Resentment Yesterday I was at swing-dancing, being shoved around and even lectured at by men. Giving unsolicited feedback at swing-dancing is a social faux-pas, but etiquette is not so highly stressed in the Edinburgh swing scene, alas. Normally I do not mind a tip or two, but I definitely mind it when the guy is wrong. I also mind being shoved in the back and having my wrist wrenched.
Normally I hang onto resentment like a favourite blanket, but last night I shoved it away. Do not resent the men, I thought. Either gently correct them or let it go. Today I offered a good article on feedback to the club website because someone ought to teach us all how to behave, and I don't want it to be me. If ever I am a swing-dance teacher, I will give a workshop on good manners on the dance floor. But for now I am just a semi-newbie, and my primary goal is to be asked to dance a lot. And for a 40+ in a room full of university students, I do pretty well.
Aha! Expectations. If you are over 30, you should check your expectations. As a woman over 30, you can expect to find companionship among men over 30, but not necessarily among men under 30. Of course, younger men often take a shine to older women, but it is not the absolute norm. When you are 35, you shouldn't sulk and feel sad because men in their mid-twenties think you are way older than they. You are way older than they. And no matter how young you feel--everyone feels young unless we're depressed or ill--or look, you are still over 35 and you are just not as attractive to the vast majority of young men as the 19 to 30 set. Sorry.
Happily, there are also men in their 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s who are interested in women, and the older they get, the more likely they are to (A) understand that the girls in their 20s think they are hideous (B) find girls in their 20s inexplicable and even dull. Girls in their 20s have never been to a Roxy Music concert or even know what Roxy Music is. Indeed, even I at my advanced age had to google it right now. But if I recall correctly, chaps now in their 50s think Roxy Music the bomb. (Oh, this is 40-something person slang meaning "fantastic.")
So do not resent 20-somethings for not noticing you are alive, breathing or even female, if you are over 30. Most of the little things are dead poor anyway, being in college, or the military, or the breadline, or internships. They cannot support a family of three; they can barely support themselves. The tallest cutest twenty-something guy at swing-dancing is a full-time waiter. O tempora, o mores.
If you are under 30, you should keep in mind that most of the men of your generation are dead poor, and the idea of supporting a wife and family scares them to death. The idea of being married to wives who do way better than them financially also scares them to death, especially since although we have progressed to the idea of Wife as Breadwinner, we have not progressed so easily to the idea of Husband as Housewife. They are haunted by the idea that they have nothing to offer women nowadays, which is why I think we should emphasize their size and brute strength as much as we possibly can.
Repelling Kind Gestures. You and I know that we are not crippled (unless we are) and we don't need a seat on the bus more than a man (unless we do) and we are perfectly capable of carrying our own bags (unless we aren't). However, nothing discourages a man's attempts to "be a gentleman" than telling him so. Every woman who humiliates a man in public for trying to do her some kind service of strength should be dragged into the market square by all the other women and beaten with a skipping rope. Because of this woman, that man will sit in his bus seat while before him a standing pregnant woman fights down nausea. Because of this woman, that man will let the door slam shut in the face of a woman holding a noisy child with one hand and a heavy shopping bag in the other. Because of this woman, I collapsed outside Aldi surrounded with my weight (it felt like my weight) in groceries around me. Bad, bad woman. Naughty, naughty, naughty. Gender traitor, gender traitor! Whack, whack!
The nicest thing you can do for a man in this world that has so devalued masculinity is to allow and encourage him to perform signal acts of strength. Now that we all know the average woman is just as smart as that average man is, just as good at math, if allowed to be, etc., etc., we should let men shine in the unique ways that they can, and one of them is getting lids off jars. This ability is actually very important to the smooth running of life.
Demanding Kind Gestures. However, you cannot nag them about signal acts of strength. Once upon a time in a group, I offered to help another over-30 with her bags.
"Thank you, but it's not YOU who should be offering," she said and shot a covert look at the oblivious 20-somethings around us.
"Give me that bag," said I and tried to check my companion's complaints about young men who do not carry bags, the young men in our group being in earshot or almost thereof. For this kind of passive-aggression does not help the cause. Utterly not. If you have heavy bags, or a bag of any size (except your purse), and you want young men to carry for them for you, the way forward is to say plaintively but directly, "Will one of you big strong young men help little me with my bags?"
Then, when one of the big strong young men, or maybe even two, depending on the number of the bags, leaps forward to help little you, you say "Oh thank you very much" like a woman who has been untied from the railway tracks.
Naturally you never, ever, ever say "should" to a man who is not your son or paying pupil. Never. Nor should you keep up a running commentary on how rotten he is, how spoiled, how rude, how insensitive and so apparently ignorant of the good manners that were the norm fifty years ago. The one and only place I have ever been where men automatically give up seats to women, carry their stuff, lift heavy things, take the lids off the pickle jar is (wait for it) Poland.
I recall a Frenchman leaping to my assistance on the train platform in Milan, but I was a striking foreign 28 year old. I suspect today he would study his copy of Le Monde with such fierce intensity, both middle-aged me and my suitcase would be completely invisible to him. Sigh, sigh, sigh. If lucky, I would be rescued by a minute Polish priest, who would risk the hernia for the pleasure of the challenge and of subsequently scolding me for travelling with such a heavy bag. "What if I were not here?" Good question.
Personally I enjoy going through life telling young men they are handsome, necessary, good-looking, strong and marvellous--which is not difficult as these are the only kind of young men I have anything to do with--but as I am middle-aged and married I cannot tell if this is a good way to attract men. I think it probably is, if you are under 30. Over 30 and unattached, you might be found be a bit alarming. On the other hand, you might find yourself with more attention than you know what to do with. I recommend trying it and then emailing me after a few months to let me know if it's working.