Thus concludes a huge study on age and empathy conducted at University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. It was no surprise that women in their 50s are more empathic than their male peers. They also turn out to be more empathic than men and women both older and younger. “Overall, late middle-aged adults reported that they were more likely to react emotionally to the experiences of others, and they were also more likely to try to understand how things looked from the perspective of others.”
If the findings were graphed, they would display “an inverted U-shaped pattern of empathy across the adult life span, with younger and older adults reporting less empathy and middle-aged adults reporting more.”
Why? One explanation offered by the authors is that cognitive and emotional function improves during the first half of life, and during the second half it diminishes. Or it could simply be that the subjects of this study came of age during the great social movements of the 1950s and 1960s–and learned from an early age to have compassion for those underfoot. In twenty years, another study should be able to determine whether the cause is largely nature or nurture.
What fascinates me is that the graph of empathy over the adult lifespan, an inverted U-shape, does not correspond with the happiness curve, which hits its nadir in the 40s, then rises steadily. Which suggests that happiness can involve emotionally resonating with others; or, perhaps, ignoring them.
Women in their 50s have the optimal combination of happiness and empathy. Which is why for men seeking a lover who is both happy and happy to listen, the Magic Generation is a dream come true.
When I heard this line, I assumed it was about the demographic difference between men and women in midlife: gentleman, you don’t have to do the dancing; you can let the lady dance around you.
It turned out to be quite different. During a Christmas party in England last year, a 46-year-old man did his rendition of the Gangnam Style dance (seen over a billion times on youtube). Then, in front of his wife and colleagues, he had a heart attack and dropped dead.
A cardiologist at Newcastle University recommended that men not throw themselves “into violent exertion without due preparation.” However, since the dance has been performed by many public figures, including Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, the doctor allowed that the Gangnam dance cannot be considered a threat to public safety. “The chance that you’ll come to grief is very small. But as with any form of untypical exercise that you’re not used to taking, be somewhat measured. Let the lady dance around you.”
Ultimately the advice is about gender difference. It is rare for a middle-aged woman to die of a heart attack from exertion. And of course women are less likely to try to impress their friends by riding an Air Horse.
While gestating a book, many writers seal it off from the world as carefully as if it were a fetus in a womb; exposed prematurely, a book can be snuffed even by an innocent offhand remark. However, after a long incubation–in this case nine years–you deliver a hothouse product into a cold world. You hope that readers will read what you think you’ve written; but you don’t know until they tell you.
Yesterday this review was posted on amazon.com. She is just one reader, but at least to her I conveyed exactly what I had hoped. Until then I was not sure.
In an Evolving World….
By Samantha (Manhattan, New York USA)
While reading about the wild sexual/romantic journey of several middle-aged women in Daniel Weiss’ latest book, I wondered whom the book was ultimately intended for, women? Men? Both? As a middle-aged woman myself, I was engrossed with the stories; they and the author’s observations made me deeply reflect on my own journey. Men may find themselves jealous of the great opportunities and freedoms the author enjoys. It would be better if they could learn ways to better entice the G spot to respond (there’s a lesson in there!). Or, better yet, to turn around their view of middle-aged women (if lacking).
The brilliant, revolutionary (and evolutionary) insight in this book, in the author’s words, “the survival of our species no longer depends on our ability to find a fit, fertile partner,” is surely welcome and needed, and Mr. Weiss makes a favorable case for it.
The author is transformed throughout the course of his research and relationships with the women in the stories, and, almost paradoxically, while seemingly stepping away from his biology (the drive for young, fertile women to reproduce with), he embraces it instead by unleashing his animality in newly found freedom.
All this told in superb, punchy prose, filled with acute insights on relationships and people, and oozing love for women.
Health Magazine (online) has an article entitled “11 Mistakes Women Make in Middle Age.” It begins:
Let’s not kid ourselves. Getting older is a drag, and middle age is particularly fraught with tension.
Do the sexy clothes you wore in the past now seem just plain wrong? Will smoky eye makeup that looks great on 19-year-olds make you appear just plain crazy?
