Singles ads for the superannuated (National Post, June 20, 2003)

All of a sudden the magazine Modern Maturity is offering tips you find curiously useful, and that's one sign. But there's a more sombre indication that you've reached the descending slope of middle age. Just take a quick overview of your women friends and tally up which of them are now widows. If you can think of three or four while downing your daily dose of Metamucil, then you know that, temporally speaking, you have floated into rougher, uncharted waters.

The husband of a friend died in his fifties from a prolonged bout with a debilitating disease. She had endured years of unremitting anxiety and emotionally draining sickbed attendance. Now that was all behind her, but what was next? I considered her social future with vicarious gloom. My snobbish refusal to take up bridge and golf -- a conspiracy of silence permits the illusion amongst middle-aged women that these hobbies are for pleasure rather than tried and true strategies of anticipatory widowhood -- struck me as perhaps a little cavalier.

After a decent interval of mourning and adaptation had passed, I asked her if she would like to remarry. When she shuddered and raised both hands in a warding-off gesture, I took it as a "no," but she allowed as how other women might be willing to risk the odds-on chance of ending up as an unpaid caregiver in return for the "fulfillment" of taking on a virtual stranger's lifetime of personal baggage; and we were thus launched into the whole fascinating question of remarriage not just "at" but "past" a certain age. If -- God forbid -- I were in a position to consider the question: who would I choose for a late marriage? More to the point, who would choose me?

Up until the 20th century, menopause was Nature's way of reminding women that they would soon be dead. Today, thanks to chemistry, cross-trainers and Botox, far from being the waiting room for the Grim Reaper, menopause is the gateway to -- well, gated communities and the second half of life. Nature, disgruntled at being dissed, affects not to have got the message. Or if she has, she hasn't passed it along to men. Because older men weren't sexually interested in post-menopausal women then, they still aren't, and they never will be.

A woman at the age of 45, and that is assuming that she has kept her figure and "social capital" intact (finances, interesting career, presentable friends), might get lucky. By 50, if she is especially attractive, solvent, sporty, clever, etc., she can possibly expect to receive the attentions of a 60-year old man. But at 60 and over, be she ever so lovely (for her age), financially secure, productively and worthily engaged, and universally admired, she will be lucky to attract the over-70s.

There are the exceptions that prove the rule, of course. Physically, a lissome 19-year old hottie and a toned 35-year old soccer mom are only distinguished by a few crows' feet, a slightly softer tummy, and a been-there-done-that look in the older woman's eye. But a randy teenage boy isn't too fussy, and our imaginations can accommodate the occasional tale of naughtiness between high school quarterbacks and their foolish besotted teachers.

On the other hand, no woman of 60, buffed, toned, even surgically reconstructed to the max, can compete with a healthy 45-year old woman for a 60-year old man's romantic attention. The mind balks at the image because we know Nature still isn't in sync with the notion. Craggy virility seeks the complement of potentially fertile youth. Conversely, what 45-year old guy with abs o'steel wants a craggy post-fertility woman? It is a truth universally acknowledged that no construction worker ever whistled at a woman with an CARP card in her purse. And so ...

Her hopeful singles ad: SWF, fit, educated, gregarious widow of 60, financially secure, seeks healthy man, aged 55-65 for mature relationship, possibly but not necessarily leading to marriage. Ardent friendship the goal, shared interests -- long walks, all cultural pursuits, travel, entertaining -- desirable. Non-smoker, moderate drinker. Good sense of humour and strong ethical values a must. Yada yada yada. You can fill in the rest from the personals in the New York Review of Books. Lotsa luck.

His truthful (but never-to-be-seen-in-actual-print) singles ad: SOF (Single Old Fart), short, bald, ugly with weight and prostate issues, 75-ish, widowed, seeks trim, attractive woman of independent means, 60-65, for companionship, and to entertain boring friends and three selfish and unappealing children, who will hate you for cutting in on their inheritance. Nursing background a definite plus. I'm finished with sex, otherwise I'd be tapping into a younger demographic. Hope that isn't a problem for you. I recently sold my business, Acme SARS Cure, so I have a lot of time to sit around and complain. I have a penthouse in Toronto, a villa in Provence and a condo in Palm Beach. My kids and grandchildren get to come and visit whenever they want. Your kids are invited one week a year. Please send photo.

Guess who would get no replies and who would get 50. Nature's such a vindictive bitch.

© Copyright  2003 National Post