Angry Young Men

In a recent post I mentioned an angry Parisian man I’d dated in the past year, but didn’t tell the story, saving it for a future post. It came back to me this week, because I read this piece about a woman called Alexandra Tweten who is ‘outing’ abusive online-dating matches for their sense of entitlement to her attention:

http://m.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/rise-of-the-feminist-creep-busting-web-vigilante/381809/

Fortunately, it hasn’t happened much to me, mainly because I use Tinder, where the matching is reciprocal and you don’t have to deal with the tidal wave of unwanted attention as soon as you appear on there. (Here’s my piece on Tinder: https://becauseicanblog.com/2014/10/12/tinder-is-the-night/).

Tweten is using OKCupid which is pretty much a free for all for wanted and unwanted attention. But actually, abusive moments HAVE happened to me, even with all my careful filtering and my supposed radar for nice guys, and when it does happen it is a very scary experience.

(A quick note to all the nice guys out there whom I date or don’t date: this post isn’t representative of you, it’s a group of a*holes of which you are not part. Please don’t get all defensive about men in general because I’m not talking about all men. You just need to know that this stuff happens to women. All the time. Thanks for reading and supporting me – I’m very glad to know you.)

So, the Parisian. Let’s call him ‘Maxime’. He described himself as 31 and 6ft 7. Yes, Maxime was tall, dark and handsome, played basketball in France semi-professionally and could string a sentence together in a text. Against my usual rules of not letting anyone have my number before I’ve met them in real life, we Whatsapped before our date, and he seemed ok with my ‘no sexting or pics’ rule. So far, so normal.

To the date. We met at the Ape and Bird – a fab pub in London on Cambridge Circus owned by the same people who run Polpo. It’s perfect for dating – lively enough to fill in awkward silences, three different bars to choose from if you need a change of scenery, and the option of eating in the bar or restaurant later if the date goes well.

The warning bell started to sound when I met him outside the bar. He was lounging louchely against one of the windows, smoking of course. What Parisian doesn’t? He seemed to not want to make eye contact, which I put down to being at a different altitude to me, or maybe just nervousness. Ok, let’s get to the bar. The choosing of the drinks took a while – I know exactly what I want in there (the Garganega house white is great) but he huffed and puffed over the choice of beers. I laughed to myself and thought, ‘how Parisian’ as he took time to choose just the right drink. How very French.

The second alarm bell rang softly as he talked at length about his life, his likes and dislikes, his travels, his favourite food, his his his his his… I just settled into the usual ego-pleasing nodding routine, wondering how I was going to extract myself from the scenario. But then the wine kicked in, and I thought, ‘well, things could be worse’ and somehow we ended up staying and getting a table for dinner in the bar.

Ok, so the choosing of the food took a while – Ape and Bird have a ‘distinctive’ menu with uniquely British things on there that threw Maxime a bit. I think he ended up with steak and chips – so far, so French. I can’t remember what I had, because the whole moment was blighted by his fussing and faffing over the food. “This is not steak!” he cried, forking the meat with a sneer on his face. I’m afraid I just started to laugh, and to tease him about being so French about his food.

Oh dear.

One does not tease a French man about his food.

He got very, very angry with me. And all British people, really. For not having the balls to complain about food. I don’t complain, as a rule, unless it’s really terrible and I can’t eat it. I’ll have an opinion on it, but if it’s not ‘wrong’, then I won’t send it back. Not Maxime’s style it seems.

So he made a huge fuss and I ended up apologising to the startled waitress when he’d flounced off to the loo (in a 6ft 7 gangly way). I did contemplate paying and leaving while he was down there, but I thought, ‘no – I’ll see this through like an adult’. What he obviously thought in the loo was, “I’ve paid for drinks for this woman and am about to pay for half a meal I didn’t like – I’ll damn well have sex from her in payment.”

When he returned to the table I’d already ordered the bill and made noises about leaving. “You’re going home?!” he asked incredulously, as if his table manners had undeniably wooed me into sexual submission. “Yes – I’ll be going to Piccadilly Circus – where do you need to be?” He was determined to come with me.

So there I was, striding down Shaftesbury Avenue with a massive Frenchman, angrily snarking at me about how it was ok to complain about food. I kept a fixed smile on my face so as not to anger him further – it felt as though he was about to blow (I certainly wasn’t).

I may be making you laugh with this story, but reader, it was so not funny. I genuinely felt really scared. When he suddenly swerved off into a Chinatown street, I felt relieved, but then panicked as to where he was going to pop out and accost me. I scanned the tube, the bus stop on my way home, the outside of my building – everything. Thankfully a friend was in the pub down the road and I went and told her the story, still shaking slightly from the encounter.

In the last month I’ve had another miniature version of this, in which again, I gave my number out when I should not have. I made it clear that I had no intention of picture-swapping or sexting, but this ‘nice guy’ Toby just wanted to hear my voice. Ahh how sweet. Until he got on the phone, telling me he’d lost his voice and asking, “could he just whisper to me?” “Stalker voice!” I teased, but I’d actually started to wonder…

“Could he also talk about lots of other things he’d like to do?”

