Monday 12 September 2011


There is grey in your hair
Young men no longer suddenly catch their breath
When you are passing

That haunting beginning of Yeats' Broken Dreams has been on my mind a lot these last few days, partly because wonderful Waffle, arbiter of all things new and interesting, brought to my attention a new blog called The Plankton, whose first entry begins

As a divorced woman the wrong side of 45 with a brace of kids, I am a plankton on the food chain of sexuality and the prospect of a relationship.
Women die long before they actually die.

It's an interesting blog: she began it - as she writes in her column for The Times - "because I felt it was about time to voice the unsayable: that women of a certain age such as myself (and there are a heck of a lot of us — divorced, never married, widowed, and alone) are at the very bottom of the food chain when it comes to romance, relationships and sex, and it feels like shit."

I've become slightly obsessed by The Plankton's blog: it does help that she posts at least once a day, and that she's unflinchingly honest in her despair in how difficult it is to find new love at a certain age. So unflinching is she I feel a little voyeuristic reading it, however, give it a go because I suspect, like me, you'll want to see where the journey takes her.

I do think there's a sense in which women don an invisibility cloak once they hit forty - there's that sense of contracting possibilities, of the winnowing of time and every time you look in the mirror you're caught between your internal midlife crisis and wondering what economies you could make in order to afford a vat of botox. Miranda Sawyer's piece in The Guardian says all I could possibly say on the subject of quiet midlife crises, only a lot better of course.*
Do I think that a woman of a certain age is inevitably at 'the bottom of the sexual food chain'? No, of course I don't, but then I'm not single, so haven't had to put The Plankton's assertion to the test, and I'm heartily relieved I don't have to. However, I can see that the dating field is hardly lush, green and ripe with possibilities once one is past forty. I know many beautiful, elegant, desirable fortysomething single women, and frankly, the single men of my acquaintance can't hold a candle to them, though they behave as if the dating world is their oyster.

The Plankton has had a lot of 'helpful' comments about getting a dog, or joining a class or going to therapy to boost her self-esteem, all of which is as dispiriting as it is well-meant. On behalf of all fortysomething women, I'd like to say, we're not dead yet - you can't stare the second half of your life in the face and feel like you've missed the boat, and none of us is ready for Saga magazine style activities. Mind you, when you do stare the second half of your life in the face, it takes you a moment to recognise whose face it is - in your head you still look just like you did at thirty, but the reality is the tiniest bit different.

Anyway, I was talking about The Plankton's blog with a single fortysomething friend earlier today.

Did she think she was at the bottom of the sexual food chain, I asked? 

She looked at me thoughtfully for a while. 'Nothing would persuade me to call myself a plankton,' she said, 'But I would call the last six men I've dated pond life'.

*Thanks go again to Waffle for sending me a link to this piece.


Anonymous said...

I am post 50, probably invisible, separated for a year, virtually celibate for many years, cannot imagine coming to grips with a man again - last time I 'dated' they were all young and beautiful, now they have hair everywhere and smell funny - think therapy is the most boring thing in the world. Do not have my self esteem boosted by talking about myself. I wish you well, Plankton, and shall be enjoying your blog now I have found it via Mrs Trefusis.

Wildernesschic said...

This must be a current theme I blogged yesterday about a friend who said after a certain age we become invisible.. Well I have no intention of letting that happen.. We need to take control of out sexuality and feel good for ourselves.. and yup there are a lot of pond life type men around a lot of bottom feeders too xx

Anonymous said...

My mother was like Scarlet O'Hara at the Twelve Oaks bbq until we lost her to a medical mistake when she was in her sixties. She was beautiful, and she met life with exuberance. I know she never saw herself as anything remotely planktonish.

Maybe it's a lot to do with one's approach to life?

That's Not My Age said...

I've read about Plankton's blog but haven't actually read it - so thanks for reminding me, I'll click through. Having spent a fair few years being single - including a stint from the age of 35 to 40 (I met Mr TNMA when I was 40) I realise that as I get older and wrinklier, I'm not as attractive to the opposite sex, but I certainly don't feel invisible.

jongleuse said...

I think there was a sense of 'Oh God, it's all downhill from now' for me when I hit 40 with two young children, but it isn't so. Life became more focused, I'm less likely to waste time on things and people that aren't important to me and to value what is.
MTFF recommended a fab audiobook by David Whyte which helped me to define what I wanted from the rest of my life...however long that may be.

Basista said...

I find the invisibility thing creeps up on you in the workplace. You're no longer the fresh bouncy know it all and now everyone's looking towards the next generation of bouncy over confident know-it-alls. Time to access my inner 'erotic capital' (see Hakim)? I think not. But a bit of glamour goes a long way. That way you feel you're invisible except for your lipstick!

