Since the age of seven when I unceremoniously slammed the door on boring Leanne and her stupid doll, I’ve known that my membership of the solidarity sisters was limited. I’m not a woman’s woman. Now before you go all pursed lips and disapproving, this doesn’t mean I don’t like women. It means I don’t automatically identify with women because we are women. The constant pressure to empathise with other women is, I think, misguided. And a bit stupid. “But we all have periods,” they say, in solidarity of course. Our bodily functions do not unite us. By that logic, having kidneys makes us almost like men. Experiences are the things that unite us and, as far as women go, mine are so far removed from the general narrative of women in my age group – or the narrative preferred by the media – it would frankly be dishonest to say I feel the same as they do.
A lady, who writes for the Guardian about her dating adventures at 50, occasionally drops in here. She’s obviously bright and very lost right now. We come from the same generation, we’re both women and we’re both obviously bookish, but there the similarity ends. Her story is not untypical it seems: Woman divorced in middle-age decides to date and is very nervous and unsure of herself. Cue major self-analysis, judgements about self and others, confusion and self-esteem crisis. This could happen to a 25 year old, but when it happens to someone who has been previously sheltered from the dirty world for so long, it’s brutal. She writes about it with acute honesty. I understand her. I feel for her. But I am not her. I am someone who by circumstance, design, fate or the alignment of the planets has walked wilder shores, enjoyed the highs, felt destroyed by the lows and and done it all again. I adore storming, filthy sex (I especially love aforementioned sex with clever men) and know when I want it and who I want it with. I’ve had a fine quota of five or six clever, sexy, dangerous men in my life and they’ve had me. Occasionally I’ve had some great entertainment with other men but I have less time and space in my brain for that. I am good at being alone. I am ok at being me because I know who I am. (I know it so well it probably keeps me out of relationships.) I am not always happy. I cry but I figure I laugh more than most. And I have a gang of five mummies (not dead ones, real ones) who remind me I knew what I was getting into. You give tough love, you get tough love. But I am good with that too. In short, I need – yes need – the excitement of a certain type, but there’s something more. As Best Friend Mummy pointed out, “You could never have a sustained a normal marriage, especially not to a corporate type. You don’t have the emotional resilience for the day to day of marriage.” And she’s right. I would never have coped. I have lived with one man, married another but they were arty types. Hence it was never going to be easy but it was never going to be dull either. You put your money down and take whatever comes with it and that includes the misery.
Like many women dressing their wounds from marriage, and the subsequent confidence crisis that results from being cast out into a vastly different world, Stella is trying to find herself. The challenge for the Stellas of this world (and I hope she won’t mind me saying) is to not allow the judgments of men to decide who she is. Easy to say isn’t it? Yes it is, especially when we want people to like us and validate us as potential love/sex partners. You know when you want it so much, you lay all your insecurities on the table and then of course you will never have it. Throwing yourself at the mercy of online dating may sound like a simple step to take back into the world but remember this is a lawless land. (An introduction agency might be less so). It means, like our columnist, you’re opening yourself up to a lot more doubt than you already have. And for the recently divorced, that’s bound to happen. Most of the Stellas of this world don’t really want all this single life stuff: they didn’t ask for it. They need and want certainty, but the categorical nature of online dating means they must play carefree, single divorcee. My sense of this, is that she really knew it wasn’t right for her at all, but went through with it because she felt she was supposed to be doing something, anything and that it ‘might work out’. In dating the man she did, she didn’t just step out of her comfort zone, she stepped out of her dating pool. Everyone online is like everyone offline, they are mostly not for you. Understanding this makes you less likely to expose yourself to men who definitely do not want what you want.
There are no guarantees in life, fewer certainties, but what I do know from the delightful chaos of my own life, I know from Dr. Seuss:
Be who you are.
You don’t need to experiment and put yourself out there when it is so patently uncomfortable for you and it’s not who you are. Wait. If something doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t. Make an exit. That alone will make you feel better, put you in control. In time you will learn to exit when it suits you, not them. Have sex when you don’t have to debate it internally for days beforehand because that is clearly a warning sign. You will learn how to say ‘No, it’s not for me,” instead of having that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach that is the discarded no, the one you should have used. You don’t have to see the thing through to prove it (whatever IT is) to yourself. We are the sum of our experiences. But only if we muster the courage to take control of them, so that we’re leading a life, not waiting for someone else to tell us who we are.