No.

He put the phone down in a fit of rage, quickly followed by Tinder messages telling me I’d “spoiled the mood.” I managed to unmatch him on Tinder pretty quickly, but then came the stroppy “that was mean” texts on Whatsapp, which I subsequently blocked. I then got a barrage of ‘no caller ID’ calls for the next two days – with no voicemail, thankfully. But I was truly scared at what this person might do. Could he track me down and wait for me outside work or my home? When would he stop calling? After two days, thankfully.

I’ve wondered over and over about what I did that made these guys feel entitled to be so angry with me, and then I realised. I was just a woman who refused to give them what they felt they deserved and they got angry, even though I was very clear about what was and wasn’t going to happen. It’s like my voice merged into white noise under the loud gushing sound of their monstrous egos in motion.

I’ve only just remembered about a guy I dated about three years ago who made me cry on a date. Yes, cry. He’d been dumped by his last girlfriend and his ‘little revenge’ was to make women feel crap about themselves. The way he did it with me was to flirt outrageously with the waitress and ignore me. He was happy with me over the pre-dinner drinks, then grumpy over the menu, refusing to look me in the eye, then all over the waitress every time she appeared. I let him do it over and over and just sat there in disbelief. Then he smiled cruelly as he asked me if I was crying, which I was a little bit. I’ve never been made to feel so rubbish in all my life.

And it will never happen again.

—————–

Jessica Valenti on why some men are so angry:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/27/why-are-some-men-so-angry

Katie McDonough on male entitlement to women:

http://www.salon.com/2014/10/30/americas_catcalling_madness_what_michael_che_co_keep_on_missing/

 

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Tinder is the Night

In many ways, the Tinder app is the best online dating method for women. You don’t get that deluge of ‘hey, sexy’s when you sign up as you can only talk to people who’ve ‘swiped right’ on your picture, as you have on theirs. There is already a mutual attraction based on profile pictures and a tiny bit of bio information before you even start talking. It’s fun to get the ‘It’s a match!’ icon bursting onto your phone when you swipe right, and if it’s not mutual you instantly forget about the person you liked because their profile disappears once you’ve swiped. Perfect.

There is a perception out there, particularly among older users, that Tinder is a sex hook-up app (because of its association with the Grindr app) but I’ve used it straightforwardly, and been pretty happy with the results (apart from Parisian Angry Guy – I’ll tell you about him in another post). When I first started using the app, I took it as ‘seriously’ as other online dating forums, expecting to match and date someone. You can follow that road relatively successfully, especially if you have an in-built system for filtering out weirdos (largely based on ability to spell and use proper words), but it’s actually much more fun to treat the app like a dating Gogglebox. The myriad ways in which people present themselves as potential mates (in all senses of the word) is nothing short of astonishing and makes for great entertainment.

Interestingly, when you do get a match, the app tells you if you’d like to chat or ‘keep playing’, which suggests Tinder know people will use it as a game. And now I’m one of them. I thought I’d collate my Top Ten Tinder Treats here, in case you’re not on there yet and need to know what you’re missing out on.

1. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Manhood

Posing with drugged tigers seems to be the order of the day for many men on Tinder. Grinning inanely next to a big cat appears to have become the tenties version of posing next to a Lamborghini. If it’s representative of associated virility, do men really think we want to know their manhood is sedated, limp and out of action? They clearly haven’t thought this through. (See also guys who only post drunken pictures of themselves.)

A few guys have told me that girls often pose dressed as cats in their profile pics, presumably in their sexy Halloween costumes from last year. What is this obsession with cats? Are they latent representations of our sexuality? Or just our need to appear aloof, ‘can’t catch me’ animals, stalking around our prey with flashing eyes and the odd tail-brush against the legs of a potential mate. See also: cougars. I’m often called one, because of my age and the fact that I date younger men. These men like to view me as a predator, trying to ‘catch’ them on Tinder, and I often have to remind them that they swiped right too. They genuinely ‘forget’ that they had any agency in the match and don’t like being reminded of it. Tough kitty, guys.

 2. The Other Women

Hilariously, some men thing it’s a good idea to show how successful they are with women by posing with one or more in every single profile picture. Sometimes it’s bikini’d women on a Balearic holiday, sometimes a ‘celebrity’ from Towie, but sometimes it’s clearly an ex-girlfriend. Hell, sometimes it’s clearly a picture from his wedding day. My favourite, however, is when you can see that they’ve cropped their ex just out of the picture, but you can still see the telltale ‘heads together’ pose and the look of smug coupledom. Not cool, guys. How difficult is it to take a selfie?!

3. Slim Shady

Guys who never take their shades off. Sorry, but most people look much better in shades. I’ll swipe instantly left if a guy only posts pictures of himself in them. Dead giveaway for a horror story underneath. Often, there’s a helpful non-shades pic nestled in there that reveals the truth. My rule of thumb is that guys (and probably girls) always ALWAYS look like their worst picture. Ladies – take note. Do not be fooled by the Great In Shades pic.

