I’m gonna be a cool grandma

There are women out there who, when they take on the title of Grandma, will be able to share stories with their grandchildren about their epic life-long love affairs with Grandpa. They are the women who celebrate 50 years of marriage and more.

Having clearly failed this feat (which I assume stands a 50% chance at having been a miserable endeavor even for those who stick it out), I am resigned to be the cool grandmother. I’ll be the grandma with whom my granddaughters can talk about boys and sex. Assuming I am blessed with granddaughters, that is. Heck, I’d talk to my grandsons about sex, too, if it didn’t creep them out too much.

I’ll tell them stories of escapades with men, far-flung crushes and long-distance loves. I’ll tell them about “The Good Ol’ Days” when people met on an archaic dating site called match.com. And I’ll marvel with them about how far we’ve come.

But all this is a long way off…I’ve yet to have any such talks with my own elementary-age children!

reflections on the fortieth birthday

About six months ago…

I’ve already written a bit about how this milestone birthday hit me — it is, after all, included in the title of this blog.

I am a Libra, in love with being in love, quick to fall. You’d think I’d know better by this time in life, yet there I was, falling again for the distant and unavailable man in Chicago, falling faster and harder than any rational, reasoning soul ought. It was as though everything out of his mouth was customized especially for a sucker like me!

Meanwhile, as my birthday approached, I was despairing my not having yet attained the stature or status in life that I would have like to have claimed for myself. The successful career and marriage I’d imagined for myself had eluded me — in fact, I had just that week interviewed unsuccessfully for a new role. I had envisioned I’d be spending my upcoming big day in France or Italy with the love of my life. Or, barring that, a poet.

I experienced some incredibly ugly feelings, a range from self-doubting and unworthy to angry, hateful and outraged. The best I could describe it was “prickly,” like a porcupine, as though anyone who came too near was in danger of me flaring some fierce quills. While my friends insisted on taking me out to celebrate my birthday, I was in no mood to inflict my toxic self on anyone.

I remember thinking that, if Chi-guy had been feeling anything like this that last time I’d seen him, no wonder he didn’t want to get close to me! He had been pretty low at that time, and what I was experiencing gave me greater empathy and opened me to be more forgiving. We had continued to be in contact, loosely — in fact, he had just texted me a very hot photo! After the attention I had paid to his birthday, I wondered what he might do for mine.

On the big day, I dragged myself to the store for a new outfit — dress and heels — to wear out on the town. As I shopped, I started to get excited for my night out and spending time with my girlfriends. Yet my excitement was muted, like being as happy as you can be when you’re depressed, which isn’t particularly happy. Even as I got ready, went to dinner, bar hopped and danced with some amazing girlfriends, I was very down and emotional. Meanwhile, I put on a smiley face and plowed forth.

I’m not always sure whether I’ve found the right balance between “fake it ’till you make it” and being truly authentic. I genuinely believe that happiness and contentment can be a conscious choice. Sometimes this involves deciding to make the best of a situation, putting on a brave face and going out. But my gamely facade crumbled when one of my girlfriends told me how beautiful I looked, how much she admired me, and how fabulous and empowered a strong and sexy forty-year-old me seemed to be. (This was from a woman who has yet to hit this milestone birthday.) I immediately began to tear up, because I felt none of those things — and, by the way, thank you for pointing out this conflict between how I look and how I feel and, therefore, bringing up all my feelings of inadequacy.

Chi-guy, meanwhile, had not called, texted, emailed or sent a card. One girlfriend remarked, “Well, it’s better to know now.” (He left a message a couple of days later. Miss.)

While the intense malaise of my birthday lasted for about a week in total, I continued to feel low for several weeks — maybe months — following. That I was forty, in an unsatisfying job and without a loving partner in life were conditions that did not just evaporate, after all. And it was going to take some time and work to make the major transitions that would bring greater balance, peace and a feeling of forward progress.

cheap sex? on my terms

Slate recently published an article called Sex is Cheap:  Why young men have the upper hand in bed, even when they’re failing in life. The article, written by a man, is based on research and data from around the world.

My colleague and 20-Nothings author, Jessie Rosen, followed up with her astute commentary here.

