On becoming ageless

 

Back in 2000, when I was on the verge of moving to the UK, I had to fill in a few hours and bought Bridget Jones’ Diary and read about half of it, but had to leave it behind, there wasn’t a centimetre of space left in my suitcase and boxes. I enjoyed what I read, I watched the film, and I never realized I hadn’t finished the book until last weekend when I re-read it. What a difference 15 years has made – in the meantime my daughter reached Bridget’s age, and I find myself identifying with her mum. Remember the book? Remember that the mum was filled with energy, erupting out of the life she had decided was a rut, and having herself a whale of a time, when she should have been totally focused on Bridget’s very complicated life? She found her daughter a job, she got herself into a bit of a scandal and was extracted by the effortless Mark Darcy, she enjoyed herself very much, yet all I had retained, over the intervening years, was Bridget having a very exciting affair, meeting a Mr Will Do Nicely, and her dad being miserable because her mum was playing up.  I am delighted by her mum, even seen as she is through Bridget’s rather disapproving eyes.

Most of us have a mental image of ourselves in our heads, which is very roughly somewhere around our thirties.  (Inside every older person there’s a younger person wondering what the blazes happened.)  Whether you are forty, sixty, or eighty, you think of yourself as in your thirties, and it’s always a sobering surprise when you remember you’re not going to vault that fence, you can’t party all night without paying for it the next day, and you think that people who are really in their thirties are wasting precious time and should get out there and do things.

Bear with me, I’m making a point. We’ve established that you, whatever your actual age, are in your thirties. Now think of your parents.  Not the way they are, or were, the way you think of them in that split second when someone says parents.  In their late fifties, early sixties, right? Just there. Part of the furniture, part of the wallpaper, and ageless, albeit in an older way.  So when people in their late fifties and early sixties suddenly jump out of the wallpaper and dash about, we can be slightly resentful of them for not behaving as they should.

Well, until we get there ourselves and suddenly realize we’re still thirty-something at heart, but that we probably don’t have all the time in the world after all, and there are a lot of things on that to-do list that haven’t yet been ticked off.  Don’t expect support or encouragement. Just go do them.

I think that might be why the characters in my books don’t, on the whole, have families (Vivian being the exception) because families really would not approve of them enjoying their semi-retirement so much. They can be whoever they want, just so long as their health and vigour holds out, and they are ageless. Just like us.

 

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Creatures of habit, rise up. Throw off your chains.

Every now and then we shake up our habits – start an exercise regime on 2nd January, for instance – but rapidly slide back into our comfortable old ways. As the joke goes, I missed going to gym today. That makes 270 days in a row . . . in fact we’re so estranged I am beginning to feel I should be calling it James instead.

If you’re my target reader, you’ve started wondering whether there shouldn’t be a little more to your free time than switching on the TV, or spending hours jumping drearily from link to link on your social media. Even reading (and do feel free to read one of my books, I’d enjoy that as much as you would, click any book-cover in the margin of this blog) should be to relax, but where’s the fun in relaxing if that’s all you do?

Getting out and about is an obvious way to add variety and interest, but frustrating if you want to try something new, but aren’t quite motivated enough to go on your own. Tomorrow, maybe. Days slip by, become months and years, and particularly if you are one of my target readers, in the full sunshine of your Indian summer, there aren’t that many years to waste. Get out there!

I only recently learned about meetup.com and it is amazing. Wherever you are in the world, click on this link,  MEETUP.COM, and see if there’s something going on within 25 miles of you right now. It is purely social, people pitching up to share an activity with like-minded types, and not in any way a singles link-up – lots are married or with people who don’t share this particular interest, it is purely friendly.

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In my area, and okay, Edinburgh is within 25 miles, there are a stunning 644 activities. There’ll hopefully be something, wherever you are, especially if you can extend your range a bit. All ages, all types, all interests, so not all of it will rock your boat, just the thought of me joining a running group is a joke. Ditto patchworking,  a needle is a lethal weapon in my clumsy fingers. A writing group is a bit too much of a busman’s holiday. However, a dog-walking group, hmm, if my insane bulldog wasn’t so tricky with other dogs…  I did sign up promptly for the pub quizzes group.

MEETUP.COM makes it really easy to create and advertise a potential group, and who knows, there may be a dozen people out there whose eyes would brighten briefly at the thought of your particular interest, 2 or 3 of them might get in touch, and you’re on your way. In the meantime, this is what is happening in the next week on my doorstep: Crazy golf / After-work walk up Arthur’s Seat / two pub-quiz nights / 10-pin bowling / a Callander park walk / Curry at the Spice Pavilion / cross-country run at Beecraigs Nature Reserve / afternoon walk at Loch Leven / Piano players / Edinburgh Jazz Festival Cavalcade / Burntisland Highland Games picnic / Drinks / evening stroll round the Cleish hill forts.  I pulled the range down to just 5 miles. Conversational Spanish dinner. ¿Que?

