Older, single and the age difference

(Names have been changed to protect the wrinkly.)

I met Angie for lunch when she visited here recently. She is almost sixty, single, and lives on the west coast of Canada.

Angie wore a bandage that wrapped her forehead, and pressure-sleeves from forearm to armpit. This was her first outing after the latest round of surgery (arm lipo, forehead lift), which she hides from her son and friends by having it far from home, and affords by getting a deal from an old classmate's cosmetic-surgeon husband.

She said, "Men my age want women at least twenty years younger, and I have to compete."

I've been surprised at how many single men around my age are looking for quarter-century age differentials. "Forty looks good, and thirty-five very good", said Rick, sixty-six. My heart sank. I told him, "If I were single, that would make ninety-five year olds and up my dating pool!"

I used to be live-and-let-love about big age differences, and have seen felicitous unions with twenty or more year spreads. Among heterosexual couples I know, men have been the senior partner, but I took exercise classes with a woman who was happily married to a man twenty-eight years younger.

I always said it's the business of the consenting adults, and meant it. So why am I now perturbed by generation-hopping mate-shopping, which I see happening with men I actually know, not Julian Schnabel?

Because of the stats.

As Renee Fisher wrote on HuffPost, 
"At ages 60-64, there are close to 2.3 single women to every single man. By ages 70-74, the ratio is 4 to 1. The last actual sighting of a single man age 75 or above was made in July of 2008, and he was later proven to be an extraterrestrial. Thousands of older women expressed interest in dating him, but, after several unsuccessful dates on Match.com, he fled to his home planet."

I know a number of vibrant, single women over fifty-five who hope for a relationship, whether serious or casual-but-connected. Someone to travel with is the most often-expressed wish, but companionship for more quotidien activities would be fine too. Their yearning is kept on the down low, but if I catch them on a bad day, they are distressed. Some have plain given up.

Should they get something going, they are a bit surprised; a friend said of her new sweetheart, "And he actually wants to be with a woman his age!"

They read the young-men-want-older-women articles with bemusement; some have dated men much younger, but as Angie said, "Been there at forty with the Australian surfer dude, not doing that now." She wants plus/minus five or six years.

Rick met Kirsten, thirty-six, on a dating site. When when she returns from Scotland next month, they will go to a concert; in the meantime, they text. I caught the boast in his voice when he broadcast her age. I said, "And what does she want with you?" That was mean, and I apologized. But when he crowed, I didn't like it.

Men who date women younger than their daughters can encounter a disconnect between two life stages. Louis told me about his buddy, Michel, who is sixty-two: "His girlfriend is thirty-four and makes plans for them to hang with her friends at those restaurants that turn into clubs at 10:00, but by that time, he wants to be home, watching a movie."

I asked Louis, who is in his early sixties and single for twelve years, if he dates much younger women. "Never wanted to", he said. "We'd have so little in common." However, some men leverage their worldliness. Linda's sixty-seven year old ex, Paul, is with a woman thirty-three years younger. She says he "enjoys being a 'Professor Henry Higgins'".

And now I post the sentence I've deleted several times: And a terrific woman around his own age sits home alone. 

My sensible neighbour Lou said, "But aren't our friends are better off without immature, superficial guys like that?"  The men I'm thinking of didn't seem that type. I'm wondering what's happened. Do women near their age remind them they're getting on?

Meanwhile, Rick's trying to figure out what Kirsten's texts really mean (irony's a bitch, Ricky), and Angie is waiting to get the stitches out before she flies home.

Jordan Peterson: Calling a certain audience to order and mightily annoying the rest

One of my 30-year-old sons sent a Mother's Day e-mail that said,
"I have learned so much from you and I believe the reason why I have such a wonderful partner to raise a family with is due to the many lessons you imparted...I make my bed every day now!"

I was delighted, but also jolted. "Make your bed" is a tenet of the controversial psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson's from his best-selling "12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos", along with "stand up straight with your shoulders back" and "take responsibility".

Had I been a Peterson Mom?

