Things I’d Tell My Daughter

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’m childfree-by-choice, but as my life fills with young female friends, I find myself thinking about what I want to pass on to them – in a wise-woman way. I so enjoy their company and I love talking to them about how they navigate the world of work, relationships and, well, just being a young woman.

If I’d had a daughter when I was thirty, she would be eighteen now. So these are the things I’d like to say to her, and weirdly, lots of them are things my mother said to me, but I didn’t quite understand them at the time.

Be yourself

It sounds like a hackneyed phrase that all (good) mothers say to daughters as they walk into the world, but I mean just that. Be your own self. Your life doesn’t have to be defined by being a partner, a mother, or even having a stellar career. Just know that you have a choice in all of this. Define yourself by the life you choose to live, and by the people you choose to experience it with.

If in doubt, don’t

My mum used to say this all the time. But oh how true. If you have any doubts about a relationship you’re in, any at all, leave it. Don’t wait for ‘the day’ to come. It won’t and you’ll have lost valuable time. Never settle for something that doesn’t feel right or compromise your own sense of what is right to please a partner. Your gut will tell you that something is wrong – listen to it and take action.

Love your body

People started commenting on your body from a young age and it will be monitored by those around you (male and female) as you grow older. Look in the mirror and look into your own, makeup-free eyes before you monitor your own body. Make an agreement with yourself to see someone beautiful, strong and taking up space in the world. Never starve your body – eating properly makes you all of these things.

Look out for toxic people

Some of the people you choose to surround yourself with will make you feel good about yourself, others will do their damnedest to try and bring you down. These people are usually insecure and jealous of beautiful, strong, young women who are confident in the world. Surround yourself with the good ones, ditch the toxics. Don’t try and hold on to foul friendships – they will just bring you down. It’s ok to let friends – and family – go.

Be in the space

Take up space in the world. If you’re out walking, running or doing yoga in the park – take up the space. If you’re in the office in a meeting, let your voice take up the space. If you’re online and you feel strongly about something, let your words take up the space. Never flinch if people question why you are there, and they will – make your presence felt and your voice heard.

Be confident in your sexuality

Whatever your sexuality is, people will try and make you feel as though you have to hide it, that it is shameful, that you should not seek sexual pleasure just for its own sake. Do everything you want to do, safely and confidently. Do it and never wake up with regrets. The only regret you’ll have is that you never did it.

Compliment other women

Tell other women that they’re good at things. Things that don’t involve hair, makeup, losing weight or wearing a fab outfit. It will change their lives.

Don’t dread getting older

Don’t. Good things happen and they are unexpected. Your body and brain will have a way of coping with the transition that means you will discover each milestone isn’t as bad as you thought it would be. Older women are smart, beautiful and supportive of younger women. Don’t believe the myth that they’re not any of those things – it’s a lie constructed by society because older women are immensely powerful people.

Don’t lead a tick box life

Question everything. Never do anything just because everyone else is doing it. Feel the peer pressure and question it anyway. You can construct your own set of tick boxes that are different to other people’s. Don’t believe what others tell you about people, places or other cultures – find out for yourself.

Do things on your own

Even when you’re young, it’s important to commune with yourself, not just your friends. Do things on your own, such as going to the cinema, walking, going for coffee, even on holiday. You’ll never regret it.

Look out for controlling partners

Beware of signs that your partner is trying to control you. It can be oh so subtle, and before you know it, your life is completely in the control of another. If they make negative comments about your weight, what you’re wearing, or stop you seeing certain friends, the red flag is waving. Get out.

There are wonderful people out there

You’ll know the signs. They will be kind to you, your friends, their friends and their family. They will celebrate your successes and be there when things go wrong, without a sly smile on their faces. They will offer to connect you to people they know to help you in your career, and notably, women will help other women.

Say sorry

There will be times when you regret your behaviour, or saying something that has hurt someone else. Tell them you’re sorry and they will forgive you. If you don’t, the guilty feelings will just build inside of you and make you more likely to hurt someone again. We’re all flawed – think of apologising as a flaw release valve.

