I recently asked two male friends for an honest opinion.
“Am I going to scare men–do I scare men away–because I am a strong woman? Am I really that different from the other women you know?”
I asked from the heart. I truly wanted to know. Not that I feel I can greatly alter who I am, in my late forties—or even that I might want to—but if you read my blog you know my life is not an unexamined one. I needed to see if there was a blind spot. Ever since my divorce, I keep hearing how “strong” I am and to be honest, I was beginning to wonder if it was too much of a good thing. A recent breakup had made me again question how many men out there are as modern as they say they are.
The first answer was a bit disappointing. “You are probably more like a man in some ways because of all you’ve been through over the past few years.” I think he meant the emotional caution that comes after a divorce and the financial strength necessary to support my family. “It’s understandable, though,” he said, as if to reassure me.
It did not (reassure me, that is). In my foray into online dating after my divorce, I met many men who are probably a product of their era. Most men look for someone at least 10 years younger, in my experience, so many of the guys I met were in their fifties to my forty-something. I’m not sure strong is what they were looking for; oh hell, I’m sure it’s not what they were looking for. One was upset that my hair was an inch shorter than the photo he had seen online and told me immediately that I had looked “softer” in my pic. Another seemed to be falling head over heels but became angry when I had to cancel a date a few days in advance because my editor had upped a deadline. He sent me a text that told me “Best of luck with your SUCCESSFUL life.” Did I mention he was being downsized? Yet a third wanted to lecture for hours on the business world and all he knew about it. I sat, biting my tongue, realizing that I had worked with more CEOs (just a handful) than he actually knew the names of—and I rightly anticipated this fact was not worth sharing. We met only the one time.
The second friend’s answer gave me much more to chew on. A former CEO, he can be brusque, but at his core he is a wise softie. Truly much wiser about relationships and the softer side of life than one would ever guess.
“Will I scare away men because I’m a strong woman?” I asked again.
“Yes, you will,” he said, without hesitation. “But put all these men in a bar, and how many would you want to spend a life with?”
“Probably none,” I replied.
“You will scare away those that should be scared away because they’re not your equal,” he said. “And yes, you’re looking for a needle in a haystack. But do you want that needle or do you want to settle? I know you. You want that needle. He is out there.”
Before I go on, let’s not think stereotypes here, people. I am not harsh, militant, mannish. I do not hate men, wear combat boots for kicks or look to dominate every relationship. I am a strong woman. Period. Meaning I know who I am. I know being able to support myself and my kids is just good sense because it gives me a freedom many women don’t have (usually the ones who stay in a relationship because they are financially dependent). And while I have a soft, very feminine quality, I do not feel the need to bring that quality to work, to the grocery line, when negotiating. Soft and feminine is for my relationships but I reserve it for men who can also respect my inner strength.
It is just within the past year, really, that I have been able to admit to myself that while I can do “it” alone—life, children, work—I am not sure I want to do it alone. When my marriage fell apart, I thought it too painful to ever delve into another long-term relationship. But, after several years of alone time and healing, I realize I really do want a life partner if the fit is right. Believe it or not, it took strength to admit that to myself. It is far easier to pretend doing it on my own is what I want because it does not require me to be vulnerable. I can hear Brené Brown vigorously nodding her head.
I told my second friend that I heard him. That I respected his answer. “But I’m afraid I’ll be cold and alone in bed with my principles for the next several decades. And that I’ll start to collect cats, which I’m not that fond of, really.” I was joking but there is a kernel of truth there.
Laugh if you will (I do), but many women who are alone at my age fear this scenario. The difference between us, I suspect, is that many of them will settle. Not compromise, but settle. I can do the former. The latter kills you slowly, over time. It is half a life. Settling means you decide being with someone is of such importance that you are willing to sacrifice true happiness for perceived security. I have a friend like that. She often states, “I jumped in the back of my husband’s car years ago and he has been driving ever since. I was just so damn tired of having to be a career woman, of making it on my own.” She has a rock star jewelry chest and a bevy of Chanel bags but not much in the way of independence anymore. My choice for independence may make me espresso to her chamomile tea but I cannot help that.
