Episode 95: Jane Ganahl: Single Women of a Certain Age
Remember when you thought any unmarried woman over a certain age (whatever you thought was the conventional age for marriage) was a "spinster"? Now the headlines say that "40 is the new 20", twenty-six percent of the US population lives alone, twenty-one percent of real estate is purchased by single women, and the world is filled with single women of a certain age.
Meet Jane Ganahl, the editor of Single Woman of a Certain Age, expert on the romantic escapades, shifting shapes, and serene independence of the peri-menopausal dating scene. Join us as we explore the realities of women today. And don't miss the exercise for you to try at home.
Chip August: Welcome to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August, and on today’s show we are going to be talking to Jane Ganahl… Ganahl, is that, yes…? Jane is the editor of an amazing book called Single Women of a Certain Age and it’s a collection of essays and articles written by a variety of outstanding writers and personalities that are all about being a single woman today. And the full title is Single Women of a Certain Age: Romantic Escapades, Shifting Shapes and Serene Independence. Jane is the author previously of a novelized memoir Naked on the Page: The Misadventures of My Unmarried Life. And for almost five years she wrote the well-received Single Minded Sunday Column about unmarried life in The San Francisco Chronicle. She’s a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, and she’s also written for solan.com, Rolling Stone and other publications. And the book is a really nice collection and I’m happy to have you hear. Welcome to the show Jane.
Jane Ganahl: Thanks for having me.
Chip August: It’s my pleasure. Okay so, lets just start with the title itslef, Woman of a Certain Age. Isn’t that sort of dated? What do you mean?
Jane Ganahl: A woman of a certain age is definitely a sort of an antique term. When I was growing up in the 50’s I remember my parents referring to the organist at our church, who was a single woman and she had gray hair and she was sort of someone that drew I’d say a little bit of pity because she didn’t have a man, poor thing. And, you know, things have changed very much since that phrase was coined, but it basically means women over the age of, you know, 40, 45, something like that.
Chip August: Isn’t this what, when I was growing up, they used to call a spinster?
Jane Ganahl: A spinster is absolutely… I thought about calling it, you know, Spinsters of a Certain Age or something, but I figured my publisher wouldn’t go for that ‘cause that’s such a negative term.
Chip August: Now it seems to me, now I am man of a certain age so, you know, I’m in my mid 50’s, listeners in case you didn’t know, I’m in my mid 50’s. My voice is in its 20’s but I’m in my mid 50’s. And, I don’t know, you know, these are women that seem like the right age to me. What I really notice is that when I was in my teens, a woman in her 50’s was really old. When I’m in my 50’s, it seems like women in their 50’s are more like women in their 20’s, so has it changed? I mean, is it just that I’m older or has it really changed?
Jane Ganahl: No, I think its changed tremendously. I think, you know, depending on the decade, women in their 50’s are either viewed as over the hill or just getting good. I mean in France, in Europe, you know, everybody says, “If you can’t find a date here in this country go to Europe because at age 50 women are just starting to get good in France.” But, you know, that paradigm is shifting. I think… I was on a TV show recently in Seattle where they said, “Well if 40 is the new, you know, 30, what’s 50?” I said, “The new 20.” I mean I feel like we’re just getting started, you know. There’s no need for long faces anymore.
Chip August: Well and I noticed that there a lot of, so a lot of the women of my acquaintance, you know, there’s, there are hormone replacement therapies and hair coloring is really a science that’s changed a whole lot and there’s wrinkle creams, and I just, I have to say that a 50… I look at a woman in a supermarket and I’m not sure I’m looking at a 30 year old, a 40 year old, a 50 year old, I don’t know if I know.
