Lately Old Men Talk to Me

I was on the tube, irritated by a small group standing too close and talking too loud in Cantonese. I suppose my feelings showed in my face, because when I looked up from my newspaper, possibly still scowling, I met the gaze of a twinkly white haired man who was observing me with evident glee.  He gestured to me in what I interpreted as a ‘take it easy’ manner and I smiled at him. He leant across and said ‘your husband would have noticed’. I have no idea what he meant by this. ‘My husband would have noticed nothing’ I said, which is true. The man got off, and I realised that I had a yearning to say ‘take me with you!’.

Why the remark about a husband? Only a few days earlier my therapist had said to me ‘I notice you wear a wedding ring’. ‘I do not!’ I protested.  It’s true I wear a ring to replace my wedding ring. I explained to her: this (trinity) ring is to represent my three children. When I turned 50 a few months after my ex walked out on us, and was left without the planned family holiday and party, some friends suggested I buy myself a present. Naturally, I couldn’t think of anything, but walking down Bond Street one day (nearby where I was studying) I walked into Cartier in a bit of a daze, and walked out again minutes later with this ring.  I can’t remember whether it was before or after I had learned that my ex had taken to shopping in Bond Street and was spending money hand over fist. I am not proud of it.  I wish I could have thought of something else to do. But I replaced my wedding ring with this one, and covered up the big dent in my finger.

I told myself that I did not want people to know my marital status. Just as I have always used Ms rather than Miss or Mrs.

On leaving the therapist, I took off the ring and put it on the other hand. I don’t normally wear rings there – my ring finger on the right hand was deformed after being shut in a door as a toddler and I don’t like to draw attention to it. (Now my forefinger is also deformed I can hardly show my right hand at all without embarrassment.)

But my right hand is also still somewhat swollen, what with one thing and another, and the following day the ring was too tight.  I struggled to remove it, worried I’d otherwise have to have it cut off.  I put it back on the left hand.

And I recognised that part of the reason I wanted to wear a ring was the fear that people would think nobody wanted me.

Today I was in Waitrose (as usual) getting a free coffee. The man in the queue behind me, wearing a silly squashy hat, said something about me being very good. I had a plastic lidded cup with me. He was using one of the store’s paper cups. ‘You’re putting me to shame’ he said. We talked a little. I left the store and put my groceries in the car.  Returning my trolley, I saw him leaving the store empty handed. ‘Have you drunk yours already?’ I called out (my own coffee was now in the car, as yet untouched.) He laughed and said no, and as he approached a car, indicated the cup balanced on the roof. He got into the car. As I drove past I realised he was in the passenger seat. Perhaps his wife was driving. As I thought, not hitting on me, just making conversation. Good. As we were. Old men talk to me not because they find me attractive, but because I am a safe old woman.



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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.

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