No matter what side of the golden-birthday suit you wear, doesn’t the mere sound of that subject make you wince?
In my circle, no matter how Zen we are about turning forty, the big Five-Oh is a whole ‘nother story. Fifty prompts a reaction that sounds a bit like a big cat hocking up a hairball. Hah-yack! It’s a tough dating market out there, especially for women who have to restart a long-dormant dating career due to divorce or other sudden bout of singledom. Men’s dating stock seems to increase in value with age, but we women often find ourselves stuck in a bear market. Or a depression.
During my recent college reunion, dating was a hot topic. During one of our late-night chatfests in the common room (a tribal ritual that involved the imbibing of copious amounts of spirit juice), a recent divorcee posed the following question: “How do I start the whole dating thing again?”
I leaned forward and offered up a tip from Mimi Morgan, a character in The Fat City Mysteries.
“Here’s a dirty little secret about men,” I said. “Men are all about packaging. You gotta take what you got and vamp it up.”
My theory was rejected by a unanimous round of head-shaking. This amazed me. Call me a plastic surgery junkie, call me a shallow-head resident of La-La Land, but I thought all women knew this basic fact about the male species—men's initial reaction to a woman is based on appearance. After that comes love and feelings (hopefully), but here’s the ugly truth: Looks. Do. Matter.
Here’s how one of my characters describes the Four Cycles of Love: 1) Breaking up; 2) Losing weight; 3) Plastic surgery; 4) Starting a new relationship.
Okay, so that character is really shallow. But she has a point. Back when we were in our thirties, to get prepared for dating we thought mostly about getting in shape, plus maybe buying some new clothes and make-up. When we’re over fifty, we may require a little extra intervention. I’m not talking about Sex and the City or face-lifts, but I am suggesting that we need to redress Mother Time in whatever way that works. It may be a little collagen or Botox, or yoga classes, but here’s the bottom line: you’ve got to look like you still like to do it. And that may involve pushing beyond our comfort zones.
In my own case, nothing makes me happier than a day when I’m alone in the house and I can settle into what Oprah calls “schlumpadinka” mode. Sweats, tee shirt, no makeup—you may know the routine.
Some weeks after our wedding date, when I first emerged in full schlumpadinka splendor, I looked at my husband and said, “Oh honey, I’m so sorry.” I realized he’d never actually seen me look like that before; I’d always been in dating mode. Poor guy. It was too late to back out—he’d already walked down the aisle.
Then, when I had to get some publicity event a couple of years ago, I reverted right back to dating-preparation mode. I took a hard look at some candid shots, then picked up the phone and dialed my best friend’s plastic surgeon for a consult. (This is LA, after all. We all have friends who have plastic surgeons.)
Two rounds of fat grafts, one eye lift, a professional photographer and one make-up artist later, I considered it all to be worth the trouble. Men didn’t cherchez le frump when we were twenty years old, and they definitely don’t when we’re fifty. But some women disagree that we should have to play that game.
“He should like me for who I am,” they object.
Well, yes, but consider this update from the dating battlefront: Every Friday night, my tiny seaside turns into a hunting ground for YOPPS (Young People on the Prowl). The town’s many bars fill with guys jammed in with girls who teeter around the boardwalk in tight skirts and stilettos. The only women over forty are the bemused married matrons who actually live in the town; all the Happily Marrieds are dressed in sweats and comfortable walking shoes.
But if one of those Happily Marrieds becomes a Suddenly Single when she’s fifty, she might want to refresh her dating memory with a couple of lessons from her YOPP sister.
Lesson 1: Cleavage never hurts.
Lesson 2: Stilettos hurt, but they often help.