Earlier this year, I was speaking at an event and walked into a small auditorium which held no more than 250 seats. I gathered my notes and carefully got situated on one of the high-top chairs trying to remember what Kate Middleton would do. To cross or not cross the ankles, that was the question.
I quickly surveyed the room. And the first thing I immediately noticed was that the front row was entirely empty. Each and every chair. Alone and just waiting to be occupied.
People trickled in and climbed over each other to get seats in the very back. Others asked colleagues to move down the row to make other seats available. Two individuals even came in just as we were about to start and sat in the aisle. And by the aisle, I mean the floor, right on the steps.
And the front row? Still entirely empty.
"Plenty of seats up front everyone. I don't bite, come on down," I joked. Attempting to make eye contact with those on the floor of the aisle. And they would rather sit on the dirty floor than sit comfortably in a chair.
Because anything but the front row. I'll sit on the floor, I'll stand in the back, or I'll even stand in the hallway listening in through the door. But please, no, not the front row. I can't. I won't. I don't.
Why don't we want to sit in the front row?
"I don't sit in the front row" or "I don't do front rows" was my mantra for much of my life. I always sat in the back row in college and then in graduate school (except for when they assigned seats which was just terrible.)
Early on in my career, I would enter the empty room before the meeting or workshop started, and there I would be, marking my spot in the back corner. I would even get there early so I could sit in the back. And if I had to leave to use the bathroom, I would be sure to mark the chair with my black cardigan. Just in case someone tried to sneak into my back-row seat.
The back was safe. I didn't always have to pay attention. And let's be honest, I didn't want to have the attention drawn to me.
I was introverted, and I was shy (which are two different things) and afraid of having to contribute. Afraid to use my voice. Afraid I would say or do the wrong thing. And for someone who saw herself leading and making impact in corporations, I had to start to tackle this fear head on.
As I found mentors who helped me with my fear of speaking up – and I mean speaking up in meetings, speaking in front of leadership, and speaking in front of a large audience - one mentor encouraged me to think about where I chose to sit and why. She advised me to always sit at the table, and to pull up a chair to the table if necessary. And to always sit in the front row.
"Pull up the chair for others to sit at the table," she coached me. "And bring a colleague along to sit in the front row with you."
Because when you sit in the front row, we all make a physical commitment. To be present, to be seen, to be noticed, to be engaged, to be supportive of whoever is speaking. To make eye contact, to smile, to nod our heads in agreement as the speaker shares their knowledge. To build our confidence. And to maybe, just maybe, work our nerves up to ask a question or even make a comment.
Why don't we want to sit in the front row?
We don't want to be called on, questioned, or asked to contribute. We don't want to have to use our voice. Because some of us are still working on finding our voices. Some of us are afraid if we use our voice, and say the wrong thing because others will judge us. Some of us are disconnected and disengaged. We are just trying to get through the day. It's just another meeting/event/workshop on the calendar to attend.
Some of us are scared. Because if we sit in the front row, we might actually be seen. And whether we want to admit it or not, we are trying hard not to be noticed and get by.
Next time you attend a meeting, sit at the front of the table. Sit in the front row. Be seen. Be noticed. Let people know you were in the room, in that meeting. Let your voice be heard. And bring someone along with you. Don't let that front row continue to be unoccupied.
Please don't sit in the back row. And for that matter, when an actual chair/seat/spot is available, please don't sit in the aisle either. And certainly don't sit on the floor.
"There are no good men out there," yet another woman my age declared. At 50, I was freshly divorced after two decades of marriage and motherhood. My unhappy marriage had shattered my faith in men and romantic relationships. Based on my ex-husband's opinion of my sexual appeal, I was afraid my naked body would cause future lovers to run screaming from the room. Rather gleefully, I announced to my girlfriends that I was done with men, and sex, forever.
For the first year, I got tangled in my sheets alone every night, overjoyed to have the bed and my body to myself. I felt liberated by divorce—free to be me, skip showering, and make dinner for one. But it bothered me when women decried the scarcity of men, because I'd known so many good ones—college boyfriends, my brother, my best friend from business school, etc. The first of many naked truths gradually crept up on me: I was not going to find my juju again through self-help and yoga. The feminist in me didn't want to admit it, but going for too long without men was akin to starvation.