4. Which One Are You?

So, you’re wearing shades in all your pics, and you decide that only posing group shots is the way forward. Drinking games, team sports, stag dos – all of these scenarios appear in your profile pics and we can’t tell WHICH ONE YOU ARE. And you’re always the least-hot one, aren’t you? No one’s being hooked in by that one, darling, unless they want you to introduce them to your hot friend.

5. So What Are You Looking For?

I’m always asked this by guys, as though I have some grand master plan complete with a Matrix-style home computer where I work out the logistics of hooking in my perfect mate. What they actually mean is, ‘are you up for casual sex?’ but they can’t bring themselves to say it. I’m not ‘looking for’ anything in particular, love – if anything, it’s probably the same thing as you.

In my experience, it’s often guys who go into master-plan mode when they’re looking to settle down. I distinctly remember two male friends putting their taxi lights ‘on’ when they decided they wanted to get married (see the Sex and the City ‘taxi-light’ theory from Miranda). I’ve done all that so I’m literally just seeing who’s out there with no agenda. And yet I’m expected to have one. One of the really worrying traits of Tinder men, is that they are clearly paranoid about being trapped by women-with-a-plan. Get over yourselves.

6. Fun times

Guys – stop saying ‘fun’ when you mean sex. When you suggest ‘fun’ to me, I picture getting on the waltzers at a fair with candy floss in my hand, attending a party dressed as a drag queen (just did that), or playing a word-based board game. Whole different thing.

7. Cock and Bull

Ah, the classic cock shots. Usually presented alongside the downwards torso shot and maybe a cheeky bum one to complete the set. All headless, obvs. I always swipe left, but not before having a good look and a laugh. And then there are the guys I match with who appear normal and then instantly ask if I’m on Whatsapp or Snapchat once we’ve matched, clearly just looking for nude picture-swapping. It always makes me laugh when they instantly lose interest when the promise of pictures is taken away. Joy.

8. Couples Competition

I just love it when I see a guy on there whom I know is in a relationship but is playing that couples game of how many matches they can get. A very, VERY dangerous game to play, my friends.

9. Athena Man, Invisible Man and Lying Man

Athena Man – the guy who presents himself topless, holding either a cute puppy or a baby. Seriously?! Gone already. Invisible Man – the guy who can’t even be bothered to upload a picture of himself? That’s special. Lying Man – the man who is obviously 56 but is pretending to be 34? We can tell. We can also look you up on Google, Mr Celebrity Person I Just Happened To See Posing As 36 When Your Real Age of 43 Is On Your Wikipedia Entry.

10. Spellcheck.

But the real, ultimate test of whether a guy is ok is his ability to write messages without resorting to ‘ur’ or ‘do ya wanner meet up?’ This results in instant deletion for me. You might look like David Gandy on the beach in Thailand but if you can’t spell or form a sentence you just don’t cut it. This works in 99.9% of cases – I can provide evidence. Textual literacy means a good date will happen, however it ends up. Beware of the ones who are too charming and brilliant with words though – these are signs of sociopathy.

So, still interested in becoming a Tinderette?

Honestly – it’s worth it just for the laughs.

 

Take Me Out

Many a time I have pondered the question of why and how it is that I have hardly ever been directly and properly asked out by a man, and had so few actual boyfriends.

And then I have pondered the secondary question of why people assume that I have had lots of offers and a ceaseless round of boyfriendry. ‘Tis not the case.

Why?

Well what has emerged from my memory is a set of themed scenarios that form a distinct pattern. And they began at primary school…

The Silent Fighter Friends

These days I’m always hearing tales about how someone’s 7-year-old has a girlfriend or boyfriend. Back in my day, at a Catholic primary, I barely even knew what a boy was at seven, let alone wanted to go out with them. All I knew was, boys giggled at drawings of human anatomy in science class and sometimes showed the girls their willy (so tiny!). But sometime towards the end of those primary-school years, probably between nine and eleven, I sort of became aware of their ‘appeal’ (not the willies – that came much later).

Anyway, I became aware that Peter and Kevin, who were firm friends, liked me. I also heard about, but never saw, the fight they had over me in the playground, over which one was going to be my boyfriend. Neither of them ever looked at me, let alone asked me out, after that, and I was too busy crushing on Jonny to notice. Jonny didn’t notice me.

Secondary school. Along came Geoff and his mate Paul. Both ginger and freckly (no wonder I’ve got a thing for Eddie Redmayne and Prince Harry). I was their friend for a couple of years – we used to chat in the cloakroom – but at one point they just stopped talking to me. I distinctly remember a disco where I wore my best frilly New Romantic shirt, knickerbockers and gold shoes to impress them. They both sat there sullenly, while Mirror Man and Fascination by The Human League played and I tried to dance like the girls from the band. Later I found out that they both liked me and fought about it. Neither of them ever asked me out. I was still crushing on Jonny. Jonny never noticed me.

The Man Swapper

This has happened twice – I’ve been lobbied by a guy who is really wooing me on behalf of his less-confident friend, and been subtly passed me from man-to-man in a move that has confused the hell out of me (and this was way before PUAs were a thing.)

