For one of my last afternoons on Cat Ba Island, I planned to spend the day at the local fancy hotel, soaking up the sun and enjoying relaxation time at their pool and spa. But the weather had other plans for me – it wasn’t a sunning kind of day, so I wandered by foot around the town, made my plans for onward travel and found my way to the Green Mango Restaurant for lunch. I had a wonderful meal there of stir-fried veggies and of course – rice, rice and more rice.
Side Note #1: I’ve never eaten so much rice in my life … yikes! And white rice at that. I’ve come across brown rice only a few times, in Lao and Cambodia; and gobbled it up when I did. I wonder if I’ll ever want to eat the stuff again – sort of like how I felt about couscous after I traveled in Morocco – I still don’t eat the stuff after the overload I got of it there.
Side Note # 2: I hate my genes. And menopause has a place as a culprit in this side note too. Really, it’s ridiculous. I’m the only person I know who could adopt a mostly-vegetarian diet, get more exercise than I have in years and still, damn it, gain weight. How could it be? Well, maybe it’s the beer. Yep, I bet that’s it. I had taken to having a cold beer or two (no more than that) with and after dinner. But that’s all. Then I toned down the daily intake to once in a while when I realized, damn it, that I’m gaining weight! But even with the tone down, I still haven’t, well … toned down! It doesn’t help, I guess, that they do so much frying of food here either – but still, it isn’t right and I’m mad about it! The only potential upside is that maybe I will outgrow my horrific clothes and have to get new ones. Wait a minute. No, that wouldn’t be good. Forget I said that.
But I digress.
As I took my seat for lunch, I noticed a man nearby receiving a back massage and of course, I had to check it out. I hadn’t seen roving body workers at restaurants before, but I liked the looks of this guy – he knew what he was doing. Before long he approached my table, naturally, and our negotiating began. He would give me a half-hour, seated massage for $2 and change. Okay, I was an easy mark for that offer!
Not only was the massage top-notch, but I got a chiropractic adjustment as well. And boy did I need that. (I actually had a dream recently about a chiropractic adjustment with our awesome Puna chiro, Michael Ream!) I can’t begin to describe the hardness of beds in Southeast Asia – I generally like a really hard bed (or, ahem, at least something really hard in my bed – I couldn’t resist that!), but most all of these are like lying on bricks. No, I am not exaggerating! Here’s the best example I can think of that will give you some idea of what I mean – I sit on the edge of bed and there is no, I mean no impression in or movement of the mattress. Nothing gives. So, the chiro adjustment was perfect for this body that’s not so used to brick-laying!
As I ooh-ed and aah-ed my way through the massage, another man looked my way and smiled at my obvious satisfaction – he saw the whole thing going on and it was the perfect conversation opener. Before long, he came over and sat down at my table … then asked if he could join me (a little dyslexic behavior, which I playfully teased him about!) and we proceeded to have a spirited discussion about our travels and lives. He hails from San Francisco (a native, how odd) and is regrettably coming towards the end of his 3 months of solo travel. An older man at 67, he’s definitely an oddity out here.
Our conversation was then cut short by the arrival of his moto-taxi. He was off to do some bird watching in a nearby area on the island and described himself as an avid one. As he was preparing to leave, he casually asked if I wanted to have dinner with him later tonight. Sure, I said, why not?! That was easy – suddenly I had a dinner date!
We met later that night and the easy flow of our conversation continued. He spoke of the 60’s in San Francisco, his children and grandchildren and shared photos of them. When I came to the place in his pocket-sized album where he had placed two photos of assorted, mostly metal hooks, I looked at him with a face full of questions. “I collect hooks,” he said and went on to describe this hobby with fervor and excitement. Then he asked what I collect. “Experiences”, I said, and “people’s stories.” I didn’t realize how true that was until it came naturally flowing out of my mouth.
