A Wilderness

July 2, 2011 § 24 Comments

As a divorced woman the wrong side of 45 with a brace of kids, I am a plankton on the food chain of sexuality and the prospect of a relationship.

Women die long before they actually die.

I used to live for my husband and children, my family, friends, and my work.  Now, I live for my children, and my family, my friends and my work.  I may live till I am ninety, but a sort of death has already come.  I am already in a wilderness – maybe my time again, over forty fucking years, it’s possible, but with no one.  And, before I pop my clogs officially, another sort of death to look forward to along the way, in a few years’ time, when the children leave home.  A woman’s trajectory; a barrel of laughs.

Hanif Kureshi was uncharacteristically restrained in Intimacy when his callous narrator considers, briefly, the fate of the mother of his children whom he is leaving.  “A lone middle-aged woman with kids doesn’t have much cachet.”  He could have said her stock is so low that it might as well be the shit on a man’s shoe.  He goes on: “She will, unfortunately, become the recipient of sympathy.  At dinner parties divorced men will be placed next to her.”

Men have an odd notion of a woman’s life post-divorce, that soon enough it will be all dinner parties and divorced men.  Would that.  On the whole, people do not give dinner parties and ask divorced women of a certain age.  What’s the point?  They are life’s landfill, not recycling.  As well as embarrassing and desperate.  (Even if our whole existence is geared to disguising that desperation because, as we all know, gravity and desperation are the enemies of sexual promise).  Neither is a good look on the prized Conran dining-chairs, especially as that disguise is necessarily beyond inadequate.  The midriff and fat-arse pounds cannot be disguised even in Ghost, and the desperation has a stench about it of milk spilt in a car months ago.

A friend’s husband – who is clever and funny and nice, honestly – told me about a dinner party he and his wife had been asked to in Notting Hill.  It was populated – well, obviously – by blondes in their twenties.  They were, he said, both spectacularly thin and spectacularly dim.  And was that attractive, I asked, hoping against hope that skeletal brain deadness had its limitations?  Yes, he laughed, very.  And I thought, I must go on a diet and do my pelvic floors, as if my life depended on it.  But it would be entirely pointless.  Lettuce leaves and cottage cheese are a form of death in themselves and my flesh is spent, regardless of any amount of urgent intervention.  Quite apart from the fact that good food and not exercising are the rare pleasures, in the absence of interest from the opposite sex, which make me remember I am still alive.

I like to think that the pleasures for men of the mind, the experience, the wisdom and more sophisticated sense of humour of a woman my age might prompt in them the recognition that I am a woman worthy of consideration.

Foolish fantasist.  Woman my age and who, even in my youth, was only ever borderline attractive verging on Not At All, I am in men’s eyes just a slack cunt on botched legs.  Why mine, when they can have the neat, nude, twenty-three year old version: taut, sharp and gulping as the beak of a baby bird?

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§ 24 Responses to A Wilderness

  • Sanguinius says:

    Don’t do yourself down – the ‘older lady’ is gaining quite a good deal of cachet amongst we 18-30 year old men… long live the Cougar! :o)

    • Grant says:

      To many 18-30-year-old men, the ‘older lady’ is nothing more than the oedipal ‘Yummy Mummy’ notch on the bedpost.

  • Barbara Curry says:

    Hello “Plankton”, Stop calling yourself that right now, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and put in some effort to find out who you really are, before you even think about finding a man. What music do you like? How do you like to spend a self-indulgent evening entirely on your own? Do you have the courage to join a dance class or choir on your own? And discover the joys of female friendships, for goodness’ sake- this time in your life is the perfect opportunity! Women are good at cuddles, sleepovers and mutual sympathy. You can have sex with a vibrator.

    You have children- enjoy them and nurture them- they will sustain you in future if you stay close. You are a mother and you owe it to your children to be dignified and positive about yourself. It’s their job to find themselves mates for life, not yours! Do you think they want to think of their mother as plankton? When they have children themselves, you will be a grandmother: take it from me this is the most exciting, wonderful thing, and you need to have the right relationship with your children to make the most of this.