When I was sixteen, Derek, a guy who seemed so much older than everyone else (he probably was), did his best to reel me in with his best cool-guy performance. I wasn’t allowed into Poppies nightclub in North Wales at that time (it’s closed now), but I used to get in, on account of looking older than my age. Derek was the unofficial leader of our Poppies ‘gang’ and I kinda liked him. But what happened in a move that is still shrouded in the dry ice of the club was that he passed me on to his friend Paul, using a sleight of hand worthy of a stage magician. Paul was a lovely geekish guy, but so not for me. In the weeks that followed, I remember sitting with him in his bedroom, moving out of the way every time he tried to sit next to me, wondering how I’d ended up there. In the end I offered an ‘I’m too busy doing my A-levels’ excuse and got out of this weird pseudo-relationship.

This happened again when I was in my twenties and working at Liberty. I really fancied a guy called John who ran the bookshop department – he was funny, intelligent, from Yorkshire (I know – all three things together!), and looked like a shorter version of then-Bond Timothy Dalton. I went out for coffee breaks with him and his mate Leon from the goods-in department came along too. Before I even knew what was going on, Leon was appearing in the coffee shop on his own and I found myself going out with him without actually being asked. I managed to continue like this for six weeks – but I still wanted John. John didn’t want me.

The Look But Don’t Speak-ers

During my ballet-teaching years I developed a crush on Ian – the guy working at the Sports Centre where I taught. Week after week (year after year!) I turned up for class early, inventing ways to be in the same room as him as I ‘prepared’ for class. He looked, he smiled – I looked, I smiled, I danced! – hell, we even said ‘hello’ once or twice, but nope, nothing. Same went for another guy I had a crush on at my brother’s cricket club. I think the looks between us powered the small Welsh village where the cricket ground stood but it shocked him into silence. I couldn’t have made it more obvious that I wanted to be spoken to but it never worked.

The Gay Cock-Blocker

David. Oh David. I met him at Liberty – he was another goods-in guy. David was beautiful – of Portuguese Goan descent. My crush was so huge I kept a diary called The Book of David. I used to go out to the infamous coffee shop with him and our gay friend, Neil.

Neil, who didn’t tell me that David had confided in him that he had a crush on me until David had left Liberty to travel in South America for a year.

Neil fancied David too. Go figure.

The David Scenario actually gave rise to another phenomenon:

The Stealing Woman and the Passive Man

Such was David’s beauty that lots of women were throwing themselves at him. I didn’t, unfortunately. We were once at a Liberty party and one of our female colleagues made a much more obvious play for him than me, with my normal conversation, lack of moves, and (at that time) non-sexy clothes. They spent the rest of the night snogging so I left. The next day at work David apologised to me and tried to explain what had happened, pitching it as an unavoidable scenario. Oh you poor lamb – being preyed upon like that by a lady. How you must have struggled.

*rolls eyes*

Interestingly, when I went to do my MA in Sussex, I met the same woman in the first week. She triumphantly told me that David had been there studying the year before (and no doubt failing to avoid her charms). ‘Knock yourself out, love,’ I thought.

This had happened to me before in the sixth form. I had a crush on the headmaster’s son and he had one on me. We were both prefects and used to stare at each other as we manned the dinner queue. As soon as I told my ‘friend’ Victoria, she threw herself at him at a school party and that was that. Another guy bit the dust. And so did a friendship.

I Take Matters Into My Own Hands

By the time I reached my late twenties, I’d given up on the idea that I’d be asked out so I started to do it. I met my ex-husband at a club in Brighton. We had a brilliant night chatting and dancing and we swapped numbers, but predictably he didn’t call. I called him four days later and that was that. Four years later, I was the one to ask HIM to marry ME.

Then, after my marriage had ended (initiated by me, obvs), I waited for the invitations to flood in, thinking that things would be different, I was more confident and ‘out there’, I had loads of male friends. I couldn’t wait to go on dates!

Nothing happened.

Hand on heart I can say that in the past four years, two guys have actually asked me out properly, and both were in their twenties and not British. They were confident in their approach and I was so surprised by them that of course I agreed. British male friends tell me it’s incredibly scary asking a woman out  – you risk rejection – so I suppose these guys had the benefit of being brought up in countries with more bravura in their DNA.

As I am now the ‘asker’, I know how scary it is, but I’m usually pretty sure of what the response will be before I ‘go in there’. But even on Tinder, where I’ve indicated the likelihood of me accepting a date request simply by swiping right, they still don’t make the move.

And people wonder why I’m single.

Specs and the City

I love my Sex and the City box set. I really do. I’ve watched it many, many times. For me and many women it became an era-defining examination of womanhood, friendship and relationships. I still find new resonances in it now, new ways in which it reflects aspects of my own life, and at various times, I feel a real kinship with one of the four girls, depending on what’s going on at the time. If you ask them, most women know if they’re a Carrie, Miranda, Samantha or a Charlotte (I’m a Miranda/Samantha combo).

