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.

 

I Keep Telling Myself, Nie Mój Cyrk, Nie Moje Małpy

I Keep Telling Myself, Nie Mój Cyrk, Nie Moje Małpy

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

 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.

Mother, May I?

Mother, May I?

I saw my parents on July 4th weekend. The  build-up is usually the worst part of their annual summer visits. I find it’s best to get the initial visit out of the way early that way I get a better sense of what the rest of the summer holds. Usually she greets me with a comment about my skin: oh, your skin looks great or oh, your skin’s breaking out again. She’d comment on my hair. When it was long she’d ask, you’re wearing it curly? When it’s short, like now, she says, it’s a little short. Why don’t you grow it out? That bob was so cute. Then it was my clothes. I got on the train and got off in 1987. One day she said that she still saw my sister and I as 7 and 4 (respectively). My heart sank a bit. That was probably the last time my mother was happy.

As she has gotten older she has retreated into a world of her own making. A black and white world of moralistic assertions and harsh judgment. She still asserts that we can talk about anything. I just have to steel myself to either icy silence, harsh criticism, or crass cluelessness. It’s a trap into which I fall continuously. I so want to believe I can tell her anything, so I do. I tell her what I see, what I hear, what I experience only to be met with derision.30 years you’ve wanted to be treated like men, no wonder they don’t want commitment. She can’t be that conservative or she wouldn’t have slept with a married man. . If you’re going to sleep with him go ahead, but don’t be surprised when he dumps you. My declaration that I was not getting married again but was looking forward to a full and rich sex life was met with a set jaw and a sigh. It was then that I realised that my mother was not a feminist and modern women were sluts. I would have to watch what I say around yet another person. That I never, ever fit her mold of proper female behaviour. That what I wanted to be more than anything else was a normal woman.

She and my sister met me at the train station. She made a comment about how bright my hair was these days, nothing about the length. We’d had that discussion on the phone two weeks earlier. It had gone like it usually does. She said nothing about my skin or my clothes. She didn’t ask how I was doing. It was all very light and breezy. My father, who has also outgrown his filter, told me about his medication-induced gynecomastia lifted his shirt and showed me what was left of his breasts just as my mother walked into the kitchen. She had a fit and started yelling at him. He bowed his head and shuffled his feel and tried not to laugh. She stormed off in a huff. I could not help but wonder if the elaborate fantasy she created where I became her sexual rival had disappeared completely. Later she told my sister and I that she thought daddy was slipping.  She told us how one day he nearly went for his walk wearing two pairs of boxer shorts. That he had become forgetful, argumentative, irritable. Around us she’s called him daddy for as long as I can remember, like we’re still seven and four. Having been on the receiving end of her disapproval for so long, I found it hard to swallow.  He’s been getting progressively angrier for the past decade. The world is leaving him behind like it leaves us all. Both of them had become mean and angry and judgmental. He’s getting old, I thought. And so are you, mother.

Them!

Them!

“As you know, Mr. Goodwin is not indifferent to those attributes of young women which constitute our chief reliance or our race in our gallant struggle against the menace of the insects. He is especially vulnerable to young women who have a knack for stimulating his love of chivalry and adventure.” -Rex Stout Prisoner’s Base

Believe me when I say you haven’t lived until someone says to you, you know? you’re a very attractive woman but there is nothing sexy about you. For a moment, I felt vindicated. Yes, I thought, I knew it! I was right all along! It really is me! I think I even raised a defiant fist in the air. Were the world populated by women like me, the human race would have lost to the menace of the insects millennia ago and I wouldn’t be sitting here writing and listening the The Heartbreakers I Wanna Be Loved. The more I thought about it, the sadder I felt. Being told there’s nothing sexy about you is like being told there’s nothing human about you, nothing relatable anyway. I realised that everything I’ve ever thought about myself and how men see me was true. At best, I’m one of the guys. At worst, I’m invisible. There is no word to rally around or reclaim. In the thesaurus, the antonyms to sexy are distasteful, disgusting, unattractive, and unsexy. Not exactly terms to build a movement around and rally behind. My friend out in Seattle told me to relish this and take the opportunity to “get my sexy back”. What does that mean, I asked?

