I don’t remember the date it happened. But I do remember the moment—the moment when I realized I had become invisible.
I was in my late 40s when it happened. One day I was visible—noticed by men and seen as sexually desirable. If you know what I mean, then you know what I mean: My smile elicited immediate response. Men made deliberate eye contact. They contrived reasons to speak or engage, and when I walked past, I didn’t have to look. I knew their heads would swivel and eyes follow . . . And then one day—they didn’t. The heads didn’t turn and the male eyes simply gazed straight past. If I did get a horn honk . . . trust me. It was a toot by default ‘cause the car was coming up from behind and not approaching straight on. And whistles? They were followed by a “Lady, you left your lights on!” or a “Hey, you dropped something!”
It’s a fact of life, and it happens to us all – with the rare exception. (Sophia Loren comes to mind, but she’s the definite exception. At 71, she posed for Pirelli’s annual pin-up calendar—AND NAILED IT!) But for most of us mere mortals, we age and our looks fade. Our asses fall and boobs sag. The only body parts that thicken are the ones we wish wouldn’t. The rest—lips, hair, brows, skin and even vaginal tissue? Yeah. Those are the ones whose control dials Mother Nature turns to “thin.” The Bitch! But why not? No sense advertising a service (procreation) no longer in service. It’s God’s ultimate consumer protection from fraud measure. See, unlike men who are able to seed life with their seed all their lives, we women come stamped like a carton of eggs (pun intended). Our wombs not only have a “best if used by” recommendation, our ova have an actual run out of stock date. Pause now for a quick biology lesson: As opposed to the human male who can continue to produce product as long as he continues to breathe, the female of the species is born with all the supply she will ever have. Personally, besides giving dogs only a 10-15 year life span, I think it’s either one of God’s greater screw-ups—or definitive proof The Higher Being is male. But that’s just me . . .
Back to being “invisible” . . . it’s not just me who feels unnoticed, unseen and ignored. A recent survey asked 2000 women over 50 what they hated most about getting older. Their answer: “becoming invisible” and being seen by men and society as no longer viable, interesting, necessary, important, valuable or wanted sexually. Color me not surprised. Statistics and reality prove time and time again that men prefer younger women. While there are the rare exceptions (Hugh Jackman comes to mind—hell to the yes! But he’s an Aussie and of sturdier, randier, lustier and less watered down genetic stock—seeing as Australia was a British penal colony.) Speaking of watered down . . .
Before we look at the shallow pool of available American men over 50, let’s pause now for a couple unfun facts about married American men: 53% of all married men in the U.S. are married to younger women. Broken down further, 25% are married to women 5-9 years younger, while 18% of all wedded American males are married to women young enough to be their daughters. Trust me. I’ve done the research. Their preferences don’t change when they online date—ergo the validity in older women’s sense of rejection and self-unworth. According to a survey conducted by Elite Singles (an over 50 dating site), 42% of all men surveyed wouldn’t even consider a woman older. For men in the 60-69 range, their average preferred age gap is 11 years younger. I’ve done the math. That leaves me, at 61, with a 72-year-old? Oh, hell to the no! Ergo, my present state of celibacy—and invisibility.
Now . . . please don’t take me to task or try to tell me a woman doesn’t need a man’s attention to validate her. Yes, I know. Her worth is more than her physical appeal to the male gender of her species—who is, after all, merely primordially responding to her procreative ability. I know that. I know, too, we are more that tits and ass and lips—or the ability to squeeze a grapefruit-sized head out of our vaginas. We SHOULD be judged and valued for so, so, so much more. Talent, intellect, grace, strength, wisdom, life’s skills and experience, character, blah blah blah. Yes, we should. But we usually aren’t. BUT if that’s the way it is in your world, then PLEASE send me the GPS coordinates. I’ll happily start packing. But in my world, the real world, I’m invisible to men. With the rare exception.
Pause now for an unneeded, but fun for me, flashback: The night of my 60th birthday I met a man who, if not an actual citizen of Older Women Rock World, was at least carrying a forged copy of its passport. (When I told him my age after learning he was 51, he shrugged and spouted the OWRW motto: Age is just a number. “Why does it matter?” he then asked. “Because women of a certain age are invisible to men,” I said, deciding to call him on his gender’s prejudice. “Even the 50 and 60 year-olds want 30 and 40. Why go with 60?” Well . . . somebody must have given the fucker the secret password, because he used it! “Intellect,” he said, without missing a beat or even looking at a crib sheet, “There has to be something there for after.” Needless to say, Checkpoint Charlene lifted the gate and Dude was let in . . .) But I digress . . .
Ladies, is it any wonder the biz of botox is booming? Anti-aging everything floods the market, Fountain of Youth formulas, laser treatments, fillers, skin care regimes that cost a fortune—all because we can’t face our face. (Guilty as charged.) Not that any us want to launch even a single row boat with it. (See paragraph below.) Honestly, most of us don’t want to turn back the hands of time either, we’d just like to stop the freakin’ clock! We don’t want to look better than what we were born with or even younger per se. We just don’t want to look any older. I love a line from Game of Thrones, “Nothing fucks you harder than time.” It’s frankly a screw job I could do without.