Part of the problem is that aging often requires change, but most women don’t want to move to a frumpy town called Middle Age, where sensible shoes and boring clothes are de rigueur…
If you choose, you can click through eleven pages and be insulted eleven ways. Your mistakes include:
— Not realizing you have to change
— Ignoring your teeth
— Wearing the wrong bra
— Settling for a boring sex life
Who is the sage shining the Light of Truth into all of our lives?
Ashley Macha is a 20-something journalist and photographer with double bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and Nutrition Communication from Arizona State University.
Like most Facebook users, I am often amazed at the things some people choose to post. For example:
Somebody had to go into a coal mine and dig up a few chunks to generate enough electricity to propagate this around cyberspace.
But this one is worse:
The Orgasm Gap: The Real Reason Women Get Off Less Often Than Men and How to Fix It
When John Kennedy was running for President, he blared warnings of the “missile gap” between the US and the USSR, and the mortal danger the country had been put in by incompetent politicians. The truth was that the US had many times more missiles than the USSR. This was pure fear-mongering, and achieved nothing but millions of sleepless nights (and the presidency for Kennedy).
What I found during my scores of interviews (and in the reputable literature) was that among those of us old enough to remember the “missile gap,” the orgasm gap is just as great–and is also the reverse of the headlines. Women’s sexual capabilities grow dramatically over time, and men’s wane. If there ever is a shooting war between the sexes, men don’t stand a chance.
Thirty-two years ago I began a novel, which would not be published in these United States for fifteen years. One more perceptive than I might have gotten the message: You should go to business school.
The narrator of this novel, a roach who grew up in the Bible, and absorbed its content along with its binding paste (much to the detriment of him and his colony), has stayed with me all this time. Just as I often used to wonder how little details of daily life looked to my young daughter (when she was young), I still think about how they would look to him: part insect, part prophet, and wholly disgusted. Finally, after many years, I’m letting him loose in a blog: The Roaches Have No King.
Since the book came out, I have been asked why I did not describe the magic that one feels in the presence of women of a certain age. How would you do that? You can’t catch it with adjectives; you have to see it in action, feel the wise, welcoming warmth, experience the ease with which romance grows. That’s the job of the biographer, or memoirist, or novelist.
This book is about how women reached the stage in life when the magic happens. Their accounts, which cover many years, feel like slow-developing tricks–at the end many pull a happy bunny out of what has often been a shabby hat. I did not ask anyone to describe how she feels she now wows men. What could she say?
I have been thinking back on the characters of my own novels (all of which were finished before I reached 50). In Honk If You Love Aphrodite I have the ultimate magician, Aphrodite herself, whose mere glance upends a mortal’s life via his heart (and groin).
But gods never grow up. They don’t have to. They remain as arrogant, selfish, and entitled as teenagers. At the end of this book She encounters–and impersonates–a woman (of late child-bearing age) who is the true love of the man whose life She has been manipulating. I did not know then what I know now, but I think I got this scene right.
A beautiful woman is beautiful. That’s all there is to it. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder; it’s in the woman. Nor does it depend on the light or the surroundings or the phase of the moon. If someone doesn’t see it, you don’t look again at the woman, questioning your judgment; you question his taste, even his intelligence.
Thousands of years ago, when Aphrodite, goddess of love, bestowed on Paris, prince of Troy, the world’s most beautiful woman, he did not ask Hector, “Sure, Helen’s cute. But beautiful? What do you think?” The Greeks knew beauty, knew it is holy, and went to war over it.
Today’s new and improved God wants no more such wars. Islam dictates that women veil themselves; Judaism that married women cover their hair and drape their bodies; Christianity that there be modesty in dress. God prefers mayhem be not over women, but over Him, how He is best adored. In His houses of worship, women are sequestered so men are not distracted from their duty.
However, there are sects whose temples do not require sequestration, or even particularly modest dress. What is the basis of such religions? If they do not teach awe of women’s magical power, what can they know about Right and Wrong, about the Destiny of Mankind?
This was my concern five years ago on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, a somber holiday observed with a 24-hour ban on food, drink, and sex. In my synagogue, beguilingly dressed women were everywhere. You wouldn’t expect men to feel repentant if a buffet was laid out in the sanctuary; what about this buffet of women? With their contrite faces and hushed voices they were an erotic torment. As He did for Joshua, God stopped the rotation of the earth and made the day, and the anguish, endless.
