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.
Funny story on age difference: A couple of years ago I was in the waiting room at the dentist, and a strikingly handsome man walked in. As he was talking to the receptionist, I was covertly admiring his good looks and wondering his age. I thought he might be younger than me, but not by too much, until his mother walked in...and I realized he was a former student of mine! I hadn't seen him in a few years as he was away at college, but nevertheless I'd been eyeing him like a potential contemporary, when in fact he's nearly 20 years younger...ack! ack! ack!ReplyDelete
I guess to be fair I should say that when he was a high school freshman, most people (teachers and students alike) initially mistook him for a new faculty member. But still.
Never mind the 20 year difference: former student! Ack! Ack!ReplyDelete
I always enjoy when Seminarian Pretend Son is mistaken for my husband, but I think he was born 40.
"Former student! Ack! Ack!" is right! Just too awful on so many levels.Delete
Seraphic, you look younger than you are (based on photos) so maybe that's why people think SPS is your husband.Delete
Also, are there really women who are 30+ and surprised if 20-something men aren't interested? I certainly do not expect to be found attractive by men in their 20s when I am in my 30s. I'm already not found particularly attractive by men in their 20s, and I'm their peer! Maybe the women who are annoyed that 20-something men aren't interested are the women who had a lot of male attention when they were in their 20s but not so much now that they're in their 30s?
I've always been a little exasperated when middle-age women (not talking about you, Seraphic) complain that they're "invisible" to men now and whinge whinge whinge. At least at one point they were visible to men! I can assure you that being a woman in her 20s does not guarantee that one will be visible to men.
The upside of this for women like me is that when we're middle-aged we won't get the almighty shock of being rendered Invisible.
Well, I wouldn't be so exasperated by the middle-aged women. Aging is tough on women in western cultures. It may be tough on women in eastern cultures, too, now, but I hope not. Anyway, yes, it is sad to lose something you had before.Delete
And yes there are 30+ women who are confused and sad because young men are not attracted to them because there are many women not rooted in reality. That said, clearly not all 30+ women are "invisible" to men. Perhaps I was too humorous at my own expense, and the Frenchman would still lug my suitcase onto the train. It might depend on what I was wearing and what my hair was doing, etc.
Hmm. Since my mid-to-late twenties I have got much evidence that younger men (age gap up to 9 years) are attracted to me, actually. But when it came to dating them... well. Fun as they are, they soon become intimidated by the pressure to make a serious move. And even though I don't push them intentionally, I always get to thinking: he's nice, BUT I'd have to wait another X years until he is ready to marry and I am not sure if I still want to. In my age, I would rather find someone who would be able to make a decision to get married within MONTHS, not years. And here is the main disadvantage of dating younger men for me. Attraction itself may happen anytime anyplace, but that's not all.Delete
Is it ok to decline help offered but be nice about it and say "thank you very very much, you're so kind" or is that still considered rude?ReplyDelete
Yes, you certainly can, although I don't know why you would--unless of course he were a complete stranger and you were worried that he might run away with your stuff.ReplyDelete
Or if he were drunk or otherwise objectionable.ReplyDelete
I had a small bag of shopping in one hand and my dog's bed in the other, she had just been put to sleep and I was in a daze. I wanted to be left alone, words were hard. He didn't seem offended, quite cheerful, hope I didn't come across as rude.ReplyDelete
Oh poor you. My condolences.Delete
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.ReplyDelete
No unsigned Anonymous comments on this one please.ReplyDelete
Funnily enough, one place where men have offered me help while carrying heavy bags many times is in famously unfriendly London. (And yes, I smiled and thanked them!) And I have also seen men stopping to help women with baby buggies or bags up the stairs in the Tube many, many times. The nice thing is, women do it too if a woman looks more tired/laden with things than they are. (Not just callously expecting a man to help when they are in fact the nearest able bodied person.) I wonder if this is an effect of living in a crowded city where you are sort of forced to bump up against people (literally!). That said, I was once so absorbed in reading something or other on my phone that I didn't realise a very pregnant woman was standing up RIGHT IN FRONT OF my seat until I heard my station announced. I wish she had tapped me on the shoulder and asked me if I would mind letting her sit down – I still wince when I think of how I just sat there oblivious!ReplyDelete
The other thing is that sometimes you can't tell for sure if someone is pregnant. A heavy coat over many layers makes it nigh on impossible to tell.Delete
Yes Julia! Also, often the time a pregnant woman most needs to sit down is when she's super nausea and probably doesn't really look pregnant at all.Delete