Since this episode, I’ve asked countless friends what is sexy? The men in my life told me all of the things I’d heard before: kindness, generosity, intelligence, a sense of humour, confidence, no drama. (The one who said no drama got an earful.) Not one of them told me the obvious things like long hair, great breasts, long legs; because it wasn’t necessary. As one of the guys, I’d heard it all before. What does sexy mean? As for my female friends, one told me sexy is a feeling. Another told me that one morning while in high school she woke up and realised she was “hot”. What’s that like, I asked her? Another told me it was being comfortable in your own skin. I’ve been given all kinds of advice: wear sexy lingerie, wear red, wear clothes that fit, be yourself (because that’s worked so well so far?), make eye contact, wear heels. Once upon a time I was a secure, self-assured woman who didn’t care if men got her or not. The right ones would, I thought. If hope is the triumph of optimism over experience, I have some hope left-some.

When my brother died, my father gravitated to me and my mother gravitated to my sister. I learned how to change a tire, replace a washer in a faucet (when faucets required washers), thread a fishing line through a bobber, put a worm on a hook and take the fish off. He taught me to pitch sidearm and to walk off pain when I was injured in the myriad sports I played. He took me fishing and we went to baseball games. I helped him strip wallpaper and paint the dining room. Measure twice, in more than two places, then cut once. He taught me the metric system. I became, for those years between six and ten, my father’s surrogate son. Then puberty came. My sister told me she envied the attention I got from our father. It’s very easy to romanticise this chapter in my life. I was, for the most part, free of the gender-based restrictions placed on most girls my age. But it wasn’t me he saw, it was his late son. His attention was conditional, based on my ability/willingness to go along with his wishes.

When puberty hit I was handed off to my mother. It was a little like the urchin arriving at the door. My father withdrew almost completely. My life now had rules and boundaries I hadn’t had before. When my mother took me out to by my first bra she told me under no circumstances was my father to see me without a bra. That he could not see me in just my pyjamas, I needed a robe as well. She told me I could not longer sit cross-legged on the couch, particularly around my father. I now had to sit with my legs or ankles crossed. She had me walk up and down the living room with a book on my head. One day when I took the stairs two at a time (something I still do) she had me walk up and down the stairs, one at a time, twenty times. She told me boys, later men, were only after one thing, and it was up to me to be strong and resilient. I needed to be modest and covered. A girl who slept around was damaged goods and was going to end up crazy “like your aunt”. Yet, as I got older the pressure she put on me to be in a relationship was relentless. One day when I was home on break from college, I went to her for a hug and she said I was too old to get love from my mother. I needed a boyfriend. I went in to my father and said, dad mom said I need a boyfriend. He flipped down his newspaper and said, I got along perfectly well without one, flipped up his newspaper and kept reading. Mixed messages. Diametric opposites.

Being dragged into my mother’s feminine world where I wasn’t pretty enough or deferential enough and too independent killed what little self-esteem I had. She gave me a book that may have been called, I Care About Me. On the cover were two very Mormon, blonde, smiling teens. The book talked about nutrition and hygiene and proper conduct and all those things young people are supposed to care about. It didn’t talk about how you are supposed to feel when your parents are trying to force you into diametrically opposing molds. It was at this point that I found two things that probably saved my life: feminism and punk. Feminism and the punk scene allowed me to start getting more comfortable in my own skin. The punk scene was full of misfit toys. And I came of age when Bikini Kill made it OK for me to get up and say I was sexually assaulted AND emotionally abused AND my experience as a young woman was valid. These were the things that gave me the courage to start speaking up and walking away.

Why Are Most Quotes About Wives by Men?

Why Are Most Quotes About Wives by Men?

For whatever reason, call it the social contract, the idea of a natural progression of a relationship endures. You meet the right person. You fall in love. You marry. You have children. You raise children. Your children lead lives of their own. We see our parents, our friends’ parents. We hear it in the schoolyard,

“First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes x in the baby carriage.”

It’s ingrained in us to such an extent that, of course, it’s natural. Why wouldn’t it be. Even those that claim to flout convention eventually pair up and have a child. Time passes. People mature. Relationships progress. I wonder if we wouldn’t be happier people if we didn’t allow ourselves to play Exquisite Corpse with our definitions of a successful relationship. Time passes. People progress. Relationships mature. We don’t allow for mature relationships until after children are grown. We equate maturity with getting to know each other all over again. It will be like a second honeymoon! What fun! Unless you don’t know each other any more. I didn’t see a difference between my idea of relationship unfolding and maturing and his belief that a relationship needed to progress along a more traditional path. I want a relationship that will mature, develop complexity and richness, outside of a traditional path. It’s a shame that it took me 14 years to figure that out.

