Fight back time for fab at 50s
My favourite line in Shakespeare is Enobarbus explaining why Mark Antony will never tear himself away from his lover Cleopatra: “Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale/Her infinite variety”.
It’s typical of history’s greatest writer that he finds such a resonant way to express the fact there are certain people whose allure transcends the laws of time and physics.
At the other end of the metaphysical scale we find French novelist Yann Moix, who recently gave an interview in which he stated he was “incapable” of loving a woman over the age of 50 (even though he’s 50 himself) because they’re “too, too old” and “invisible” to him.
He said: “I prefer younger women’s bodies, that’s all. End of. The body of a 25-year-old woman is extraordinary. The body of a woman of 50 is not extraordinary at all”.
But it’s a waste of time and energy to fume at Moix, who’s a professional shock jock and wants nothing more than our outrage. Let’s leave the French to remind him of the dazzling 17th-century Parisian courtesan Ninon de l’Enclos, who put off a young suitor for months so she could bed him on her 70th birthday. Or to troll him with endless pictures of the beautiful Carine Roitfeld, former editor-in-chief of French Vogue, who will turn 65 this year.
The rest of us should simply have fun contemplating the likely thoughts flitting through the minds of the young women Moix dates. I can offer some insight as, aged 23, I had a boyfriend who was nearly 30 years my senior. I went to bed with him partly as an act of curiosity and partly because I found him entertaining and he could take me to restaurants and parties that younger men couldn’t. But I couldn’t help observing my fiftysomething boyfriend’s paunch, sagging jowl and souring breath.
I noted the crack his back made when we made love and the fact that he was past his professional peak and self-medicated with booze and sex. Eventually, these were life events beyond my ken. Now I’m older, wiser and have been deeply in love I could never casually bestow myself on anyone I didn’t desire body and soul.
Insults will diminish you, too. Because what most of my female friends were talking about his week wasn’t the loathsome Moix himself so much as the times they’ve been openly insulted on account of their age. Every woman in the public eye has at some point received a tweet that she’s too old and ugly even to be raped by the person trolling her.
Even more insidious, because they’re harder to ignore, are the low-level insults that fall from the lips of men you know — so often supposedly impeccable liberals. Take the party I attended recently with one of my most seductive friends, who has the temerity to be in her fifties. We were enjoying gentle banter with a 49-year-old author who seemed intimidated by her wit. He suddenly leant forward and said to her, “I suppose this is the part of the evening when you would have pulled 20 years ago”, before walking away. Our jaws dropped. This, after all, is a beauty who’s regularly and tediously propositioned by men of all ages, despite being happily married. Later, we discussed how unimaginable it would be for us to say something that vile to a middle-aged bloke.
The depressing truth is, I’ve had versions of this kind of insult all my life. There was the Left-leaning publisher who told me I should whizz out a book in my early thirties, “while you’re still young and easy to market”.
I replied, “Does that mean desirable?” and he beamed and nodded. I have also long remembered the 48-year-old producer who peered at my 30-year-old face and told me I should have two small moles removed so that I could get on television pronto, “because no one will want forties”. Or how about the male media consultant who told me to lie about my age (I’ll be 51 next week), “because you can easily get away with claiming to be 45 and the world isn’t kind to women in their fifties”.
Most delightful of all are the times in public debate when certain male pundits explain that it’s the biology, stupid!
That men are hard-wired like their ancestor apes to seek out young, nubile, fertile partners, so no one should wag their fingers when they ditch their wife for the receptionist. They don’t seem equally keen to explore the biological fact that men are at their most virile in their late teens and twenties, whereas women don’t hit that kind of peak until their thirties.
They don’t like it when you point out that bonobos — also apes — are a matriarchal society, where females run the show and initiate sex.
The problem is that we see prejudice against older women every day, to the point it seems completely normal. The male film stars who get rolled out in their seventies, with ever-younger on-screen wives, are a case in point. The comedian Amy Schumer skewered this better than anyone when she filmed the actresses Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey and Patricia Arquette having lunch in an Arcadian setting. When she asks what they’re doing, they explain they’re celebrating the point “in every actress’ life” when it’s decided you don’t quite cut it as an object of desire any more.
Louis-Dreyfus expands: “You know how Sally Field was Tom Hanks’ love interest in Punchline and then 20 minutes later she was his mum in Forrest Gump”?
Every woman of my acquaintance knew precisely what they were getting at. It’s time to press for a vigorous counter-narrative. HRT and exercise have defied the effects of menopause and this means many heterosexual women increasingly seek out younger partners, too. Just look at 51-year-old director Sam Taylor-Johnson, whose actor husband, Aaron, is 23 years her junior.
Outside celeb land, many of my single older friends are exploring the age gap, saying that they get most interest from younger suitors. But, somehow, these women manage their affairs without talking about older men’s bodies with undisguised disgust. They know there are no rules in love and powerful emotions can traverse all boundaries. This may come as news to Yann Moix and his ilk. But then, he doesn’t strike me as being a man of infinite variety.
Illustration: Don Lindsay