Beggars, Choosers, Winners, Losers

Beggars, Choosers, Winners, Losers

Actual conversation:

Acquaintance: Hey, I don’t know how you feel about set ups, but I know a (feminist) guy you might like.
Me: Hmmm… First question. How old?
Acquaintance: I’m actually not sure. maybe my age, maybe year older, so 36/37.
Me: How does he feel about dating a woman who is 10 years older?
Acquaintance: Are you really?
Me: Yes, I’m 47.
Acquaintance: I’m a terrible judge of ages. Definitely thought you were few years older. He’s pretty open. I’ll ask.

Uh, huh. I don’t expect to hear any more on the subject.

I don’t mean to disparage the person who offered, she meant well, but when I brought up my age I thought I heard the distinct sound of backpedaling. It sounds like Oh or Um of Hmmm. Sometimes it sounds like Ah. In my experience, if you hear ‘Ah’ it’s over. I heard it when guys would inquire after my sister and I would inform them she was married. This is something of a relief, to be honest. It saves me from having to hear Oh or Um or Ah during a face-to-face conversation. It saves me from having to sit across from another man who is having second thoughts and withdrawing. The last time I watched in happen in real time. I admit to being totally confused by what I saw. Now I know. Next time I’m walking out. It also means I have nothing to hide. In this day and age, women are duplicitous for wearing makeup and push-up bras. I could say that I’m 40 and when the truth comes out he could decide that he didn’t want to base a relationship on a lie.

In the end, my acquaintance will either go back to her friend or she won’t. If she does, he will decide to meet or he won’t. I have no control over any of those variables. I think I can safely say that his decision to meet or not will be based on his preconceived notions of a 47-year old woman. His mind may go to his mother and her friends, coworkers, women he sees who he assumes are over 40. The Internet is no friend. It’s menopause, invisibility, “this is what over 40 looks like” (read with a grain of salt), how to be sexy after 40, makeup rules, hair rules, fashion rules. You wind up throwing your hands in the air because either you care that you’ve broken a rule or you throw your hands in the air and you break the rules. There are few consequences for breaking the rules because, as you are not a celebrity, no one is looking at you. Occasionally there are satirical articles like women over 40 should never wear long hair, complete with pictures of celebrities with resplendent locks (because celebrities are just like us). The media often uses celebrities as examples of what women can and cannot do at certain stages of our lives. There were also a lot of articles about how we had been found dead; in our homes, at the grand canyon, falling off snowmobiles. Like I said, the Internet is not our friend.

There are a thousand variables at play but I can control only one-me. Today, sitting here right now, I’m not sure I care. A lunch or dinner date would entail me spending more time looking at the menu for something that might not make me sick than engaged in conversation. I can’t drink, so no social lubricant. My body can’t tolerate sugar right now, so no dessert. Small talk is a nightmare. So what do you do? Yes, I’m a librarian. No, not a second career. It is cool. I like books but I don’t have time to read at work. What’s your dog’s name? I have a cat. How old is your daughter? I don’t have any children. No, My cat is not my child. Who’s your favourite Doctor? She told me he has brown hair, brown eyes, and a goatee, is around 5’10”-6′, and is a “out of shape but not overweight”. Brown hair, brown eyes, goatee, a little out of shape, and around 5’10” is how I would have described my ex-husband when we first met. The more she went on the worse it got. He likes sci-fi and fantasy. He loves Doctor Who. He works in IT. I knit my eyebrows together and thought, oh no.

I am a nerd. I like books and movies, and science and technology and science fiction and body horror. Yes, I like Doctor Who but I don’t want it to be a criteria for dating and mating. Cards Against Humanity is fun but I don’t do games. I hate game night. I’d rather spend the even home with popcorn and Cronenberg than go out for fucking game night. Game night with couples is like finding the end of the Internet. You sit there wondering has it came to this? I like art and theatre and comics and wine and all kinds of music but I hate musical theatre. Musical theatre is asinine. I also like cars and motorcycles and whiskey and sports. I played hockey, baseball, softball, and volleyball. I watched boxing with my father and would really like to see a boxing match live. I would love to drive a rally car on an actual rally track. I deserve a Pagani Zonda. Apparently these qualities, instead of making me a well-rounded person, make me difficult to type. We all must fit a type. We must fit neatly into the forms that online dating profiles require. I hate being pigeonholes, yet here I am.

