I’ve been thinking about signs of ageing? You know. The seven signs. Women’s magazines often have sponsored articles about SSOA’s and how to combat them. I saw a product the other day that promised to reduce the effects of ageing at a nuclear level. FFS!!! I’m wondering though, are they all visible on the outside or are there internal SSOA’s that no one talks about because there is no expensive cream or treatment or diet or exercise to purchase with the hope of reversing the process?
I am an attractive, albeit aged, single woman. At ease with myself and others. Mostly. One of the gifts (or is it one of the SS’s?) of ageing is I am no longer ‘on the lookout’. I used to constantly be on the lookout. Watching myself being watched. As we do. Defining myself by the male interest I generated. I am desired, therefore I am. No room in there to be spontaneous and at ease with self and others. Men being assessed as potential partner material and women as possible competition and measured against. I feel tired just writing this sentence.
This is no longer the case for me and I enjoy the relief that goes with it (another of the SS’s perhaps?). As I reflect on this, there are several questions and bugger all answers. “When did this happen? Was it as I progressed in recovery and was able let go of being defined by others and come home to myself, or is this what happens naturally as one ages? Is this something I came to and made a decision around or is this me being past my use by date?” Well, yes, maybe…
There are times though when an interesting man hovers into view. A man of a certain age. Worthy of a second ‘look’, if you know what I mean? There is eye contact and there it is – that unexpected, ageless, moment of connection. It takes me by surprise. A quickening. Like someone turned the light on. You know the feeling. Then almost instantly the storyline kicks in… “Oh he won’t be interested in me. He’s attractive and I am too old for his attention”. At that point there is a change of gear as I turn away. I shrink. From me, from him, from life. Is it perceptible to him? Is it the ageist in me? Or the realist? I don’t know.
This storyline, habit energy, well-worn neural pathway, call it what you will, was reinforced for me recently. My friend Zoe has a 91 year old father. He is a charming and urbane gentleman with impeccable manners and good social skills. He has been a widower for several years and lives alone in pensioner housing in the inner city. There are a cluster of houses in the complex and most of the other residents are women. They, given the opportunity, fuss around him and offer him treats and one thing and another. There is a running family joke about ‘Daddy’ getting a girlfriend. Daddy plays along.
We were together at rural café/music venue one summer Sunday. All very convivial. There was an announcement from the stage acknowledging a local funeral and welcoming the wake taking place among us, making especial mention of Judy, the widow, and dedicating a song to her. It was a toe tapper and several people in the funeral party got up to dance. I noticed among them, a rather beautiful woman, in her mid-seventies perhaps, smiling and dancing with her friends and I realised this was Judy. She was wearing a lovely long blue dress and matching sandals and a garland of flowers in her white hair. As we watched appreciatively, Zoe turned to her father and playfully said, “look Daddy, there’s one for you. The good dancer. She looks lovely. And she’s single”. Daddy smiled at the prospect, slowly turned his gaze to the dance floor where Zoe was pointing, taking a moment to look at the group of people on the dance floor and said, “What? The old one? I don’t want an old one!!” Jesus.
Alright then. Would someone my age be ‘too old’? If I had asked, I have no doubt that he would have been too polite to tell me. So who will tell me/us? It’s not like we arrive at a certain age and get a golden handshake or a telegram from the Queen. Who decides? In their wonderful piece, “Last Fuckable Day,” as the brilliant and brave Amy Schumer and co discuss this; Tina Fey says, “nobody overtly tells you, but there are signs.”
I am curious why older men are perceived to be attractive to younger women. To women of all ages. If they ARE attractive that is. The attraction can be generated by looks, interests, wealth, power, and an ability to not take themselves seriously. (BTW guys, that’s what we mean when we say we like a man with a good sense of humour. It’s not about having a repertoire of good jokes. It’s about the ability to see the absurd, including in oneself, and to have a laugh).
The same does not apply for women. I’m not saying that I want or aspire to be in a relationship with a younger man, (I’ve been there and if you want to become acutely aware of signs of ageing, go there) I’m saying it’s inequitable that the society I live in so often perceives ageing men as distinguished and women of a similar age or younger as ‘faded’, or at best, looking ‘great for your age.’
So how do I recognise the SSOA’s? I have been reading a remarkable memoir, “Somewhere Towards the End”, written by Diana Athill when she was in her late 80’s. She describes an unexpected turn of events in her early 60’s, no longer on the lookout, when she met a man her own age in London.
“So when at our first meeting Sam made a stately swoop, I was pleased: it was both funny and revivifying to be seen as attractive by this agreeable and sexy person, just after concluding that my love-making days were over. Soon after that he moved into a flat near Putney Bridge, and for the next seven years I spent a night there with him about once a week.”
I fucking loved reading that. Diana didn’t shrink away when Sam swooped. She was pleased, amused and revived and decided to change the ending to the conclusion of her story. If Diana can, maybe I can. Just had a thought, perhaps being open to changing the conclusion is another of the seven signs of ageing..?
Thank you Diana Athill – I think I love you – for embracing life with intelligence, warmth and humour and for having the courage to not heed the rules in your youth nor now as you age. For being true to you and for sharing yourself with us xx