    It is just not true that there are no men for older women: I was divorced at 47 and remarried happily at 55. Between 47 and 55 I discovered who I wanted to be, grew my friendship circle, travelled solo and had loads of fun and some agony too, including completely unsuitable relationships which challenged me and helped me grow. You will find after your mid-fifties that sex really isn’t that important any more- but I had the best sex of my life after divorce and wouldn’t have missed that for anything. “It’s the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance, it’s the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance” (Song:The Rose).

    Learn to be fully you, and take a long break from wondering what others think of you. Suddenly you will find, because you are happy in your own skin, that people want to be around you. Give yourself ten years before you even start looking for a man, and you will probably find Mr Right popping up well before then.

    Good luck!

  • beachbuoy says:

    Probably not what you want to hear but I find your literary style very enjoyable. I also empathise enormously with almost every word you write. You articulate almost every situation and emotion I have gone through (or am on the verge of experiencing).
    And I’m a man.
    Strange life, isn’t it?

  • Paul says:

    A lovely article, taking me to tears and smiling, thinking and reflecting, when I read it today in some Times paper and also find the adress of this webadress over here. You are right, yes, you are right.
    I’d like I could make you talk direct to me, but as I am not living in your pond (sea) I cannot get access to you(r) plankton.
    Best regards
    Paul (male, from Germany)

  • kevin shone says:

    I read your article ( Plankton The Times July 6 ) with interest and a slight touch of empathy. However, if as you say, you feel at the bottom of the food chain, spare a thought for single guys in their early 60’s with a slight disabilty then maybe you will see what it’s really like to be invisible to the opposite sex. I consider myself an educated articulate person, but most people can’t see past the age or disability. I have tried the internet, but most women seem to be more interested in ” the good life ” or holidays in the sun. At least some plankton gets gobbled up, even if it’s only by whales. good luck in your quest.

  • Buster says:

    What an absolute load of rubbish from start to finish!!
    I know first hand and second hand how dificult it is being of this same age and trying to find even a half decent woman of just about any age.
    I know a really decent, goodlooking, intelligent, tall, athletic, kind, sensitive, honest (the list goes on & on believe me!!!!) guy who’s been trying to get a date with at least a half interested woman from 35 to 45 (He’s 43) for months to no avail with Dating direct. He says he just can’t be bothered anymore!
    My own view is this: Despite the supposed revolution most women still judge a man by his social status, despite so many having done their utmost to diminish it over the last few decades through the divorce courts. Now their stuck with what they wished for. Few men measuring up to what their monkey brains perceive as a good match, mostly due to their own making. The men I know feel generally inadequate as their status has been eroded as the state has seemingly become the provider through transfer of wealth schemes. These guys just don’t feel like they have anything left to offer. The whole social structure has been screwed over and nobody seems to have a bloody clue about why life sucks for so many people.
    All we’re supposed to do is buy a new car, or some fancy clothes, or have some surgery, or go on another bloody diet to make us feel better about our sad lives. Great for big busines yeh, & great for big government too!
    But all we really need is some bloody love!!!

  • Topgeared says:

    I also read your article in the Times yesterday, as an eligible single man of 50, I have to say I completely empathise with you. You should also though consider it from our side. Even if we do get invited to a dinner party, there are rarely single women there for the reasons you’ve stated! Young women, whilst physically attractive, have little conversation, appalling taste in music, want to go out clubbing and have kids. I already have two grown up ones who apart from still being registered with the bank of dad are pretty independent. I’m not thinking of going back to nappies and sleepless nights. I am fortunate in that I enjoy a varied and interesting lifestyle, due mainly to having a successful business and a wide range of interests. However, I rarely meet single women in their 40’s at social events. Its always young 20 and 30 somethings with their biological clocks ticking and a penchant for guys who drive expensive cars. So apart from internet dating, which I have tried with some success and which I advocate, how and where else can we expect to meet single women like yourself? Where are you all hiding?

    • jane says:

      At the bottom of the sea I believe – feeling sorry for themselves. Life should not be about finding someone to ‘make you happy’. Love is not all about that either I don’t think.

      enjoying what you have and stop wanting what might be just around the corner sometimes works. Dont have a crystal ball tho – sorry!

