Sliding into middle age

I can't get a long-distance, younger woman out of my mind.

By Cary Tennis
Published March 24, 2004 8:40PM (EST)

Dear Cary,

This is a short note, I'm not American so I can't go on at length like some of your correspondents.

We dated for a few months. Got on beautifully, intensely if not passionately, but then, as she didn't want to "get involved," she blew me off (just after I'd been on a holiday in the States). I can't get her out of my mind. I don't want to get this feeling of infatuation again, because I think there is something wrong in my life that causes me to become wrapped up in people. I've had a couple of really long relationships, with people I am still friendly with, but honestly I've never felt so intensely about anyone as this woman. Part of the problem is that she was young and I am sliding into middle age. It wasn't an issue for her as she had dated older guys before, but I'm thinking that it is a bit of a midlife crisis thing -- last chance saloon and all that.

How can I move on -- apart from the obvious (date, go to the gym, build a life, grow up -- done all that). Or is it my fate to keep seeing this gal in the front of my mind and wishing to hook up with her again. She really was a sort of ideal. (By the way, I always acted pretty cool and didn't really follow up her offer to "be friends" beyond a couple of tentative contacts and a happy Christmas message.)

Pining in London

Dear Pining in London,

Some things in life are painful, frightening and inconvenient. In that sense they are "problems." But they are not problems in the same way that a stain on a couch is a problem: They're not blemishes to remove. Rather, they are messages, or promises, or invitations, or signs; they are the world's way of hitting you over the head with the truth.

So I would say that this obsession with a woman is telling you something. It may be telling you that you are afraid of growing old. I do not think that is anything to be ashamed of, or for others to belittle.

You said at the outset that you are not American and so you cannot go on at length like some of my correspondents. I appreciate that. I take it to mean that you value the strength of character evidenced by a reserved manner. Nonetheless, however reserved you are in public, I'm sure that in moments alone you are capable of the most tumultuous of passions. It is to those passions that I address myself, privately, in this zone of anonymity in the cold wilds of the Internet.

There is nothing comical or shallow about the fear of death, nor of the desire to live one's life wisely and truly. So if you reach your 40s and find yourself cursing certain decisions you've made, or feeling a failure, or wanting reassurance that you are still vital and attractive to women, that is quite understandable. What would be comical and shallow is if you decided that the solution to your concerns is to dye your hair and buy a sports car. Your true vocation at this stage is to try to see the truth as fearlessly and clearly as you can. If you take some time to look over your life, you may find that you've made some good decisions and some not-so-good ones; you may see that you haven't gotten as far as perhaps you dreamed of getting when you were 22, but still you can inventory your accomplishments and take some satisfaction in them. And you may see that while women in their 20s quite accurately regard you as an older man, that doesn't mean that you no longer have an erotic life.

If you have always expected your life to be a spotless, trouble-free engine of commerce, achievement and hilarity, then the unbidden hijacking of your emotions by a woman might seem like a problem, as might those sudden doubts that crop up in the night. But it's not the kind of problem you want to scrub out of existence, any more than life itself is something we'd like to scrub away. Life is to be struggled through, fought with, suffered, borne, wrestled with, ravished, consumed, embraced.

This particular obsession with this particular woman will fade in time. But if you expect your life to be a smooth, untroubled surface, you will face such surprises the rest of your days.

If you thought that, having reached a certain age, you were no longer capable of being ravaged by fate, think again. You haven't been ignored. You're part of the great chain of being. This is your chance to recognize it, privately at least: Your own passions and appetites are real and powerful. All the stuff the poets and dreamers have written about is true. Life is indeed a breathtaking mystery. You are indeed subject to the vast power of feminine beauty, to the voracious appetites of a god. You're human.

Thank God you realized it in time.

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Cary Tennis

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