At long last the service concluded. But by religious law the abstinence would not end until sunset, several hours away. To deliver ourselves from the temptation of food, a few friends and I decided to walk home. Turning onto a normally quiet block, we were surprised to come across several hundred animated people. Their apparent focus—we could not see it—was right beside a diner, an establishment we had hoped to avoid. Curious, we got too close and were swept into the crowd; it shifted, as crowds do, and pushed us against the front window. A laminated menu was taped inside the glass; at my eye level was a full-color photo of a gyro. I smiled and thought: gyro, mmmm!
A moment later dread came over me. Rather than despise the gyro, feel queasy at its bacterial under-belliness, I desired it. I was famished, but still! It was a dark omen.
I pulled my friends back. No good could come to us there. We walked out into the street, and I was much relieved when we got past the throng. But then, just as Lot’s wife had been turned into a pillar of salt when she turned for one last look at Sodom, I could not help but take a final glance toward that menu.
I couldn’t see it; there were too many people in the way. But for one stroboscopic instant the hundreds of arms and legs lined up, giving me a sight line to the center of the crowd. I saw a phalanx of large men in identical black dress. Encircled by them sat the nucleus of the gathering. This was not about food. A Greater Power was at work.
By this time I had lost faith that anything I was seeing or thinking was more than a product of my undernourished mind. I decided to confer with one of my companions, a man of roughly my age, long married, softened, slouched, skeptical. I trusted him. I positioned him and pointed to what I had seen.
It took him a moment, but then he said. “Got it. Yeah, that’s her.”
Who? A woman with features as perfect as I imagine Helen’s, with the raven hair of Zeus, Greek of Greeks, her father. It was the actress Jacqueline Bisset. My heart started to pound. My legs twitched, urging: Flee! It was my customary response to unmanageable beauty.
Then my friend said three words that changed my life. Wrinkling his nose and pushing his glasses up the bridge, he said: “She’s gotten old.”
He turned and walked on. I was too shocked to move. Other synagogues had released their faithful, and women were promenading. The younger ones, even in their mute atonement garb, glowed from the attention they were getting (sweeter, because it was forbidden); the middle-aged women, even the gorgeous ones, looked as if they felt anonymous.
Of course they did. This divine actress, one of God’s most magnificent creations, had just been dismissed by one of His less successful efforts as casually as a shopper would toss a bruised apple back into a supermarket bin. He expressed what men feel: A woman of her age (62, then) cannot be desirable. She cannot be beautiful. If she had been in the synagogue, there would have been no reason to veil or sequester her; she lacked the power to distract.
I had spent the day struggling to summon something to atone for. Now I had one. Up from my congealed memory burbled a story a friend had told me earlier in the year: When she was in her late teens, her uncle had tried to set her up with a gentleman who was in his late twenties. He wasn’t interested; she was too young. Thirty-two years later she happened to see the same gentleman online and dropped him a note. He still wasn’t interested. Now she was too old.
Several thousand years ago, the rites performed on Yom Kippur in the great Temple in Jerusalem were elaborate and dramatic. At one point, the high priest placed his hands on a goat, conferring upon it the sins of all the people of Israel. The goat was then released outside the city gates, to live out the balance of its miserable life in the wilderness. This was the “scapegoat.”
I had just assumed the same role. This woman’s story, following close on my friend’s remark, brought home to my soul a vast transgression: the trespasses of men of my generation against women of my generation.
Why me? This is an abomination I do not commit, an attitude I do not share. My life is illuminated by middle-aged women—my life largely IS middle-aged women, and I find many of them massively sexy, and some heart-stopping.
But that was the point. Like me, the goat was innocent. I know exactly what it was thinking as the city gates slammed: “I cannot believe that just fucking happened.”
How does this male attitude influence the lives of women? Do they accommodate? Capitulate? Disregard?
Are there many successful new middle-aged romances?
Can anything be done?
I spent nine years finding out. And as I did, I quite unexpectedly found out more about myself from the women I consulted than I thought there was to know.