A friend of mine alerted me to a whole string of recently published articles in major German newspapers, harping on the fact that “a 50plus woman” has such a hard time to find a partner. Or rather is very unlikely to ever find a partner. The logic was always simple and on the face of it quite striking:
- At 50plus, people (not only women?) are set in their ways and not willing to open up to the quirks and routines of a life with a new partner;
- Men always go for younger, crispy, shiny women anyways, turning a somethingpluswoman automatically to some sort of leftover;
- Men are intimidated by those women’s success. Because, you must know: when these papers talk about 50plus women, they do not just mean women who had their 50’s birthday. The illustrating examples show, one has to think here of mean, super tough, young looking career women, who have been so focused on their success that their marriage crept out or they have even never been married.
The same article can easily be repeated next season with 35plus or 40plus women, with decreasing chances of success, aka landing a man.
“What good can such an article possibly do?” my friend asked me – and that is a very valid question! What is the lesson we learn here? When a 50plus woman in our circles gets divorced, widowed or is just single, do we let out a sigh of despair and turn away in sadness (or self-righteousness), because we do know what is going to happen to this one? Nothing.
That is certainly unkind, but also: does it make any sense? Is the logic we are presented with in these articles a life-like one? It strikes me as an odd trend to assess people like a corporate asset: “Gimme your facts and I tell you your worth”. Based on a certain target of course, which for women still inevitably is finding THE MAN.
But people are not a conglomerate of facts – they are stories! And so we all know multiple examples of life stories, which prove the lesson of those articles wrong. I remember an English teacher at my school, a classic “spinster” until up into her high forties – and then came the one. And we all knew because he picked her up every day at the school’s gate and her glow lit up the entire school. Or my mother, moving in with a new partner at the age of 65. Or my colleague, a senior partner who got divorced in her high fifties because she had met the love of her life and started a new life from scratch. And several girlfriends who were single like forever and in their early forties they suddenly set up the most adorable little families.
Nobody is a just a “50plus woman”. Everybody is a story in which she is simultaneously a small baby, a coming-of-age teenager, a wise woman – and soon dead. And people are in our path as long as we live and we connect with them at all ages. Our stories move others and if they understand them, they connect at all times to the young girl as well as to the mature woman – and enjoy the same connection likewise.
Also, everybody has a different prime in life. True, statistically it makes sense that your twenties are your prime, where your world is your oyster. But when looking around, people blossom at very different ages. Some are anxious or aimless in their twenties, or work too hard, and only enjoy their true strength from forty onwards. Some have spent a large part of their life energy early on, and then like to lean back and reminisce for the remaining years. Again, a theoretical assumption or statistic is futile, just look around.
So why then are these articles so popular? They only keep being printed because people are clicking on them, eagerly consuming their lesson. In other words: Why are people, and especially women, so interested in learning about categorization rather than hearing interesting, relatable stories?
My theory is this:
I personally believe that women above a certain age often want something else than a partner. In an era where people can enjoy individual freedom, and still feel connected, not everybody is truly commited to the idea of a partnership, willing to lay down all options and putting all your cards on one person. But despite not being on the hunt for The One, people want to feel accepted. They still want to belong to a category of people which is perfectly all right and lovable. They want to be someone, who could find a mate if she only wanted to. If one is prospective, it might even be ok to be single, the perspective is comfort enough. But no one wants to be labelled a leftover.
Whether SomethingPlus women enjoy their single life or not, is often blurred by the fact that a single woman is still very much frowned upon. Being without a partner is always understood as a status which has not been the plan and which means some sort of suffering. And it is in our nature to strive for a social stamp of lovability, for a sense of “being ok” for our peers. This feeling of acceptance is at least as much relevant for the human condition as the actual connection to a partner and all it comes with.
It would be much desirable if we could take a more loving look at people’s life stories instead of spreading doom and gloom over the SomethingPlus woman with some boilerplate arguments. Or any other poor category nobody wants to sit in. Food for thought in a society where social isolation and loneliness have a growing impact on all our lives…