    • Lorraine says:

      Topgeared, you are indeed a rarity. I and many of my girlfriends are looking for men like you who we can have intelligent conversation with, go to dinner and the theatre with and have great sex! We thought we might find you through online dating but unfortunately our experiences were dire. Most men being either ‘sad, mad or bad’. I agree with Plankton that middle aged men generally seem to go after women 10, 20 or 30 years younger than themselves (irrespective of whether they, the men, look like the back end of the proverbial bus).

      • Topgeared says:

        Lorraine, it depends on what the guy is looking for. If its a long term relationship then the young 20 and 30 somethings are best avoided as it won’t be long before the subject of babies comes up. It happened to me with the last two women I dated, so give me an attractive 40 something, with kids in their teens and an ability to hold intelligent conversation. I don’t want more kids and I don’t really want a partner with very young children. I can’t be that much of a rarity, but then I live in Surrey where I’ve been single, more or less, for 5 years and I only have one male friend who is currently single! So I can see how hard it must be for you and your girlfriends.

      • Mr D says:

        “middle aged men generally seem to go after women 10, 20 or 30 years younger than themselves (irrespective of whether they, the men, look like the back end of the proverbial bus).”

        This is because whatever age the women that I meet are, they seem to expect me to pay for their every desire. There is a Quid Pro Quo here – there has to be something in it for the guy. I’m sorry girls, but once you’re past 40 the chances are high that you have less to bring to the party. The 20 year old has plenty to bring – and just as I know exactly what she wants, she knows she’s got exactly what I want.

        She judges me by the size of my wallet and I understand that. The 50 year olds that I meet – who don’t have quite the same assets – still have that mercenary attitude!

        When my Dad was young men almost always paid for their women, as they didn’t have their own incomes. Now most of my potential girlfriends earn more than I do – but they never seem to suggest they should buy me dinner! At best they offer to “go dutch” then make it plain that they’re unhappy about the situation.

        You can’t have it both ways.

    • Peggy says:

      We’re at home looking after the kids taking responsibility for the responsibilities left on our plate when our darling ex’s felt they’d had enough of being responsible. Huh, feel better now. Nothing like a little vent.

  • Ken says:

    Things are not a great deal better from the male perspective. I love and seek the company of women, but it appears that I can only have a ‘friends’ relationship with women below thirty years of age. Whilst the over forties claim to be content with male companions who are available for occasional theatre/cinema/restaurant visits, the truth is quite different. Usually by the second date they need to be validated as desirable sexual partners, who still have what it takes. Unfortunately for them I don’t seek impulsive, fast moving physical encounters, but stick to my initial motivation of finding interesting companions who wish to extend and explore their social lives. A failure to respond to their strong hints/suggestions of taking the new frienship to a higher level, results in the new relationship being cut short, so that the slighted female may go and lick her wounds. I have been tempted to pass myself off as homosexual, in order to reach a plateau of ‘my best gay friend’ and reap the benefits the relationship originally promised.

  • anchorsaway says:

    If you are not attractive to yourself how can you possibly expect anyone else to find you so. Who cares about slack body parts – cant use that word – when you are obviously a funny and intelligent woman with plenty to say.

  • jane says:

    Dear Plankton

    Am on the verge of leaving a husband after being married for 19 years. I too have children in their teens. Believe you me, i’d rather be in your shoes than mine. A lonely sad marriage is far worse than actually being alone. Plankton the world is again your oyster – go out and bloody well enjoy it – stop looking and it may find you!!!

    That will be my mantra when the horrid mess i have to sort in the coming months is over

  • I too read the article in yesterday’s Times, and now find myself going onto the blog and commenting …

    I am 50 years old and am to marry later this year. This will be the first time for both my husband-to-be and myself, and we’re very excited about it. Amazing enough (perhaps) my previous boyfriend who I dated from my mid-forties until three years ago would’ve also liked to have settled down. He is another lovely man, who we remain friends with, but my husband-to-be won me over with his humour and kindness.