Jane Ganahl: I know, it’s true. And, you know, we didn’t even address too much in this anthology, the whole idea of plastic surgery, whether you should go there, whether you should let yourself age gracefully, which is my personal view. I mean what do women have to apologize for when they get lines. I mean those lines are kind of hard won, if you know what I mean. In fact there’s a great clip from Susan Surandon that I always quote, which is that she says, “I haven’t had plastic surgery and I don’t feel the need to apologize”, and I thought that’s awesome. But anyway, but I digress. You’re right, at this age 50 year old women, I think more than plastic surgery, it’s because we’ve learned how to really take good care of ourselves.
Chip August: Now I remember in the early 70’s, maybe it was in the 60’s, Gloria Steinem’s very famous “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” And I have to say I know a lot of women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s who really, it’s not that they’re not looking for fun or companionship, but they don’t seem to be looking for a mate in the way that it seems like it’s portrayed on TV for instance.
Jane Ganahl: I absolutely agree. I feel like, it’s just a very worn out paradigm, you know, that the whole idea that women are kind of desperate to get a man, especially as they get older, I feel that women get less and less desperate to get a man and more and more independent. That’s why they put in the subtitle of this book, you know, Serene Independence because that to me is the goal kind of of any woman’s life, whether she’s married or single, it’s just sort of find that peace and that, you know, personal satisfaction with her life, and more and more I think women are realizing, especially if you’ve been married for 25 years and you get divorced in your 40’s or 50’s, you go, “Well that was enough of that. I think I’ll deal with, I think I’ll just be selfish for a little while, with a small s and really kind of look to my own needs, and I don’t really need a man to make me happy.”
Chip August: Well as a guy that’s a little scary, you know, so… I notice you quoted some demographics, that it really, it actually seems to, this isn’t just like an anecdote, this is like, there’s some demographic evidence that this is really changing.
Jane Ganahl: Oh yeah. In fact – and I don’t have my stats in front of me – but it’s, I think that the majority… Okay, here we go, I love how you show me what I’ve written. There’s like 32 million single women over 35 and the majority of them report that they don’t need to be, you know, married to be happy, and we also know that the vast majority of divorces or separations are filed for by the woman, something like 75 percent, which is interesting to me because it sort of, you know, belies the notion that women are the quote/unquote “weaker sex” who need, you know, who need a man. I mean 75 percent of divorced women, you know, did this to kind of strike a blow for their own happiness, and so, you know, I think that’s a sign of the times.
Chip August: Now your authors in the anthology, they really, they kind of are all over the place. Certainly one of the things I think my listeners are interested in, one of the things that, not just my listeners, the thing that I hear in my practice also with my clientele, there’s a lot of fear about dating and there’s some like interesting stuff in the book about midlife dating. I don’t know if I’ll call it midlife, but yeah.
Jane Ganahl: Mm hmm, call a spade a spade, I guess. Midlife dating, it’s what it is. Yes, there’s some very funny essays in there about women who’ve gone online to meet somebody, and my own essay is about reconnecting with an ex because, you know, by the time you’re in your 50’s, as I am, you have, and if you spend a good part of your life single you have lots and lots of exes, so you need to kind of come up with a policy about dealing with them when they float back into your life. But yeah, and a good part of the book is devoted to dating and romance and whatnot. I didn’t want it to be the entire book because I felt like there’s so much more to a woman’s life, and there’s some great essays on things like solo travel, you know, which is something that women tend to love to do more than men for some reason. Everything from that to having an empty nest, you know, having our kids move away, to our four legged friends because I think, you know, pets become more important to us as we get older. Yes, the stereotype of the cat lady is actually kind of semi based in fact. But yeah, you know, romance is something that we’re very hard wired to put a priority on.
Chip August: This, I have so many more questions to ask, but I want to pause for a moment and take a break. Listeners, we’re about to take a break, and I really want to invite you to please listen to these sponsors, they help pay for the program, they help make all this possible, and if you can find it in you to use their services, why, that helps me, helps them, helps you, helps everybody, so it’s kind of a win-win-win. Also if you look on the, on my episode pages, personallifemedia.com/sexloveandintimacy, you’ll see that we have lots of offers, you know, twenty percent off on this and fifteen percent off on that and fifty percent off on this. So we can make it worth your while to be a listener and then everybody wins, so… I’m going to take some, we’re going to take a short break. You’re listening to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m Chip August and we’ll be right back.
