When I was young I didn’t think aging would be much of a problem. I imagined it was just a matter of becoming wrinkled and losing hair. “Geez, I can handle that,” I thought at the time, but boy was I ever wrong. I was reminded of those thoughts the other day when my friend Janis told me about one of the side effects of aging she hated.
I was telling her about Miss Austen Regrets a PBS biopic about Jane Austen, explaining it was essentially several theories about why she never married. One theory appeared to be she didn’t want to give up flirting. Janis said that was something she didn’t like about getting old, and I asked her to elaborate. She said life was more thrilling when she was younger and got so much more attention. She said it was depressing to be ignored more as her age increased.
I replied that I was very attentive towards her and weren’t other guys our age still flirting with her? She said, yes, but it wasn’t the same. I quickly shot back, “Oh, yeah, it’s only the young Mr. Darcy types that count,” thinking to be funny, but realizing it was masking a stab to my ego too, when I realized that all my flirty communiqués had probably fallen on her limp and impotent because I was not young and dashing.
Since I moved into my fifties I’ve tried to reign in my natural tendency to pay attention to women under forty and focus more on women my own age. Now Janis was essentially telling me I was wasting my flirting time. I had already discovered that post-menopausal women had a declining interest in sex that was directly proportional to a growing desire for independence and self-sufficiency.
Biologically this makes sense, because if the reproductive system shuts down why would women need any stinking men. I use that last phrase because I have heard more than once women friends say, “I no longer want to put up with any stinking man in my life,” and then go on to describe supporting a husband being very much like taking care of a kid. Many times I have talked to a woman my age who related fantasies about life without husbands.
I remember asking one lady what this freedom would bring. She said she could go shopping after work. I replied, you could go shopping after work now. No I can’t, she said, I have to go home and cook. I’ve learned not to ask “What’s for dinner” at my house after my wife has expressed suicidal rages at those words.
In the end, I think Janis is atypical. I know lots of women my age and older that still like the attention of men, even if we’re bald or wrinkled. Now they mentally may be putting a paper bag over my head and painting a picture of Mr. Darcy on it. I tried to cheer Janis up by suggesting that getting old means adapting to new ways of flirting but she seemed to want to cling to the idea that if you’re female you’re only a target if you’re young.
There were scenes in Miss Austen Regrets where you could dramatically see this. Jane was besotted by a young doctor who admired and intelligently flirted with her, but her face would pain when the doctor’s attention shifted from her to Jane’s niece, a girl half Jane’s age. I tried to convince Janis we could have a flirting society just among our own kind but she didn’t buy that. Do women need to be pre-menopausal to value the attention of men?
This might be another explanation of why older men chase younger women, and another reason why older women hate them so much for it. The obvious assumption that I have always lived with was old men chase young women because they thought young women prettier. As I got older I thought old men chased young women because they were the ones that put out. Now I have to wonder if it’s because its the young women who value flirting and attention.
When I continued to try to convince Janis that flirting could exist at a different level among the wrinkled set she kept insisting it wasn’t the same thing. I finally decided, at least with Janis, flirting is only exciting when it’s part of that whole gestalt of choosing Mr. Right.
I pictured a hot steamy pond with hundreds of croaking he frogs flirting with the she frogs and imagining a lady frog amused by all the bull frog attention trying to pick just the right Mr. Frog for reproduction that season. The tension would be great. Among humans it would be even greater because we mate for life, or so we think at the moment.
I have to wonder if my conversion with my friend wasn’t really Miss Janis Regrets. I hated to see her unhappy over that, but I also realized that I had something new to be unhappy with too. If women reach a point where they devalue flirting because of biological changes, and men don’t go through those same changes, then we become out of sync with women our own age. I think this is one of the many reasons why women hate getting older more than men do. We’re still game and they’re not. That’s going to be painful.