Dose #24: The Myth Of The 'Desperate' Older Woman
"I've never been particularly aware of my age. It's like being on a bicycle - I just put my foot down and keep going."
~ Angela Lansbury
After a long day, like most commuters sitting in the 8:53 train in Grand Central Station, I was pleasantly spent, listening for the conductor's last call.
The girl in the seat in front of me was on her phone... "Tell me", she said,"...what do you want me to do? Do you want me to get off? You'd better make up your mind...the train leaves in 2 minutes!" An elderly couple sat next to her, closing off access to the aisle. Now, I was involved and I was worried. If this girl did decide to make a quick exit...the couple would be in her way. They couldn't move fast enough. She continued..."Hurry up...what do you want me to do? Should I get off or not?"
Suddenly she popped up, telling the couple, "I have to leave. You can have the whole seat to yourself...I have to get off!". Smiling as if happy to be a part of an adventure, I watched as they struggled to help each other, canes and all, moving as fast as they could, making way for this girl who once freed, bolted down the aisle to the sounds of the warning bell, seconds before the doors closed for good.
What was that all about? My imagination ran wild. Why would this girl run off the train this time of night, knowing if whatever she was running to didn't work out she'd have to wait a full hour for the next train? High stakes. Everybody knows the later it gets the less palatable the station - hot, messy, filled with people looking for a place to sleep. Nobody wants to be there unless you're young, full of energy and still believe in love. It had to be that. There had to be a boy out there waiting to wrap his arms around this willing girl.
It makes me happy to think of people in love - other people. Yes, there are times every once in a while I picture a lovely bistro tucked away from everything and everybody...cozy with candles and white cloths and waiters who say little. And, in my imagination there's a man sitting with me, someone I want to be with. Someone interesting, soft-spoken, intelligent, a man whose warmth takes me away from the craziness of life - if only for two hours. In my imagination.
Would I jump off the train late at night to meet a man? Probably not. For one thing, it would be rare for someone my age to start the evening that late. Things can wait. Tomorrow is fine. For another, the longer I live, the less inclined I am to want to make what feels like a big effort for something that may or may not be worth it.
I'd rather go home to what's certain. My dogs. Pajamas, late-night news, a good book. Sleep. That's it. That's what I prefer - quiet time, solitude, ease.
There once was (and in some circles may still be) a myth that as women grow older they grow more desperate. It's an ugly stereotype, nothing more. Desperation is about disposition. It has no age. The girl of 30 who doesn't feel desperate is the woman who feels just fine at 70, content, living a life full of interesting things to do. Unfortunately, the girl of 30 who feels desperate is likely to suffer the same fate at 70 - unless somewhere along the way she's fortunate enough to re-frame the way she looks at what it means to be alone.
After friendships are developed, careers set, marriage experienced, children raised, houses bought and sold...something beautiful begins to unfold. It isn't cynicism, it's a changing reality, a realization that a lot of what we thought would happen did not. The love we dreamed of having didn't turn out exactly as expected. The career we fought so hard to achieve is full and satisfying, but not all of who we are. People we looked up to turned out to be less than the giants we'd imagined them to be. We've discovered that honesty, truth, commitment, loyalty and love professed, may not always hold up. Not as we thought they would at the age of 16 when dreams were held fiercely inside a hopeful heart.
Still, with all that didn't go as planned, there's unexpected good. We see beauty not only in the new outfit or pounds lost at the gym, but in the tree, the kind act, the helping hand, the infant's smile. Disappointment and heartbreak soften as we learn to embrace what seems impossible when we're young - the co-existence of joy and sorrow. If we're lucky, our minds are rich with ideas. We're curious. Never bored. There's so much to learn, so much to understand. We finally know what matters. When we say we treasure the simple things, we mean it. We know love comes in more forms than ever imagined, and the kind we call romantic is finally in its right perspective. We're more accepting of our flaws and the flaws of those we know. Self-confident. Content. Fulfilled. Appreciation - not desperation.
With age comes a silent, inner clock. Silent because we rarely walk around saying, "I'm running out of time", still, we know it. If someone we spend the evening with talks only about themselves...ugh. It's impossible to pay attention to another "I" when your mind is filled with fantasies of how not to look like a crazy person when you make your escape. When someone who finds the negative in everything asks for our ear, we're reluctant to stick around as we would have at the age of 25. And, the person who wants to talk about aches and pains? We'd rather not. We've learned that what we focus on grows, and pain is not worth cultivating. Time grows more important. The hours of every precious day are shared with care. Discrimination - not desperation.
The world needs to stop looking at 'older' women' with pity. It's wasted effort and lack of understanding. We're quite happy. We may be happier than at any time in our lives. We like things the way they are. If we're with someone and that pleases us, wonderful. If we're not, that's o.k. too. Either way, every new day is waiting to be lived.
I have no idea what happened to the girl on the train. For all I know this meeting had nothing to do with romance. Whatever it was, I hope it went well. I want her to trust, even if it means getting hurt, because without it she won't ever jump off the train into what has to be a part of every flourishing life - the unknown. I want her to flirt, laugh, fall in and out of love, and run to the mystery and magic of life when it calls as it did that night under the dome. Never in desperation, but in joy. I wish that for her.
Note: Last week I introduced the idea of posting information that may serve readers needs. Notices forwarded to will post for one month...here's last week's post...
A blog reader has been working tirelessly for the past four years, developing and promoting a remarkable self-advocacy group, "Community as Family" (CAF). The program was designed initially as a support system for congregants of New York's Temple Emanu-El, those without "willing and reliable family members" available to provide care as members in their late 40's and 50's begin "aging solo" and need for support grows.
The idea of CAF is to encourage members to "...live independently with better awareness and understanding of resources, with a supportive A-team, and deepening engagement and strengthening relationships within the temple community". Fortunately, as the population ages, the urgent need for such a program is generating its own kindling effect, causing CAF to gain notice and popularity well beyond the temple.
Most recently, CAF facilitator (Small Doses reader), Wendl Kornfeld, gave a PowerPoint presentation as a part of the United Nations NGO Committee on Ageing, where attendees from around the globe shared concerns about the aging man or woman living alone who may be childless and without family support. The presentation was a huge success.
If this would be of interest - for you or someone you know - please send an inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org...thank you.
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