    Prior to that in my early 40’s I had three different men in my life (all of whom were handsome and extremely well-educated) and – for a brief period – all at the same time. Memorably for my 42nd birthday, all three took me out on three subsequent evenings. I must admit, though, that was the pinnacle of my romantic popularity of my entire life.

    As stated above, I am 50 years old which is quite late to marry for the first time; I didn’t have my a proper boyfriend until I was 36, and went through College and my 20’s and 30’s with nothing much happening romantically, so I am definitely a late-starter. I guess women peak at different times, and haven’t really experienced the situation described. I can remember times aplenty when I was in my 20’s, though, when I felt inadequate and just wanted someone to notice me!!

  • doug helton says:

    Dear Plankton, I look forward to seeing more of your posts and thanks for the female perspective. I guess the grass is always greener. After a 20 year marriage I am a recent addition to the wilderness and while it is easier to meet 30 somethings in a bar setting, I am lost at meeting women my age that are still enthusiastic about life and not totally embittered about men.

  • toyman says:

    Dearest Plankton

    I read with interest the replies you got, all good but missing the point….

    This actually has nothing to do with you, this is the quiet before the storm and you in your frustration; in a moment of madness perhaps shouted it out and everyone has run to your rescue while missing the point.

    Your problem will spread to every woman and the one that wrote she found love and remarried will soon write back to say she lives with a man that seems sexually uninterested………………

    I acknowledge the fact I sound like doom and gloom and personally I am afraid to say what I have observed; but I would like you to encourage the debate and stop feeling you are the only one in this situation…………

    I would like to predict soon other attractive women will start to notice that men are not noticing them anymore, they will all become invisible.

    The answer is out there, maybe I know, maybe I am mistaken; but I noticed this before your article, so you hit a nerve with me in that I am slowly getting infected myself.

    I am a prehistoric being found frozen in the North Pole, after 10 000 years I am being defrosted and so experiencing the culture shock of the changes of the world, soon I would be infected with the new ways and will no longer care to blog, until then I share my feelings for I can still feel in my bones the way it was…………………………..

  • I don’t want anyone who swears as freely as that. Ribald, crude language is not attractive in the courting process. Especially to guys who remember when “c*nt” was a word you didn’t use in everyday language.

    Also: dinner parties in Notting Hill and Conran-prized chairs? You move in a circle of elitist shallow acquisitive people. No wonder you’re not valued.

    You need to deal with real people who value you for who you are, not what you’ve got and who you’ve been seen with.

    As a single man in his very late 30s I can assure you it’s not a cakewalk for us. Younger women aren’t all we seek (and are not easy to keep anyway). We’re not all taken in by a fascia. Some of us want a seasoned woman with real curves, not some bulimic angsty 20-something trophy. That’s for shallow people. Shallow people don’t do meaningful relationships. I want a woman who’s matured enough to be a catch and have got all the bitchiness out of her system. That means a woman over 30.

    Finding a single woman over 30 is daunting. They can dote on their children (who don’t like us being around their mother) way too much. Your friends can form a cliquey wall that’s scary, judgemental and just too offputting. You constantly judge us against the behaviour of previous lovers or against more successful career-minded people. ‘My husband did such-and-such but you haven’t even done that’. We start disadvantaged and hampered by expectations and comparisons rather than being judged on who we are.

    It’s equally bad on both sides. If you’re going to be one of those “Huh, MEN! All they want is 20-something women, it’s disgusting. Ooh look, isn’t Hugh Grant wonderful? Mmm… George Clooney… Oh look, Rafa Nadal’s taken his shirt off” people claiming the moral high ground, that’s just as unfair.

    You need to be seen as attractive and attainable. And by attractive I’m not talking about your face, I mean the warmth you generate, the welcoming availability. This article gives off an air of “Don’t touch me, grrr” snappiness. It’s not appealing. This is your first stumbling block.

    If you’re too prickly we’re not going to try. I too am facing the prospect of the next 30+yrs alone and I’m not even bald or grey yet.