I have been watching Peterson's profile gain traction for a time, via videos and press coverage. I can't look away.

Some of what he tells his audience makes sense. At the same time, he promotes a return to traditional sex roles (in the name of stability and safety), is dismissive of LGBT persons' struggle for inclusion, and has a creepy jones for suffering—but then I think that about certain Buddhist personages, too.

Peterson fills a need. Just like the times get the shoe choices they deserve, every so often the culture seems to require someone new to tell them How to Live. Or, because so many of Peterson's fans are young adults, How to Grow the Eff Up.

He draws fierce criticism and cheap personal shots (a writer slammed his bedspread), a common response to prominent figures who disrupt the status quo and propose unpalatable strategies. And he may be falling into the classic trap of guruhood: believing his (positive) press, letting it fan arrogance.

Peterson delivers not particularly new advice cemented to some retrograde strategies. His approach is fear-based, not a surprise given that his private counselling practice addresses loss, confusion and crisis. In his university class lectures (see YouTube), Peterson addresses issues in psychotherapy with fluency; when he speaks to the public in vintage-looking piped suit, he plays to the attendees' sense of powerlessness, irrelevance, impasse.

He delimits a polarity, Order vs Chaos, a deep, ancient, irreconcilable human condition, the font of myth, art and plenty of monkey business between the sexes. His Jungian roots are always two inches grown out; he introduces archetypes to a mostly young, often male audience.

In Peterson's rat-a-tat delivery, I also hear a good shot of the Stoics, and the Bible, big time.  (For a neat dissection of Dr. Peterson's philosophical chops, see this Psychology Today article by Paul Thagaard. However, Peterson is neither a philosopher nor an ethicist; the lines blur in his presentations.)

Not bad stuff if you are thirty, living in your parent's basement, and sick of a life afflicted with what one of his fans calls "face-sucking nihilism". Persons stuck in that space need someone, and this will not be a gentle, "smile on your brother" figure. A Jordan Peterson will rise.

Over the past fifty years,  I've seen friends grab on to their guides, from the Buddha to Bentham, from Osho to Erhard; seen many go from from devotion to disillusionment. A handful have been scarred to the point of hiding past affiliations.

Others have flourished on their path, finding peace, purpose, community. If still followers after three decades, they are like persons in a long marriage, accepting the ups and downs and staying the course. Not one of the contemporary "gurus" whom I or close friends met at close range was without personal flaws and inconsistencies.

Though I never followed one particular teacher, in my twenties, the work of Dr. Albert Ellis (himself a controversial figure), especially his "Thirteen Irrational Beliefs" was foundational to my emerging adulthood; I guess he was my Peterson. 

What about you? Was there someone whose teachings, whether religious or secular, were formative? Are those still valid for you today?

This year, Peterson holds the stage, drawing fire, selling tickets, stirring it up. We should not ignore the gurus, they are a mirror of our culture. We might remember when we were young and looking for   someone with answers, whether that was a prof or Stevie Nicks.

I wondered, why do young adults need Peterson to tell them to clean their rooms, make their beds? I'm pretty sure their mothers did. Sometimes it takes a fervent preacher in a suit to make the point.

In memory: Anthony Bourdain

We devoured "Kitchen Confidential", especially the son who planned to become a chef. So, when Tony Bourdain came to Toronto in 2007 to promote "No Reservations", we turned up at the bookstore early, eager to get good seats.

We need not have worried; Bourdain the charisma to command a room four times as large. He was rakish, voluble, irreverent, and on fire about food as culture.

What I remember most is the Q&A. He was asked to name the best and worst meals he had ever eaten. Bourdain said the best was difficult—he had enjoyed so many— but singled out Thomas Keller's cooking at his French Laundry Café.

The worst, he said, was easy: a vegan potluck brunch in San Francisco, "nasty, bitter, joyless food, served by nasty, bitter, joyless people." A gauntlet may have been thrown, because vegan home cooking has leapt so far forward since that Bourdain, who long resisted 'knowing for sure', would have relented.

