In news that could be an Onion headline if only the actual world weren’t so bent on punking us, a 47-year-old self described “happily married” man laments recent developments in his public appeal: He no longer turns the heads of women on the street. He seeks options. We can help.
Writing into the New York Times, “Tony” from New York seeks the help of Philip Galanes in his Style section etiquette column, “Social Q’s,” which typically addresses subjects like weddings and social rudeness. Though I’m not sure what the actual etiquette dilemma at play is here for Tony—how to devote more focus on remaining hot for the general public while also being polite within that happy marriage of his, maybe?—he asks, in the third question:
I am a not-unattractive 47-year-old man. It used to be that when I walked into a room or down the street, women would notice me. It’s not as if I pursued their interest; I have been happily married for 16 years. But lately, I seem to have become invisible. Younger women (and men) have mostly stopped seeing me, and those who do call me “Sir.” What are my options?
TONY, NEW YORK
Galanes more or less says “Welcome to middle age!” and proceeds to advise him to spend the time working on himself, and that one advantage to aging out of the public view is the freedom, finally, to “explore who we are without so much scrutiny.”
But I don’t think Tony wanted to be told to look inward—I think he clearly wanted to be told how to hold onto whatever scraps of his youth still turned heads for as long as possible. And who could blame him? I can tell you exactly how to do it, Tony. But you may not like it.
Congratulations. You’ve already gotten away with murder. Pack it up and call your family, why don’t you, because you’ve had a good run. For 47 years, you walked this earth in a cloud of contentment, knowing that while you weren’t even that good-looking—”not-unattractive”—that you were still good-looking enough to be noticed by other women, to find love, to get and stay married, and describe it as a happy union over these 16 years. That sounds like a pretty winning situation there, Tone.
And yet, perhaps nothing illustrates the stark difference in the way you and your wife experience the world more than your question, which is the question of a person who appears to have blithely skipped through most of your existence never having to deal with the relentless background anxiety of having to think about how you look all the goddamn time because you have known since birth that your appearance is the beginning and maybe the end of how most people will think of you. That’s how it is for women. For men? Eh. It might come up. Eventually. When you’re almost 50.
But now, an entitled middle-aged person who didn’t have to care until this second, you just want options, because hanging it up and wheeling yourself into the retirement home, never to be so much as upped-and-downed by a random woman on the street again, is unacceptable.
Hey, I’m not entirely unsympathetic! While everyone fears aging to some degree or another, and there is nothing innately wrong with feeling that way or with wanting to be admired by the sex of your choosing—married or not, happily or not—I can scarcely imagine living life with the pass you’ve been given to never hit this particular bump in the road problem until now. Can it be real? Or possible? If what you’re saying is true, I feel for you.
But there is not a woman alive who has only just noticed (at 47!) that the world might not be so kind to her aging face or body. Even the knockouts. Especially the knockouts, who’ve been preventing this day since they hit puberty. No, every woman knows she’s only got so much time on earth to be considered attractive. This is why we take so many goddamn photos.
Even a not-unattractive woman of ANY age has hustled through many moments of her god-given waking life to turn a socially approving head—only to find, inevitably, that the attention it brings is hardly worth the trouble. Only to then find that she couldn’t really opt out of it even if she wanted to, because of how swiftly the punishment and judgment would rain down upon her. Only to find out that without rigorous, constant attention, pruning, primping, thinking, minimizing, toning, and carefully masking, that it would still dry up anyway around about age 50 through no fault of her own. Only to find out she would still miss that attention, which had become a kind of validation in itself, whether she really admitted it to herself or not.
But this isn’t your fault, Tony. Not individually, anyway. As a member in the club of men, though, it’s likely you perpetuate the very behaviors that fuel exactly your problem. I have to wonder how many women your own age you even notice, have ever noticed, ever will notice, and whether you’d care in the slightest that your wife has weathered this scrutiny or lack thereof in some way or another for her entire existence. As an easy example of the kind of mind-fuck women live with all the time, 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal was recently told she was considered “too old”—that’s 10 years your junior—to play the love interest of a 55-year-old man for a film part.
A hot, young woman is too old to play the love interest of a man who is, it’s safe to say, at an age where his dick doesn’t get super hard anymore, and where most women wouldn’t even notice him hobbling down the street.
But you aren’t Maggie Gyllenhaal, who has to humbly accept the reality of the industry and the world’s perception at large of what it means to be desirable as a woman. You want options.
While it’s hard to help you with out specifics—may I ask what was so different about 46-year-old Tony? Was he hot to trot? Was he a real catch? Have you changed drastically in some way?—it sounds like perhaps 47 is the year you simply “got old,” turned a corner from not-unattractive to “I can see what he’s going to look like as a cute old grandpa.”
But, because you’re a man—women would be beyond help at your age, at least according to Hollywood—you still have options. All you have to do is apply the time-honored strategy of becoming deeply invested in your appearance at all times. Read men’s fashion and health magazines, shop often for the most flattering clothes, look at other men, compare your style and body to theirs, visit multiple service providers who can help improve your appearance and complexion, get frequent haircuts and pedicures, work out often, eat less, so that the care and concern you have for how you look and whether complete strangers find you attractive is always running in the background, from the moment you wake up, to every interaction with others, to when you fall asleep.
And even luckier for you, there are lots of Man Options Specifically you can dig into:
- Sports car
- Hair plugs
- Teeth whitening
- Funny walk
- Deep deep tan
- Chain necklace
- Good suit
- More money
- Affair with a widow
And if all that seems frivolous, expensive, pointless, sad, shallow, or otherwise not the bother of a happily married 47-year-old man, I’d say, welcome to our world!
Alternatively, maybe Galanes was right. Look inward. Read some books about war. Take up watercolors. Or whatever it is 47-year-old dudes do when it’s time to fade out.
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Illustration by Jim Cooke.