Have fun when you’re young

Don’t hide away from fun times. Work hard, play hard – get into all the corners that life is offering you. Make mistakes. If not, you will spend the rest of your life trying to make up for missed opportunities.

Ignore all of this and find out for yourself

Because I did when my mum told me.

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.

 

The Real Sex Spreadsheet

I laughed when I saw that ‘sex spreadsheet’ that guy had prepared and posted on Reddit a week or so ago, to show his wife how many times she’d spurned his advances and the reasons she’d given him (link below).

I laughed, because the truth is, in many cases, women could compile a whole dossier of man-excuses, ranging from “I need to mow the lawn,” to “I’m too tired – can it wait ’til morning?”

The myth of the woman who nightly spurns her partner’s advances because she’s ‘got a headache’ is part of a old, worn-out cultural stereotype that sits alongside the dragon-like mother-in-law and the embittered spinster. And created, in my opinion, to cover up the fact that there are just as many guys with low libidos as there are women, if not more. How convenient to transfer all of that ‘failure to perform’ over on to women, who are generally to afraid to counter that claim by saying they’re really into sex, for fear of being called ‘sluts’.

Well I’m saying it. We’re into sex, and quite often, guys, you just aren’t.

You’re the ones with the headache.

I really did used to be with someone who preferred to leap out of bed to mow the lawn in preference to morning sex. And don’t think that’s just the case with men of a certain age. I dated a guy in his twenties not so long ago who got annoyed with me and yelled, “you just want me for sex!” one night when he was already in my bed. Well, yeah, honey. What sort of twenty-something guy wouldn’t be into that?

Turns out, quite a few.

And it’s not just me reporting this. Friends have told me similar stories, where their partners literally bat them away if they initiate sex, or the guy they’re seeing just can’t, or won’t, keep up with their sexual demands. I always used to wonder why one of my long-term partners used to be hugely affectionate in the supermarket, yet actively avoid any PDA at home. We used to laugh about it, after he’d be frolicking away in the aisles and be all over me at the checkout. I thought it was a quirk of his and found it endearing. Sort of. Then recently, I read an article by someone who was married to a guy who did the same – he admitted to a therapist that it was because the supermarket was a safe area where a demonstration of affection couldn’t possibly lead to sex. This guy had real issues due to a troubled childhood, but still, this explanation really struck a chord with me. Of course!!

Lightbulb time.

I also have a theory I call ‘hangover girlfriend’: that some guys just want you around for those moments when they’re knackered, to chill out. They’ve been out with the boys, drank too much, clubbed too much, worked too much, played too much – done everything too much – so that when it comes to seeing you, they’re not up for anything except staring at a TV. Or sleeping. Usually at the point where you’re raring and ready to go. (I’ve also had a similarly frustrating experience with holidays – after all the golfing weekends, skiing holidays and ‘boys’ nights out’ have been fitted in, funnily enough there’s no money or time or holiday allowance left for the lady. And yet, the Bank of Boy is always open. The irony is that I’d have probably enjoyed the boys’ holidays a lot more.)

As Dr Kate Davidson says in a Guardian article about marriage (link below): “Men want someone to come home to, women want someone to go out with.” She is so right.

I think that Reddit guy has opened a whole can of worms by publishing his spreadsheet. Because if the ladies decide to record and publish all those instances of sexual disappointment, we can maybe overturn the age-old myth of the Lady Headache.

I think guys need to know that despite what we might say, we think about sex a lot of the time, we fantasise over hot guys (or gals) walking in front of us down the street, we picture them doing things to us or us doing things to them, we get turned on reading erotica on the tube, we watch porn, we approach and are approached by guys (and gals) in bars and have casual sex with them, we don’t feel slutty afterwards – we feel good. We’re playing a very similar game to you, but the difference is, your game is a spectator team sport and ours is largely a game of solitaire.

But just know that we’re doing it.

Because we can.

And it might some day end up on a spreadsheet.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2014/jul/22/wife-sex-not-tonight-spreadsheet-lays-bare-reddit

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/15/why-over-65s-have-fallen-for-marriage?CMP=fb_gu

http://www.salon.com/2013/04/28/when_she_wants_sex_more/