I also cannot help that my mother raised a strong woman. I thank her for it, many times. At others, I realize that in giving me the keys to my own kingdom, she was also shutting other doors. Doors to men who want to keep me in a very small fishbowl while they swim in the ocean. Doors to a life in which I never have to worry about how to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table.
Some days, I pray to be rescued. I pray that I don’t have to figure it all out. Being strong doesn’t mean you don’t want the knight on the white horse some days. But it does mean that you realize there is no white knight who can save you. That putting your fate in the hands of another, becoming completely dependent on that person, is not actually safety. It’s a precarious position.
As someone who was married to a man who seemed steady as a summer rain—but then suddenly wasn’t—I can attest to the fact that trusting that much is tough for me. Mom didn’t raise me to distrust but she did raise me to use my head. I have always kept one oar in the water, so to speak. Kept myself in the corporate game enough that I knew I could jump back in if necessary. Doing so precluded long, relaxing absences and the ability to forego multitasking. I freely admit my envy, every once in a great while, of women who put their trust in a man who made it all happen. I realize they may not have my sense of accomplishment but they generally also lack the wear and tear I am sure I show.
I have been rescued, on occasion. It is rare that it provides me with the same solid feeling that rescuing myself does. It’s a wonderful feeling while it lasts but for me, the better feeling is knowing I can rescue myself. Repeated rescues by others breed passivity and a lack of confidence.
So yes–I pray that my needle catapults himself out of the haystack and to my front door—pronto. Not to save me. But to be a true partner. Someone who is strong, as I am. But also someone who can spell me, and I him, when the times call for it.
Tears filled my eyes as my friend said, “You have carried the weight of the world, financial and otherwise, on your tiny shoulders for too long. And you have accomplished what probably should have been an impossibility. Yes, you’re tired. Yes, you want love. You deserve rest, love and life taking another turn on a dime for the better.”
And after those sweet words of wisdom, I believe he told me that the end of this recent relationship was not so terrible. He followed with instructions to get the hell out of bed, out of my bathrobe and to stop ninnying it up.
After all, he knows he is talking to a strong woman.
Would you like sweetener with that espresso?
58 Comments Add yours
I didn’t know you broke up. How are you now?
I am sure you knew that answer which your friend gave. You will get someone Kay, I know you will.
I am alright–thanks for asking:). Part of the movement of life, right? Learning to ride the waves–as you are!
Your vulnerability is refreshing. Your definitions for compromise and settle caught my eye. I’m glad you’ve decided not to settle, no need dying a little each day.
All the best. There’s a strong man out there for you.
Thank you! With a nod to Brene Brown :-).
I went through online dating 4 years ago. We may have “chatted” or you read my About page story. I follow you but somehow miss posts.
I found two men to stay friends with but never date.
I found someone who made me change, laugh, fish and be funny. Unfortunately, he loved his ex-girlfriend more. One year into it, he had cleared a rack in his closet and bought a dresser for my once a week visits. We spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with my chaotic family, then to my children’s houses and grandies meeting him. My youngest brother said I finally had found someone who “got me,” my bossy teacher self, my babying child care worker self, my worrying about my kids, my Mom and lots of other stuff, too.
I got on an online dating site AGAIN! So far, I am looking and eliminating men. I am using Mother’s Day to put a barrier up until I am ready. Maybe need more time to analyze and study their “profiles.”
Last, I wish I could be like an older friend of mine, she saw a man leaving the movie theatre, laughing with two other men. Without hesitation, she asked, “What did you see which made you laugh out loud?” He noticed her, he answered and she went to see the movie he told her. He was sitting in the lobby after her movie and asked her friend, “Do you mind if I take your friend out for coffee and talk about the movie and our lives?” It really happened, as easy as this! Wishing you a serendipitous moment and not all the wasted time, I am afraid to end up wishing I hadn’t tried, K.
