Last night I ended up going to a bar on the west side of downtown Austin. I almost never go downtown on Saturday night, but an out-of-town friend called and invited me to come out for his girlfriend’s birthday. They were watching the Saints game at Lucy’s Surfer Bar, a place where his girlfriend hangs out frequently (it’s a local haunt for ex-pats of the Crescent City).
I got there as the game was ending, which was a good thing – I’ve never been a fan of football. The bar was packed, and spirits were high: New Orleans had just won. It took me several minutes to make my way to the back of the bar. It was a fairly typical downtown Austin club scene – loads of people 25 years younger than me indulging in my least-favorite drug: alcohol. I finally found my friend and his girlfriend, and spent a few minutes catching up. It was decided that we would go to another bar, and we started making our way toward the exit. My friend’s girlfriend got distracted and started dancing, and it looked like we were going to be there for a while. Loud, crowded and drunk are probably my three least favorite environments to be in. (I may have mad social skillz, but I’m really an introvert.) I excused myself and headed home.
It has been an eye-opening experience to be single in my late 40s, and to discover how invisible I have become.
My inside reality is completely disconnected from the outside feedback I get. When I look at recent pictures of myself, I think I look more physically beautiful than I ever have, and am comfortable with the erotic, sexual parts of myself that are so integral to who I am. I know myself well, and like the person I’ve grown to be. I have more than a clue about what I have to contribute to the world. I feel like I’m at the peak of my power, and that I will continue to grow wiser, kinder, happier and more content. And yet, when I’m someplace like I was last night, I don’t even merit a second glance. Men rush past me to get to younger, prettier, thinner (and less challenging) women. I’ve stood by while men come up and try to hit on my friends and ignore me completely, or watch them wriggle to get away from having conversations with me because I’m cutting into time when they could be hitting on girls they are interested in. It’s not that I’m attracted to these guys, or trying to hit on them, but if I want to sit alone and drink, I’ll stay home and do it. There’s a reason I always strike up conversations with women when I’m in a new social situation….
Another older friend of mine was telling me about an experience she recently had of being in a bar and being similarly ignored. Only when an alpha male friend hugged her and chatted with her did the other men in the bar change their attitude toward her – all of a sudden she was someone desirable because this man who commanded their respect gave her this seal of approval. I suppose I could go out dressed like a slut, get myself drunk and throw myself at some guy, but that was so 1990 for me.
There is more than a kernel of truth in the adage, “men are judged by what they do, women are judged by how they look.” In keeping with this, society accords women the greatest amount of power when they are under 25 (I’ve known some poised women in their early 20s, but by and large, they are only shadows of who they become when they hit their 40s). When I was that age, I wasn’t valued for my looks at all, so you would think I would be used to it by now. Still, it stings to be told by society that you have no worth past your appearance. I often see women who traded on their looks in their youth, and as they start pushing 60, they are devastated to be losing their source of their power. It makes me glad I have brains, curiosity, creativity and generosity – those things only grow stronger with age.
One of our biggest generations of all – the baby boomers – is aging, and as women live longer than men, there is going to be a massive group of older single women. Already you hear stories about nursing homes where there are ten single women for every man. Perhaps some of these women will find that their sexual orientation is fluid, and they will become partners, romantic companions and lovers with each other. But not all women will; many will internalize society’s homophobia, others like me may find that they are incapable of switching teams and seem to be hard-wired to only desire men (a factor about myself that I find endlessly frustrating and depressing). What becomes of us? Sure, we can enjoy strong, intimate friendships, but what of those of us who still want/need sex, who desire to have an erotic life?