I find myself drawn to bigger men. I’m finding myself drawn more to men around my age with a little something to show for it; signs of a life lived, not so clean, not so perfect. I like a man who isn’t easily intimidated. I want a man to be forthright with me. I’ve heard men complain how women are not direct with them, but they do the same things. It’s ok if you don’t like something I like, we’ll work around it. Fortunately, my ex hasn’t killed my enthusiasm for dark hair or dark eyes nor has he ruined facial hair. I prefer facial hair be kept under control. The big beard, like musical theatre, is ridiculous, except for The Persian God. The Persian God is a young man who lives in my community and he looks like something out of a Persian bas relief-right down to the perfectly angled beard. He’s amazing. He’s also nice, gregarious, and gay. Forearm tattoos… I may be one of the few women who finds a man’s hands and forearms to be sexy to the point of distracting. One day I missed my subway because I was transfixed by a man with beautiful hands and forearms seated across from me reading El Diario. There’s a bartender at one of the local dive bars who has black hair, black eyes, and sleeve of tattoos. He’s also fairly shy around me. I want him to mix me drinks and serve me macaroni and cheese wearing an apron and nothing else. I want him to call me Domina. I want him to kneel before me like I am a queen. I want him to lock the bar doors and go down on me like he means it. I want to run my fingers through those curls and hold those shoulders for dear life. I don’t get what I want. I don’t ask.

Which brings me to, he’s pretty open. Pretty open might go on a date with an older woman, just to see, but there won’t be a second. He has his pick of women his own age and younger. Pretty open is not going to be receptive to being tied up and smacked with a riding crop on occasion. Pretty open is not going to be receptive to wearing a dog collar while being ordered around. Pretty open is not going to like the idea of wearing a pair of women’s side-tie underwear under a pair of jeans or a suit. He won’t like the feeling of being off-kilter. He is allowed to have preconceived notions and so am I. I’ve yet to meet a man who was willing to submit. As a woman, that’s supposed to be my nature. I comply. I submit willingly. And you know what, sometimes I do but it isn’t the essence of my being. It’s hard for me to not say, if pretty open is anything like my ex but I can’t help myself. I need a fresher start.

It’s Drug Therapy, Not Chemo.

It’s Drug Therapy, Not Chemo.

There is a moment in Fight Club, my favourite romantic comedy. You know the one. Chloe, a woman with terminal cancer, steps up to the podium. She is thin. Her hair gone, she wears a scarf on her head. Her cheekbones stand in sharp relief, likely from Cancer Anorexia Cachexia (I work in cancer so I know this stuff). She is a little sheepish at first but she composes herself and announces that she wants to get laid one last time. She has everything a prospective sexual partner would need to participate. She is considerate, she does not expect him to enjoy the experience, per se, so she provides the necessary inducements-her willingess, porn, lube, and drugs. After all, who would want to have sex with a dying woman. She is in this for her own pleasure, her own need, her own desire. She fights so hard to be seen for the woman she is as opposed to the neutered invalid. When you are sick, you are supposed to dedicate yourself to recovery, survival. You are supposed to be noble and unselfish in your suffering. Pleasure, sexual pleasure in particular, is frivolous.

I do not have cancer. I have a brain tumour. As someone who works in cancer the two are different but, in this instance, there are similarities. In this country we have started to treat cancer like a chronic disease, something that needs long-term monitoring and management. Most benign brain tumours do not recur, but pituitary adenomas recur in anywhere from 24-36% of patients. Mine came back in seven. They are more likely to recur if an adenoma remnant is seen on MRI post cessation of treatment. The larger the tumour the more likely there is to be a remnant, making recurrence more likely. I had one follow-up appointment with the surgeon and one follow-up appointment with the endocrinologist after my surgery. Neither scheduled an MRI. Had I known then what I know now, I would have asked. The surgeon was so confident he removed it all that he told me to go and never come back. Subsequent MRIs were done without contrast, rendering them useless.

Now that I am being treated for a recurring tumour it’s hit me that I have a chronic illness that will require constant monitoring and management. I can never be without health insurance and I can only hope that I don’t get dumped into a high-risk pool. I will continue to need blood tests and will likely go on medication again until menopause. Pituitary adenomas are known to cause infertility in women (part of that whole HPG axis). Drug therapy can be discontinued after menopause and prolactin levels can be allowed to continue to rise until such time as imaging is required to determine whether the adenoma has reached a clinically important size (1). That elevated prolactin levels have been associated with impaired sexual function (PMID:26902871), major depressive disorder (PMID:24182617), worsening of cognitive processes (PMID:26701376), reduced quality of sleep (PMID:25792374) and depression, all of which may persist after biochemical cure (PMID:25605584) is of little consequence. In short, if you are of an age where fertility is not part of the equation then you are supposed to live with it; coming from those who know precious little about what living with it means.