I didn't want another husband. But I needed men, a lot of them.
The universe signaled its approval by sending Mr. Blue Eyes to me at an airport. He was 29 and perhaps the sexiest man I'd ever kissed. Being with him convinced me, pretty decisively, that men were going to heal me, even though men had destroyed me many times before. I became the female incarnation of a divorced, clichéd older man: I bought a sports car, revamped my wardrobe, and took younger lovers. "I want five boyfriends," I told my best friend KC after that first tryst ended. "Sweet, cute, smart, nice. Enough that I won't get too attached to one." My message from the frontlines of divorce at 50 is that to restore your confidence as a woman, especially in the wake of a crushing breakup, try dating outside your comfort zone, expanding your dating pool to include partners you might never have considered before. It may not be the recipe for a lasting union, but in terms of rebuilding your self-esteem, it can work wonders.
The first thing I noticed—and liked—about dating younger men is that they didn't want to marry me or make babies with me. And I didn't want that either. Frankly, I didn't even want them to spend the night. Since I'd been 11, I'd been taught to seek out and value men who wanted commitment. To my surprise, I found it refreshing, even more authentic, to be valued not for my potential as a mate, but instead for my body, intelligence, life-experience and sexuality.
And the sex! I quickly realized that—warning, blanket stereotype coming—men under 40 are more straightforward and adventurous than older men, maybe since they were raised with the Internet. You hear so often about the scourge of crude, sexist online pornography; and I agree that the depersonalization of women as sexual playthings is deeply destructive to all genders. However, from sexting to foreplay, I found younger men uniquely enthusiastic about getting naked and enjoying sex. Every younger man found my most erotic zones faster than any man my age ever had, with a lack of hesitation men over 50 seemed unable to fathom.
Also, about my big fear of getting naked in front of a younger man? Completely unfounded. I started to shake when Airport Boy took off my sundress in our hotel room. Had he ever seen a woman my age nude? How could I stand to be skin-to-skin with a body far more perfect than mine? I had given birth to eight-pound, full-fucking-term babies. I'd nursed them, too, and at times by breasts looked (from my view at least) like wet paper towels. "You have a spectacular body," he told me instead, running his hand over the cellulite on my stomach that I despised. That night I learned that younger men who seek older women accept our physical flaws—they don't expect perfection in someone 20 years their senior. These men taught me to see my body through a positive, decidedly male lens, to focus on the pretty parts (and we all have them) rather than the flaws that we all have too, whether you're 19, 29 or 59.
I even found the pillow talk lighter, easier and more intellectually stimulating, because a younger man's world view differs so vastly from the pressures of my 20-something kids, annual colonoscopies, 401K balance and mortgage payments. They have simple financial problems, like "Can I borrow a few quarters for the parking meter outside?" or "Do you have any advice on consolidating my student loans?"
Everything feels simpler with younger men. Men under 40 seem less threatened by assertive women; they grew up with them. They like cheap beer instead of expensive wine. They don't snore (as much). Leftovers a 55-year-old would scoff at look good to them. Their erections NEVER last more than four hours. Their hard-ons end the old-fashioned way and 45 minutes later they are ready for more.
But what I enjoy most about younger men is not the sex, or the cliché that they make me feel young again—because they don't. Younger men make me feel old, and to my delight, I like that. I feel valuable around younger men, precisely because I am wiser and more experienced in life, love and between the sheets.
I know I'll never end up with one for good. The naked truth is we don't have enough in common to last. One recently put it exactly right when he told me, "I love this, but there's always gonna be a glass ceiling between us." That lack of permanence, the improbability of commitment and "forever," doesn't mean I can't pick up a tip or two about self-esteem, and enjoy the magic of human connection with younger men. And vice versa. The experience can enrich us both, making us better partners for people our own ages down the road.
*My viewpoint is from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, because I am one. But change the gender identification and/or sexual orientation to whatever works for you and let me know if the same advice holds true. Thank you.