Alison Cross said...

I know perfectly well that if Tartarus and I split up, the chances of me meeting someone else, nice and not a closet axe-murderer, are slim to none.

Whereas he will be approaching 50, tanned and fit with a good job, nice house, nice car etc....I'll be hitting 50 with no job to speak of, no real assets of my own and a small son in tow.

In fact, a divorced friend baldly stated that if I ever moved out, she wouldn't think twice about moving in. We are no longer friends :-)

Ali x

Brian M Carr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kerri @ baby monitors online said...

I think that forty-something women should enjoy themselves and take part in things such as exercise classes, late night college classes etc. Basically enjoy yourself, and spend a lot of time on hobbies. You know what they say, love comes along when you aren't looking ;)

Anonymous said...

Goodness me! Some interesting comments here. I am 55 years of age and have been separated from my husband for about a year, after being married for about 33 years. I will definitely have a look at Plankton's blog. It will be comforting if I discover that I am not the only woman to feel alone and lost after the marriage ends.

Beautiful Things - Cathy said...

I'm 45 & I read a few of The Plankton's posts with interest but I'm afraid I gave up in irritation. It's far, far too 'victimy' for me. She's not invisible because she's 45+, she's invisible because she's full of self loathing. Let's think about it in reverse, would any woman with any sense of self worth want to date a man who referred to himself as plankton and at the bottom of the food chain for love? Definitely not!

My aunt is 70+. She has men a third of her age flocking round her because she's FUN and has a great sense of personal style. She has a toy boy of 55 but she's thinking of dumping him because she's bored! She's still the hardest partier I've ever met. I fully intend to be like her when I'm older.

I know someone, who shall remain nameless, who's 32. She's desperate for a man but she's so afraid of life no one ever notices her.

It's all about attitude.

Unknown said...

Hm. This is the second time I'm reading something like this, and at nearly 42 I am starting to see glimpses of this in my own life. There is probably a shift between exuding vitality and sexuality and ... something more dignified and staid.

And it won't be long before I need to figure out what it is.

Steerforth said...

I've only just caught this post, as I wasn't expecting another one for a few weeks. I'm very glad to see that you're increasing your output.

Although I'm not a single woman over the age of 40, I recognise many of the things that have been discussed here. I remember becoming aware of my increasing invisibility in the eyes of younger women (the final death blow was when a female colleague in her early 20s absent-mindedly called me 'Dad') and recently, I have become a little obsessed by the likelihood that I've passed the halfway point.

Miranda Sawyer's article was very good, although I'm depressed to read that a successful, nationally recognised journalist can't afford a house with a garden (I presume she hasn't been house-hunting in Tring or Sidcup).

I'm also depressed to read that so many women over a certain age feel so invisible, as I find that most of the women I've known become more attractive with age.

But this view is echoed by a friend of 41 who decided to try internet dating after a gap of six years. At 35, she received a wide number of responses from men ranging from their mid-20s to late 30s, many of them attractive, successful people. At 41, she was appalled to find that the pool had narrowed to a core of very odd older men whose social skills left a lot to be desired. Do single men become too set in their ways after a certain age?

My midlife crisis is reaching its climax on Friday, when I leave a perfectly good but ultimately soul-destroying job, in search of happiness (or something approaching it).

Anonymous said...

I am a widow in London aged 51 with no kids, have been reading Planktons blog & find it extremely depressing, this women is totally self-centered, comes across as bitter & angery,attention seeking, with a following of like minded people, as they say misery loves company, I have never had any problem attracting men since I have been a widow, just have fun & relax

Anonymous said...

I compulsively read the plankton too, but she irritates me. Invisible she may be, but she gushes and obsesses like a 14 year old, and sets ridiculous standards. I think she may be a (Bridget Jones Style) serialisation by the Times, essentially fictional, social engineering to raise the spirits of all us "Planktons" and eventually she will meet a clean shaven, long sleeved, well heeled man who will support her (and her invisible kids) emotionally and financially

Virginia Country House said...

I agree with you. However, so much pressure seems to be societal crappola. A long-married aquaintance told me recently (somewhat sheepishly) that, if she were to be completely forthright, she actually likes the idea of being married more than actually being married. She enjoys being someone's wife but much prefers the fun company, unconditional support and positive self-esteem that she feels with her kids, sister, and woman-friends. But society seems to have everyone convinced that a woman must be married, or in this case, noticed by men, or be forever unfulfilled.

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Foto Bugil said...

This is the second time I'm reading something like this, and at nearly 42 I am starting to see glimpses of this in my own life. There is probably a shift between exuding vitality and sexuality and ... something more dignified and staid.Foto Bugil

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