NEW YORK — Frank’s picture on the dating site showed a handsome square face, smiling. It was a sunny day, a tropical scene in the background, and he was sitting at a table in a tight-fitting blue shirt open at the collar. Yummy.
So who is this walking in the door of the Greenwich Village trattoria at which we have agreed to meet for lunch, a classic Italian restaurant with sunny painted walls dotted with pictures of Sicily? A six-foot-tall man is struggling down the stairs at the entryway in a heavy overcoat and the sort of hat a six-year old wears, with a three-D duck face on it. He is schlepping two items: a small pink plastic suitcase and one of those cane-like things you can open to make an impromptu perch. Yes, it’s Frank. He waves and heads this way.
Well … so be it. I hope the food here is good.
There are particular perils for older people trying to meet a new mate on a dating site. Most have to do with the facts of aging. Half the time a man will shave five to fifteen years off his actual age. And often the pictures he posts were taken years earlier. But such a radical change in style as Frank’s is rare.
When he lost his wife a while back, he also lost his mirror.
He comes to the table, introduces himself as a courtly man of a certain age would do, bowing his head slightly and shaking my hand. Opening the cane-seat, he throws his outerwear on it. He leans the suitcase against another table. When he removes his hat, the hair neatly combed in his picture is now greasy and shoulder length, and the part zigzags back from his high brow.
What happened here?
What happened is that when he lost his wife a while back, he also lost his mirror. So gradually he moved away, probably by degrees unknown to him, from caring about whether his looks met any kind of societal norm. Underneath this hapless exterior, I discovered a very smart, gentle, vigorous man. The strong, Sitting Bull-like face from his picture was intact. He was feistily engaged in a project to limit New York University’s heavy-handed growth in lovely, low-rise Greenwich Village. He spoke amusingly of recent plays and movies. The pink suitcase held three offbeat gifts for me, from his extensive travels in Africa and New Mexico. But was I going to go anywhere with him or take him to a party? Not a chance.
Beatrix Ost, by Ari Seth Cohen.
This is a very easy progression at a certain age. If you aren’t working now, why shed your pajamas before you go out? Or comb your hair or move those boxes in the front hall if you aren’t having visitors? Or worry about your weight or whether your shirt is stained?
More important though is this: No one looks at you any more. As a result, you risk becoming invisible to yourself.
The “invisible me” notion hit home a few years ago when I was on a sales trip with Samantha, a luscious lady 20 years my junior, a blond with big red lips, bigger blue eyes, and a welcoming laugh. I was the big boss, the head of the product line we were selling, and she was merely the sales rep. But as we got off the plane, and when we entered the prospect’s slick offices, and when we walked down the street to get lunch, and when we sat down in the restaurant, all eyes aimed in our direction were aimed at her. I was at one with the potted plants and the tablecloth. There was no hostility here. It’s just that once you’ve moved noticeably beyond child-bearing years, if you’re a woman, the opposite sex simply does not see you.
All eyes aimed in our direction were aimed at her. I was at one with the potted plants and the tablecloth.
This is painful, but not as much as you might think. For one thing, being invisible is restful. You don’t have to be on. For another, it sneaks up on you gradually. By the time realization strikes, as it did for me that day with Samantha, you’ve gotten resigned to it. You have forgotten what it was like to be noticed, to be hot.
So what do you do if you are determined to remain in the game? You work out vigorously at the gym, wear tastefully tight pants, keep your grey roots hidden, and see the latest plays and museum shows. But it’s hard, really hard, when no one … notices.
But without question the best invigorator to put you back on course — to make you visible at least to yourself again — is the Re-entry Lover, the subject of an upcoming column. Stay tuned.
READ PART 2 IN THIS SERIES.
MAERE SAGE is a writer and a former journalist. Although of a certain age, she cares about the same things many of us do — love, sex, beauty, community, steak, dancing, and all that is new. She has lived in New York for most of her life.
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A new documentary inspired by the Ari Seth Cohen's photos, Advanced Style, examines women of a certain age who embody extraordinary style, regardless of how much money they have.
