Hot to trot

I'm free again at age 42 and ready to date, but I'm worried about the Mr. Goodbar syndrome.

Published July 23, 2004 7:55PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 42-year-old woman with one child, six months out of a marriage with a man who left me for Lady Luck and the bright lights of the casino. I'm dealing with the marriage breakup OK. No nervous breakdowns, and only occasionally do I cry without warning.

My problem is I haven't had sex for about a year and a half and I'm experiencing the rush of sexual energy that newly liberated women often feel. Before I was with the cute but eventually addicted man, I was your typical wimpy nice girl in my 20s. I had relationships, not one-night stands. Now I just want to have sex, no relationships. Or rather, friendly, casual relationships with men who don't want a wife. I am incapable of being a wife at the moment. I am very capable of having sex. But I have a few questions since I haven't dated anyone for 17 years:

1) Is it too Mr. Goodbar for a woman to go to a bar by herself? What does a man think when he sees a woman by herself at a bar? Does he think, hmm, a rape victim in training? Or, she's a real loser? Or, I wonder how much she charges? Or, there's an attractive woman I could have a real conversation with and we could go from there?

2) I have a scar from a burn that covers most of my stomach and one breast. Does this make it impossible for me to live a sluttier lifestyle? Will men who want casual sex want someone unmarred? And when do I tell the hypothetical person about this unseemly flaw? Over drinks? Maybe I should just insist on lights out when we make love?

3) I have a really inappropriate sexual crush on a 23-year-old guy. I look relatively young for my age, but not that young! He flirts but doesn't touch. Is there any way he could be attracted to me? I don't have the time to exercise like Demi Moore.

4) I know I'm attractive to the weird guy down the block who just lost his wife and needs to find a mother to his three children, but is it possible I could be attractive to someone I'm attracted to without the help of Botox and daily exercise? (I'm skinny but my butt sags and my arms flop and well, face it, I'm 42.)

5) In the meantime, women friends have told me to find an electronic substitute. I looked online, but how the hell do you decide between a rocket pocket, an Alabama slammer and a rabbit habit? Why do they all rhyme anyway? And really, are electronic devices really a satisfactory substitute for flesh?

Is it possible for a woman of my advanced age to be a bimbo for a few years until I'm ready to have another relationship?

Sexy Mama (sort of)

Dear Sexy Mama,

The way you've inventoried your fears and desires provides a vivid picture of where you are emotionally. You're embarking on a new life and naturally have a lot of specific questions. But I think it's most important right now that rather than seek specific answers to specific questions, you take stock of yourself generally and try to learn to evaluate your feelings and desires more closely. That will enable you to make all kinds of decisions on your own, now and in the future.

Now, if you think I'm off base, or you don't like the fact that I'm not answering your specific questions, I'm sure you can find someone to answer them. Everybody has an opinion. One person might tell you that no woman should go into a bar alone because every man in the bar will think she's a hooker. Another person might tell you that going into a bar alone is perfectly acceptable. You should have no trouble getting answers. But those answers will depend on specific situations.

You can also gather information about the sociology of bars, the mechanics of vibrators, and various psychological reactions people might have to the sight of a burn scar. All that would be helpful. But whether you're considering whether to enter a bar or tell a man about a burn scar or make a date with a younger man, you are ultimately going to have to make those choices yourself. So you need to develop the ability to make decisions based on what you really want.

Because of what you say about your early life and your involvement with a man who turned out to have a gambling problem, I suspect that up until this point you may have had a tendency to ask others how you should live, and to live your life in order to please other people. There's an element of that in all of us. But when it is especially prominent, or dominant in a personality, it can mean that over the long haul we don't pay enough attention to learning how to make important choices. Sometimes that's fine as long as you are partnered. But now that you're on your own, you may find yourself a bit overwhelmed.

So why not start small, with something manageable?

If there is a bar that you like very much and you want to go inside it and have a drink, do so. Pay attention to how you feel as you enter the bar and order a drink. Look around the bar and ask yourself if you like the way it looks. Look at the people in the bar and consider whether they are attractive to you or not. Don't think about what they think of you. You cannot know what they think. You can only know what you think. So concentrate on your own natural reactions to things. If you are there because you want to be there and you feel comfortable, it will be OK. But do not hang around a bar where you don't feel comfortable just because you think you might meet some men there. You can use this technique to answer other specific questions: How do you think a man might respond to your burn scar? What does it feel like when you imagine telling him? Trust your instincts.

What will get you through this phase of life is personal courage and the support of people around you. You can get through anything if you have enough support. So talk to women who have gone through what you are going through. They may tell you that yes, younger men can be attracted to you. Yes, you can go to a bar by yourself. They may tell you about their experiences revealing physical imperfections to sexual partners. They may tell you about their favorite brand of vibrator. There are many forums online that may be useful as well.

What you need, overall, is strength and courage. You sound like you have plenty of it. Redefining your role in the world is a long process. So far you are doing fine. You have made a good beginning. Just keep going.

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