Wives who cheat at 50
Sue Leonard on the 50-something women happy to have an affair once the kids are raised
Published 15/02/2010 | 05:00
In the 1950s, the era of TV's Mad Men, women were middle-aged at 30, and old at 50. Their children reared, life was essentially over. How things have changed.
Today's over-50s feel sassy and sexy. They're independent. They embrace life. And they relate wholeheartedly to Jane, played by Meryl Streep, in Nancy Meyer's new movie, It's Complicated.
After years as a single, celibate mum, Streep's character becomes attracted to a younger man. She gives off sexual vibes; her ex-husband responds, and they have an affair -- making Jane 'the other woman'.
It's great to think that women in their 50s feel so sexually alive -- but do they really have affairs?
"Absolutely," says Cathy Breslin, a counsellor who runs the website www.ditched.ie. "They love the excitement of an affair after years of being with the same person. They love the buzz. Very often they go for married men. They feel there's a safety net. The affair doesn't have to go any further. They feel he is committed to his wife, and I am committed to my family.
"Botox and invasive and non-invasive cosmetic surgery has given women confidence," says Cathy. "And when they have confidence, they really believe they can do more. There's a wonderful awakening, in this culture particularly. They start new careers around 50 as well. Their guilt has gone. Their children are reared and it's now all about them."
Self-help groups and books have helped women rediscover themselves too.
"They realise there could be more to their lives," Cathy continues. "They've been rearing their kids and waiting for something to happen. Now they're reaching out. It's like a rejuvenation."
Gerry Hickey, a counsellor and psychotherapist, agrees.
'Women of 50 don't feel as old as their mothers did, and they're not expected to feel old. There isn't any pressure on them, as there was when they were younger. The fear of pregnancy has gone, so has the responsibility for children. And they feel more accepting about their body shape and about themselves. They radiate confidence.
"Previous generations stepped from one age to another. Older people recoiled into the background, but that is not the case now. Women are more financially dependent, so they can afford to get out.
"Reality TV and the internet have opened up a debate about sex," says Gerry. "Women have lost their fear of talking about it. And if they're not afraid to ask for what they want, that opens up a whole new world for them. It can improve their marital relationship, or lead them into an affair."
Affairs though, can bring anguish.
"The guilt and fear can take the good away, because older women feel more responsible than younger ones. And their biggest fear is that the children will find out. Their reputation within the family will be tarnished. The advice given to them would be to try and get some help with their marriage," adds Gerry.
Surely, though, the demise of the Celtic Tiger has reined in women somewhat?
"It's curbed the nightclub scene," he says. "But when couples are stuck together at home a lot, they become bored. And boredom forces them to face their own reality. They want cheap thrills. So they look for escape routes. I've seen an increase in older women having affairs since the recession kicked in."
Many women in their 50s look for men on the internet. But it's a high-risk activity.
"I know one man who recently met four women through the internet, and he got an STD."
And sexually transmitted diseases are not the only risk.
"At 50, an affair is far more likely to end the marriage," says Gerry. "It's extremely high risk. Rather than wanting to work on the marriage, the 'wronged' partner will usually say: 'I haven't been feeling the best about the marriage either, so that's fine.'
"At that age, people feel life is too short. They feel: why bother to fix something that's over? When someone's affair is discovered, they often don't want to work on their marriage. They seem to think 'that was a cycle of my life, and that is completed'."
We often think that older women will go for younger men. But that's not always the case.
"Many women prefer an older man. I know one who goes for over-60s. She meets them on the internet. And she's having a ball."