Over 50 And Feeling Invisible?

Lamenting the loss of youth and think your mojo’s a no-go? Nonsense! Here’s some expert advice on getting you back into the spotlight.
By Jane Ganahl

f you’re over 50 and single, the odds are you’ve grappled with something akin to a disease, creeping slowly upon you over the years: invisibility. You used to knock ’em dead — you had suitors taking numbers like they were at Baskin-Robbins — but something started happening in your late 40s. People started looking past you, like you weren’t even there.

You’re at a party and talking to an attractive man your age. At first he’s interested and engaged in
It was the first time I had been rendered both invisible and asexual...
the conversation, but before long, his attention starts to drift. He excuses himself, and a short time later you see him chatting up a woman half your age.

Or, you’re a single man at a work-related mixer. So your hair is going gray and you have less of it than before, but you are better than ever at your game — or at least your work game. You approach that attractive female executive you’ve been eyeing in the boardroom, but she only smiles dismissively and flirts with the younger hotshot with a corner office.
In either case, you’re wondering: Have I suddenly become the Invisible Man (or Woman)? What happened to my mojo? What can I do about this?

Any personal-growth guru will tell you that Botox and hair implants can create only the appearance of youth. It’s superficial at best. They won’t ultimately bring you the confidence you lack. The key is to look inward to find your inner beauty and let that shine through to attract love.

That’s a lofty goal, yes. But it’s the close encounters with invisibility that give us fits in the real world. These things have happened to me more times than I care to tell you. Probably the worst moment (which I turned into a chapter in my book) was when I was out with my grown daughter and her friend, and a drunk Neanderthal sat down at our table, uninvited. He proposed to a toast “to you two beautiful girls,” and then, having just realized I was also sitting there, he added, “and to the third person.”

It was the first time I had been rendered both invisible and asexual, and all I could do was laugh. The alternative was just too painful.

My friend Georgia, an attractive 50-something, had a similar experience. She was at a holiday party and chatting with a man around her age when she noticed his eyes wandering. She turned to pick up her drink, and when she turned back again, he was walking off to join another conversation. “I mean, without as much as a ‘by-your-leave!’” she huffed later. “It’s like I wasn’t even there. Maybe my gray hair renders me insignificant?”

But my friend Ted says women should not feel they have the market cornered on feeling invisible when they hit the big 5-0. “I’ve noticed a distinct difference in the last couple years,” he says. “There have been times when the conversation turns to my age, and since I’m honest about it, it can sometimes be a buzzkill. It would probably be different if I were wealthy or famous; those are the only older men who have no trouble getting women.”

Ack — what a depressing picture of both sexes! How can average middle-aged people hang on to
“Maybe my gray hair renders me insignificant?”
their self-esteem in the sometimes-bruising dating world?

Tonja Evetts Weimer, a life coach who specializes in singles and relationship coaching, says it’s all about how you frame it, noting that she discourages her clients from buying into the “invisibility” notion.

“It’s only a ‘natural slide’ into invisibility if you frame it that way,” she says. “This is what I recommend: Hang out with people who are interested in the same things you are, either in sports, spirituality, intellectual pursuits, etc. When you’re meeting around an interest or mutual passion, age does not get in the way. I think it is important that middle-aged people not go to places where they will be compared to much younger people. Going to pubs and bars to meet someone is not a confidence booster.”

You can say that again.

Evan Marc Katz is a dating coach and the author of Why You’re Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You If You Promised Not to Get Mad. He says that it’s a waste of energy to fret over a perceived decrease in desirability.

“Trying to legislate what other people find desirable is a losing battle. It’s no different than lamenting the plight of short men, heavy women or the disabled,” he says. “People want what people want, and you can have as much self-esteem as Donald Trump, but if a 55-year-old man finds 35-year-old women more attractive, there’s nothing that anyone can do about it.”

What does he recommend that his middle-aged clients do to stay confident?

“I tell them that the shift is mental. Realize that your future partner is the one who wants you as you are. Instead of focusing on what’s wrong and unfair, focus on being the best version of you — confident, self-aware, proactive in love. Since you can’t compete with younger women any more than I can compete with David Beckham, why worry about things we can’t control? The right person is out there — and he shouldn’t need convincing to find you attractive.”

In the meantime, since middle-aged people can sometimes have a hard time meeting like-minded singles, what does Weimer recommend they do to find dates?

“Ask other people to fix you up,” she says. “Call 10 people and tell them you would like to meet someone wonderful. And do not go to places that make you feel bad about yourself! Show up in places where your maturity, wisdom, confidence and experience make you very attractive. Friendliness, warmth, humor, kindness and confidence trump youthful looks all the time.”

She adds with a laugh: “Except with the wrong people... and you don’t want them, anyway, if that’s what they’re looking for!”

Jane Ganahl is a nonfiction author and journalist who wrote for San Francisco newspapers for 24 years. She is codirector of the San Francisco Litquake Festival and author of the novelized memoir, Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Midlife.
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