And still I think it’s worth exploring whether the equation changes as we get older, specifically for single women approaching or into their forties. First, let’s acknowledge that, by this time in life, some things have changed for women:

  • Our libidos are more active. While men are alleged to peak in sex drive at 19, women’s libidos allegedly peak at 30. I say allegedly, because most women I know would argue that we’re even more libidinous at 40. (And because I’ve experienced 50-year-olds with as much energy as any 19-year-old.)
  • For many of us, sex is no longer about our biological clock and securing commitment, DNA and a provider for our children. Many of us have already met that need, more or less.
  • We’re more confident — this means being more comfortable in our bodies, more assertive about getting our needs met, more able to be direct and more able to walk away (after all, by this time in life, we’re likely to have acquired more toys — a.k.a. The Elite Sophisticate, Doc Johnson or simply BOB, for Battery-Operated Boyfriend).
  • We’ve gained a lot more relationship experience, whether we’ve been married and divorced or not.

So…is sex still cheap? A quick look at the dynamics on online dating sites or in any bar will assure you that, yes, sex is still cheap . Men, it seems, are able to find willing partners whatever their station in life. As are women.

But, based on my own experience and some anecdotal evidence from my contemporaries, the balance of power has undergone a nuanced shift:  the women I know who are serious about seeking a mate date multiple men — and they wait to sleep with any of the serious contenders. They’ve learned a thing or two about how to develop a relationship and they know that sex can complicate their emotions when they’re exploring whether someone is right for them. Instead, they enjoy steamy liaisons with a hot guy who they’ve already concluded is Mr. Wrong.

By forty, most single women can walk into a bar, pick up a man, take him home, sleep with him and forget it. And they can communicate to men they really care about that they’re looking for commitment and not willing to get sexually involved without it. They know how to respect themselves and, thus, demand respect from a man. (And if you’re a single woman and this doesn’t resonate with you, you’ve at least got to admit to having learned enough to know what you’re getting in to.)

The implication for men at this juncture in life is that, especially if they are finally looking for a life mate, the tables may have turned. If a woman sleeps with a man right away, it could very well be a relationship death knell. It may mean she’s already ruled him out.

I’ve become a cliche

I haven’t posted for a few days, partly because I’ve been making some major transitions (in real time), which I’ve alluded to in recent posts. So here it is:  I left my job. Wednesday was my last day. And I haven’t written since earlier in the week because I’ve struggled with what to say about that.

To briefly recap the past year of my life:  I got divorced, turned forty and quit my job. On the surface, this may appear to be a mid-life crisis. I am officially a cliche. Ewwww!

And another funny thing about this is that I’ve been jumping back in forth in time and, in telling the story of my failed marriage, I haven’t even gotten to the part about my fortieth birthday. Man, good luck following all this!

I’ve seen so many people do this:  they get divorced, and then they realize that everything else in their life rubs them wrong, as well. It’s like they need to shed their skin or other things in life become like a proverbial rash. They redecorate, job hop, screw around or whatever seemingly immature or crazy things they need to do to lash out.

And now I’m realizing that maybe, just maybe, all those fools I’ve seen behave in this cliched way simply decided that life is too short to be unhappy. Yes, this is also a cliche. I seem to be full of them today. So once they’ve made the step of deciding they don’t need to be unhappy in their primary relationship, they begin to look at the other aspects of their life that are causing them grief and make changes in those areas, too.

For me, my ex finally got a job. It’s a small step and a small job. But I’m hoping it leads to him regaining his confidence and becoming the force of talent, skill and creativity he once was. This man has a lot of gifts — unfortunately, he undercuts himself all the time. But the point is, he got a job and can, ostensibly, provide a small amount of child support to me and cover the children’s health insurance and that lifted just enough weight from my shoulders so that I no longer felt confined.

I’ve actually been working, on the creative level, at finding a new job for several weeks. I was noticing how many people seem to have more balance and more income, and I’ve decided that I can be one of those people. They are not inherently smarter or more educated than I am — it’s simply a matter of re-packaging my transferrable skills. And I wanted to give myself the time to really focus hard on the type of opportunity I’m seeking, rather than rashly jump into something thinking of it as a foot in the door.