  • Sunday says:

    Dear Plankton, you are not alone my friend. Sadly there are many of us who share your predicament. Indeed many of my friends may will believe that I have written this article – you tell it exactly as it is and I admire your honesty.
    And to the “go out and get a life” brigade I am certainly not someone who sits around depressed about my single situation. I live a full and active life, with a fulfilling job, treasure my friendships and adore my extended family. I done the self-empowerment bit – travel/holidays alone etc. Joined classes/interests etc. and tried (unsuccessfully)the lot -Internet dating, dating counselling,dating agencies (one middle England agency charges twice as much for women over 45, who in their words “may be difficult to place”. Wasn’t aloud to book to attend my local speed dating evening as the owner informed my I was too old (I was 42 years old at the time!). Regrettably I have never married, nor had children either…Yep whichever way you look at it sad, single. desperate and with no hope. I honestly don’t know what else to do.

  • Lulu says:

    Dear Plankton
    Came across your article in the Daily Mail and searched out your blog, and am really glad I did! Your writing is fab and you certainly put a smile on my face. I love your dark humour. I am bang on 45. Never married, never had kids. Haven’t even got a career that I enjoy! Just kind of plod through life hoping that somehow “things will get better”. However, much as I would like to meet the ‘ideal man’, I am accepting that I might never marry or find that elusive fulfilling relationship and am just trying to get on with my life regardless. If I thought too much about it I would get very depressed, so I won’t dwell on it. Life is short. I am healthy, have a lot to offer, and who knows what is around the corner? Life moves in mysterious ways.

  • Vlinder says:

    Hi Plankton,

    My ex husband would have concurred with Hanif that a lone middle aged woman with children doesn’t have much cachet, and unfortunately for him, he was wrong. I am over 45, with four children, and have more men interested in me then I know what to do with. I am living, baby. Cachet is an attitude, and if you think you have it, you do.

    I won’t disagree that there are a lot of very negative societal attitudes towards older women, but I have decided I cannot be bothered worrying about them or believing them. You know that saying that an optimist and a pessimist are both right 50% of the time? Be an optimist. In this society men are dating optimists (if not downright delusional) and women are dating pessimists. I have many male friends that have tried dating younger women, only to be dumped for younger men. Women want young men to start families with, not older men, unless they are after a lot of money. A good friend of mine, who is 40 just went through this with a 28 year old he was in love with. She dumped him for a 33 year old.

    I dated a man who was four years older than me and who also had previously been obsessed with dating younger women. He fell deeply in love with me, and wanted to marry me. When I showed no interest he commented” How come you aren’t desperate? Most women your age with kids are desperate, and you are not. Why not?” Because I know no matter how old I become there will always be a man who will want me. Why? Because I am a woman. Because I am feminine. Age cannot take that away. I am not going to buy into the notion that I have a sell by date. What an insult to the ancient feminine power that resides inside of me.

    Since when do men get to make all the decisions? So they all want young babes. So what. There aren’t enough of those to go around. Reality will soon hit them over the head with a two by four after they have spent an evening listening to the immature ramblings of a twenty year old and are bored out of their mind. They will also have to pull their wallets wide open. Old men with much younger partners look like fools. Theirs is a case of be careful what you wish for, you may get it. Why do you think that second marriages have a 70-80% fail rate? Most second marriages are men marrying much younger women. Coincidence? I think not.

    This Zeitgeist of “women are over the hill after 45 and men have all the choices” does a tremendous disfavor to both men and women. Men get disappointed because they have been told over and over by the media that their age doesn’t matter ( it does), their expectations are set way too high, and women are told that they don’t stand a chance (and they do). In real life (not Hollywood) the truth lies much more in the middle. Sadly, this media bullying does much to embitter and discourage women. With so many negative messages it is hard not to become desperate and depressed.

    Start thinking about what you want, not what men want. If you have a clear picture of what you are looking for you will find it. I am tired of living in a world where men get to decide a woman’s worth. I will decide my own worth, thank you very much. And I have discovered that when I do, men turn into believers.

    Keep swimming, Plankton, and I daresay you will find there are many men at the bottom of the sexual food chain as well. You may not see them because the water down there is murky. They may not look tasty to you but perhaps it is time to try something different. Bon appetit!

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