by Sue Hubbard
Okay. I’m done. I’m through. I’m hanging up my ruby red slippers, my fuck-me shoes. I’m not going down that yellow brick road no more, no more. I’m giving up internet dating. I may have run a successful antique business in Portobello Road for many years which kept my three children in fish fingers, the three little children I was left with in the middle of Somerset – where I kept chickens, made bread and grew my own veg – when I was 31 and they were all under 6. I may have dragged myself off as a mature student up to the University of East Anglia, after I’d moved us like Ms Whittington to London, to do an MA in Creative Writing with the crème de la crème, whilst juggling child care as the other students hung out talking postmodernism in the bar. I may have written for Time Out, The Independent and The New Statesman as an art critic, published three collections of poetry, one of short stories and three novels but none of this is as anything compared to my failure with internet dating.
I have been at it since before they even had internet dating. When my ex left me for an older women while I was in my early 30s I was desperate to find someone new. To rekindle love and touch and remind myself I wasn’t the mad bad person he was trying to make me out to be. So I put a tiny ad in the personal column at the back of Time Out. It felt incredibly transgressive. The replies came in a big brown envelope at the end of the week. Some had photos of men in woolly jumpers. Some were 20 stone. Some looked nice. There were accountants and students, film buffs and some just in the buff. And I began dating. How naive and serious I was then, wearing my heart on my sleeve, hoping to find an attractive, kind man who’d share my interests and wanted to fall in love.
Over the years I’ve had relationships. Often with men I met in real life and not through the personal ads. Too many were artists. Fun and feckless, for whom I was ok girlfriend material. But heaven forfend that they should get seriously involved with a single mother of three young children. And I did fall in love and thought I’d found my forever relationship. He was an academic. Fun, gregarious, generous. But it took about two and a half years before I registered the narcissism, the binge drinking and then he dumped me, presumably because I’d noticed these things and it wasn’t quite so fun anymore. Still, I was broken hearted.
I haven’t lived like a nun since then. But I’ve been much more wary. It’s not thrills and spills I’m after, a bit of slap and tickle, but a real organic relationship. Someone to share the other half of a bottle of red on a Saturday night as we watch a foreign movie on Netflix. Someone to read with in bed, as well as make tender love. Someone to travel and walk with, to share wit and humour, to mooch round markets and go to art galleries. To visit foreign cities. A companion, a mate. I’m not looking for perfect. Just warm, smart and attractive to me. Someone with a bit of empathy, someone who wants to share. And there’s the rub. Commitment is a dirty word and I’m no longer interested in one night stands. Recently someone got in touch asking me if I was up for a threesome – and he wasn’t talking card games. And here’s the thing. I think he thought I would be grateful.
Recently I’ve met some quite pleasant men. But I’m tired of them turning round after an enjoyable evening and telling me that I’m a fascinating women and that they’d really love to stay in touch as friends but that they ‘can’t see it going any further’. Which, I’ve come to realise, is code for: ‘you’re too old’. But I am not there to entertain. To talk about the Man Booker shortlist or the Turner Prize and be ever-so-interesting, while they go off to find their bit of nookie elsewhere.
So okay – deep breath – it will now be on public record – I turned 70 last birthday. And for most men on the dating scene it’s as if I should just pull up the draw bridge or crawl under a stone and die. It’s as though my age is a personal insult. It brings to mind the writer Anthony Powell’s observation on ageing that “I feel increasingly punished for a crime I didn’t commit.” My last and most recent date was with a highly self-obsessed lawyer, who was the one to contact me and insisted that I meet him immediately in a place of his choosing. Then who, despite us coincidentally knowing a number of people in common, told me I should ‘apologise’ for my age because I’d fudged the issue.
Why are these men so hooked on age? I may not be Angelina Jolie but neither am I the back end of a bus. I do Pilates and yoga three times a week with a group of wonderful, super fit people, many who are older than I am. I recently did a 15 mile country walk with my son. I travel. I write. I do voluntary work. I have interesting friends. I have five grandchildren. I am loyal to those I love who love me. I wear nice clothes and know how to eat without dribbling. I’m not ready to be put out to grass. And yet? And yet?
I don’t think I’m alone. I know so many sharp-witted, fit, clever, attractive single women in their 60s, 70s and even 80s. But the men? They’re not so hot and the ones that are see themselves as being at a premium and are of the opinion that they’re only as old as the young flesh they feel.
This is a new phenomenon, this problem of vital baby boomer women who won’t lie down quietly, who are stylish and fit and not ready for elasticated-waist trousers and Zimmer frames. Men of our age, it seems, want a quiet life. Someone to flatter or mummy them. Someone to boost their egos or pick up their socks. What they don’t want is opinions, or women of their own age who remind them of their mortality. And before you ask, yes, I have dated younger men. And yes, it was very nice in its way. But I’m looking for the forever relationship now, and someone 10 or 15 years younger is not going to stay the course.
So bye bye fuck-me shoes. I’m going to get out my walking boots and take to the hills. There are grandchildren to hug and that fourth novel demanding to be finished. So watch this space.
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Sue Hubbard is an award-winning poet, art critic and novelist. Her recent novel Rainsongs is published by Duckworth./Overlook Press US. Her fourth poetry collection is due next spring from Salmon Press.
“Hubbard deserves a place in the literary pantheon near Colm Toibin, Anne Enright and Sebastian Barry”. —American Library Association
Review of Rainsongs here.