Recently I found myself party to a conversation where the subject was being someone’s wife. One of my friends said she did not and does not ever see herself as a wife. When I was younger I didn’t either. Then again, I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I seldom dated. Guys never saw me that way. I was the cool girl who was the friend and confidante-period. “You’re so cool. You’re awesome. Why can’t more girls be like you. Do you know Heather? Do you think she likes me?” I died a little inside every time. As I got older, I saw myself possibly being a wife, but not in a traditional marriage. I was raised in a faith that forbade cohabitation, which, in retrospect, is better suited to my temperament. If I wanted to be in a long-term, committed relationship it was marriage or nothing. I saw myself in an equal partnership with a man; sharing but at the same time having our own lives.

Then I became an actual wife and all of a sudden I felt like I was doing everything. I did the laundry, the dishes, the grocery shopping. I paid the bills and schedule doctors’ appointments. I cleaned, badly; mostly because I didn’t have the time to clean the way I like which is to remove everything, scrub down the space, and put everything back. I took care of the dry cleaning. I packed his bags for trips and unpacked them when he got home. I made our travel arrangements. I took the car in for routine maintenance. I took the cats in for routine maintenance. I did the dishes and made dinner on the weekends. The only things I didn’t do were cooking on weekdays and  calling the contractor when repairs needed to be made. All this while working full time. We discussed the unequal distribution of domestic labour at great length, but nothing changed. He asked why I was so tired. One day he had me write down my daily schedule for a week. He saw that I was booked from 6:30am-9pm most weeknights, booked from 7:00am-9:00pm most Saturdays, and booked from 7:00am-5:00pm most Sundays. After that he helped around the house for two weeks. My woman’s work was never done. I was run down and resentful.

Did I mention he worked from home?

I ask myself, what did we do?  We barely went to the movies. We had a 46″ television screen and to him it was better than going to the movies. We hardly went to the theatre. We never went to the philharmonic. We went to the opera once. I did these things more often in the first six months after our divorce then we did when we were married. We watched television, far too much television he complained. He played video games. We read books. He talked endlessly about his interests. But most of the time we did nothing.

His mother did everything. When we visited she would have out laundry folded and ready by the time we left. I usually washed and dried. She claimed to have trained her husband but when she started working it was regular visits from a cleaning woman who kept their home spotless. She did not train my ex; leaving that, she said, to me. I told her it was not my job to train her son. More fool me as it became my job all the same. She didn’t like my response. Perhaps she felt it inferred a failing, or the idea that the wife training the husband was a little old fashioned, like I didn’t have anything else to do. My son is a sexist cretin and it’s your job to remake him, I couldn’t. He hid his sexism well. My father told me of a conversation he had with my ex during our grad school years. My father told him he could do a better job of helping around the house. My ex’s response was that it was not part of his culture. There was no glamour in housework. He couldn’t show off like with cooking. We hadn’t failed at much over the course of our lives, my ex’s mother and me. She went back to work, climbed the corporate ladder, and supported the family. I had worked my way from not much and supported myself admirably. This, however, was a spectacular failure and we both knew it. Did you see this coming? she asked at the end. No, I replied. I’m not sure that’s entirely true. Now that we are apart, I see that this was inevitable. Had it not been for his overwhelming case of babyfever, it would have been something else. I know that now.

She and others have asked how/why I lived with it for so long. Simple, I thought it would change. He’d get the tenure-track position he always wanted. We’d start over. Our therapist asked me if something else in his life had worked out the way he planned, would our lives have been different. Looking at this parallel universe, the hard truth is that it our lives wouldn’t have been any different at all. I would still be doing all of the menial, domestic chores. What’s more, if we had a child I would be taking the child to and from daycare and seeing to all of her or his needs. He would bring the child to parties, not get up for feedings. I would have been ground to nothing and he would bask in all the glory that comes when you do everything the world says you’re supposed to do.  If, in this parallel universe, we were unable to have children, then things would have been identical. His babyfever would still hit. He would still be the one who wants to leave but doesn’t want to be  bad guy. I would be the one to leave.

Funny how a parallel universe can look just like this one.