A young woman stood to bear witness: "I was a vegetarian before I started reading you", she said, "and now I love bar-be-que!" He replied, "My work on this planet is finished, I can go now." That retort, witty at the time, chills me now.

And now, his seat is empty. Our son, who grew up to be a butcher, and considers Bourdain his idol, is bereft.

Bourdain's message, one I have repeated for years, and which he delivered with utter conviction, was, Sit with people and eat their food. That's how you will connect. Forget your likes and dislikes, your habits. Break bread together, talk, laugh, compliment the cook—whether a pro or someone's mom. You can go back to your tofu-ginger scramble or cheeseburger tomorrow.

Even food critics say their tastes were expanded. The reluctant turned to putty: he led Anderson Cooper to tripe, sea urchin, and the martini. Anthony Bourdain made being a picky eater lame: it just wasn't gonna be that night's program. Admit it: could you say no?

In a world of manicured human "brands", he was an enthusiastic bon vivant, a meticulous professional, an empathic traveller. (The "No Reservations" segment shot in Beirut as war erupted is a masterwork.) Not many like him, not enough.

He was an activist in an industry rife with every sort of sleazy practice. Both sons worked in restaurants for years and applauded Bourdain's fight against systemic abuse, his chronicles of the nightly, gut-wrenching stress (and the dangers of after-hours remedies), and his appreciation of the heroes of the kitchen, the line cooks.

We ate at his restaurant, Les Halles, a short time after "Kitchen Confidential" came out. We ordered many bottles of Fiji Water, not realizing our litres of fancy fizz would add up to more than the single bottle of decent Beaujolais we also drank: $90 seventeen years ago. (The price has since come down.)

So, in memory, a Fiji water toast to Tony Bourdain, who had an extraordinary, vivid life, and should still be here. And a martini, because we are not Anderson Cooper.

Pearl sisters

For June, the month of pearls, an especially sweet story.

Janet contacted me to ask about ideas for a gift for her daughter, Lilli, a 22-year-old who would graduate from university in May. What, she asked, would I suggest for this fair-skinned blonde with dark blue eyes? Janet loves pearls, and wanted to celebrate this milestone with a surprise.

There is a belief that "you have to grow into pearls", perhaps perpetuated by women who come to them in later years. But young women look luminous in pearls, when the style suits them. It's all about the right pearl.

Below, young actors in pearls, which they are wearing "in life", beautifully.
Left to right:
Keira Knightly in her massive multicoloured Tahitian baroques; these got pearl envy attention. In this shot, she's wearing them with jeans.
Blake Lively wears pearls often; here, a rope—or two—of rounds punctuated by brilliant accents.
Saoirse Ronan in what looks like a choker of either Kasumis or CFWS.

I thought about Lilli, and my sense was, "Tahitian". But going from the campus to Keira's red-carpet is quite a leap. A Tahitian pendant—not one of those mass-produced styles, but one hand-made and one of a kind—would suit her.

Kojima Company had a sale, so I headed there first, and besides, there's my abiding passion for their pearls. I sent Janet several options to consider.

(In fact, this is advice I give a person of any age who becomes interested in pearls: buy one exceptional pearl as a pendant, or ring, or a pair of earrings. Especially if working with a moderate budget, when you try to find a strand of thirty or more pearls, the results may not thrill. Better to buy one or two magical ones.)

But wait! The family includes a second daughter, Anna, a grey-eyed brunette who, two years ago, graduated and married within two months. In the whirl of those events, they had forgotten about a graduation gift. Janet was now looking for a second surprise.

Below, the choices; both are gem-quality pearls that can hook a woman for life!

Left: Lilli's deep green/black 9mm Tahitian hung on hand-cut blue and golden 2mm tourmaline beads.
Right: Anna's silver 10mm Sea of Cortez drop pearl on tiny freshwater seed pearls, accented with faceted apetite beads.

These are the first pearls each young woman has received and in them, they will glow. It's not just the pearls that make their gifts sing, it's the care taken by Janet to make sure her daughters had the right pieces.