Oh, I love your friend’s story! That is the way I think it should happen–kismet:). But for those of us who work from home and a lot of hours, I think we give kismet very few opportunities. I do not enjoy the online bit. And I don’t blame you for putting it off. I think there are a few nice gems out there in the online world–and a lot of guys who just don’t get it. Sending you good thoughts as you brave it again . . .
Thanks for not minding my sharing it! Her name is Kit and his is Steve. Kismet, indeed.
I appreciate your beautiful sentiment and support. I agree, I work in a different setting but not really an environment I would wish to choose a partner.
Kismet is a special gift and I think I may have missed one along the way! 😉
I can relate, but I have gone past it. I almost said ‘sadly’ gone past, but now that I’ve arrived at the point in my life that I feel instead of just say that I feel that I enjoy my own company over that with a man, I truly am happier than waiting for that man to jump out of the haystack. It’s not a journey I would have ever thought I would be a part of or would have chosen, but now that I’m here, I’ve decided to make the absolute most of it. Because the weight on my shoulders was too heavy to not accept it and move on. I so very much hope for you that the needle arrives quickly for you. But if not, know that either way – there are better days ahead.
Oh, your timing is perfect, Tammi. I was just speaking to a friend this week about knowing that I love the idea of intertwined lives, but also about my chagrin that some of the reactions to this piece were: “Oh, don’t worry. He’ll show up.” As if, in the meantime, I would not be happy and continue to live my life. I, like you, realize I live a rich life. And I would love to share it. But if I do not, I will continue to live that rich life:). As you are. I wish more women could truly feel it instead of just giving it lip service.
Strong writing from a strong woman, Kay. Very thought-provoking. I remarried fifteen years after my divorce when I found a man I felt respected me professionally as much as he loved me. It has worked out well; though two strong people can have strong moments of disagreement!
Ah, yes. A marriage of equals and all the beauty it brings:). At least in the long run, if not in the particular moment of disagreement. My ex and I had a marriage of equals–I find it hard to imagine anything but that . . .
this is a great piece. i can’t relate to it on a fundamental level because i am still married (and have no goals or plans to change that) but i understand the dynamic you are wrestling. i have several friends who are amazingly educated and experienced and they have found, until they find a guy who’s super secure in himself, in his virility, and has an upper hand financially, it’s nigh impossible. i sense it’s always going to be about the man being in charge.
men seem to have this need to solve our problems, yet also want to be mommy’d. it’s really not fair at times. so when they encounter a strong woman, they seem to be ok with it, but in the end, they sort of bail emotionally because from what i hear from other women i know like you, they feel inert. while that’s all theirs, and you will find your needle, we mustn’t get carried away with trying to be all things: healthy sex vamp who’s helpless yet knows how to change a tire and provide for others.
i am almost at the point where i am about to give up hugging people, especially men, unless i am related to them or feel genuine interest in doing so. i have found that giving a shit about my appearance, health, and intellect while being married conveys some bizarre tacit opportunity for men to get a little squeeze from me. it feels like because i’m safe and have kids and i’m just a sweet little yoga teacher or wifey… but they go for it. or because they get to guiltlessly remember what a foreign female form feels like because we didn’t sleep together or swap spit.
it’s infuriating, and forgive me please for taking bandwidth on your blog to express it but i can’t on mine unless i write it as someone else… or lie. sometimes its in the guise of gratitude or of nostalgia or of straight-up guile, but i am going to fist-bump or namaste men now. men want a simple jag, that’s it. i’m done. growing up in the chaos i did, i was always made to give full frontal hugs. that shit’s over. i’ll get my oldest to teach me how to shoulder roll in.
i’m a strong healthy and attractive woman and i’m married almost 22y and i can tell you right now, that if i responded with an extra nudge or a subtle move of the hand, they wouldn’t think twice. i’ve had too many encounters now to think it’s all innocent. woe is the married woman who dares smile too long or stay in shape.
