I’ve never been a woman who has traded on her looks.
Which is not to say I don’t think of myself as aesthetically pleasing. For a somewhat disheveled middle-aged woman, I think I’m a reasonably sexy package. But I don’t expect to walk into a bar and turn heads. And I never have. I have always traded on my personality and my brains.
And despite not having super-model looks, I have rarely lacked for male attention, especially as I’ve gotten older. Age has seen me grown into myself; develop confidence; feel comfortable and welcoming in my own skin. All of which are qualities which others find attractive, even if they can’t articulate them as such. But I’m not nineteen anymore (thank god…) so I have minimal interest in just garnering a critical mass of male attention. I’m looking for something deeper.
It’s been about seven years since I last had someone in my life I could label “boyfriend”. In that time I’ve had plenty of dates and lovers and on-going companions. But nobody who has wanted to step into my life in a more intimate way. And that’s not just because I’ve been unlucky in love: if I’m honest, I’d say that there have only been two or three of those men that I would have contemplated anything more intimate with anyway. Nobody has really made my head come undone, and even Mr Seven Years Ago was an act of lonely desperation, who turned out to be a narcissistic sociopathic twat. Yay me.
Much of the difficulty for me in finding love boils down to simple mathematics. I live in a small city with a reasonably stable population, so the pool of available men is limited. I’m only interested in men my age or older, thus reducing the pool further. The majority of men in that age category are either married, or freshly separated, and therefore (despite their bleats to the contrary) not emotionally available. I need to be with someone who is reasonably well-educated and/or well read. I like really smart men. I like men with intellectual interests and a hungry curiosity about the world. I prefer men who have been involved in the raising of children.
As you can easily calculate, the pool is reduced to a tiny puddle.
Then we get down to the nitty-gritty of being a brainy woman on the dating scene. Sure, my smarts and personality attract men to me, and often charm them. But as I have written about before, the attraction is usually short-term. Even the smart men, whose personality matches mine, are either not looking for that mirror, or are positively repulsed by it, when they are choosing someone with whom to get loved-up. And they inevitably end up in relationships with women who are just smart enough not to be labelled a bimbo: but only just.
My desire to co-exist romantically with an intelligent, quick-witted man is not about ego or status. This is genuinely the stuff I find most attractive. It makes my heart sing. I’ve fallen madly in love maybe twice in my life, and both times were based in this kind of shared smarts. In fact I recall the first full conversation I had with the man I was crazy about for years: I was reading “Mrs Dalloway” and he just said “Oh…you like Virginia Woolf too?”. So began a whirlwind, (but ultimately doomed), love affair.
Most of us have a sense that we want a romantic relationship where the other person excites us, at least most of the time. And fundamentally, most otherwise decent relationships break up out of boredom. Nothing more interesting or complicated than that: sheer boredom. Yet we are loathe to admit this, or recognize it. It seems cold. Or ungrateful. Or just unkind. But I have seen it over and over and I attest to its truth.
I don’t want to be in a relationship and be bored. Why bother? At my stage of life I don’t need a relationship to support me, assist me in raising the kids, or help me put up the picket fence. A relationship is a choice I make. And I choose not to be bored. I choose to be excited. I choose to have a relationship add something to my life, rather than simply plug up the gaps.
So it becomes an exercise in patience and optimism. I shall keep going on dates. Meeting quite interesting men. Meeting deadly dull men. Drinking coffee. Making conversation- sometimes engaging, sometimes excruciating. Having fun along the way. Appreciating the parts of themselves that men choose to share with me.
As I wait in a cafe for the next date, I will have a book propped open in front of me, as always.
And one day, a chap will walk up to me and say “Oh…you like Bill Bryson too?”