But there’s always that episode towards the end of the final season where the ham-fisted scriptwriters create an allegory of womanhood that does not sit well with me. It’s called ‘Splat!’ and it’s the episode in which a 40-year-old socialite bemoans the end of her party lifestyle in New York, declares she is “so bored she could die” and promptly trips over her Manolos and falls out of the window. Later, at her funeral, Miranda quips, “the party’s officially over,” and Carrie rams the point home, “She wasn’t always so tragic… Ladies, if you are single in New York after a certain point, there is nowhere to go but down.”

Nice one, SATC. Way to make every woman over forty like some cast-off piece of shit. Even worse, this is the episode where the smugly loved-up Carrie is parading her fifty-something hot Russian lover in front of her fifty-something hot female boss, who is forced to date ‘a hobbit’ because younger women like Carrie are stealing men from her age-appropriate ‘wading pool’.

Carrie ends up giving up her work, her life in New York, to go to Paris with The Russian, just to escape the horror of being single and nearly forty in New York, where all her friends are partnered up before they reach their ‘scary age’.

It’s only in these final stages of the box set that I start to not love SATC. Up until then, I love its celebration of female independence and identity but ultimately, it’s just one Big search for a life defined by a being with a man. Even if that man is emotionally unavailable, jealous of your success or obsessed with his work.

I know this is partly because the series was made during the nineties and early noughties, when everyone was supposed to be filled with the Y2K meltdown fear. It almost represented a kind of pre-war moment where everyone rushed to couple up before the apocalypse.

But I couldn’t help but wonder … what would the storyline be if it was made now?

Wouldn’t it be interesting if the show hadn’t copped out to coupledom and looked realistically at the lives of women post-forty, living in a city, with their own flats and good jobs, just doing their thing and having a great time? I know plenty of them. I am one of them. Hell – I’m up for starring in this new show.

I reckon Carrie would be back in her East 73rd street apartment, having decided that The Russian was too up his own ass, and Mr Big was too much like hard work. She’d have her own column in Vogue (she’s moved on from the New York Star), two more book deals, and be the proud owner of a vintage-fashion boutique in SoHo (rather than a walk-in wardrobe built by her rich fiancée). She may also have invested her book royalties in Steve and Aidan’s second bar – a cocktail one, obviously.

I’m always disappointed that Carrie gives up her hard-won, didn’t-want-to-marry-even-gorgeous-Aidan independence to plump for a guy who can barely say the word ‘love’, even at the end of six seasons. Sure, he makes her laugh but he doesn’t offer the ‘ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love’ she says she’s looking for.

Everyone in the show except Carrie has to deal with a huge reality check towards the end – miscarriage, dementia, cancer. This is the stuff of life, in my experience, not waiting to be swept off your feet in a Parisian hotel and into a shiny new NYC apartment by a suave city boy. But Carrie is the ’90s Holly Golightly, a child-woman on the look-out for a father figure to rescue her. She doesn’t deal with reality very well (I can’t bear Breakfast at Tiffany’s).

At the end of the box set and into the first (disappointing) movie, I always feel more akin to Miranda than anyone else. Her life is derailed by a mother-in-law with dementia (my mother suffered from it) and she has already lost her own mother. And then there’s Samantha – her mantra of “I love you but I love me more” means she ends up choosing independence over an unsatisfactory relationship.

Been there.

But the show does momentarily find its centre again in those last lines uttered by Carrie: “…the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you you love, well that’s just fabulous.”

Abso-fuckin-lutely.

Just don’t waste time waiting around for the second bit to happen, because then the party is definitely officially over.

Sixth Date Syndrome

One of the things I did in the first couple of years after my marriage broke up was date men my age, looking to see if there was a potential new partner out there for me. One would assume that there might be, no?

I sallied forth and met some really great fortysomethings, either online dating, through friends or via social media.

But what I didn’t know when I started dating them was that each and every one of them would run away screaming after the sixth date.

I met ‘Simon’ through two mutual friends in a pub. Quiet, dryly funny, smart and a bit of a silver fox. I thought I’d take the initiative (I usually have to) and ask him if he’d like to go out. I gave him a business card and I think he texted me at some point and we started dating.

We did the usual fortysomething thing of nice bars, good wine, lovely restaurants. We chatted about travel, our jobs, previous relationships and I really enjoyed his company. He seemed ‘sorted’ – a good guy.

One weekend, after the sixth great date, I was in my kitchen making coffee, while he was sitting in another room. I thought I’d suggest we go for a walk ‘sometime’ on Hampstead Heath.

I heard an audible groan.

I stuck my head round the door and shouted, “Hey – don’t sound TOO excited!” expecting him to say, “Sorry, I just stubbed my toe on your coffee table”, but what I got was complete silence.

Tumbleweed.

Then later that week, when I texted him to ask what was going on, I got two huge ‘text essays’ explaining (mansplaining) that I was clearly ‘looking for something serious’ and he wasn’t.

“Unbelievable.” I texted back.

It was like an episode out of Sex and the City, but minus the Post-It Notes.