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I flipped through my international address book seeing what my friends had on around them this week. That’s definitely quieter than in the UK, but there’s still stuff happening near most. Nothing going on near Nelspruit or Port Elizabeth in South Africa, you guys need to start a group. Polocrosse, perhaps? Big in both those communities, I know that. Live comedy group outing, and ballroom dancing, near my old smallholding community in South Africa. Go smallholders! A park run in Amanzimtoti, Natal, and a comedy night in nearby Durban on the weekend. Further afield – an English-speaking coffee group meeting in Tenerife on Friday.  Scuba diving try-out this weekend in Almeria, Spain. Open air theatre and a meditation night was the closest to Isle of Wight, but you’d need to catch the ferry to the mainland. Hmm. Boardgames, or jogging for beginners in Tasmania, Australia. There’s a group After The Hot Flashes in BC, Canada (presumably talking about how life is opening up again) and quite a lot there generally. Breakfast, and a wine appreciation evening, were highlights in Cape Coral, Florida this week.

Have a look. MEETUP.COM. Let me know what surprised you, and what you tried. I hope there’s something good!

Then relax with a book. You know where to find one.

Grumpy Old Men – grumpy? Make that raging …

I wish, I really wish, I could triumphantly produce the sure-fire way of avoiding the worst types of Angry Single. Whether you are twenty-something and know nothing, or fifty-something and think you know it all, you are going to bump into these men and women, and they are hard to spot because we all have a trace of Angry Single in us. Some of us need a hug. Some need a lobotomy!

I ended the last blog saying anyone meeting a single through a website should keep an emotional distance until they’ve met his or her friends, family and, ideally, ex. This is absolutely the only way you can hope to escape being blown up by the full-blown, psychologically damaged, destructive types. Hang on to that emotional detachment.

Most of the regulars on my favourite singles website know that I am fascinated by their stories, and everyone loves a listener. I’ve learned, and am still learning, things that would make your hair stand on end, yet none of us can yet define the full-blown nut-job from a straightforward common-or-garden selfish single. The latter are bad enough, granted, but they aren’t deliberately cruel and you can look back at the relationship, spot what went wrong, learn from it. The nut-jobs will send you crazy wondering what you did wrong. The answer? Nothing.

Angry Singles range from the resentful to the psychotic, and you could reject someone having a few adjustment issues as easily as you can overlook the warning signs of true disaster. Unfortunately the only true way is in retrospect. If he or she behaves well during, and after, the break-up, they were okay. If he or she is utterly indifferent and even vicious if cornered, ouch.

Okay, that’s not much help! But it is why meeting an ex is so important. There are three sides to every breakup (his, hers and the truth) and some breakups are seriously toxic. The guy you are keen on could have met an Angry Single last time out, and most definitely will not get a good report there! But if he or she can’t produce one person from their past who will speak well of them, be afraid. Be very afraid. (By the way, can you produce someone like that yourself?)

This blog isn’t, for once, personal experience, despite my adventure, but I will say his ex wrote to me at toxic length when she saw a pic of him on my Facebook page. I already knew his track history was dire and he was as much frog as prince, there was nothing she said that he hadn’t already told me, and no horrible surprises. It was oddly reassuring, and it also kept me properly centred. Speak to the ex!

The only warning signs seem to be too much, too soon:  yet we all hope for that magical flare-up, the driving excitement. Being older simply adds to that pressure, we all have one eye on the clock. It isn’t easy to keep your head when being swept off your feet, but it is the only way you will survive and the true Angry Single doesn’t hang around long – a few months. So many singles, after all, is their philosophy, so little time.

Pure Angry Singles are obvious:  controlling, domineering, jealous almost from the first exchange of messages, fiercely sorry for themselves, and nothing is ever their fault. Don’t kid yourself: a hug isn’t going to sort this one, the future will not be rosy. Abusive relationships are abusive relationships, however you met. Back away at the first warning sign, and the earlier the sign, the faster you should run.

The Rebound Single has been suddenly dumped back on the market after an unexpected breakup, furious that life has short-changed them, determined to catch up the lost years and cram in every experience, every ounce of attention that they know they are owed. Was it Mae West who said the only way to get over someone is under someone else? Not so funny when it’s personal, and not at all funny when you find yourself with a full-blown Angry Rebound Single. The first quarrels, even the first hint of criticism, and boom, they are rushing on to the next adventure, one resentful eye on that clock. They are the worst of the Selfish Singles, and the more recent their last relationship was, the more careful you should be about getting involved emotionally. That baggage is heavy, and sometimes it is loaded with dynamite.

It’s sometimes hard to define whether all long-term singles are damaged, or instead that all damaged people are destined to be long-term singles, but sociopaths and malignant narcissists do love the singles websites. Hang on to your detachment until you have met the background people normal folks have in their lives. Chances are you will be dumped just for insisting. Ouch, yes, but better to be bruised than eviscerated. That’s about the only test I’ve been able to come up with, despite asking a lot of questions.