Chip August: Welcome back to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August. I’m talking to Jane Ganahl. She’s an editor of a really amazing book called Single Women of a Certain Age. It’s a beautiful collection of essays that really celebrate the single life of women. I actually, it features a whole bunch of outstanding authors and personalities, like, there’s a best selling author, Meryl Marco is in there, Bad Girl Guide author Cameron Tuttle, The Usual Rules author Joyce Maynard, sex columnist Isadora Omand, and Falling Into Manholes author Wendy Merrill, among many others. It’s just, it’s just a really great collection. We’ve been talking about women of a certain age and dating. I have to say that it seems when I read these essays that women actually seem more comfortable with singleness than men. Is that, do you think that’s true?
Jane Ganahl: I think that’s absolutely true. Again, it’s another paradigm that we’re raised to believe, you know, wasn’t true. And in fact I don’t think I mentioned that in my preface to this book, but there was a study that was done a few years ago on happiness, and of the four groups of people - four as in married women, single women, married men, single men – the most happy group that called themselves that, you know, they called themselves happy were married men. The second most happy was single women. Lets see, the third… Wait, wait, wait, unmarried men were the most unhappy, and I thought that’s fascinating to me, because it just, you know, the whole notion that for decades men, you know, try and escape getting married because they don’t want to be tied down, you know, and who needs that hell, and then you find out that single men are much more unhappy than single women.
Chip August: It’s just a little philosophical note about that. I notice that most of the cultures and societies in the last 2,000 years had been male dominated and female secondary, and yet for all this talk about what men want, almost all of them create marriage as a sacrament, marriage, you know, as like the ideal situation…. It’s really clear when you look at the institutions that men have created to live under, that it’s very different than the story that you hear male comedians say when they’re telling jokes about their wives.
Jane Gandahl: Exactly. I know there’s this gigantic disconnect between the sort of established, you know, societal expectations and what the reality of what today’s living is.
Chip August: Now, it’s kind of hard to summarize a whole collection of different authors, but there’s some experiences from the book that kind of stand out in your mind that kind of typify over forty single women thing.
Jane Gandahl: I’d say if there’s one thing that typifies it is conflict and, with a small c. In other words, we were all raised to think that if we didn’t have a man by this time that we were basically losers, and yet, we, in our hearts we don’t feel that way, and yet there are no, well kind of the first generation we’re sort of rewriting the whole book of whether to be married or single, and there’s no guide post, there’s nothing, you know, that kind of tells us it’s, you know, how to be happy and how to be single, so we’re kind of making this up as we go along, and I think in several of the essays, you know, you’ll find women that say, you know, “I really feel like I should have a guy and I feel at a loss if I don’t. And yet when I do I’m not happy either, so what am I looking for here?”, and there’s sort of a questioning nature to these essays that I think is very real and very honest because women who say, “I don’t trust a woman who says, you know, ‘I haven’t had a date in a year, but I’m fine with it, really, I’m just fine. I don’t care if men don’t look at me anymore. I’m just fine with that’”, and likewise, you know, “I never get lonely”, that kind of thing. I think we all do. We all need to be loved, we all need to be told we’re pretty, we all need sex, you know, and so there’s that sort of constant push/pull. Makes life interesting but also makes for a slightly turbulent middle age too.
Chip August: So, I know there’s a part of me that, you know, I’m reading some of these essays and I’m thinking, “Is this like the death of marriage?” Am I looking at like the beginning of a trend that, like, if I tried it as a vector it just sort of leads to marriage is sort of, would become what going steady was when I was a teenager, you know. It’s this thing you do for a while, you learn a whole lot of relationships skills and then you move on, you know. ‘Cause it kind of feels that way when you read the book.
