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EXTRACT: My Social Experiment to Rediscover Life after a Stifling Marriage

Extract from Suddenly Singly at 60 by Jo Peck

So here I am, three dates down, and even though I haven’t struck gold (or even silver or bronze), I am not yet put off by the process either. In fact, like anything else in life, it gets easier with practice. The biggest surprise is that you can and do find interesting men online. Men who are looking for love and connection. And age is no barrier to entry. My initial fear that online dating was strictly the province of the young has been totally turned on its head.

When Rex and I first split, Francie said to me that she felt it was an especially cruel time to be abandoned—she was referring to my age. At the time, I agreed with her. My life’s plans were in disarray. My life’s work felt pointless (without the person I planned to spend the spoils with). And I was staring down the barrel of ageing alone.

I’m now pleased to say that view has changed. At sixty, you’ve actually got a lot of ticks in the positive column. For starters you’ve mostly been through your mills. You’ve done the hard yards with work, family and empire-building. If you’re like me, you may even experience an impulse to simplify, and to prioritise personal development and benevolence over status and the accumulation of stuff. These days I’d much rather go to a yoga class and work on my internal connections than buy jewellery to impress my external ones. Age bestows a confidence, which comes with a liberating hang-the-consequences attitude. When you’re young, you worry and censor endlessly because everything matters so much. Now I’m beginning to appreciate the freedom and reward that comes with living out loud and caring less. When Eliza asked me recently what I really thought of the man she was living with, I answered honestly that I felt he was no match for her boisterous vibrancy, that his Swiss precision seemed the antithesis of her Irish naughtiness and that since she had been with him, she had seemed pricked by his judgment and censure. All the air gone out of her. Maybe I wouldn’t have been quite so truthful if she wasn’t already germinating the same thoughts herself, but I know that because I didn’t sugar-coat my response, she took notice and later found the courage to leave him.

In fact, just as they say ‘youth is wasted on the young’, I’m starting to think ‘age is wasted on the old’. I’m not talking here about the aches and pains that bid you good morning most days, or the saggy skin that refuses to bounce back, or even the extra kilos that no diet seems to budge. What I am talking about is the wisdom and licence that comes with maturity. Your right to dispense with niceties: don’t like your new haircut—tell your hairdresser, there’s nothing to be gained by protecting their feelings. Exercise your permission to say no: if you really don’t want to go to that funeral, then don’t. The dead won’t judge you and if the living do, that’s their problem. Revel in your resolve to remove the filters that keep everything ‘acceptable’. I would have loved a bit of that latitude to kick in earlier, say in my forties or fifties, when sucking up seemed to be a necessary survival skill, especially in advertising, where the client was always right even when they were patently wrong. That was a very difficult accommodation for me and I never really got used to it.

And then political correctness kicked in and spoilt all our fun even more. I was always being told, ‘Jo, you can’t say that,’ when all I was doing was speaking the truth. ‘Sorry, I don’t think I can work with you.’ ‘He’s okay, but I reckon you can do better.’ ‘Yes, your bum looks big in that, but that’s because you have a big bum. Instead of agonising over it, learn to love it. As far as I can tell, Kim Kardashian made a motza off the back of her arse.’

Well, now I can, and I do. And guess what? You’d be surprised how many people find it refreshing to be told something straight. Clarity is good for everyone. Good for the teller, good for the receiver. It leaves no room for mis-
interpretation. For instance, I love a good social get-together, but I am not a long sitter or a late stayer. When the time comes—my cut-off time—I have no qualms about standing up and saying, ‘Thanks, that was a wonderful evening, but I’ve had enough now, wouldn’t want to spoil a good thing.’ Or, when dealing with dinner guests who look like outstaying their welcome, I have been known to say, ‘Okay, you freeloaders, time to fuck off now, I need to go to bed.’

So, while my mental state was looking up, my love life remained a work in progress. I was learning more about myself, I was learning more about the world outside of marriage, and I was enjoying the process of opening myself to new ideas and people.

Suddenly Single at Sixty is out now through Text publishing.

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