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
“Do you think Sara Leal’s attractive?” I asked Sean as we snuggled on a lazy Sunday morning.
Sean’s a smart guy, but he’s not too hip when it comes to the latest celebrity or celeb scandal — thankfully!
“The young blond party girl who had sex with Ashton.”
“Why do you pay attention to that stuff?”
Why? She’s pretty, young, has a great bod and can party with best of them — the kind of girl a lot of guys like to sleep with.
Now, I never would have heard about Sara and I’ll bet neither would have any one else if she hadn’t had unprotected sex — twice — with Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore’s husband.
So why do I know about the 22-year-old? Because after first asking for $250,000 to shut up about it, which obviously didn’t happen, she then blabbed about it to anyone who would listen (which, sadly, is a huge portion of the population) — presumably for cash — saying that sleeping with him has messed up her life.
No, Sara, the truth is, you messed up your life. Sleeping with a married man (OK, he allegedly told her he was separated, but still) is bad enough but I won’t judge other people’s actions. But sleeping with him and then selling your story and all the details (“He had great endurance. We were up for a while. It was about two hours.”) to magazines isn’t going to help you move past your part-time modeling gig.
Except, of course, it probably will. I imagine Sara’s already entertaining offers to pose naked in Playboy, and I wouldn’t doubt that we’ll soon see her on reality TV. To get your 15 minutes of fame nowadays all you have to do is sleep with a high-profile guy once or twice, sell your story or pictures of it, or both, and you’ll pocket a few thousand to ease your heartbreak.
If I were a mom of a daughter, we’d probably be having a long discussion about how not to get famous by going the Sara Leal route. Being naive and stupid (unprotected sex?) and then opportunistic is a very ugly combination, no matter how pretty you are.
Then there are all the topless picture of her circulating on the Internet and descriptions by friends that she “parties a lot” and would “go out with her best friends, and she’d get drunk and be the fun girl.” This is not something to be known for. Being a party girl ages you pretty quickly.
And her 15 minutes of fame from all of this will blow away quickly, and she’ll spend many more years trying to get people to forget about it than being able to capitalize on it. Need proof? Look at Monica Lewinsky, who didn’t seek fame but who got it anyway.
Reading some of the comments on the online stories about the Sara-Ashton “event,” guys are calling her skanky but in the same breath saying, “but I’d still f@*k her.” Because that’s how people will see her now. I have to wonder — was it worth it?
Knowing that about some guys, and I’m mom to a guy, I’ll be talking about Sara Leal to The Kid, too. While Ashton may have been a relatively safe bet for having unprotected sex with since he’s been married for the past six years, Sara is a party girl. If she’s having sex on the first hookup with no protection, you can pretty much bet she doesn’t use protection, period, and the consequences of that could be disastrous — STDs, AIDs, a baby. I really want my kid to think about that.
Beyond the sex part, I’d want to explore with him why guys find someone like Sara Leal — with her heavy makeup and boozy partying — attractive? OK, that was a stupid question — I know why guys find someone like Sara Leal attractive. Which makes me think we have a very skewed idea of what’s attractive.
When I explained to Sean why, as a mom, I feel a need to talk about Sara Leal, I asked him again if he thought she was attractive. “No,” he said, “but I’d still f@*k her.”
- Is there a message for kids in the Sara Leal saga?
- Is there a message for all of us in the Sara Leal saga?
“Was marriage what you expected it would be?” Mia asked, not quite directed to anyone in particular as we sat at Sam’s, enjoying the post-rain sun.
“No way! I had no idea how mind-numbingly boring it could be,” Sara said. “Like ‘Groundhog Day.’”
“Mine wasn’t boring, well it had its boring moments. We just stopped being nice to each other I think,” Mia said. “What about you, Kat?”
“I didn’t have many expectations. I don’t think I knew what I wanted it to be; I just knew what I didn’t want it to be — my parents’ marriage.”
“I hear that!” Mia exclaimed. “But, did ours turn out any better?”
Who’s happier? Our parents didn’t shake it up but we sure did at midlife. After divorce, we threw ourselves into our careers, our friends, our passions. Still, we all wanted love, too. And we’ve found our way, sorta kinda. Mia was happy with Rex, until that ended horribly and she’s been floundering since, including dating a man who’s newly separated. Sara has been floundering, too, striking out with Yoga Man, who was just too emo for her, but then she met Todd — a nice guy who wants a threesome (not that there’s anything wrong with that) and who has a pretty cool ex. I’ve been incredibly happy with Sean, a great guy whom I adore — and not just because he thinks my small breasts are perfect. But we don’t and probably won’t ever live together (which may actually be why we’ve lasted this long).
Our parents? As kids, then sharp-eyed teens and eventually cynical adults, we’ve seen a bit (or more) of their marital dysfunction — and who knows the secrets they’ve kept from us? But they toughed it out, for better or worse, probably without any of the expectations we had when we married. Of course, our moms didn’t have the same choices we women have today. Neither did our dads — a stay-at-home dad in the ’50s? I don’t think so!
I honestly don’t know who’s had it better or easier. Do we want too much from a marriage? Did our parents expect too little?
Experts are blaming our 50 percent divorce rate and the increasingly loud chorus of those who think marriage is obsolete on our unrealistic expectations of marriages.
I didn’t have those expectations, but I guess I had a picture in my head of what a happy marriage looked like. You know, a little Norman Rockwellish because I’m a sentimental romantic at heart. But my observations of my own marriage is pretty much like my observation of life — there’s a lot of mundane stuff interrupted by some really nice stuff. I embrace the nice stuff, accept the mundane stuff and try to make the mundane parts a little less boring and get more of the nice stuff. And, I can’t really count on someone else doing that for me.
I’m not sure if that’s a sustainable model for a marriage — you obviously have to pick the right person from the beginning and some of us really don’t. Plus, you really do have to want to be married — some of us are just not cut out to be in a long-term, monogamous relationships. And, that’s OK.
Maybe we need to go into a marriage with no expectations — then we’d be constantly surprised!
- What expectations did you have in your marriage?
- Were they “unrealistic”?
© Volker Gerstenberg – Fotolia.com