Oh golly, Molly:). Where to begin. I hear what you are saying. In fact, I was just saying to a friend the other day that it is easy to be the “new.” Gorgeous, smart women, married many years, seem to lose their appeal to husbands with wandering eyes–and all they search for is “new.” I don’t think any wise woman kids herself that she would not be in the same situation as that wife 10 years hence. New is not the basis for a lifelong relationship, right?
But the line that struck me the most, among your many chewy, delightful thoughts is: “we mustn’t get carried away with trying to be all things: healthy sex vamp who’s helpless yet knows how to change a tire and provide for others.”
I find, in my middle age, that I tire of having to be someone else’s delight–put on the makeup, not only stave off that extra ten pounds but be “bikini ready”, keep up with business and current events, and cook like Julia Child.. Men who love us (as it sounds like your husband does) love us for far more than what many men search for. And it sounds like you, as I, am tired of boys. Real men are worth the wait.
Thank you for sharing so much . . .
exactly… it’s a lot of work to just keep off the middle-age spread. thankfully, my husband likes me the way i am. (and that’s too bad if he doesn’t!) 😉
shoulder block hugs unite!
Not sure if (?) you ever read my favorite NH self-help book for anyone getting divorced — esp. (like me and you) when you are blindsided by it and did not choose it. It’s called Crazy Time.
She later remarried and wrote a brilliant book mourning (!) the loss of the strong, independent survivor she had to become, as you have, to get THROUGH newly single/divorced life.
I found her POV (she is a WashPost writer) really insightful.
I was alone for six years after my husband left (no kids) and have been with second husband for 16 years. The first few years of dating one another were initially rough — we were both tough old journo’s — and hard-won independence isn’t something one quickly or lightly drops.
But I do believe there are decent men who will treasure your resilience. 🙂
I did read Crazy Time. It was very well done. And, as I’m sure you know, there aren’t enough well done books on the topic out there. I share your beliefs about the decent men and I know timing is everything. I guess the beauty of it is, I am actually happy on my own. I think when you are looking to fill a hole, it’s not the best time to start a relationship. But if you are content, it is a good jumping off point.
Glad you know of it…although sorry we needed it! 🙂
There is so much in this post that resonates with me, three things in particular. Firstly, I AM a strong woman and it took the end of my marriage to realize that and in fact bring the true me out. I know now I hid that to make my husband feel better about himself. That is, for so long I took the ‘back seat’ as you gave in one example. Secondly, as I have embraced my strengths, I have left some of my friends behind. They are still my friends but I am on a different page. For example, I cannot talk about finances and budgets and retirement security with them because so many of them do not even know their true financial position as basically they leave that to their husbands (which baffles me but is a fact). So there is this crucial area of my life that I feel truly alone because many of my friends do not go there (and my male friends hesitate to talk about such things with a ‘woman’ – I do not think we have gender equality yet). Thirdly, rather than worry about me frightening men away because I am too strong, my greatest fear is finding someone who would expect me to mother him … gaining another child. I would want an equal who respected me for who I am and yet was strong within himself, caring and trustworthy. The ‘men behaving badly’ example you gave of picturing men at the bar …. hmmm… I definitely do not want to go there.
So that is why time and time again, I feel it easier to not try (100 points to you for being braver than me) and am happy at the moment getting to know me.
Thanks for a wonderful enlightening post and for being so honest 🙂
I struggled a lot when I was in the dating game to find someone to love. I eventually found a strong woman who was also kind and caring and who genuinely cared about my welfare. I had been through enough bad relationships to recognize a good thing when I stumbled across it. I think that finding the right person is a matter of persistence and luck: meeting the right person is a matter of chance, but the chances go up if you keep trying.
I love hearing a man strong enough to welcome strong and soft enough to embrace caring. The two in one are a powerful combo!
Is your second friend not available? 🙂 He sounds like the kind of guy that would be the equal of a strong woman like you and on these words alone any man would be privileged to have you.
