see what happens next.
September 27, 2011