After having corresponded on a dating site with a woman who has agreed to meet up with me for a stroll and a coffee, I am driving over to meet her at a mutually satisfying beauty spot. But I am overly eager to get there, not just because I am keen to meet this new person, one who I might find attractive in three dimensions rather the upbeat photographs she has posted on her profile, but because my imperative is motivated by a the fear that as I am in my fifties, there is no time to lose, and because if I hang back in my endeavour to find a sexual mate, I will grow older still, and my attractiveness will wane to the extent that no one will entertain spending time with some who is, well past it. So, impatience impels me to drive a little fast than I would normally. However, as I am making progress along the main A road, I begin ruminating over thoughts that perhaps even now, I am already too old to be deemed a viable suitor, that I am just too weary and too jaded to be engaging in a game which for all intents and purposes is, if not played better by people twenty years younger than I, then at least they have the basic fabric, their firm bodies, that essential ingredient for any uncomplicated physical attractiveness ideally conducive to sexual activity, the ultimate purpose of all of this palaver. I on the other hand have a receding hairline, a balding crown, lines and wrinkles, a sagging body, and where I used to fit comfortably into my clothes, my lumpen frame, despite my having spent time preparing myself for this date in dressing tastefully, has the effect of making me look awkward and stiff. That unlike my younger counterparts, my physical topology lacks the relaxed fluidity of a person in the prime of their youth.
Looking in my rear-view mirror confirms this perspective, as the person staring back is every bit as grim as my mind’s eye view. Indeed, as I continue to stare, the creases of my skin begin to change before my eyes. Whereas I had hitherto perceived these blemishes of age to be discreet markers, ones that I fancied made me look distinguished, what I am now witnessing as I flick my eyes back and too between the road and the mirror is a perceptible increase in their length and pronunciation such that their creep across my face reminds me of a quickly drying riverbed under a baking hot sun. The pallor of my skin is also shifting from a general seamless pinkiness to one of grey and brown patches with underlying broken blue capillaries set against papery yellow areas. Beads of sweat also appear on my forehead adding to a waxy facial appearance. Glancing at my hands on the steering wheel also reveals the same changes. Yet as well as the transformation to their overall complexion, the veins on their backs stand out purple and blue, and the bone-like knuckles on my fingers stick out like the gnarled branches of an old apple tree. I am considering turning the car around and returning home to the domestic comforts of a plush sofa and the central heating, but this would be a sign of defeat, so I continue on, my confidence as well as my years it appears draining away.
As I drive along the busy main street of Whitstable, I am brought to a halt due to some traffic congestion, and looking to my left I spot a women’s lingerie shop, one of those traditional local establishments that has bucked the trend and remained open, despite increased competition from national chain stores. And in the window, displayed quite blatantly for all to see are the headless mannequin torsos attired in the most intimate of underwear, revealing lacy bras, knickers and suspenders belts in tasteful pastels, the kind of apparel that once purchased would never be seen, except that is in the bedroom. Yet in this context they are the main characters, the obscenity of their on-stage appearance being an implicating reminder in the minds of all heterosexual men possessing lustful thoughts. Yet these mannequins go one step further. Consisting of a translucent plastic, under their carapaces are concealed lights that flashed on an off, adding an aggressive emphasis to their presence. As I am idling in this traffic, it strikes me that this is a metaphor for the dating sites I had been perusing. Many of the women featured there, more or less my own age, took great steps to still appear sexy, yet because of their decaying looks, they had been compelled to try even harder to impress, so that push up bras were employed to plump up sagging breasts, body forming soft corsetry squeezed burgeoning overripe shapes impossibly into a parody of youthful curvature, lips were over circumscribed with heavy lush lipstick, and over layering all this, a software algorithm concealed the cragginess of age under a Vaseline soft focus with a Summery hue. Like these flashing mannequins, they were trying a little too hard in selling their wares, what there was left of them.
Turning this reflection back onto myself, I am no more impressed by my own flagging demeanour, and moreover, since I had started out in my journey, I appear to have aged considerably. However, pushing this thought to the back of my mind, because to continue to entertain this is to invite despair, I continue on my journey, determine that it should not spoil any pleasure I might find at its destination.
Having now arrived and parked my car on the roadside next to a landmark hotel we plan to meet at, I check myself again. And sure enough, I look absolutely ragged. On top of this though, I have developed aching joints, not the ideal physical state I would wish for if this encounter ever turns out to be amorous. Notwithstanding this, now I have finally got here after what seems like a disproportionate amount of time stuck behind the wheel, I open the car door and attempt to lift myself out of the seat, but the ease at which I would normally have done this is somehow lacking, and I have to lever myself out in stages, grunting and swearing as each manoeuvre gives me physical discomfort. Even rising to my feet and standing straight takes some additional effort that requires planning, and though I would like to raise my head fully, it seems I am only able to manage this in part as I have acquired a stoop, which must look to some as if I am bent over.
Dimly surveying the scene, I make out happy couples walking arm in arm, oblivious as they pass me of my presence, and though I also see people by themselves ambling along, their purpose is not for stopping and waiting for someone to meet them. Indeed, on this busy thoroughfare everybody seems to be going somewhere, except that is for one person, a bent over old lady who, beetle-like, looks about her as if frantically trying to make out someone she recognises, and who appears for all intents and purposes, confused. I too am becoming infected by the agitation of this puddled old woman, and because I now don’t want to hang about waiting for someone who will merely give me one look and find me deficient to her desiring requirement, I trudge back to my car and with a little difficulty, gingerly lower myself back in to its driver’s seat. When I look up from my strenuous efforts, the woman who had been waiting with what appeared to be a growing impatience, has now turned tentatively on her heals and is walking in slow measured steps down the street, her receding form a memory which, when I started the car’s engine, I almost instantly forget as I am now looking forward to returning home to sink myself into the soft embrace of my sofa.