The ONLY warning therefore is, again, too much, too soon. Angry Singles will rush you, ‘love-bomb’ you, pour attention and passion over you. If you kept that emotional detachment, rode the wave instead of going under without a struggle, then you can pick yourself up when it dumps you on the beach, put a touch of arnica on the bruise, and try not to become an Angry Single in turn! It wasn’t your fault, there was nothing you could have done to change things, and you’ll know better next time.

I don’t make a penny from this blog, so hopefully will be forgiven for linking that anthem of the bewildered victim: Ti Amo

I write for older singles, those at the far end of middle age, no longer young, not yet old. We have no definition for our age, yet as baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, we are a huge group, and entering what is for most of us the best time of our lives. Divorce rates have never been higher: many of us are single, but we can’t and won’t let that imprison us in our homes, right?

My blogs on the subject have been warnings, for the most part, because there is an euphoria about this Indian summer which can take us in all innocence down the wrong paths. My books, on the other hand, are a celebration of this lovely age, and my blogs will be focused more on the positives from now on. The best really is yet to come!

Grumpy Old Men: telling porkies

I took some flak from a Grumpy Old Man about my dating website blogs. He says I don’t underline the dangers and the risks enough, I make it sound fun. Most singles, he says darkly, are single for good reason, scammers are a real danger, and psychopaths, sociopaths, malignant narcissists, and a whole range of people with psychological disorders stalk the websites looking for victims.  Older singles (or if you prefer, those of us who have been young for a long time) returning to the singles world in a flurry of hope and nervous excitement are prime targets.

I did think I had made those points, but fair comment. He’s a Cynical Single and he has been on my favourite singles website a while longer than I have, using the same name throughout, which is in itself both a point in his favour and a reason to give up on him immediately. Only one of the characters in my books, ironically enough considering they are all single and in my favourite age group, would fall into a website type: Donald would be a Cynical Single, and it’s a type I find disastrously attractive. Edge did enter the world of Mature Singles in Five Six Pick Up Sticks as bait in a murder investigation: if any of them were to go onto the websites again, it would be Donald who kept them out of trouble and chased off the liars and chancers.

Dishonest Singles are everywhere.  Nobody, nobody, is totally honest on their profile or in the first exchanges. Even if they have no agenda for deliberate misrepresentation, they want to present themselves at their best.  They’ll say they’re separated, for example: they won’t say it’s their fifth divorce.

As a rule of thumb, you can be pretty sure anyone who has been on a singles website for more than a year is no longer a straightforward single person looking to meet another straightforward single person, no matter how beguiling the profile. At the very least they have unrealistic expectations: it’s got to be perfect, the potential partner has to be without peer and without flaw, rich, successful, good-looking and adoring, or will be dropped like a hot potato. And those are the honest ones!

Dishonest Singles with an agenda know that to remain too long on the website shelf is a warning sign, so they create new profiles, with new photos, every 8 to 10 months – or when they are in a relationship, so that the unsuspecting other half doesn’t realize they still have their fishing lines in the water.

Some Dishonest Singles are, of course, pure professionals.  I still find it hard to take the scammer threat seriously, because their approaches are so obvious, and their follow-up so weak, but let the point be made again. Don’t get smug, or feel you can spot a liar a mile away. Some are good. My Cynical Single says he learned of a man who took a year preparing the ground, then lifted fifty thousand pounds off his victim.

I say my Cynical Single but that’s wishful thinking. He’s remarkably good-looking and has a wonderful dry sense of humour, but that three years on the website has made him Teflon. Men are scammed more often than women, and he’s had some incredibly convincing approaches over the three years, successfully parrying them all. He eyes all and any approaches with such deep scepticism that although we are friendly, I suspect he thinks I’m playing a long game.  As if. He’s honest enough (unless, of course, he is softening me up to take money off me and frankly good luck to him, because I’m a writer, I don’t have any) but Cynical Singles are a dead end on the websites as far as romance goes.

The disappointments, the less skilful scams, the cynicals, are part of the learning curve. The most destructive are the Angry Singles, and they can be the hardest to spot, the most charming, the most insistent. I’ve bumped into a few along the way, and one featured briefly in Five Six Pick Up Sticks but I have learned so much more since then that they will get their own blog.

The safest route, with any single met through a website, is to keep an emotional distance until you’ve met their friends, their family, and, perfect world, their ex.  If they don’t have any friends, and family, and are tight-lipped or irrational on the subject of the ex, move on. That can be easier said than done, but you will, in the long run, save yourself a bad experience. Trust me on this. I have talked to a lot of single people of both sexes. You don’t have to make your own mistakes, there is no law against learning by the mistakes of others!

The last of the warning blogs follows shortly. Then it becomes time, and more than time, to start exploring the wonders of this lovely age we’ve reached, and the opportunities that it opens up.