So I jumped ship. I am blessed to be able to manage for a couple of months before I need to do something desperate. And I’m likely to be more open and available to spot broader opportunities by giving myself this space.

Send positive vibes! And send contacts if you know of mentors I should talk to or connections I should make. I’m both terrified and thrilled for this next chapter in my life.

on failure

I’ve had some interesting reactions from friends and followers as it relates to the title of this blog, failed at forty. Most — those who know me well — issue forth a quick guffaw and exclaim “awesome!” or “hilarious!” or some such. They know my quirky, cheeky sense of humor and ability to poke fun at myself.

Others sincerely tell me I shouldn’t think of or call myself a failure. It’s as though they believe failure is a bad thing.

For a time in my life, I had frequent occasion to downhill ski. I recall letting some of my friends know that I felt good, was getting in my groove, hadn’t wiped out in a long time. And then one of them piped up:  “If you haven’t wiped out, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough.”

Let’s pause for a moment to look at the silver lining inherent in failure:

  • To fail means we’ve taken a risk, acted boldly, pushed forward out of our safety zone.
  • We’ve gained some clarity about what doesn’t work, and can now adjust course to create a more positive outcome.
  • We’re afforded a new beginning, an opportunity to confess that we didn’t really know it all anyway, made mistakes and are ready to move on.
  • We’re older, wiser and can choose to endeavor forth with much already gained.

As for me, I can point to some rather spectacular results of the past decade of my life:

  • I have two amazing, beautiful, loving children.
  • I have a home in a lovely neighborhood.
  • I’ve increased my income by more than 60% over this time.
  • I’ve met amazing new friends and colleagues, as well as continuing to nurture old friendships.
  • I’ve had some tremendous, remarkable, memorable experiences.
  • I’ve healed, matured and grown in more ways that I can recount.

Do I really think of myself as a failure? No. But I’ve had some pretty spectacular moments. You could say failure and I are on a first-name basis. So let’s raise a glass to failure. Failure, you haven’t beat me — I’ll always persevere. And I’m grateful for the lessons!

failed at forty

I suppose it’s time I addressed the title of my blog. The truth is, it wasn’t my first choice. I had a lot of ideas…until I Googled those working titles and some explicitly naughty things came up (…seems the XXX folks can find a way to associate nearly any topic with their content). I went through an entire list, hopes dashed. I awoke the next morning with “Failed at Forty” in my head, Googled it, and then began right away. I’m calling it inspired.

A few months ago, I turned forty. At the time, I faced this milestone with more than a modicum of dread. These “big” birthdays often inspire a deeper level of self-reflection than the one-through-fours or six-through-nines, and all I could think about was how far from what I wanted my life had become.

I think that I expected, at forty, to be happily married. If pressed to elaborate, I might have come up with something like this:  My husband would be handsome and successful, a lawyer or architect or something; he’d love spending time with me and our children; he would surprise me with gifts of Marc Jacobs handbags, David Yurman jewelry, books and other things I love. I would be happy and successful in my career. My husband and I would take turns shuttling our children from school to piano lessons to soccer and skiing. We would have a spacious home, support the arts, entertain often and take Caribbean and ski vacations. I was sure I’d be celebrating my fortieth with a spectacular trip to the Amalfi Coast, Paris or Thailand with my loving husband.

In fact, I spent my birthday at home in middle America, paying off my ex’s debt and setting a court date. I had contemplated a trip somewhere by myself, perhaps to visit a friend, but some unhappy financial surprises would have made such an extravagance imprudent. Sure I went out with girlfriends, but my heart was not engaged in any sort of celebration. I felt like a failure. So much of what I wanted seemed further from my grasp than ever. To be honest, I was pretty depressed about my situation.

The brilliant thing about failure is that, with time, it brings about great clarity. It is because of the experiences I’ve had — my failed relationship, my attainment of a mediocre position in my career — that I now know more clearly than ever what is truly and deeply important to me. I have a fairly well-developed grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses, and have discovered what makes me feel whole, fulfilled and alive. I am grateful for these lessons learned.

Thus, it is because I am failed at forty that I am more poised than ever to set about creating the life I truly want. And that, my friends, feels like a pretty darned blessed place to be!