I was totally baffled by the hour-long consciousness-raising session I'd just witnessed with my sister and the gaggle of middle-aged ladies.
Predicated by Beth's ex-boyfriend marrying a woman a decade younger, they'd commiserated about the phenomenon of men dumping their wives for much-younger women. The women, in turn, consoled Beth that she had "time left." The whole discussion had angered me, particularly when my own boyfriend concurred by phone.
"Beth, please explain. I really don't understand why you're upset about Jeff marrying someone younger," I asked, carefully, as we walked to my car.
She turned to me somewhat coldly.
"For someone who's relatively smart, you can be pretty clueless sometimes, Jess," she said in a level voice. "The reality is this: Men stay attractive longer than women do. Jeff is getting paunchy and is starting to lose hair, but society calls that 'distinguished.' And me? I'm left to hope and pray someone harnesses the healing powers of cow intestines or grape acids to come up with a miracle wrinkle and cellulite-fighter."
The reality is this: men stay attractive longer than women do.
I felt almost dizzy.
"Beth, are you listening to yourself?" I said, my eyes bugging out of my head. "You're not even 35!"
She shrugged. "I am just being realistic," she said. "Not only do men not have to worry about biological realities of having kids, but they can go off and marry someone 15 years younger and no one says a word. Most women wouldn't even consider dating a guy five years younger."
I thought for a moment. "Don't you think things are changing? Isn't Eric younger than you?" (Eric is the guy Beth is dating now.)
She laughed. "A year younger. Not the same thing. You can be sure that if I showed up with someone young enough to be in N'Sync, people would talk. But it's fine for Jeff to marry Brittany Spears," she said with a sigh. "The classic double standard."
Wouldn't he want to be with someone equal to him in life experience?
"Okay, fine," I said. "So older men have a bigger pool to choose from. Big deal. Frankly, I am surprised that Jeff wants to marry a woman who's just out of college. I realize there are exceptions to every rule, but I always expected that he would want to be with someone equal to him in life experience."
Beth nodded while I continued, "And while it may be socially acceptable for men to marry girls their daughter's age, it's still creepy."
I was now fully up on the soapbox.
"And the next thing you're going to tell me is that there are no nice guys out there. Single men say the same thing! Yes, there are a lot of creepy, weird guys -- but there are a lot of women who are either snobs or bitter! It evens out!"
Amidst my ranting, Beth was laughing. "Jess, if you're done with your speech, can we go home now?"
I was and we did.
Later, we met Harris for dinner. I've always felt good when Beth sized up my beaus and tonight was no different. Harris, as usual, turned on the charm and she beamed her approval at me in eight seconds flat.
After dinner, we took Beth to a tourist trap in north Scottsdale -- a fake Western town from the 1800s with "gunfights" in the street, stagecoach rides and such. Kitsch galore.
She decided she wanted an "old-fashioned" picture so Harris and I waited patiently outside while she was outfitted and photographed in a hoopskirt and parasol.
"You know, Beth doesn't have it easy," Harris said. "A lot of guys would be intimidated by her."
She was criticized for being domineering. A male colleague was praised for his leadership skills.
I nodded. Not only does she have a great job and make a lot of money -- which makes a lot of guys insecure -- but she was caught in a catch-22. In the office, she's assertive, unrelentingly efficient and comfortable arguing about anything. Yet those aren't qualities that people expect to coexist with "sweet and nurturing" -- what a woman is often expected to be.
I told how she'd once gotten a performance review that criticized her for being "too aggressive and domineering." A male colleague -- who actually was quite obnoxious -- was praised for being "assertive and showing excellent leadership qualities."
Harris raised his eyebrows and shrugged, "No one knows what to expect of women anymore."
"Least of all, we women ourselves," I agreed.
Just then, Beth ran out of the photographer's hut, outfitted in a Scarlett O'Hara-esque gown, a floppy straw hat sitting cock-eyed on her brown curls. Harris and I burst out laughing.
"She should wear that to her next performance review," he chuckled, waving back at her.
"I'm glad she likes you," I smiled, happily digging my way around in the ice at the bottom of the soda I'd been sipping.
"She has good taste," he smiled back.
"Maybe we should think about meeting the rest of each other's family," he said, too casually.
I turned so hard I nearly suffered whiplash.
"Harris, are you trying to tell me something?"
"If Beth is getting close to her sell-by date, then I must be too," he said with a grin.