I met ‘Daniel’ through social media. A louder version of Simon and an uber ‘foodie’. We had six really great dates featuring great restaurants, cocktail bars and movies. On the sixth date, I decided to tell him I liked him. Just that. “I like you,” with a winning smile.

Not, “I’d like to marry you”, or “I’d like to have your babies” or “I’d like to share your financial gains”.

Just “I like you.”

I didn’t hear from him for two weeks, after which point I started getting ‘nighttime’ texts from him, trying to recalibrate the dating back to a more ‘casual’ setting. He’d told me before that he enjoyed dating because it meant he got to try new bars and restaurants. I think I was just the ‘caddy’ to the foodie.

Nah. Think I’ll leave it there, thanks.

So when I met ‘Paul’ I thought I’d test my theory again. Three strikes and I’m out.

Paul had recently split from his wife, which was bound to be tricky, but we got on incredibly well, especially intellectually. Funny, smart, worked in media – lots to talk and laugh about. Until I told him I liked him on the sixth date.

I’ve never seen anyone row away so fast. And again, the ensuing text essay ‘mansplaining’ how he couldn’t commit to anything.

I wasn’t asking him to.

Sigh.

I would lay money on that scenario happening again, but I haven’t dated any fortysomethings for a while so haven’t had a chance to test my theory again recently.

They’re not a demographic that are particularly interested in me and I’ve blogged before about them wanting younger women so that they can a) fuel their midlife ego and b) possibly have children.

Well, having encounted Sixth Date Syndrome I’m not particularly keen on them either, and really, I’m too busy fuelling my own midlife ego crisis.

What really irks me is the assumption that I want something out of them, that I’m trying to lay a commitment trap of some kind. That just by saying I like them, they translate it as “…and I want to marry you and have your babies.”

Way to think too much of yourselves, guys.

I’ve done the commitment thing and come out the other side. I’m very clear about not wanting children, and really, way past that childbearing age.

What if I actually do like hanging out with you and want to do it on a regular basis without raiding your bank account? Ooh, SCARY.

Am I really that intimidating, with my good job, own flat, ability to hold a conversation, tell a joke and initiate sex?

Apparently so.

Anyway, fortysomething men, see you when we’re all in our sixties and still out there.

At least we will be able to share our stories of how much fun it was to date younger men and women, eh? Looking forward to it.

Toxic People

We’ve all come across them – those people in our lives that behave in a way we can’t work out. “But who DOES that?” we exclaim, when they’ve said something dreadful to us, taken credit for something we’ve done, or dumped us in some epic fashion. We sit in pubs with friends who don’t do that sort of thing, endlessly going over and over the whys and wherefores of why we might have caused them to do those things. What did we say? What did we do? What was the trigger? What could I have done to stop it?

The answer is: nothing.

The answer is: they’re toxic. And they’re everywhere.

I first started realising that this was a group of people with distinct behavioural traits when I hired someone (years ago) that I came to regret. The alarm bells had sounded at interview stage, but I couldn’t quite hear what the bells were telling me. I took it to a third interview because of the clanging, and on the way to introduce them to my boss, they overtook me in the corridor. Who DOES that? I knew it was strange, but I went on to hire them because they said everything I needed to hear, ticked all the boxes.

Boy, was that a mistake.

It was like inviting a cuckoo into the nest. This person decided to befriend other members of my team and try and turn them against me. If I was your boss, they’d say to them, I’d promote you. They were downright nasty to my face, but wreathed in smiles whenever there was anybody else there. I noticed that they looked slightly to one side of my head when they spoke to me. Who DOES that?

I almost left that great job because of that one person. When I reported the behaviour to my boss, his reaction was “Oh, you two…” like we were squabbling siblings. No. I was being systematically mentally bullied by a toxic person, mate.

Thankfully, this person left the business before I did, and I’ve noticed that since then, they’ve only been able to hold down short-term posts. Funny that. Toxic people hardly ever last long anywhere, unless they’re running things.

Anyway, before they left the company, this person smugly told me that they’d lied in their first interview with me. That what they really wanted to do was the exact opposite of what they’d been doing for me, and proudly stated ‘that they were good at that’.

“I’m good at lying in interviews.”

Who SAYS that?

I swore to always listen to alarm bells whenever they even dinged during an interview from that point on, but I still got taken in by another person a few years later. A lot of us were. We all said they appeared ‘warm’ and ‘kind’. I went on a business trip for a few days with them and still didn’t spot the signs. But the people on their team did. And boy did they suffer. Why are they DOING this to us, they asked? Because they could get away with it, unfortunately. For a while, at least.

That ability to present one face to one set of people and another to another set; that ability to learn ‘nice’ behaviour so fluently that they fool everyone around them.

Who HAS that?

Sociopaths.

In the aftermath of that bit of disastrous recruitment I started to become aware of sociopathy and narcissism. I’d read a bit about it, searched around online and found those lists of classic traits: deceitful, cunning and manipulative, often very intelligent, and unable to feel guilt, remorse, shame or responsibility for their actions. These people are hugely egocentric, charming and often brilliant with words. They have to win at everything. At all costs.

