The invisible woman: What happened to me when I reached middle age?

Posted on: 15 September 2010 by Diane Priestley

Women develop an amazing ability to turn invisible in all kinds of social and day to day situations when they reach 50. But there is no super human or magical power at work, its just another illustration of how society shunts us into 'second class' when we reach a certain age!

middle age invisibility

Woman in their mid 40s develop an amazing ability to turn invisible. But, this is more of an insult than a magical power

Women become invisible in public from around the age of 45. Middle-aged women are ignored by service staff everywhere, especially if they are part of a couple. The man automatically grabs the attention of waitresses, sales assistants and even complete strangers.

When you are treated as invisible, it is not like having a super power. It’s downright insulting.

Travelling with my husband from Australia to London gave me an opportunity to witness this absurd phenomenon first hand. It would have been highly amusing were I not on the receiving end of it.

On our last connecting flight after a long, weary journey, my husband struck up a conversation with the businessman seated next to him. He chatted for five minutes, which was polite. But then he continued the conversation for the entire flight, completely ignoring me. I was hurt and teary.

It is the wise husband who has a brief courteous exchange with a fellow passenger then turns his attention back to his wife!

When we made it to the hire cars at London Airport, I stood guard with the luggage while my husband approached the counter where there were three services to choose from. He called out to me “Do you have a preference?”

We were travelling on a budget, so I replied loudly: “The cheapest one I suppose.” In that split second, a young woman seated nearby shot him a smile and he smiled back, sharing a joke at my expense. I flushed, not with a power surge, but a twinge of betrayal and a jolt of embarrassment.

Newsflash. Husbands, it is not your job to amuse people in public places especially when your wife is the butt of the joke. It is not your job to be a charming people-pleaser. It IS your job, the one you signed up for, to show respect to your wife.

Australian balladeer John Williamson reckons that being True Blue is standing by your mate when she’s in a fight (or a tight spot at an airport or during an awkward moment at a cocktail party). It means showing unwavering loyalty to your best buddy, even when she’s behaving badly!

I believe that such an act of kindness is called extending grace. You offer undeserved support and smooth over her social blunders because she’s your Number One.

Granted, you can’t control other people. It seems that women of all ages, from teenagers to old ladies, are biologically programmed to flirt with men of all ages, shapes and dubious features. My middle-aged husband, despite his salt and pepper ‘George Clooney’ spikes and spreading paunch, is apparently still attractive to younger women.

Most men with a pulse are suckers for a random female smile or stray flirtation, while pleading naïve innocence. However, a clever husband resists the fleeting ego kick of momentary female flattery in preference for the flesh and blood woman by his side (even if she has more curves than the stick-figure in jeans). The mature man knows the difference between snacking on junk food and feasting on wholesome nourishing meals!

On another occasion, at an Estate Agent's office, I asked my husband to let me do the talking as I had been emailing them for weeks. I caught the attention of the 40-something woman for five minutes before her eyes shifted to Him seated on the couch behind me.

 She proceeded to lock eye contact with my husband, explaining the availability of rental houses in earnest, even moving to sit next to him to show the local listings up close. Despite my campaign of rapport-building emails, I was snubbed as a second-class citizen and tag-along wife.

This is the curse of being a woman over 45. You are regularly treated with disdain, even by other women. Whatever happened to the sisterhood?

Perhaps this fierce competition and ruthless rivalry for male attention is symptomatic of a desperate divorce-wrecked society.

As if female disdain is not bad enough, male interest in middle-aged women is zero. Middle-aged blokes can apparently impress young babes but we are invisible in public to all males under 70 who can still master bladder control and possess their own teeth. Hunky young guys just see Mother.  

The one consolation Baby Boomer wives can hope for is loyalty from a True Blue husband who appreciates the flirty gal he married all those years ago; his travelling buddy for life who will patiently pose for his happy snaps, laugh at his corny jokes and stroke his salt and pepper hair long after the skinny thing in denim has turned her pearly whites on another deluded middle-aged ‘George Clooney’

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