Kojima Company contributed to that precision. They re-strung Anna's necklace to change the accent stones (originally lavender spinel) to apetite, a perfect complement for Anna's colouring, and sent neck shots so that Janet could see the look of the pieces when worn.

Here are the true jewels, those smiles, on sisters celebrating a happy day:

Cue the irresistible Pointer Sisters oldie (written by Sister Sledge), "We Are Family":
"All of the people around us say
'Can they be that close?'
Just let me state for the record
We're giving love in a family dose."

A patchwork of pleasures

My occasional trips to my old home town, Toronto always have a pieced-together quality. I commune with longtime friends, squeeze in a few business appointments, stop by several shops I miss, and grab a few minutes to take in the changing cityscape from the streetcar.

How apt then, that this patchwork of persons and memories led me to the first day of an extraordinary show of contemporary quilts at the Textile Museum of Canada, "Colour Improvisations 2", curated by the renowned quilter and fibre artist Nancy Crow. Well worth a trip (no matter where you live) from now till September 23, to stand before these magnificent compositions.

Shown, "Vibrant Colour Bars" by Ruth Bosshart-Rohrbach, Swizterland.

The curator acknowledges the attributes of the makers:

I also spent time with Kay and Gwen, the founders of the estimable perfumeniche.com, the online decant store, who support another art form—perfumery—with style and verve. What a pleasure to meet them!

A cocktail and packet of divine decants later, I reluctantly left them to catch the train. So, though the Passage will shutter on June 28 for the habitual July-August vacation, expect more of their deep knowledge here in the fall.

And, I bought a dress! Finding dresses (which I only wear in summer, here) is absolute hell for me, as most are too short, and I don't want a maxi that drags up the métro stairs, either.

Just before meeting Kay and Gwen, I dropped into a local boutique, Damzels (full name, Damzels in This Dress), which embraces a rockabilly/retro vibe, but hey, worth a look. And in ten minutes,  I walked out with this dress (minus the belt), which I'll wear to celebrate my birthday in July: a family dinner capped by a sortie to the tiki bar, Snowbird. Aloooooha!

The trip unrolled delightfully until the taxi home from the train station, when the twenty-something driver and I got gridlocked by a massive street closure due to a bike event. What is usually an under 20-minute ride took an hour and a quarter.

At one point, we were locked into the Plateau neighbourhood, because it was also The Night, that magical first warm evening when the city explodes in a spontaneous, raucous party, and that area is packed with bistros and bars. I suggested we park and join the festivities till the bottleneck broke up.

A Kazakhstani cabbie and a grandmother walk into a bar... sounds like the setup to a joke, but I was wearing my new decant of "Bella Freud" and figured hey, he is probably praying for no more fares like this; it it just might work. But he duly got me home.

This ends a burst of travel; now we'll welcome many summer visitors. The Passage stays open a few more weeks, though, so keep strolling through.


How does your garden grow?

Laura came to Montreal recently to go on a plant-buying mission with a longtime friend. We met for a leisurely lunch. I arrived a few minutes early, so stopped by my favourite boutique for colour and pattern, Katrin Leblond.

Katrin is the antipode of strict, so if you seek the charisma of a glowing violet dress or the wit of a very well-designed original print on a top, she is your woman—and the level of service will make you feel like Grace Kelly received at Chanel.

And who should walk in, but Laura! She spotted one of Katrin’s most charming pieces faster than a botanist spots a rare blue poppy.

Below, she models the black hoodie with a blooming garden strewn across the front and back, both embroidered and appliqued. Even a handmade cattail as the zipper pull! Despite all that handwork, the piece is washable.

Not everyone suits this amount of embellishment and colour; Laura, a fine-featured, fair-skinned medium blonde, not only wore it well, she blossomed. The soft peachy-pink lining of the hood, the delicacy of the flora, and details like soft pleats at the edge of the kangaroo pockets gave her an almost ethereal air. This is an unusual piece (she will doubtless be asked about it) but it did not wear her.

Not a snap decision. We had a leisurely lunch (no wine!) and returned for another look. I like the versatility: wear as a top, a jacket, and indoors in winter when her garden is bare. Katrin’s on-site seamstress altered the sleeves in under a half hour.