I started to think about all the people I’d encountered in my life that displayed some or all of those traits, to varying degrees. How I’d never been able to work out their motives, and found myself down the pub with others, saying, “Why would someone DO that?” Well now I know. They’re wired like that. And thankfully, I’m so not.

My theory crystallised after a hugely disastrous relationship ended. I’d fallen for someone with an astonishing ego – charming, brilliant and funny with words – on the face of it, my perfect guy. But I had started to see glimpses of a hidden monster a few months in. A twisted smile as I looked back at him unexpectedly, the fact that his biggest sexual fantasy was stealing another man’s woman. Who SAYS that? (Thankfully, he hadn’t stolen me.)

He’d even started to adopt behaviours, hobbies and interests of mine and passed them off as his own. I tried to think of this as flattering, but actually it was just plain weird. Friends took me to one side and said they didn’t like him – he’d said cruel things to them under the guise of humour or messaged them while he was in bed with me (without me knowing) as if to show off his ‘winnings’. Who DOES that?

A few months before it ended, he started to show his true self, as he started to disconnect from me, picking fights that would end with me wondering what the hell was going on. It was horrible, but I now know that it was a lucky escape for me. I’d seen the beast and got away from it. Typically, in his epic wordy ‘explanation’ of how things ended he gave me a list of reasons why it was my fault, and clearly felt no remorse or guilt.

One of the characteristics of these Toxic People is that you can never make them feel guilty. We Who Have Consciences want to tell them what they’ve done, how they’ve hurt us – make them feel as bad as we do. We fantasise about telling them everything and watching them slope off into the darkness, hunch-shouldered and crying. But they don’t. That’s what we’d do if we’d done something really awful to a person, but they don’t even recognise that behaviour. It is useless to try and reason with them because they simply can’t see it. Does not compute.

I’ve talked to a couple of friends recently who’ve encountered Toxics while dating. One said, “Why did she make me feel like I was the love of her life, that we were going to be together, then disappear completely? Why did she then get back in touch and do the same thing over again? Why? Who DOES that?!” It turned out this person had a gang of women hanging on her every word, charming them, making them feel they were the only one. making them vie for her attention. The technique she is using is ‘give them it all’ then ‘give them nothing’. Classic narcissism. Treat ’em mean, keep ’em keen (see link below for a great blog post on this).

My new coping mechanism is not to reason with these people, it’s to get away fast when I spot the signs. You must excise them from your life, if it’s humanly possible. You’ll never change them, they just learn new behaviours that allow them to appear ‘normal’, to make you think you’ve made an impact on them and keep you coming back for more. But all you’ve done is just give them more material to use against you. The beast still lurks within.

You’ll witness many variants of the Toxic – there’s the whispering poison-spreader in the office, who gathers a few allies around them and feeds them toxic titbits to ostracise them from the rest of the team and make them sneer at everyone else. I’ve seen a few budding careers take an early setback after being drawn into one of these little coteries. (Don’t be sucked in. You’re just feeding a horribly insecure beast.)

I think that’s my ultimate technique with these people: just don’t feed the beast. The beast wants you clinging on for titbits and morsels of charm and praise until you think you can’t live without them. And just at the very moment you think that, they know it and they withhold everything.

There is great power in giving nothing, watching them rootling around to see what you might have for them.

Don’t give them anything to feed on.

Get away quickly and don’t look back.

 

——————————

On narcissists in relationships: http://selfcarehaven.wordpress.com/2014/07/21/five-powerful-ways-abusive-narcissists-get-inside-your-head/

How to Spot the Office Psychopath: http://yourlifeworks.ninemsn.com.au/article.aspx?id=373544

On narcissism:
http://www.salon.com/2014/09/20/this_is_your_brain_about_narcissism_the_truth_about_a_disorder_that_nobody_really_understands/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

Smart ways to deal with Toxic People:
http://www.marcandangel.com/2013/12/08/7-smart-ways-to-deal-with-toxic-people/

In Praise Of Younger Men

I date younger men.

Or rather, they date me.

All of that ‘cougar’ predatory-female stuff is just nonsense – they’re the ones on the prowl. They sometimes try to laugh it off by saying that I’m ‘on the hunt’ but I’m not. They are. And more often than not, they’ve made the first move.

When I was 38, I started to notice that my ‘attention demographic’ had shifted. I’d never really attracted the attention of twentysomethings when I actually was one, but suddenly I started noticing a glance here and there, a cheeky grin or even a wink.

At first I thought I was imagining things but I ‘checked in’ with one guy who was at a party I was at, clearly giving me the eye and he confirmed it.

He was interested.

At that time I was still married so nothing happened but I started to notice furtive glances all over the place. By the time I was set free I was keen to test the water, so to speak.

And oh, the joy.

Once you’ve weeded out the PUAs (look it up) and the ones just ticking a box on their life to-do list, there are some really lovely guys out there who just like dating older women.

I’m going to change the names of the guys involved, but here are the moments that have been some of the happiest times in my life, brought to me by this unexpected target audience.