Thank you for the kind words:). He is not–and wouldn’t be for me anyway. But he certainly makes for a wonderful friend!
Kristine, Love shows up when you least expect it. I find it impossible to search for. However, if you throw those thoughts out to the universe, you never know. He could be closer than you think…
I hear you:). I’m not searching for it so much as pondering on it. I am happy on my own, each day. But the future feels unknown (I know, I know–that’s the point of the future, right?). I love surprises but am a gift shaker/peeker. So, if I can’t even wait to open a gift, I guess it stands to reason I can’t wait to open the future, right?
Wow, I could hear myself asking that same question as I read your post. I’m a 40 year old single, successful career woman who also loves to travel (as you can see from my blog posts :-)) Had gone through so many ups and downs in relationships; got involved with men who are emotionally unavailable. Sometimes I ask the universe, is it so wrong to have someone in my life to share experiences with? It has taken me almost 20 years to wise up, to be more selective and to learn to love myself more, and am hoping my luck turns for the better in the near future. Admittedly, there are times I do feel a little weary and would like to be taken care, for a change.
I think when women like us do find love, it is richer because it is not based on need but on other mutual and more positive attributes. I was married to a man who loved me in part for my strength. So they are out there. I hope yours finds you :-).
I can fully empathize with this post. Your second friend is a good friend. I too am that strong woman and have been waiting for my needle in the haystack for too long. And yes I am out there looking but not in an obvious way but now I have reached retirement I worry that I will spend all my days alone but at least I can send them doing what I want to do.
And truly, I enjoy my alone time. I need it. I hope you enjoy yours too!
Just love yourself Kristine, for exactly who you are…then you only put out there that love, and not the fear of ‘not good enough’, ‘too strong’, or ‘smelly armpits’ 🙂
It is when we remove all those fears within that we finally understand what unconditional love is.
We are whatever fears we have within, and that is what we express ‘out there’. When faced, understood and released….we are happy…finally, totally, unconditionally happy…and will attract accordingly.
When we finally reach that place, I think that is when we meet someone and say…she/he is an Angel. We are attracting that unconditional partner.
In the meantime, you will attract someone with great love, for they are giving you that ability to look within and go past your fears, and find you, that unconditional that is waiting inside to embrace you.
No, it doesn’t have to be done by tomorrow or you wouldn’t appreciate what it took to get there….plus, when love does come along, you WILL then really appreciate it when it knocks 🙂
Enjoy the journey, not the destination…..and breeeeeeathe 🙂
I’m all for Angels:). And the journey . . . that’s half the fun!
From another “strong” woman I hear you!
This dating after divorce is a challenge when you know what you want, or what you don’t want, and you speak your mind! I was told I was “too honest”, my job was “too much” (can’t handle me building up my career over time as it took time from him as I am on call on weekends I don’t have my son) and the list becomes monotonous and endless!
Now I’m dating a single father with full custody of his son who “gets” the challenges of my life. Maybe it will stick! HA!
Either way I refuse to settle – us strong women deserve no less!
Keep Hope Alive!
Ah, yes. The men who would like you to be self sufficient but don’t seem to understand that requires a job and you will not be at the mercy of their schedule. Ugh. Good luck with your current beau! I hope it works out:).
I keep hope alive!
Good luck with yours too!
These men don’t understand what an amazing package they are getting! The right one will get it!
Inner strength is a truly beautiful thing. It’s still okay to wish that knight could show up once in a while to at least take care of the top layer of burdens. I like a taste of sweetener in my Expresso from time to time but nothing too sugary. Thanks for turning your introspection into my inspiration.
A knight who does yard work is a beautiful thing:). Just sayin’.
