Who Looks at a Woman over 40?
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree of Contrast.
Somebody gave me some bad information about women over 40. A lot of somebodies. Over the years. I don’t blame them. Not really. They believed what they were telling me.
Growing up in a tiny Southern town that was timewarped by at least 25 years, I often heard that if you were a woman, you’d better marry young because men stopped looking at you once you hit your mid-20’s. I didn’t pay too much attention throughout my mid-to-late 20’s. After all, I got propositioned at least once on three out of every four business trips I took, and that was after I was married and flashing a diamond. The attention wasn’t wanted, wasn’t (I thought) warranted, and it grew tiresome, especially when some idiot lieutenant was calling my hotel room at 2 AM to wake me up to tell me his wife didn’t understand him and my husband didn’t deserve me. By the time I was 31, I had two little kids, and the attention slacked off…though in hindsight, it really didn’t. I was just too sleep-deprived to notice.
Then something happened among most of the women I knew. They all told me how there would always be a younger woman to catch a man’s attention and hey, I wasn’t getting any younger. Comments like that would make me a little angry. Not because I disagreed that I was getting older but that it was so important to them that they had to try to spoil my day with these “news flashes” when I really didn’t think it mattered. I was married and I wasn’t trying to attract anyone’s attention except my husband’s, so I didn’t really care what these embittered women had to say except that it was so…prickly.
Then women in their 40’s—when I was still in my mid-30’s—began to tell me how freeing it was to hit 40. They no longer had to worry about men noticing them. I heard this everywhere—from my circle of closest friends, the women at work, women in my spiritual circle, women in my writers’ groups, women in casual conversation. Everywhere. If they were in their 40’s, they wanted me not just to know but to understand and admit that my expiration date was approaching.
I will admit that being in my 40’s is indeed freeing, but it has nothing to do with what men think of me or don’t and everything to do with really knowing who I am and not caring what anyone else thinks.
But geez, what a downer to be told constantly that my physical appeal was fast disappearing. And why were these women so downright gleeful about the prediction?
But if you hear it enough, after a while, you start to believe it. Then something happens that makes you stop and think.
I’m very open about my age. If someone asks, I tell. It’s no great secret and I’m not running around lying through my teeth when I meet someone new and I really do find it pathetic when women in their 40’s shave off a decade. I mean, I can look in the mirror and tell a difference in 10 years ago. Sometimes I like the way I look and sometimes, I go off in search of a paper bag to wear over my head. I figure that’s life, and I’ve had similar feelings as a teen, as a 20-something, in my 30’s…all for different reasons.
Maggie Shayne says that men don’t know what 40 looks like. They won’t necessarily date a woman in her
40’s if they know her age officially. I’m not sure that’s true of all men but it’s true of a lot of them, especially if they haven’t met you.
Tonight, I’m thinking of a couple of amusements over the past two years when I openly gave my age and got a surprise response. One was from a 30-year-old man who thought I was about 33—far younger than his date that night. She was not happy. There was the guy at the resort in Daytona who couldn’t have been a day over 30 but had I not started yawning (or had he been able to hold a conversation), I might have talked to him for the entire evening. I frequently run into men these days who don’t think I look my age, so yes, I think Maggie’s right that most men don’t know what 40 looks like.
But here’s what it really looks like:
This is such a powerful time in my life. I’m old enough to know exactly what I want out of the rest of my life and to appreciate both unique differences and that rare compatibility. I’m also still young enough to launch a second career, a second family, a completely different second life within a lifetime. I’m in good enough health and secure enough to enjoy myself without apology but never to be talked into something I don’t want to do. And unlike all those 20-somethings out there so pathetically eager to please a man, any man, I don’t really care anymore if I’m still good in bed or not as long as I’m not the one who’s disappointed.
So there. That’s what being 40 is all about for a woman. This woman, anyway. Not about kowtowing to men who haven’t figured out who they are or what they want and feeling like I have compete for the limited natural resources of available penises. Nope. I think not.
But tonight, I’m looking back at all the guys who noticed me—that I can think of in hindsight—when I was well into the fabled “over the hill” status. It’s not that men stopped looking when I got older.
It’s that I stopped recognizing that they were still looking.