Dinner was served – oddly, I ordered a pizza, taking a much-needed break from Vietnamese cuisine – and it actually looked quite good. He reached for my hands to share a prayer (which delighted me, of course) and went on to speak of gratitude and honoring this day of re-birth and new life, whatever our particular religion affiliation and beliefs might be. It wasn’t until that moment that I realized it was Easter Sunday! Ohmigod, I was eating pizza on Easter – my mother, I reflected, would definitely not approve!
As our conversation continued, we got onto the subject of women and men and our lives of being single, older people. He had been single for 10 years and then said. “I used to date, but now I bird watch.” That got a big laugh out of me and I wrote it down right away and promised him I would use it sometime, tickle me as it did. So here I am, doing just that. He proceeded to tell me about his birding adventures in the Bay Area and how he counts hawks on hawk hill in Marin, just over the Golden Gate.
I reflected more on this “I used to date …” comment and I realized that while it made me laugh, there was also something more to it than that for me. Maybe it was that I had also just recently read an article in the Huffington Post about divorced, mid-life women and how they are discovering and defining themselves in new and exciting ways – finding new interests, hobbies and outlets for passionate and creative expression. How fantastic! But it also spoke of how challenging it is for these women (the straight ones, anyway) to find available, interested and interesting men; since, they declared, most older, straight men want women way their junior; which means that men in their 70’s are interested in women in their 50’s and that’s just not so terribly attractive for these passionate, full-of-life women who then may be looking at becoming caregivers rather than lovers.
Then I got an article from Keelty that talked about how older women are foregoing sex and are pursuing creative outlets and endeavors instead.
Then I added to the mix life back in Puna and thought about my greater social circle, which is filled mostly with gay men, I’m thrilled to say; along with a lot of single, middle-aged straight women who either would like to have, if not a live-in partner, at least a lover or two or who have just sworn off the whole dating scene all together.
And then there’s Southeast Asia which has a thriving sex tourism industry made up primarily of 50-something + straight white men buying sex and GFEs (girlfriend experiences) with 20-something mostly Thai, Lao and Cambodian women. I’ve seen them – these portly, pot-bellied men prancing around with what looks like teenagers on their arms. Call me judgmental, but it’s not a pretty sight (besides the exploitation factor, a subject for another time).
Well, I wasn’t sure what to make of all this, but it sure made me stop and wonder about it all converging together during the same time. Whew! I wondered about how ‘true’ or ‘accurate’ these premises might be. How can mid-life women create lives of our own making and still have intimate connections and fulfilling sex lives, if that’s what we decide we want? Do older straight men really only want younger women? Is the dichotomy of a creative, enriched life or a fulfilling sex life and relationship a real one; or is it artificially created, based on narrow perspectives and understandings of what’s possible?
Sure, I want to and I do live a creative and exciting life – and although it’s not bird watching, I’ve got my own versions of that. But do I have to sacrifice one for the other? I mean, if I were a bird-watcher, couldn’t I watch them and hold my lover’s hand as I do? What’s with this either/or thinking?
My passions and creativity for friendship and travel and writing and singing and poetry and ohso many things satisfy and fill me deeply. My spiritual life is deeply enriching in ways that matter most to me. And while I’ve made my mistakes and had my own version of relationship blues, I’m not ready or willing to put dating in the past tense.
I’m still open, I’m still hopeful and I’m still available not only to continue to live the truth of my life and my passions, but to share them not only with my friends, who mean so much to me, but also with someone I love, as in lover, partner, whatever we’re calling them these days. Is that too much to ask or expect? Are statistics really against me on this one? I don’t care, let them be against me – yep, I may be a mid-life woman, complete with menopausal heat and a few too many pounds around my middle – but I’ve also got the wisdom of those lived years; I’m alive, damnit, and I’m smart and I’m sexy and I’m interested in and more than capable of activities in the bedroom far afield from bedpan duty.
So, while my dance card may not be brimming and while I’m certainly not waiting to live my life until the next supposed Mr. Right comes along, I’m also not putting finding him into the “used to” category just yet.