The Invisible Man

The Invisible Man
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BY DON PORTOLESE

As we grow older, we grow with ourselves; our aging seems subtle. We look in the mirror and may see a new wrinkle or two that wasn’t there the day before. Yet, for better or worse, each time we look in that mirror, we are still as visible as we were the day before. However, when someone outside that mirror looks in our direction, they may not see the same thing. They may not see anything at all.

In his short story, “The Minister for Death,” Alexei Sayle had this to say about age and invisibility: “…another word you might use for invisible is old. It starts when you are round about thirty-five that you start to slip from view… By sixty-five you’re pretty much see-through.”

Despite our increased sense of inner-self, we become less sexually visible as we age. This affects men and women differently; however, this hard realization hits both sexes below the belt. For many, this invisibility is tantamount to a sexual death sentence. As Sayle points out, you no longer see us because you don’t want to have sex with us.

Some of us make vain attempts (in both senses of the word) at staving off this encroaching invisibility. Exercise, diet, and cosmetic surgery may help us to remain visible for a time. Some of us are even lucky enough to have the Peter Pan thing going on. However, the reality is that we can only postpone sexual invisibility for so long. And when we drop off the radar for good, it can throw our whole perception of ourselves completely out of whack.

I live in Bushwick, Brooklyn where the median age lies somewhere around 30. I am 50; however, as my emotional maturity level was stunted due to experiments with various substances during my adolescence, I feel as though I fit right in. While we older folk may not be as sexually visible to the young hipster contingent, we make connections on other levels. For us, talking with others so full of youth, potential and idealism is far more refreshing than discussing children, mortgages, the stock market or golf scores with our age-appropriate peers.

Yet, I notice that when I enter certain bars here, I am not always attended to as promptly as some of the younger clientele. This may have more to do with the fact that I lack the requisite number of piercings and tattoos to merit quick service. However, it could very well be that the young, hipster bartender just doesn’t quite discern me from an empty barstool. Let’s call it sexual myopia: younger objects are scene more clearly than older ones.

On a night out, my wife and I found ourselves in the middle of a group of twenty-something women visiting from Finland. I fancied myself quite a charming tour guide as we led them to some of our favorite watering holes in the neighborhood. However, I quickly realized the visibility limits of that charm. After a few drinks one of the ladies drunkenly blurted out, “Oh, you look just like my father.” That dated me more than the word “sir” ever has. I was now a fatherly figure to these ladies, and, while I had no intention of being a dirty old man, this label just didn’t sit well with me. “And is your father a good-looking man like myself?” I asked, jokingly. When the laughter dissipated, I realized that my sexual cloaking device was now activated for twenty-something women and there was nothing I could do to change this.

However, to lament their inability to see me sexually is to think that my sex appeal is the only thing I have going for me. It has to do with how we’ve used our youth and beauty, how much we’ve developed our inner as opposed to our outer-selves during our lifetimes. It’s also important to consider who we are looking to for sexual recognition. Someone half our age is going to find us more transparent than someone our own age or older. The sooner we realize this, the easier it will be to accept this transparency as a natural stage in life.

Nevertheless, episodes of this nature can be harsh reminders of a man’s declining sexual prowess. For men, sexual invisibility is painful precisely because it strips us of our biological mission. No longer visible enough to play the cat and mouse game, we lose direction and purpose. We now have two options: Either face this fact head on and deal with it in a dignified manner or develop some scheme to make millions of dollars to buy our way back onto the sexual radar.

While this is a painful point in our lives, I don’t think it affects men the same as it does our female counterparts. We men are no strangers to fighting to become a blip on a woman’s sexual radar. Call it heterosexual bias, but men are simply not as attractive as women. Therefore, we often have to resort to our wit or intellect to gain a woman’s notice. This helps us to cultivate what is on the inside as well.

An attractive woman, whether she wants to or not, has no choice but to appear on a man’s radar. While some women are not comfortable with the level of attention this begets, there are others who use their feminine wiles to get what they want out of life. I don’t fault them for this. Women are justified in using whatever means necessary to survive in a world that is still dominated by men. However, women who use their beauty in this manner must understand that they are helping to perpetuate this very societal dynamic. They also suffer more as their youthful beauty gives way to age. In short, those (men or women) who have depended on beauty of body as opposed to mind, find sexual invisibility far more devastating.

Yet, we don’t need to take the death of our sex appeal so hard. Being invisible has its benefits for both men and women: Women can finally relax around men, and be judged on their inner-beauty. Men can finally think with their brains rather than their libidos. (Well, we can at least try.) This opens up a whole new chapter in how we interact with each other. Rather than basing who we are on our aesthetic, we will now have to dig deeper into ourselves in order to appear on one another’s radar. In the hopped up world of exterior appearance, it’s nice to know that there is a time in our lives when what’s on the inside finally matters.

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