The Spontaneous One
Liam met me in person for the first time at a Muse gig in Wembley Stadium (Timehop app is telling me this was four years ago this week). It could have gone horribly wrong: we’d met online and I found myself offering him my spare ticket (not a euphemism). I spotted him outside the venue, looking a bit uncomfortable. By the time we’d had a beer, and I’d convinced him to remove his shades, we were getting on really well. Luckily.

An older couple were sitting next to us in the stands and Liam told me later that after we’d kissed, he’d turned round and found the woman scowling at him and the guy giving him a thumbs-up and a wink.

Brilliant.

The Risk-Taking One
Niall was an apprentice engineer and lived at home with his god-fearing family. Under the guise of doing ‘overtime’ at work he came to meet me, on his motorbike. He was beautiful, and a really bright, emotionally mature young man. He boasted to all his friends that he was seeing an ‘actually hot 43-year-old.’

How we laughed.

Particularly on those occasions when he avoided church and worshipped me instead. Ha.

The Thoughtful One
There are actually a few of these – guys who bothered to arrange days or nights out and put in the effort.

There was Harry, who bought a load of ingredients round to my flat after work and made me dinner, followed by a day out at a stately home.

Back then, I was worried what people would think, seeing me hand-in-hand with a gorgeous tall, blond twentysomething, but he insisted. No one even blinked an eye and it was one of those magical days.

Then there was Zayn, whom I always arranged to meet in a pub. He always texted beforehand to tell me exactly where he was sitting so I wouldn’t have an awkward moment in the bar, and when I got there, he’d have bottle of wine and two glasses, ready to go.

One night, while Zayn was at the bar, I overheard a woman in the pub bemoaning her relationship woes to her male friend. She pointed at me and said, “I want to do what she’s doing.” As my date returned to the table I beamed with pride.

And then there was Louis. Half-Irish, half-Jamaican, about six foot five. Last summer he took me to Regent’s Park and when I met him, he’d bought champagne, strawberries and lots of other good things. I laughed as we strolled through the park to find a picnic spot and everyone – male and female – gawped at his beauty.

He once drove past me unexpectedly, shouted my name, stopped the car, ran across the road to tell me I looked gorgeous, ran back to his car and drove off. What a guy.

The One That Asks You Out Properly

I can count the number of times I’ve actually been asked out from a cold, standing start, on one hand.

Less than one hand, in fact.

And the ones that have asked me out on a date, properly, are younger men who aren’t British. Go figure. The sweetest one asked if he could take me out for a cup of tea. Just lovely. Of course I said yes.

The One That Slightly Breaks Your Heart

Of course, one of the sidebar themes of dating younger men is that it can never be a ‘thing’. It’s very much ‘dating in the moment’ and there is usually an unspoken, or spoken, agreement at the start that it won’t lead to a relationship. There is both joy and sadness in being together, and with one particular guy, let’s call him Justin, we even cried a little at the start because we knew we had strong feelings for each other.

Against my usual rules, I let myself become more than just a lover with Justin. One of the things that is so intoxicating about a younger man is their engagement with life. Everything is exciting and new, even a fortysomething woman. I loved how Justin lived his life – he worked hard, played hard, and wanted to know and experience everything. To me, it was an elixir of life I couldn’t stop imbibing.

This situation could not be sustained and after a couple of months it became clear that it wasn’t going to work. I was thrown for a while into a mini mid-life crisis. I realised that I was so jealous of Justin’s youth – that he could simply find someone else straight away (he did) and carry on opening all of life’s doors. I had to cut off all social-media contact so that I couldn’t witness it – it suddenly seemed like a relentless stream of The Joy of Youth and I had to turn it off at the source.

But as the months went by, I found myself looking back on that time with increasing gladness. Dr Seuss’ maxim: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” became my way of describing the feeling.

I’m still smiling.

The Years

Some friends say to me that it’s all very well having fun with these young guys, but when am I going to get serious and find someone my own age, or older? Guys my age aren’t interested, I reply. They want someone younger, especially if their dream is to have kids (and it usually is). (They’re also often threatened by someone successful with a brain, but that’s for another post.)

That’s been one of the really unexpected twists in my post-marital world. I thought there might be guys my age who would pop out of the woodwork. Instead, I was met by a vast silence, punctuated with approaches from married men (I’m afraid so), and the stealthy advance of the younger guard. And I say again, it’s their advance, not mine.

For months, and maybe a couple of years post-divorce, I found myself trying to recreate the same-age coupledom that I’d had with my ex-husband. It was ‘almost’ irritating to have young men buzzing around me, with the promise of nothing long-term. Almost.

But as time has gone on I’ve realised something: what if these are The Years? The ones where I have the most fun with the beautiful young men that I didn’t date when I was their age? What if these moments of joy with these great guys are the things I will whisper about happily when I’m on my deathbed?

I am definitely a late-bloomer – I look and feel so much better than I did in my late teens and twenties and back then, I led a very sheltered, Catholic-upbringing, worried-about-everything, date-free existence. Is this the time I make up for all that?

Well, yes I think it is.

Because I can.