No sweetener, thanks. A very thoughtful post. Again. At 75, with eight animals dependent on me, going for the goal of the old lady who lives on the corner with twenty-seven cats and who doesn’t cut the grass, I also occasionally think about having another partner. Then I look around (have not been game for the dating sites)(yet), and realize that most men my age can’t keep up with me, much less one who is ten years older! I see that I have a truly good life, multiple aspects of which fill me with pleasure and gratitude. Yes, it might be nice to share my household once again, and then I see that I would have to forfeit at least half of each closet, etc etc. All do-able, but do I really want to do that? It would have to be your proverbial needle in a haystack (no knights for me either), the rarity, who could ease his way into my life.
I think it has less to do with age and more to do with sensibility:). I feel the same way and I’m in my 40s. I won’t partner with someone for security–only for happiness and a really good fit. I respect your choice! It takes strength in a society that still seems to tell women they should be attached.
Oh I can so relate to this! 😀 Thank you for writing about this. Bright Blessings!!! NadineMarie ❤ 😀 ❤
It’s nice when we can speak each other’s truth, isn’t it?:)
You have a very wise friend. Do not settle! (I know you won’t). And if you want to hang out with someone your age, do. Be picky.
I won’t:). I’m not unhappy alone. I just realize the joy of shared experience. I know you get that thought!
Thank you! Appreciate you stopping by my blog.
You are feminine and vulnerable Kristine, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to share your honesty and life with everyone. You are real and strong, but as you say that doesn’t mean you don’t want support and love or someone to walk alongside you. In my counseling, I have worked with some great women who were truly disillusioned with the male race. We did a list of what they wanted in a man, we made it very clear. We then burned the list and offered it to the universe. Every morning they got up and thanked the universe for this man. They believed he was coming. Did it take some time yep! but did they search for him? No way. I went to the wedding of one of these women last week. It was such a beautiful day and I was so happy for her. He is out there. Stop searching and start creating and believing. You deserve everything and more. Happy to come to the wedding 🙂
Love that story:). I used to be of the mind that you had to search. The more I progress, the more I realize what is meant to be makes its way to you (as long as you get out of the house!). What a wonderful way for you to help them get very clear on what they want–that’s an art.
Ha yes they did have to leave the house! But he always showed up when they least expected it. Hard to do when you really want it ❤️❤️❤️
I hear you, Kay. I’ve been going through a lot of the same thing. It’s nice to hear someone else’s take on the situation. I am in my mid-thirties, almost divorced with 2 small children and like you said it’s the men in their 50s and 60s that are super interested and the ones my age just want someone 10 years younger- probably so they can B.S. their way through a relationship. I’m not giving up but I have grown very weary. There’s nothing wrong with me, so why can’t I get a decent one within 5 years of my own age?
I know it is so discouraging at times. But, despite all the playahs, nice men are out there. Ones who realize they can date in their age range. They’re probably out there, busy, living their lives instead of hitting on women half their age:). Which makes it harder for the two of you to meet . . .
Is it better to be cold and alone in your bed with your principles intact or to gave someone at the cost of compromising yourself and your principles. You just need to follow the answer to the question, which I’m guessing you already know…:)
Yep:). Hoping you got that from the end of my piece. And with my furry Bailey, NEVER really cold and alone in bed–except metaphorically:).
This is my new favorite post. I identified a lot with it, and I am just really grateful for you opening up to talk about a fear that sometimes eats some of us from the inside out. You have a wise friend. And I love the idea of a needle catapulting itself out of a haystack! Brilliant. Your writing is heartwarming, as always.
Ooh, I love that it’s a new fave! So many women don’t want to talk about this–it’s too scary for them. But, I think–man or woman–it’s a realistic fear . . .
It totally is. And it starts getting to you when you face insult and rejection for it, and it’s no longer a compliment. I loved your friend’s comment, though, about the how many of these men one would actually want to spend the rest of our lives with, and your comment about not compromising vs. settling. Powerful stuff.
Yes! Compromising is what we all do so as not to be unreasonable. And I believe we grow from it. But settling? Well, that’s just curling up under the covers and hiding from life.
Thank you, friend:). Took more words than I thought it might!