Five weeks in, nausea is still my constant companion. It doesn’t wake me in the middle of the night anymore. Now it hits the next day about two hours after I’ve eaten breakfast. Sometimes it lingers throughout the day, immune to the Chimes Ginger Chews my sister sent me. Sometimes it subsides just long enough that I can eat something and then it returns. I see my doctor in four weeks. She will see that I am not tolerating the medication as well as we had hoped. I have lost weight that I did not need or have to lose. As I write this I have been going back and forth about whether I should get something for lunch. Most days this is a difficult decision. Should I eat and feel sick or not eat and feel sick? There is no difference between the two. By the time I decide the cafeteria at work is often closed or whatever I brought with me has lost its appeal. We will discuss the side effects, how long before the next round of labwork, how I’m doing, whether I’m seeing anyone, when we’re going for ice cream or lunch. I will tell her that I haven’t spoken to my ex in nine months but I can still fill her in on the major details. I can tell her that I had five dates with a man who walked away because he feared intimacy. I can tell her that I celebrated my negative STD panel with sushi at a Chinese restaurant. I can also tell her that while I am no longer grieving the loss of my marriage, I am going back and forth between the anger and depression stages of grief in the loss of intimacy. Yep, I miss sex more than I miss the man. He was my first and only and I foolishly thought there would be others. Now, with my face sunken from constant nausea and sleepiness, I’m not so sure. I’m not sure there’s a point. I don’t see a point to dating when everything I eat makes me sick. It makes lunches and dinners difficult. And that saddens me now in a way that grieving the end of my marriage does not. I will not be able to stuff that emotion down sitting in the exam room getting my yearly.

The strange and vivid dreams continue. Last night, a woman I did not know tried to have sex with me. I wasn’t interested. She got bored, wished me well, and left. The night before I walked into a barnwood red house that had steep and narrow staircase that wound down in front of an enormous picture window. As I descended, I realised that the opening between the stairs and the ceiling was too small for me so I ascended the stairs, found another way out, and left. As I continued the tour of the neighbourhood I entered a large, clean, well-appointed house; well-appointed and silent. I was alone among the marble countertops, stainless appliances, fireplaces, dark hardwood floors, and stone walls. It was exciting and lonely. A few nights ago, I dreamed that I ran into my ex-husband and his girlfriend. He insisted of showing me his new houses. I say houses because they were two enormous Victorian manses connected by a third floor bridge. The houses were dark, as many of the period were, with large rooms, dark wood paneling, and dark wood floors. He was most impressed that he bought two houses and that the two were connected by a bridge, but the bridge was crumbling. I watched as bits of wood fell away and beams rotted. I bid them both good day walked up a hill to a large brick apartment complex buzzing with neighbours, walked in, and found myself an apartment. The houses struck me because I remember seeing something similar from the New York State Thruway as a little girl and being fascinated. Who lives there? Why a bridge connecting the two houses?

All this while I am trying to figure out how to get unstuck. I feel stuck in my dealings with my ex and even more stuck in my dealings with my mother. Dealing with my ex will be infinitely easier. We are no longer on speaking terms and last night I told two of my friends who are still on speaking terms with him that I no longer wanted to know what was going on in his life. They were most understanding and thought it was a good idea. They also expect him to fade from their lives once he moves away and the baby comes. Two weeks ago I found a stamp my ex bought while on vacation. I put it in my jewelry box to keep it safe while we moved and found it there while looking for a pair of earrings. I have decided to give it back. We have one more set of mutual friends. I will give the stamp to them and ask them to return it to him and tell him I wish him well. I will also tell them that I no longer wish to be informed of my ex’s comings and goings. Then I will delete some of the pictures I have of him, not all as some are good.

As for managing my mother in the short term, that has become managing my family in the short term. I found out that my sister is not my ally. When I tried to discuss managing our mother with her she countered with how our mother is dealing with depression, anxiety, and OCD. How I insist our mother change her behaviour without doing anything in return. As someone who is trying to manage her own mental illness I am aware of these things and take them seriously, but our mother is not managing her mental illness. While she is taking medication she is letting her mental illness manage her. She either cannot or will not seek therapy. She takes her frustrations out on our father and me. When I told my sister that I needed to rebuild my self-esteem she told me I should not base my self-esteem on the opinions of others. While this is true, we are talking about our parents and from whom do a person’s first impressions of himself or herself come from but parents. This is what my sister does. She plays the big sister who knows so much more than her little sister. She says things that are true but not helpful. She is Mary Bennet dispensing the obvious. And I have lost another confidante. I still don’t know what to do about our mother except shore myself up a little more in time for her return in the summer.