I welcomed your article about ageing and read the first paragraphs with a lot of interest. Rarely does the concept of the invisible male get raised. I felt there was a bit of a disconnect when the article then moved away from this and onto the familiar topic of the disappearing female (for example, Discourses of Ageing in Fiction and Feminism: The Invisible Woman, by Jeannette King). I would be really interested to hear more about the male experience of this and how reality contrasts with fiction and filmic (speaking in terms of the blockbuster) presentation where the older male carries on as a young stud would, with pomp and bravado unabated, and his dates just get younger. Discussion of this subject may also help to bring about more gender balance in public perceptions of ageing.
Dear Lizzie, Thanks for your appreciation of Maere's article, and your request to hear more about this topic from the male perspective. We're going to work on finding what you're asking for — and, if anyone is out there who might do so, get in touch. Whitney Smith, Editor
I was quite moved by Maere Sage’s article “Invisible Me” – so well written, so very human. I thought initially, hmmmm – is this Wild Culture? But I was enchanted and affected by the very lovely article. I think it is a credit to JWC.
This hooked me and I want to read more. I’m younger than this woman author but I feel this is where life is headed and I like reading about someone who takes this phase of life on with honesty and a sense of humor. I loved this.
For a poetic celebration of being invisible, go to this op-ed piece from the New York Times, February 8: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/opinion/sunday/how-to-be-invisible.ht…
This is right on point about invisibility. I love it and it’s beautifully written. Wonderfully, but painfully descriptive. The woman is gorgeous and if she feels invisible, so help us all. But I think this man deserves another chance.
I loved the snappy observant narration but not the narrator. She’s dismissing this interesting man just because of his looks, discounting the man’s possible depression and even the possibility of the man being grateful to learn that he needs his hair cut.
I really liked this article. It’s very well written. The only point I disagree with is that it is more restful not having to put yourself out there. The effort to be engaged and engaging and vocal is part of what makes life interesting and therefore worth the effort.
If the man Maere described was thoughtful and insightful, might it not have been worth some degree of effort to see if you could negotiate the really amazingly weird and ugly things you describe?
Dear E. Wainscott, Liz A, T. Gold and Traveler — Thank you for these insights. While I totally agree with Traveler’s view about staying engaged, late-life invisibility won’t be fixed by that. But perhaps staying engaged makes you not care as much!
Your points about the man are well taken. But T.Gold, how do you tell someone you’ve just met what he should do about his clothes or hairdo? That strikes me as very invasive and possibly hurtful. For the record, I was entirely prepared to meet with him again, and he excitedly asked if I’d have dinner with him mid-week (this was a Saturday). I said yes and he took down all my information and … never called.
Loved the energy and wit of your article. I am of a certain age and it is beyond difficult to be in the dating game. Each decade has its difficulties for amour, but if you have a humour like yours, all will be well.
(Translated from French)
To make a short answer to this article: The game is over. I know it is hard to accept, but that's life.
I understand that a man prefers a woman younger than he...Youth is contagious. Youth is a spark that restores joie de vivre and gaiety. It makes the man young and revives his desire to have projects. Youth distances death.
From a certain age, we do our best to stay pleasing in the eyes of others. But seductive — it's over. We have been, but we are not any longer. There’s no point in dreaming.
I find this direct and unbridled comment by B of Paris very refreshing — and somehow quite European and non-North American — however sobering the truth is. The gradual loss of youth and the vague darkness at the horizon is an unpleasant challenge, indeed, so how can we turn it into something useful, if only philosophically? No wonder older people become wise: they're ambling toward the final gate.
Dear Jackie & B in Paris — Hope springs eternal, doesn’t it? Despite the wearying aspects of the dating game, and the sorry state of our seductiveness at a certain age, we keep trying — if we want company, a foot you can reach out to with your foot in the middle of the night, someone to cook dinner and go to Morocco with. And by the way, all those reasons for men to want younger women are even greater reasons for women to want younger men. On Match.com, at least, most women of a certain age give a “desired age range” that goes back at least a couple of years below their own stated age.
I loved this post! Short, pithy and to the point. Yet despite it's brevity and clean writing, it is chock full of details that give us the visual picture with every sentence. Since the guy was nice, and sweet, I only wondered why you did not try to discuss his visual impact with him. Maybe that's for another post, not specifically about him.