I stopped reading the Love & Sex section of The Guardian, for obvious reasons. Today, however, a piece caught my eye. Women and Desire: The Six Ages of Sex. I scrolled down to the woman in her 40s, started reading, and rolled my eyes. She’s 41. The only thing that kept me from laughing out loud is that I am at work, on a national holiday, when most people I know are off. This is a metaphor for my sex life right now. While most people I know are married or hooking up or consciously abstaining from sex I am removed from it. Anyway, like most stories, she was divorced in her 30s remarried and now that she is in her “forties” she is a mother having spectacular sex with her second husband. I wondered if she would be so cheery were she in my situation; divorced at 46 surrounded by married couples and younger single women and nearly invisible because, “The last thing most divorced men want is women of the same age, education and outlook. You protest: this is unfair. I can only tell you of my own experience, which is that mid-life men have high expectations, a situation exacerbated by being outnumbered three to one by women.”
My situation is closer to that of Stella Grey, the author of The Guardian’s Midlife Ex-Wife Column. She confirmed what I already suspected about love, sex, and online dating. In 2014, when she started the column, she was 50. She tried online dating for 693 days before her last first date. I’m about ready to give up before I even try. I have a knack for attracting deeply sexist men who are drawn to my strength then try and hold me down. Single men here are outnumbered 12:10. Take a room and let in one hundred men. Now let in one hundred and twenty women. You get the idea. Some of us go home alone. I scrolled down tempted to make a comment, but found someone had made it for me.
“Yes, that was my thought too. I read ’41’ and may have audibly snorted.”
This was a response to a post by someone who argued that 49 is very different from 41. Like any woman in her 40s I would say that is true to a point. But, in my case, not in the way the commentator may have intended. At 41, I would never have dreamed of completing a marathon, running, keeping up with women and men over half my age in yoga and Pilates classes. Physically, I’m in the best shape since college. I own my home. I’m managing my finances. I have great friends-near and far. My sense of humour has returned. My life if infinitely better than it was six years ago, better than it was two years ago. That doesn’t mean my life is perfect nor does it mean that my life isn’t hard. No matter how many friends I have, in the end I am still alone. I have to fend for myself. I have to catch me when I fall.
In 2011, I was 41. We were living in a 600 square foot apartment about as far out in Philadelphia as one could be and still be within city limits. I was paying all of the bills, doing all of the chores, taking high-powered injectable fertility drugs trying to get pregnant, working full time, and dealing with my increasingly unstable husband. My ex would encourage me to go get more exercise but would saddle me with all of the household duties. I was working full-time and doing everything else and he would sit and play video games and wonder why I was so tired all the time. We did everything together. My friends were his friends. His interests were my interests. I stopped having things that were mine. When my camera broke it didn’t get replaced. When he needed things, he got them. He put his needs before mine and I let him. There was no escaping. As I sit here now, I almost typed not that I ever thought of escaping. This is when I started to think about, not just dream of escaping.
Deep down, I knew the injectable drugs were not going to work. I knew the numbers we were being told at the fertility clinic were inflated. We were given numbers like 50% success when the reality was significantly lower, closer to 23%. What I did not count on were his roller coaster moods. I had to be the steady one. He took my steadiness for callous indifference. Since he was falling apart, I had to keep it together and he resented me for it. I don’t know if it was a calculated maneuver on his part but I had no time for me. I couldn’t even think of me. We did everything together. My being alone was dangerous. He hated being alone more than being with me. So long as I was around his basic needs were being met. In the scheme of things, it is better to be wanted than needed. Wants change, but we resent those we need.
And now he needs someone else. I’ve already mentioned that his girlfriend is around seven months pregnant. What I have learned in the interim is that the house, I bought it and sold it to him when we split, is on the market. There were three bids on the first day, something I attribute to my superior taste and judgment. Last I heard it is down to two. I found this out when one of my friends saw me at dinner and said, I think I have a small sense of what it was like to be married to your ex. He went on to tell me how my ex-husband asked them to witness and sign some real estate documents in front of a notary. True to form, he had not bothered to find a notary and proceeded to have a “meltdown”, a “temper tantrum” when finding one proved difficult. My friend said, it was like dealing with a five-year old. To make matters worse, and also true to form, when he got what he wanted he abandoned them at the bank. I was mortified. My friend was right, he was describing the last three-to-five years of our marriage. The differences were that when we were together I did the legwork to keep the tantrums to a minimum and when he had meltdowns I was the one left to clean up the mess and mend the fences. It was never enough. He hasn’t changed. He hasn’t grown. It hasn’t been necessary.
But there’s something else and this is what surprises our friends the most. They’re still not married. Personally, it is nothing but a curiosity to me. Perhaps, both being divorced, neither has any interest in marrying. I can certainly understand. I have no interest in marrying again. Here is a man who had a definite trajectory for our relationship-courtship, marriage, children, career (his career), retirement, death. Yet, this time he has skipped a step or two. He is still working as a scientific consultant but who knows if he and his collaborators will continue to get grant funding. Perhaps, like many things, he planned but did not think they would be so successful so soon. That, I think, was part of the episode with my friends. He knew the house would sell, just not so soon and he has no contingency plan. He knew she would get pregnant, maybe just not so soon. She got pregnant right after she moved in, if my math is correct. All of this is converging now and, as usual, he has no back-up plan. He has been working his entire life without a net. Someone, be it his parents or me, has been there to catch him when he fell and make him look good. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if his parents or her parents are there to catch them. Maybe they will live with her parents until they find a place to live? Who knows. Not my circus, not my monkeys. I have my own monkeys-like the recurrence of a benign brain tumour.
I watch all of this with a certain wonder. Sometimes I wonder why I spend so much time and mental energy on someone I no longer love and have no desire to be with. I don’t wish him ill but that doesn’t mean I wish him well. I want him to learn something, to have learned something, but it looks like he hasn’t. Someone else will be there to pick up the pieces for him.