Make no mistake. I love being a grandmother. I love the financial freedom I enjoy, the time to do what, when, where, and with whom I please. Some might say it’s a trade-off. The cost of which is the loss of youth, looks and –alas–sex appeal. Those who are still going to take me to task reading this . . . well, I’m guessing you’ve never known the power, the sense of satisfaction, or affirmation that comes from having “that” sway over men. All the power pant suits in the world have rarely changed the course of history as has “that” sway. There are exceptions, of course. (Golda Meier comes to mind. At 71, she came out of retirement to become Israel’s fourth—and still only female—Prime Minister.) But as a rule, the face that could, would – or supposedly did – launch a thousand ships? Yeah . . . not Golda’s. In fact, after “a certain age,” even Sophia couldn’t pull that one off.
History is full of examples. (Indulge me. I was a history major.) Edward didn’t abdicate his throne for Wallis’ intellect or Caesar lose his Empire (and life) for Cleopatra’s wisdom and character. Hell, a chubby little intern might have used something to enthrall the leader of the free world, but it wasn’t life’s experience. And if Clarence’s fascination with Anita was the juris prudenz in her head, then the hair on her Coke can would have come from his. Seriously! The only woman who was ever able to keep a man’s interest absent “that” was Scheherazade. And she’s fictional—and from the same group of stories as a genie in a bottle. (You want to rub something to gain riches and jewels? Honey, believe me. It ain’t a magic lamp you need to stroke.)
So now that I have no doubt offended most of you, let’s continue. I am as guilty as society, of judging myself now lacking. While I’m hardly in Golda’s or Sophia’s leagues, I’m not without entries in the plus column. I am bilingual, well read, well-traveled. I’m told (and a few published books and a blog with over 4300 hits would indicate) I’m a pretty good writer. I know I’m well organized, empathetic, sentimental, generous and loving. I am great under pressure and fabulous in a crisis. I am strong. In the last 4 years, within my immediate family, I have dealt with and survived death, divorce, deployments and drug addiction. The cherry on the top of my crap sundae? Suicide. Yes, I can handle life. So why can’t I handle aging?
Age doesn’t dictate happiness. No more than society’s definition of beauty denotes value or worth. There’s actually a movement afoot in the U.K. to have an older woman define herself, not as “older,” but rather as a “WHIP” (Woman Happy In her Prime). It’s a cute name—but silly. We are what we are and be what we want. So after much deliberation, I’ve decided here-forth to think of aging (as I do most things in life because I’m a Libra) as a scale, the balance of which is maintained by loss being equaled out by gain. For example, age-related wisdom serving to compensate for biological losses. In the 1960s, feminist Betty Friedan said: “Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength.” I’m going with that. Certainly in many ways the woman I see in the mirror today is an improvement over the one in the photo that introduces this post. That photo is from 1990. It was part of a series of professional shots I had done for the book cover of my first book. I’ll save you the math. I was 34. And as much as she’s the one who used to get honks, hoots and hit-ons, I honestly wouldn’t trade places with her today.
I’m not saying my life today is without deficits. The single worst thing is the occasional bout of emotional loneliness. Ok. Scratch that—or make it #2. The single worst thing is the occasional bout of horniness—balanced however by a heaping helping of independence I would not trade for anything! For the woman in the photo, her focus was her sons who were at the time her works in progress. While hitting the New York Times Bestsellers’ List remains on my bucket list, the true work in progress I’m working on now is me. That entails spreading my metaphorical wings and going where I’ve never dared before. Self-publishing I STILL WANT FIREWORKS was a start. So was starting this blog. And I’m not alone. In greater numbers than ever before, “invisible” women have realized invisibility is also a key to freedom. Specifically, the freedom to pursue their dreams and goals, utilizing their talents and strengths (and life’s accumulated wisdom, skills and experiences) in order to seize opportunity and create success in a multitude of endeavors that time, circumstance and youth prohibited.
I once read that “life begins out of your comfort zone.” But it takes strength and confidence and a certain “Fuck it! I don’t care” attitude to take those steps. Indeed, nothing may fuck you harder than time, but neither will anything bestow those aforementioned attributes in greater measure. By no means am I done, throwing in the towel—and conceding invisibility. Oh, hell to the no! But check me out now for what I do and accomplish. Go ahead. Take a look at me now. But look for the reasons I consider valuable.
Postscript: One of those women I spoke of above who is now utilizing her strengths and talents and pursuing a new endeavor is a lovely woman I met through an Sidney-based facebook page for women 50+ . (BTW, to my nearly 600 Aussie and Kiwi viewers: THANK YOU!!!!) Her name is Jan Clifton and she has started a facebook group and blog for women called Doing Curves in Style. It’s a site for mature, curvy women that discusses fashion and styling and lots more. Do check it out. You’ll be taking a look at another woman boldly choosing visibility over invisiblity.
UPDATE: Since publishing this post, my humor/memoir self help book on online dating has been reviewed by Readers’ Favorite. I am thrilled to announce I STILL WANT FIREWORKS received their 5 star rating for Non-Fiction Humor/Comedy.