When I started dating again after being widowed at fifty, I wondered, where are the men who act like grownups? The ones who get their gutters cleaned, keep their homes reasonably tidy, have edible food in their refrigerators, and want a life partner instead of easy sex.
The ones who want a love that lasts. Even though they know it isn’t always easy.
I wanted a grown man who truly cared about me, who’d be there on the days that were hard for me, like my late husband’s birthday, would listen to my worries over home repairs, and be available to talk even on the days we weren’t seeing each other. In short, I wanted a grownup.
Not the middle-aged Lothario who was still “seeing what’s out there.” Nor the guy who wanted to see me one night a week, but evaporated on all the others because it cut into his lifestyle of perpetual dating. Nor the one who thought I should sell my home and travel the world because his idea of heaven was having no responsibilities. And certainly not the ones who thought we’d get to know each other by coming over to watch movies and “whatever.”
“Whatever” is not an appropriate word for a grownup.
I discovered that the dating of my youth, which involved being invited out in advance for a planned activity, had devolved into swiping, hanging out, and hooking up. All of which felt truly pointless. Like playing quarter slots for hours. Little risk. No emotional investment. A meeting of organs instead of souls.
Love is not a dirty word.
We have every right to expect our dates to care about us. To see that we get home safely, have breakfast with us the next day if we spend the night, be straightforward about seeing us again, and make actual plans to do just that.
“Breadcrumbing,” “paper clipping,” and “pony-tail pulling” (Okay, I invented that last one) are not adult behavior.
We might have five and ten-year plans for our careers, but not our relationship goals. We might get up at five a.m. to get in our writing or running time but put no effort into really getting to know the people we’re dating.
The middle-aged, single man child is not a new phenomenon.
In the 1970s, when my widowed (it seems to run in the family) dad started dating again at forty-two, he met many women who told him he was the only man they’d met who acted like a grownup. He used to joke that he was “The Bay Area adult male.”
After five years of dating, he met the woman who became my step-mom. She was a pediatrician with a demanding job, a well-organized apartment, and a lifelong commitment to feminism. He was a homeowner, a scientist, and a truly great parent. They’ve been together for over forty years.
Going back to our carefree youth when we’re middle-aged isn’t that great.
First of all, we probably can’t. Many of us middle-aged singles have kids and homes and aging parents and health issues of our own and an eye towards retirement. Acting like we don’t is just plain delusional.
Second, we are long past the age when we should have gained some maturity. That hard-won maturity is something to be proud of, not diminished.
I meet so many middle-aged singles, failed relationships nipping at their heels, who’ve lost hope in ever finding a relationship that lasts. They contort themselves to try to seem young and carefree and, above all, disinterested. Because if they don’t appear interested, they can’t be hurt by rejection.
It’s far easier to meet up, get one’s physical needs satisfied, and scurry off afterward. But what about our emotional needs?
Let’s stop marketing ourselves as being low maintenance.
As being girls who don’t need anything when we are adult women with real needs. And hell yes, love is a need.
Being low maintenance isn’t such a great thing anyway. Having expectations means you value yourself enough not to settle for less. If someone bolts once you’ve articulated your wants, you’ve saved both of you a lot of time.
“What are you looking for?
I just want to have fun for now, heh, heh.”
Move on if you’re looking for more. “Party Hearty” is not something to aspire to.
At worst, there’s the trope of the ladette in tight jeans and a cropped football jersey saying, “I’m not like other women,” as she takes a hearty slug of her craft IPA. But really, what’s wrong with being an adult woman?
Who wants to be a fifty-something manic pixie dream girl?
For years I tried to shoehorn myself into appearing more fun than I actually am. I was embarrassed when guys asked why I didn’t like to stay out late while I wanted to ask why they never cleaned out their refrigerators. But I tired of creating a palatable version of myself that played well with others.
My idea of hot became a guy who listened when I talked about home repairs. He needn’t actually own a home, he just has to care when I fretted over mine, instead of interrupting to wax rhapsodic about the last time he was at Burning Man.
I wanted to be loved by someone who really knew me.
It took me six years to find him.
I knew my current partner was the one because he helped me choose a contractor when my air conditioner broke down in the middle of summer. That was far more exciting than a toned physique. Plus he never pushed for sex, wanted to get to know me as a friend first, and planned dates in advance — all of which indicated that he was a grown-up. For the record, he’s also a responsible condominium owner who pays his HOA dues on time.
Responsibility is hot.
I wish the media were full of appealing images of middle-aged people, other than in ads for medications and retirement plans. We go to concerts (when there used to be concerts), and buy yoga pants, and sometimes even get married again. But in the media, all the cool stuff seems limited to the young. So we aspire to seem younger and therefore, more appealing.
In their dating profiles, everyone says they love to travel. No one says they dream of remodeling their kitchen. It’s too prosaic.
But travel doesn’t necessarily make you more interesting. Nor does anything else if you can’t connect to the person you’re with. At some point, love requires the prosaic, to create the little rituals that weave our lives together as we move into forever. Seeing my partner at the sink doing the dinner dishes, as his father did for his mom, means more to me than the places we’ve visited.
Raise your hand if you’d rather remodel your kitchen than go skydiving in Ibiza. Admit to fetishes for buying new kitchen gadgets and planting geraniums. It’s cool to have your financial life in order and take care of your yard.
If you’re a woman who wants a committed relationship that leaves you plenty of time to read, then you’re like me. You just have to tell your romantic prospects. And I know in my heart there are grownup guys out there who feel the same way.
They’re probably just busy cleaning their kitchens.
(Previously published in P.S. I Love You)