So much for my summer of love.

1 Snyder, PL. Management of Hyperprolactinemia. UpToDate, Post TW, UpToDate, Waltham, MA, 2016.

This Bird Has Flown

This Bird Has Flown

So why you wanna fly, Blackbird?
You ain’t ever gonna fly
Why you wanna fly, Blackbird?
You ain’t ever gonna fly

You ain’t got no one to hold you
You ain’t got no one to care
If you’d only understand, dear
Nobody wants you anywhere -“Blackbird” Nina Simone.

It’s Not Just You. Americans are Having Less Sex. When a Partner Dies. Grieving the Loss of Sex. The Complexity and Simplicity of Female Erotic Desire. Maybe Monogamy Isn’t the Only Way to Love. There’s a Word for the Assumption That Everybody Should Be in a Relationship. Then there are the articles like When Factory Jobs Vanish, Men Become Less Desirable Partners and All the Single Ladies. What have I learned, apart from the fact that I shouldn’t read this garbage? That being an educated, single, woman of a certain age and income, women like me outnumber men with similar qualifications as much as three-to-one. With those kinds of numbers men can play the field, so to speak, with whomever they choose for as long as they like. As someone who is not marriage-minded, the idea of men playing the field is nothing to me, and it is nothing new to me either. Women were just starting to outnumber men in college, public colleges especially, so I sat back and watched as guy after guy had the steady girlfriend and played the field to his heart’s content.  Then there are men in without college degrees.  According to a study from MIT, cited extensively in When Factory Jobs Vanish, as the labour market declines so do the marriage prospects of young men. A man’s ‘marriagability’ is tied, for better or worse, to his ability to provide (not being an alcoholic or a drug addict also factor into the mix). As women have made gains in the labour market and the stigma of unwed motherhood has decreased, young women see no reason to marry. Many women still feel the need to marry up for security and when there is no up to marry to they go it alone.

Marriageable, available, ‘high-status’ men can be as choosy as they like; they are the top 20% of men who are having 80% of the sex with 20% of the women. The remaining 80% of us sit it out; the men deprived of sex and the women deprived of “male attention that leads to commitment.” Granted, Susan Walsh applied the Pareto principle to college-age subjects. I would argue that dating at any age is like dating in college. A small sliver of men are having most of the sex with the 20% of women who are sexually willing. Not looking to marry, you would think I have an advantage but I don’t. I am in the 80% who sit it out. And I dread the thought of putting myself out there because I don’t need to be reminded that I am in the 80% who sit this one out. It’s not like I think I’m entitled to sex, it’s that I know I’m not. There are articles out there about how young men are not having sex nearly as often as you think. I don’t know who this hypothetical ‘you’ is. I had a really good idea of how much sex the young men in my acquaintance were having because they had no trouble telling me. But the fact remains that men are not entitled to sex, no matter how much they think they are. And I would venture a guess that many are not having sex because they can’t see beyond some ideal that they think will make them happy and they know will make their friends jealous.

This is more me and I think is a glimpse of my future when I venture into online dating.

Being a 43-year-old, single ambivert who desires a long-term relationship but telecommutes and lives alone is far from easy. I’ve downloaded a handful of online dating apps to my iPhone, all with the intent of swiping until I find a match that sticks. Each time I think: Maybe this time. Three days later, I delete my profile thinking: Never again.

On the rare occasions that I’ve swiped right, nothing has happened. I know online dating works for people, other people. It’s a social act for “capital E” extroverts who have no problem with get-to-know-you banter. I haven’t been on a single online date, unless you count the time I made a long-distance friend playing Yahoo Hearts in 1999 and dated him nine years later. -“I’m not an extr0vert-and that makes it harder to find love. Washington Post. 1/18/2017

