John McCain wants us to respect our wives. Doctor, heal thyself, eh? No, not his well-publicized eruption at Cindy using the C-word. But his abandonment of wife #1, whose car accident injuries swept her from her models’ pedestal. The ex-Mrs. McCain is quoted as saying, “My marriage ended because John McCain didn't want to be 40, he wanted to be 25.”
Truth is, few people wouldn’t choose to be 25 again. Or even 40. Each day, as I glance in the mirror and see middle-age greeting me with an assertive sneer, I feel the pang of loss of youth and future that I took for granted twenty years ago. As women, Demi Moore notwithstanding, we don’t have as many options as our male counterparts to stick out our tongues at the reflection and bat our eyes at rejuvenating partners in their 20’s.
I am lucky to be happily married to a man my age who is still committed to walking by my side into our sunset years. But I have many mature women peers whose walk into the sunset will be with a group of friends from the Red Hat Society, and not “Prince Charming but Relationship Averse.” Many of these wonderful women are Samantha beautiful, accomplished, dynamic, and loving. But, their faces are wrinkled (or Botoxed), their ovaries are dusty (or on the pathologist’s shelf), their ambience is dated—they are the home town friends whom one avoids because “they knew you when”, ‘cause they were young with you.
The men their age do pop into their lives—as friends, seeking support, comfort, wisdom. But the men’s narcissism overwhelms their own maturity, and seeks satiation in the arms of a woman of youth.
Once in awhile, I do think back longingly for the times when I carried that currency myself—the currency of youth. In my twenties, fresh faced and full of optimism and energy, I had the luxury of that wealth. The currency created a welcoming environment for me everywhere I went, in the office, at the store, on the road. Youth opened almost every door—then single, I could begin a relationship simply with a warm smile. Many of the men “who let me in”, I now recall, were in their 40’s or 50’s. New to adulthood, I was eager to trade my “young” coin for what I perceived to be their confidence and capabilities in life. I was repeatedly surprised to find that this air of achievement didn’t reflect the reality of these men’s emotional make-up. That they were, beyond the façade, even more anxious than I.
But, a glance at my unlined face, a conversation that shared my youthful conviction that immortality was a right and success was inevitable, brought an injection of enthusiasm to men who were coming to grips with their own inevitable mortality and glass ceilings. Now that I myself am in their shoes, I understand the attraction of the high of youth as a way to fight the depression of the glass ceiling of life.
With rare exceptions, my women friends of middle age do not have access to that drug any more. They no longer “turn heads” as they go about their lives, but increasingly wear their age like an invisible burka in our appearance-conscious society. Their partnership choices are limited. Many are still playing the youth card by dating men in their 70’s and 80’s, for whom they can provide the currency that is no longer accepted by their peers.
For them, I wish that their “coin” would be as welcomed by men of all ages as it had been when my women acquaintances were young. That they, like their male peers, could still have a rich offering of options before them—and many open doors.