Relationships: The View At Midlife

As my life starts to get into some semblance of orderliness and my son slowly outgrows his attachment to mommy, my mind starts to wander and think about relationships and whether I am ready for a new one in my life.

Since my divorce I have put myself completely out of that market-place, and Cape Town is notorious for being the wrong place to put yourself on the singles market if you were a straight woman. A straight man meanwhile will have lots on offer for his person, my ex can testify to this as he had started “seeing someone” before I even left. I remember asking him very offhand about another woman a week or so before I was pushed into leaving, and he went ballistic.  His rage was so animated and full of pointed fingers, it shocked me into noncommittal silence, and told me more than I really wanted to know.

My ex is perhaps the strongest factor putting me off a relationship, because in all honesty there nothing that I miss about that marriage. For me it was a short step away from a wasteland in every way, and every year that passes gives me more reasons to celebrate rather than regret my divorced status. Celibacy is fine once you get used to it, and Arab women are well-designed to cope with and accept frustration on that front, so I have no reason to complain like many of my female friends do when they spend a long period of drought in relationships and sex.

An Arabic saying goes: Solitude is better than the unworthy companion, and I spend my evenings living this wisdom. My days are filled with my son and life is good, so far. Still sometimes I wonder, should I ever venture into this territory of relationships, what is there for me to find? What do I have to offer? After all, I have half of my life behind me.

Sometimes I feel sad when I contemplate all the things I have missed. I have had a childhood love, a first love, and a committed love and they have all failed for me, and in this failure I have become more cautious, afraid and cynical. I believe that I will never have the same capacity for giving in a relationship as I had in the past, and I fear that I will never really know the next man in my life. After all, it took me nine years and a divorce to truly know my ex.

A friend of mine has been with the man who is now her husband almost forever. She knows this man’s feelings and quirks like she knows herself, it must be such a great comfort to sleep next to a man who you can trust, whose history you know, who was your best friend’s brother or just the guy next door whose mother is your mom’s friend. You might have gone to school with the first girl he dated, or you might have giggled and gossiped about him with your girlfriends long before he wriggled his way into your heart and your life. The circumstances of my life did not allow for such a relationship. I grew up away from my birth country and the summers were fertile times for fantasy and short infatuations but these do not survive over long distances and do not outlive the volatility of teenage feelings. Another impediment in my character is that I am not easily impressed by the guys I meet, and even in my younger years I gravitated towards older men rather than boys of my age.  In forty years of life, my heart fluttered for no more than half a dozen men. Some of my loves were platonic and childish, others were merely one-sided crushes whose only product was love-lorn sighs and a heightened sensitivity to love songs. Ironically, my lack of experience in relationship dynamics were often brought up by my ex as one of my key failures.

I don’t know how anyone can condemn such a thing as the lack of history, especially when it is such a transient state in anybody’s life. I have missed out on meeting the man whose history I would become, I was just a station in the life of my husband, he came to me from a history of another marriage and went on -I presume- to his future as a brooding single man, whose mysterious sadness and misfortune in marriage would intrigue and touch the hearts of many unsuspecting women as it did mine.

Please do not get me wrong, dear blog. I am not actively seeking to complicate my life with a relationship. At the moment I am content to put my head to the grindstone. I work to pay the bills and forge a decent future for my son. The joy I have in life almost exclusively revolves around him. Occasionally, however, I do catch the passing interest of a person, from the straight male variety, but they mostly spell TROUBLE in red capital letters for me. There is the balding middle-aged guy who greets me every morning as I make my daily trip to Robert’s school. He must be well off I tell myself because he has his breakfast every day at that fancy coffee shop cum deli in Green Point. Perhaps he does have a wife, or a couple of ex wives who are glad to be rid of him, who knows. There is the journalist and media specialist I met on one of my assignments, I went out with him for coffee once, and he makes no secret that he has a family somewhere out-of-town. I exchange friendly chats with him every once in a while but I do not see this going anywhere past amicable friendship. There is also the businessman I met on my flight to Geneva, he is getting a boat built here in Cape Town, and he will sail it one day towards Europe. He is smart and wealthy but he reminds me too much of my ex, someone who can tell a thousand and one stories about the world but is uncomfortable divulging information about his private life. This man also has an ex-wife, with grown children, and a two-year-old daughter by another woman. He did not say whether she was also an ex or a current partner; I am more than familiar with this type of omission.

These poor possibilities of relationship may seem sad to anyone else but I am a realist. Also since I was raised in the Arab misogynist society I am less likely to question the fairness of partnership equations when it comes to long-term relationships between men and women. In my culture as long as a man can financially provide and can function in the bedroom then he can marry any woman he sets his mind on; age and compatibility in minor things such as education are not a consideration.  Rich men in oil kingdoms are well-known for fathering dozens of kids by teenage wives well into their sixties and seventies. This was before the age of Viagra and co, and I am sure modern Arab men can continue to break records in the next few generations. My birth country is not one of those rich oil fiefdoms and people generally have a hard time providing for one family, and this is perhaps the only reason Syrian men stick to one wife, although many of them can and will be unfaithful at some stage.

I left my birth country at 28 to go and work in the United Arab Emirates. While I was at home I still got offers of marriage from reasonably aged and decently educated men. Things changed when I went to the playground of the wealthy and would-be wealthy. An octogenarian with whom I had a professional conversation while I was working as a secretary started hinting at marriage, and a colleague of my father’s whom I know to have a wife and family in rural Egypt also tried to make me consider relocating with him to the land of the Nile. Thinking back at how depressed these encounters made me, I feel lucky that I said yes to my ex husband. At least he was younger, better-looking and more educated and intelligent than my other suitors. So if this was my lot at 28/29 years, what can I expect as a single mother of 40? Not much.

I cannot rewrite my history or unlearn what I have learned over the past decade, so the next man in my life will have a woman who cannot love as freely as she did before, which is really a shame, and my previous experience makes me shy away from any man with a past, and the only solution I find is to look for a younger partner. I don’t know why this is such a bad idea, especially in my society. History tells us that Mohammad’s first wife was a woman with history and many previous husbands. She was rich and perhaps offered stability and comfort to the younger man. Early Arabs did not have qualms about a woman marrying a younger man, it is only modernity that made such a partnership unacceptable.

Of course this is only fantasy at this stage. I cannot think of one good reason to venture again into the uncertainty of partner search. We all know that the good ones are already raising their children with their blissfully happy wives. The good-looking widower who is a single father to a child? This is a figment of the imagination or something that we saw on Sleepless in Seattle and even then he would go for the single woman who never married.

Not even escape literature has a willing partner for the 40-something single mom. All heroines of romance novels seems to be blushing virgins (not the case for the males of course). That said, perhaps there is a niche market for me, writing trashy escape novels for desperate middle-aged females.. My first novel will feature a 40-something single mom and the 30-something single hunk who falls for her; dreams are free.

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