Jane Ganahl: Boy, that’s kind of a sad idea because part of me is still very romantic and part of me, you know, and I’ve done a lot of interviews around this book and people say, “Do you think you’ll ever get married again?”, and I say, “Well I certainly never say never”, you know, but it just, I feel like its become less important. And certainly that’s what the right wing, and you know, focal people of the country have said is that, you know, when you soften our traditions, it’ll mean the end of our marriage and our kids will, you know, grow up to be delinquents and what not, and I tend to think that anything that adds to self-awareness and self-knowledge and quality of life is always going to end up being a good thing, and all I have to do is look at the next generation. My daughter’s 30, she’s been with somebody for five years. She’s mad about him. I know they’ll get married at some point, but they just don’t feel like the marriage ceremony is the be all and end all. They’re very committed. And so, I… Well, to make a long story short, I think there’ll always be couples who desire nothing more than to make a full complete hundred percent lifetime commitment to each other. I don’t know that marriage in the traditional sense will always have the same allure as it used to.
Chip August: Yeah. Well I think there’s, marriage isn’t one thing, and I think some of what I kept getting in the book is single miss marriage, none of it, it’s not like there’s this monolithic, every single woman who is single over 40 has this experience, nor is it true that every woman over 40 who’s married has this experience, and so you begin to see in the book how much all of my marriage was about raising kids and when the kids were raised then my marriage was about raising kids, I don’t, you know, now its served its purpose and now I want something else. If my marriage was a financial union, because he can make 40 percent more than he can because that’s just how the world works and, you know, at some point that stopped being true and, you know, well it stopped being true, and what I get is that some people revise their marriage and some people really relook at is marriage really the next growth step for them.
Jane Ganahl: Absolutely. And I don’t know a single woman – no pun intended – who exits her marriage by, as calmly as by saying, “Well our kids are out of the house, you’ve served your purpose, bye-bye”, you know, but I do think that things will happen in a couples life, whether it’s the kids moving away from home, where it sort of forces them to look at their marriage and go, “I don’t, you know, I don’t think I have anything to say to you anymore.” The idea of going off to a, on a beach picnic with you is no longer than slightly interesting and, you know, it’s the old opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. And in both of my marriages, that’s when I discovered that when I was really done was when I just, I didn’t care anymore, I just became very indifferent. But… I don’t think I particularly answered your question there. But I do think that women, much more than men, put a, place a much higher premium on their own personal happiness and I think that’s why so many more women than men file for divorce.
Chip August: I didn’t actually ask a question so it’s okay that you didn’t answer it. I just sort of… I opined, and then you opined back, it was perfect. We’re going to pause for a moment and take another break. Listeners, I want to remind you, I love getting feedback. If you like what you’re hearing, please send me emails, firstname.lastname@example.org. If there are particular people you would like to hear on the show, I’m always looking for guests so I always want your suggestions, comments, feedback, so please feel free to give those suggestions to me. Also the way this show grows is that if you like it and you send a link to a friend that you think will like it then we get one more listener, and there’s really no better reference than your reference. So if you’re listening to this now, probably it’s because you like the show, and I want to ask if you’d be willing send a link to somebody. Say, you know, “Hey, I listen to this thing all the time. Maybe you’d like it too”, and help me reach more and more people. There’s a lot of good stuff going on in these shows and you know your friends will all like it, so send links, okay? We’re going to take a short break. We’ll be back in a couple of minutes here. Well, you know, when we come back we’ll talk a little bit about how you can get a copy of this book, and I also have an exercise that you can try at home that kind of grows out of some of this. So we’ll be right back.
