If I were a drinking buddy of ‘Stella Gray’, The Guardian newspaper’s 50 year-old ‘Midlife Ex-Wife‘, I’d tell her to lighten up and laugh a little, because she was giving both online dating and men a bad rap. She wrote a dating journal for the paper which ran for 18 months in 2015. I was mildly dismissive of her column after reading it start to finish. Now, after finishing the memoir of her dating tribulations titled The Heartfix, I’m downright irritated.
Comparing Stella’s experience of midlife dating with my own is like saying Lagos, Nigeria has as much charm and beauty as Paris on a perfect day in May. Where Stella was repeatedly corresponding with men who already sounded like poor choices – then chronicling their predictable disappointments – I decided if a man sounded interesting I’d likely enjoy at least a few hours of entertainment even if he turned out to be a nutter. The difference between Stella and me was attitude. She was looking for someone to rescue her from another lonely night at home with her dog and a pint of ice cream, a man she could tolerate who wasn’t intimidated by her braininess. I was looking for a good time. We both got what we wanted, only I had less exacting criteria and a lot more fun.
That doesn’t mean I wasn’t seeking love. But I wasn’t heat seeking it. I used the dating site algorithms to make sure I wasn’t meeting up with a Jesus freak or a Tory. And, over the past several years, I’ve had a few passionate and loving relationships, several dates that turned into wonderful friendships, dozens of dates that didn’t go beyond one night and yet were perfectly pleasant. And of course, I’ve had a few disaster dates that I can appreciate because they make good stories.
However, what Stella writes about time and again are her disappointments. There’s no ‘spark’, they didn’t look like their photos, they couldn’t hold a conversation the way they had written one, they just wanted sex. These ‘misrepresentations’ make Stella sour on most of her dates rather quickly. She, and many who write about online dating, seems to be tolerating, with teeth clenched and assholes puckered, the chore of dating. I even slammed The Heartfix to the floor once and yelled, ‘Can’t you possibly have a little fun here?’ Had she not gone into each new date hoping it would be her last, perhaps she could have had a completely different experience.
One of Stella’s biggest problems was her repeated denigration of her own body. She blames the size of her bum for the reason so many of her dates don’t call her again. I suspect it was the discomfort she felt within her bum made her less than fun to be with. If she’s right, and most of her dates were bothered by her weight, then a secure woman would quickly conclude those men weren’t worth loving anyway. If I’m right, and her attitude about her body is holding her back, then she and women like her need to analyze how their own self-esteem may be sabotaging their ability to have a good time and attract interesting partners. I heard a man say once, “Any woman can be sexy in bed if she’s naked and smiling.” I can promise you that as soon as you start walking across a room naked believing you’re the most beautiful thing on the planet, that man you took to bed is going to come back for more of your lovely energy time and time again.
Dating at midlife is as good as it gets. We’re not looking for someone to have babies with, usually don’t need to shack up with another person for the sake of saving money, and have enough friends and family to feel pretty well loved without needing a partner to dote on us. We’re less inhibited, more easygoing and appreciate the magical power of laughing. But I understand really wanting romantic love, feeling as though someone has your back and is your number one fan. That’s lovely and special and we all should feel adored, and adore in kind.
Stella was literally deleting all her dating accounts when she stumbled upon love. But by then she had turned cynical and defeated and seemed to think taking a chance on ‘real world’ men could somehow be different than online ones. She had been impatient and lacked curiosity. She repeatedly corresponded with men who were clearly disinterested instead of shrugging them off with a chuckle.
On the road to love, especially at midlife, you’re going to be much more successful if you let go of exacting criteria, temper expectations and accept that the vast majority of dates aren’t going to lead to domestic bliss. Then practice your sparkle, ask a lot of questions, and be interesting. Love will come to you, though not usually the way you think it will. Thank goodness Stella finally found love, and I hope it’s still rocking her world. But I suspect she could have had a lot more fun along the way with a little attitude adjustment.
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