I was in line at the supermarket when a 30-something woman talking on her cellphone wheeled up behind me; I could hear everything she was saying. She was talking about a breakup, or at least it had all the hallmarks of a specific kind of breakup — she was guessing, second-guessing, making excuses, sounding hopeful and teary-eyed all at once.
I tried to focus my attention on the magazines at the checkout stand, but those were even more depressing — Cosmo wants to boost my confidence and clue me in on guys’ top sex secrets, O magazine wants to tell me how to try my true calling and how to be beautiful.
I know women can’t be the only ones who have self-doubts, but I don’t think guys obsess about it as much as we do — nor do they have such of barrage of messages coming from all sorts of media. I mean, would a guy ever pick up a book like “Why She Disappeared?” Yet, we have “Why He Disappeared” (written by Evan Marc Katz, whom I admire. Hey, I’ll take relationship advice from a guy over a woman any day!).
Are women innately more insecure than men are? Or, do we seek self-awareness more than men do?
Not to say that men don’t look at themselves and their relationships critically; I’m sure they do. And there’s advice for men out there, too, otherwise you wouldn’t see the thriving PUA movement.
It’s just that most of the self-help and relationship books are geared toward women and we’re scooping them up are like crazy. Would all those “Mars and Venus” books and seminars be around if it weren’t for women? Would Oprah and Dr. Phil be who they are without women? Not a chance!
I don’t think it’s because we’re insecure; I think it’s because women blame ourselves when things go wrong and look to others to help us, while guys try to fix things themselves.
So how can we, uh, fix this? (No, I’m not asking for your advice!) I think we need to teach our daughters to be less other-directed, stop blaming ourselves and give them the knowledge to figure things out for themselves first before looking for help. And we need to teach our sons that there’s nothing unmanly about asking others for help and to create safe places for them to express their emotional vulnerabilities.
OK, now I am asking for your advice:
- Why do women blame themselves so much?
- Why would men rather go it alone than ask for help?
The phone rang ridiculously early on a Saturday morning. It was Sara. I looked over at Sean — snoring happily and oblivious to the drama that was most likely about to unfold — so I answered.
“Did you see that article in the Times?”
“The ‘Modern Love‘ article. She sounds like us.”
True to my word, I did read the article later that day. And although the author, Sara Eckel, is younger than Sara and me by a few, cough, decades, I totally get what she’s saying:
Being an unattached woman who would rather not be somehow meant you were a nitwit, a bubblehead who had few concerns beyond shopping, pedicures and “Will he call?” My friends and I had no interest in shopping or pedicures, but that didn’t stop us from feeling wildly embarrassed that we longed for love. … Like single women everywhere, I had bought into the idea that the problem must be me, that there was some essential flaw — arrogance, low self-esteem, fear of commitment — that needed to be fixed. I needed to be fixed.
Somehow, if you are a woman admitting that you’d rather not be single — whether you’ve never married or whether you are divorced and looking for love again — people assume there must be something wrong with you if you either make that a priority or if you can’t find someone.
As midlife divorcees, the stereotypes about Sara and me are a little different than those about Eckel and her generation (30-somethings), but they are no less maddening.
Divorcees (of any age) are bitter women who battle their exes and use their children as pawns and their child support payments to become plastic Barbies to keep their fading beauty from fading too quickly, and who got divorced because they knew they’d walk away with the house, the kids and a big, fat alimony check. Or something like that. It isn’t true for many of us — certainly not Sara and me — but that doesn’t make things better. Perception is reality for too many people.
I hate the perceptions about divorced people — we’re failures, flawed, selfish, and self-absorbed people who don’t understand what commitment and “for better or worse” means, and put our own needs (aka happiness) before our children’s need, blah, blah, blah.
Those perceptions sting.
Like Eckel, we are wrestling with the belief that there’s something inherently wrong with us — we couldn’t make a marriage work, after all. How hard is that?!?! OK, granted — there are some divorced people who are bitter, who are oblivious to what commitment means, who have selfishly put their needs before their kids’. But, please don’t paint all of us with that broad paintbrush.
As for wanting love again at midlife, well, there’s the rub: Most of us assume we won’t find someone because of our wrinkles, sags and “issues.” And, yes — it is a little harder to find people at age 40 and beyond because the pool of eligible men is somewhat smaller and there’s a certain percentage of guys who want to skew younger. Fine — we’re not interested in those types! As Eckel says:
Did we find love because we grew up, got real and worked through our issues? No. We just found the right guys. We found men who love us even though we’re still cranky and neurotic, haven’t got our careers together, and sometimes talk too loudly, drink too much and swear at the television news. We have gray hairs and unfashionable clothes and bad attitudes. They love us, anyway.
Finding the “right guys” (or, in broader terms, the right person) is the take-home message.
Of course, nothing’s wrong with naming and addressing our issues head-on, and working through them as best we can. You can’t be available to fully embrace and love someone else if you can’t fully embrace and love yourself.
But, really, someone who loves us despite the crankiness, neuroses, gray hairs, bad clothes and other “endearing qualities” — isn’t that what we all want?
We just have to be prepared to do the same for someone else.
- Ever feel that there was something wrong with you because you were seeking love?
- Ever feel that something was wrong with you because you couldn’t find love?
- Ever feel that something was wrong with you because you couldn’t hold on to love?
- What stereotypes as a single or divorced person bother you the most?
Photo © Refocus Photography – Fotolia.com
“I feel so bad for Demi,” Sara said as we made our way up Old Railroad Grade.
“Sara, you really need to stop obsessing about Demi and Kim and Leann. When did you become such a celeb follower?”
“It’s not that! I couldn’t care less about them. I care about the broader issues.”
“Like can we older gals live just as happily-ever-after with boy toys as old guys with hot babes do?”
“Other younger babes.”
“Of course — did you expect he’d cheat with someone older than Demi? She’s 48!”
“It’s not that.”
“You’re right. It’s that he’s a cheater, and that probably doesn’t have anything to do with Demi’s age.”
Or does it?
Guys go for youth. This is not rocket science. But older women get their share of interest from younger men because we bring quite a few things to the table — experience, comfort in our own skin, and a savvy sexual appetite.
Say what you will about cougars, but it makes sense that older women should hook up with younger men. Maybe not guys 15 years younger, like Demi and Ashton, but maybe a few years — 5 or so. Why? Because men die younger than women do, and that means there are so many more widows than widowers. It means women often spend a decade or more alone when they’re old and more likely to need companionship more than ever; that’s sad!
Marrying someone younger would lessen the chance of that.
Plus, 15 years is an awfully big gap; your interests and experiences are bound to be pretty different. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean a marriage wouldn’t work — lots of people the same age with similar interests and experiences get divorced! But being just 5 years or so apart in age puts you in the same generation, anyway. And, you’d also have similar aging issues.
Maybe that’s the biggest turn off of all. The body starts to wrinkle, sag and shift, the mind starts to wander and then what? I know that stuff shouldn’t matter —after all, we don’t know what illnessnes and accidents await us at any age. But maybe starting off with a “disadvantage,” it will — eventually.
So, maybe cougars and boy toys should plan on five blissfully happy years together, and then move on. There are always more young men out there, ladies …
Does a big gap in a relationship matter in the long run?