Chip August: Welcome back to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August. I’m talking to Jane Ganahl. She’s the editor of a wonderful collection of essays called Single Women of a Certain Age, and we’ve been talking about women in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s and dating and men and connection. I want to say to our listeners who aren’t primarily heterosexual that we can, I notice that the whole conversation seems to be about men, but I get that the conversation among women isn’t necessarily completely about men, so I just want to say probably we would’ve been better off using words like ‘partner’ rather than ‘man’, and I apologize and I’ll try to do better. I, what do you think… Okay, so first, what did you personally get from working on the book? Like, what did you learn? What happened for you just from working on this?
Jane Ganahl: Oh boy, editing this book was like, I don’t know, going to a revival meeting or something, you know. I mean it really felt like each essay that I got, even the ones that were more troubling and troubled than others were, you know, I really felt like we were just a sisterhood, you know, and we have so much in common even though we have, we may live in different cities or whatever, and, you know, just sort of learning about the breadth of experience of unmarried women, and it was just very enlightening for me.
Chip August: So here’s the thing I can’t get and I know this is really just sort of stupid, but I look at the fare that’s on TV and I know… Years ago I was an advertising guy, and so I’ve seen the news and so I know kind of why in the world are women watching shows that seem to promote values they don’t want to live? You know, like that’s what I really notice is that like women are eating up these shows that have the romantic fantasy or that are totally about, you know, Desperate Housewives or, I don’t know what, you know, Grey’s Anatomy, they’re totally sort of buying into the very fantasy that they’re choosing not to live, and I don’t quite get it.
Jane Ganahl: I think because we’re all in need of a good escape there’s a (unintelligible) in seeing how the other half lives, but I agree with you. I would, there’s only a few shows on TV that… There’s actually a few, so there’s some better shows all the time for women over 40. I mean Kyra Sedgwick is fantastic in The Close. Is it Saving Grace with Holly Hunter? Glenn Close is now on that, what do you call it, Damages, I’m not sure that’s even still on TV. I don’t watch a lot of TV. But I do know that networks still don’t get it, that women… I think one reason Sex in the City was such a huge success was because women could recognize and empathize and cheer for some of their own and, you know, one of the women in Sex in the City, in fact, she turned 50, that was a big deal. Of course she still looks unbelievable. But I will say, my memoir, the one that came out a couple years ago was bought for a TV show and it was in development for about 18 months with TBS, one of the Turner networks. And it was absolutely brilliant. The script was fabulous. It was done by a woman who worked on Murphy Brown and Seinfeld, and it was an all woman team. And it went to the male bosses at, you know - don’t mean to do boys against girls, but so be it – went to the all male executives at TBS and they just said they just didn’t think enough people would watch a show about a single woman in her 40’s. And I thought, “Good god people, do you know who has the money in this country, who advertisers ought to be courting? It’s not the 25 year old, it’s the, you know, single successful 50 year old woman, you know, with disposable income who goes to Paris for her birthday. Are you nuts?” But it’s, it’s changing but very slowly.
Chip August: And of course that is my experience of mainstream media is that we often want it to lead, and my experience of mainstream media is it often follows, so, you know, you’re watching sitcoms that are supposedly set today that reall seem to be espousing values that are, you know, 15 year old values or 20 year old values, they don’t really seem to match today, and I just think that’s like that all the way around. Jane it’s a good book. How would people find it? How would people find you if they, if people are, you know, they’re hearing this and they’re thinking, “Oh, I want that book”, what do they do?
Jane Ganahl: Well of course it’s on the major book websites who I hate supporting but it’s the easy way to find me is on Amazon, it’s called Single Women of a Certain Age. Or you can go to my own website, which is janeganahl.com, and it’s j-a-n-e, Jane, and then g-a-n-a-h-l, dot com, and there’ll be links to my books there.