While browsing, I saw women of all ages and sizes (xs to xxl) gaily trying and buying. A good two-thirds of the clothing is designed and made there; the styles are feminine, a touch retro, and a welcome relief after the stolid, sexless rectangles I have seen on so many racks.

I especially liked seeing someone try this glorious dress, twirling and smiling as a woman does when she finds something enchanting. (Katrin carries a large selection of Ivko, which fits her aesthetic perfectly). One of the prettiest summer dresses I have seen in years, and in an unusual colour.
Katrin takes her inspiration from masters like Freida Kahlo, then applies her own artwork or collaborates with local printmakers. You can shop the e-store or better yet, come to the boutique. A peek at the e-store below; prices in $US. See the home page to choose other currencies.  

Left: Loose-fit t-shirt with hand-drawn design, Katrin Leblond limited edition; price, $95
Centre: Ivko "Victorian" v-neck; price, $160
Right: Goddess swimsuit, Katrin Leblond; price, $145

Occasionally, I break out of my subdued palette and fall for a Katrin Leblond design. Then, to my surprise, I wear it four times as much as other stuff. The colour goddesses are on to something.

Oh, it is possible to find an elegantly-cut black top there, too, if you look.

Fave frugal fragrances

Sylvia, back in the day, dined on tea and toast for many weeks to re-up her signature fragrance, Guerlain's Liu, ferried to Toronto by a flight attendant girlfriend with a Paris route. She was rescued from extreme deprivation by dinner dates—she accepted every invitation. (The etiquette hints at the era, early '80s.)

I once suggested she shop department-store brands, a nice Lancôme, perhaps. Sylvia looked at me like I'd suggested she wear jeans to work.

Times change; Sylvia has retired, Liu is discontinued. When I recalled her old habit, she plucked a bottle of Origins Ginger Essence from her fridge (where Sylvia always keeps her perfumes), and said, "Fifty bucks."

I'm always hunting for inexpensive but delightful daytime fragrances. Splashing on a satisfying $35 to $70 scent is a particular pleasure. Some women hunt for low-cost dupes of beloved but expensive bottles. That's a mug's game; better to scout for a pleasing scent that stands on its own.

"Where is the Jean Naté of 2018?", I wondered. Still around, a Big Gulp-sized bottle for the price of a takeout lunch—but the scent that permeated my undergrad library so that books smelled of it no longer earns a passing grade. Thanks, Frédéric Malle.

I asked Kay and Gwen of the marvellous online decant store perfumeniche.com if they knew of any such treasures; Gwen generously sent a list. Some are listed as mens's scents, but you can wear them too. Order decants from perfumeniche.com, or spring for full bottles at discounters like Amazon, Marshall's and Kohl's.

Bulgari Black, one of Gwen's "desert island picks"; "tea, cedar, amber—and rubber"
Yatagan by Caron : "assetive, swarthy, exotic, powerful"
Dirty English by Juicy Couture: "deep, dark and delicious"
Lolita Lempicka Au Masculin, "a great anise-based fragrance"
Indi by Katy Perry, "soft, intimate, subtle and sexy"

I'd also add 
Quartz for Women, by Molyneux: a classic woody/white floral
Lovely by Sarah Jessica Parker;  I stockpile it—a light, graceful bouquet
Sarah Jessica Parker Stash, pricier than Lovely because it's an eau de parfum, and harder to find. "Aromatic, smooth and silky".
(The SJP scents are available in decants from perfumenniche.com.)

Gwen noted that many high-end makers now offer 15ml-30ml travel or promotional sizes, which makes access more affordable—unless you fall in love and then face the music for your full bottle of By Kilian Back to Black.

Let's hear your picks!

If you have a punch-above-its-weight favourite that sells for $US 50 ($CDN 65) or less per bottle (I'm not specifying bottle size), please share the name.

Whether it delivers for the rest of us depends greatly on body chemistry and the accords each person likes, but at least we'll know what to try!