The author goes on to say that when she finds love it will be because “she meets a man in person under natural, pressure-free circumstances.” It’s a nice sentiment but she knows as well as I that being introverted and middle-aged finding a romantic partner will be difficult. Like the author, I have filled my life with wonderful supportive people, they are overwhelmingly couples and single women because that’s how it goes. I have filled my life with work and exercise (training for the marathon again because I’m a glutton for punishment) and music and art. My life is full and busy and it should be enough, but it isn’t. I too eat alone, sleep alone, ask where’s my partner, what happened? What the author does not mention is that there is a common conception that as single, middle-aged women this is the best for which we can hope. Particularly as one who is divorced there is a sense that I brought this upon myself;  you’re 47 years old what did you expect? You had a partner and you left him. This is what you get. You don’t get to miss sex and intimacy the way that someone whose long-term partner has passed away. You can’t talk about how much you miss sex mostly because you either don’t miss or can’t stand the person with whom you had sex. It’s maddening and it’s perjorative. I’m not going to say it’s unfair because I’m one of those adults who learned at a very early age that life is unfair. I don’t need to be reminded over and over. I’m a woman, I’ve swallowed worse.

 

Drusilla! My head, please.

Drusilla! My head, please.

Caligula is watching his pregnant sister Drusilla sleep. Drusilla is his constant companion. She soothes him when he has his headaches. She plays the goddess to his god. She is pregnant by him, as it happens. He wonders aloud can the child of Zeus be greater than Zeus? Will his child be greater than he? It’s a question all prospective parents ask themselves at some point, I shouldn’t wonder. But Caligula is no ordinary prospective parents and his question is answered with bloody certainty.

Four weeks ago I received confirmation that I have another brain tumour. Yes, that’s right, another. This is my second in nine years. The first was surgically removed in 2009. There are two medications specifically for the treatment of this kind of tumour. Bromocriptine is one and Cabergoline is the other. When the first tumour was diagnosed I was given Bromocriptine and after an uneventful course the tumour was removed surgically. I say uneventful because, in my case, the medication did not work at all. (This is not unusual. My body does not respond to medical interventions designed to shrink benign masses.) My prolactin did not go down, the tumour did not shrink, and it was too large to risk leaving in place in hope that another medication would work. Both drugs are dopamine agonists, which means they mimic the effects of dopamine without actually being converted into dopamine. Both drugs are also used to treat Parkinson’s, except that the dose is significantly larger. Both drugs are also ergot derivatives. Yes, that ergot; the fungus that grows on rye and other cereal grains that can cause ergotism in humans. What’s ergotism? I’m so glad you asked. Ergotism is ergot poisoning, plain and simple. Symptoms include: convulsions, diarrhea, mania, psychosis, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and hallucinations. In the 1970s Linnda R. Caporael, a professor at Rensselaer,  posited that ergot poisoning was the basis of the bewitchment at Salem that lead to the witch trials.

Three weeks ago I started taking Cabergoline. I take a half pill twice a week. My doctor and I discussed this at length. This is a very effective medication that most patients tolerate very well. Most report minimal to no side effects. In theory, this is such a low dose that my side effects should be minimal, if I have any at all. Well, I am having side effects.

  • Abdominal pain (7% of patients).
  • Nausea (16%-34% of patients) is my constant companion. It sets in about two hours after I eat, regardless of what I eat. The only food that does not make me sick? Peanut butter cups.
  • Dizziness (9%-17% of patients). No fast movements for me for a while.
  • Fatigue (5%-10% of patients). I am a zombie most of the day and there is not enough caffeine in the world.
  • Depression (5% of patients). It’s strange. I can’t tell if the drug is making my existing depression worse or whether dealing with the other side effects is making my depression worse. It’s not like I’m more depressed. It’s like everything is muffled.

I also can’t drink until this is over. Alcohol enhances the effect of the medication, so I must abstain until either this ends or I get the ok from the doctor. Trust me when I say when one gets word that one has a recurrence of a brain tumour one might want to indulge in an adult beverate.

I am also having very vivid dreams, several of them about my ex-husband. In the first time, we were living in a studio apartment across from The Flatiron Building. I kept telling him he had to get a job. In the second dream he was on the periphery, bobbing and weaving like he did, like his father did before him. Last night, I was talking to one of my personal heroes, Lou Reed, in a freight elevator and when I awoke the strains of Busload of Faith were still in my head.

You can’t depend on your family
You can’t depend on your friends
You can’t depend on a beginning
You can’t depend on an end

You can’t depend on intelligence
Ooh, you can’t depend on God
You can only depend on one thing
You need a busload of faith to get by, watch, baby

Busload of faith to get by
Busload of faith to get by
Busload of faith to get by
You need a busload of faith to get by

I’m still processing, I guess. I have a lot to process. I have decided that with this tumour, and especially with these side effects, that I need to be selfish. It’s a matter of survival.