Chip August: I always like to, for when I have guests who say, “Well I don’t really want to promote the big chains and… Listeners, if you like what you’re hearing, go to your local bookstore, tell them the name of the book and the author and say, “You know, would you get this in for me”, and because it’s one of the ways that we support our local businesses and it’s one of the ways that, you know, often they’ll order two or three or four copies and it creates good win-win-win-win-win all the way around so… Jane, I, in a moment I’m going to give an exercise for people to try at home and then… But I want you to be, I just want you to be thinking about sort of a closing message here. Is there something you just kind of want to say to women who might be listening to this, or men who love women or women who love women of a certain age, you know, that might really sort of cap off this interview? Listeners, you know I like to give you an exercise to do in every show, so… One of the things I notice about being single versus being with someone is that when we’re single we have to give up the illusion that the only ways we’re going to get compliments, appreciation, the only ways we’re going to get love is from someone else, right, ‘cause all of a sudden there isn’t a someone else, and so not only can we stop blaming that someone else for not doing it right, but we also can’t turn to that someone else. And what I notice is we’re not really good at, we’re not really, really good at, most of us, at loving ourselves the way we want others to love us. So a great exercise you can do, a great exercise you can do is to just take some time with a, maybe with a pad, a writing tablet and a pen, and take a moment to write down things that other people do for you that have you feel loved, appreciated, respected, honored. Just like a random list, “Okay, I feel loved when people remember my birthday and send me a card.” “I feel loved when people leave me a sweet message on my answering machine.” “I feel loved when, when I get gifts”, I don’t know. “I feel loved when I get rewarded from my work.” “I feel respected when, you know, people invite me into high level meetings and invite my opinion.” You know, like, whatever the list is. It’s your list, so I don’t know what that list is, but… And I invite you to cast broadly. Notice all the different ways, notice the things your kids do for you that have you feel loved and things that partners or former partners have done for you, the things that in business that had you feel really appreciated, all the different ways… at your church or at your synagogue, you know. There’s a lot of different people in your life and a lot of place you go. Make a nice little list. And when you finish the list, then I want to invite you to notice how many of those things have you done for you ever, and then do things on that list. When I’m out of town I call my own answering machine and I leave a really loving message for me. And I get home and I’ll be listening to my messages and there in the middle will be my own voice saying, “Oh Chip, I really love you. I’m so proud of the work you’re doing”, and you know, even though I know I left the message and even though it’s my voice, some part of me just lights up, you know. I buy me flowers. I like to buy me flowers, it’s really lovely when other people give me flowers. I learned to give me flowers. I want to invite you to just notice the things that have you feel loved, and then start doing those things for you and just notice if it makes a difference. So there’s your exercise for this episode. Jane we’re coming to the end of another episode of Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m curious, so you got a little goodbye, something you want to say to anybody who might be listening?
Jane Ganahl: Date women of a certain age. I’m kind of kidding, but I’m kind of not. It’s like many of us are frustrated by going, if we go online, which I have not done too much, and seeing how many men our age only want to date women 20 years younger than us, and we’re not so into dating younger men as I’ve discovered, and so we’re kind of having a little trouble finding dates fella’s. You know, it’s time to man up, don’t be intimidated by our brains and our, you know, success. We need love just like everybody else.
Chip August: Uh huh. A metaphor that I like, and if you don’t like it just ignore that I said this okay, but a metaphor that I like is, I notice that when people go searching for treasure they don’t reject the treasure because they think the treasure chest looks old. Like, when you’re searching for buried treasure and you pick up that treasure chest, if it looks a hundred years old, you think, “Wow, I bet there’s really…” If it looks two hundred years old, “Wow, this is going to…”, right, and I think people are treasure chests and I think if you can just really see the, you know, “My god, this is a beautiful treasure chest”, what you’re going to discover is inside is more valuable than any diamonds or gold, so just remember, like, how you search for treasure ‘cause my experience is that’s how to search for relationships and find dates and love, so… This brings us to the end of another episode of Sex, Love and Intimacy. I really appreciate your support and your listening. Thank you very much for joining us and I hope you’ll join me again next time.