Age, Sex and the Sometimes Single Girl

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JOAN: This is February 2nd, 2008. Saturday. We are sitting in the space ship of Mary Wells, hovering over NYC. It is Liz Smith’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Liz. How old are you?
LIZ: I am only 85 years old, and I don’t believe it myself.

JONI: I am 65 years old and I wish I looked like Liz Smith.

MARY: I don’t believe in birthdays because I think your mind controls your body and if you think you’re getting old, you will. But if I have to get older, one thing I certainly am sure of is that I’d like to look like Liz Smith.

JOAN: I am 59 years old and I keep thinking I’m 60 because it seems so much more convenient.

LIZ: It isn’t though, I’m telling you. It was much more fun to be 79. I was still like I was 28. As soon as I turned 80, it changed. I had this big party given for me at Le Cirque — it was all of my good friends who spent thousands of dollars on it and they invited every important person in the world to it. When that was over I said, “Jeez, I’m 80! What am I going to do now?” I’ve never been the same since.

JOAN: What did you do? What was that 80th year like?

LIZ: I felt different after it. I was astounded because I’ve never paid any attention to my age. I’ve always felt I was 28 years old inside, and I’m clinging to that.

JONI: Have you had a lot of sex since you’ve been 80?

LIZ: What an impertinent question. No, I haven’t had a lot, Joni, because you’ve got the only guy I want. No. Actually I have had a little bit. I can’t deny it. I have had a little bit of sex…with people who don’t know how old I am. When I wrote my memoir, Natural Blonde – Joni was the instigator and agent — I had a story in it about how one night I went to the end of my driveway to wait for a car. I was going to have dinner with Barbara Walters and she was sending her car and I was standing there all made up and it was dusk. And a guy came up to me and said, “Do you know where the El Rio Grande restaurant is?” I said, “Yes, it’s right here in this building. If you go right in there, that’s it.” And he was cute — about 40, 42 years old. So he went away and in a minute he came back, saying: “Would you think I was really forward if I … would you like to come in and have a drink with me?” And I thought, “This guy can’t really see me in the dusk. He thinks I’m some blonde tart standing out here.” After all, I was all tarted up. So I thought, “what would happen if I went in there with him?” But then he perceived that I was not actually all that young. Oh, well…it was a great story, anyway. It cheered me up tremendously.

JOAN: Have you ever had the younger man thing?

JONI: Now I do. Wish I knew that before. Having a younger man is so much better. But I’m interested in the myth that sex goes away. I know there are certain things that aren’t quite the same. But most of my friends over 50 are having the best sex they ever had because they are over 50, or over 60, or over 70. Does everybody know it gets better? It may not be as juicy, forgive me. But it gets better and more real. Why don’t people talk about that?

LIZ: I think women are reluctant to appear to be bragging — or they are compensating for something they think everybody else believes in, which is that sex is always better when you are young.

MARY: Do you think men believe that? There still seems to be a big desire on the part of men to have girls in their 20s and 30s. They’re out bar-hopping and hunting. Do men think sex would be as good with an older woman?

JONI: Not until they try it.

MARY: That’s probably true.

JOAN: I think this is where exes come in very handy, because you’re not meeting a new person or being judged on the elasticity of your skin, and it’s a familiarity and a feeling of safety. The idea of being in the meat market with guys gauging you is extraordinarily unpleasant.

LIZ: Considering my great age, this may be absurd for me to even comment on. But I do think when you come into the full knowledge of your mature self, you’re able to appreciate different things and you’re also able to say what you want, and to impose your desires. You have an edge over whatever overtures are made by people younger than yourself. And it does happen. For whatever reason, it happens to me. Not because I’m so great or attractive, but maybe they’re just curious. So now I feel more in control. When I was young, I wasn’t in control of anything. I was impelled to try to be geisha-like with men, to make them happy and do everything they wanted. Those perspectives are very different for me now.

MARY: I think it’s very dependent on where you meet somebody new. I feel a lot sexier in New York, when I meet a younger person, at a restaurant or a bar or somebody’s house, than I do, let’s say, in St. Bart’s. In St. Bart’s, everybody is 18 years old or 16 years old, or they’re all a perfect size 2 and they’re all wearing the smallest bathing suit that is made. You get an awful lot of guys in their 40s and early 50s with 20 year old girls there. But the men are in very good shape, usually — and well tanned. That island is absolutely covered with these extraordinary size 2 bodies of these very young girls. It’s a bit daunting and it makes me feel a tad self-conscious. In New York, however, that’s not the case. You go into restaurants, bars, people’s houses for parties, you know, you’re not intimidated. People are not walking the streets of New York in tiny, tiny, tiny bikinis.

JONI: I think I’m going to go to Greenland and look for a really good man!

LIZ: In “All About Eve,” the aspiring actress comes onto the director and he says: “When I want something I go after it. It doesn’t come after me.” Well, of course, this is an intensely masculine, sexist point of view that used to operate in the 40s and 50s. But I think when you get older, a woman can operate under those rules. I have very good luck now just pressing my luck, and not caring. And I don’t particularly respond to being pursued myself.

MARY: Do you find that you’re Googled? That people find you? I find that people that I knew, say 20 years ago, who were attracted to me then but I didn’t pay much attention back, have found me. They’ve come back for me. And…on the Internet I feel terribly sexy.

JONI: You’re safe.

MARY: I’m safe and I feel gorgeous. And they remember me as gorgeous and they’re seeing me as they knew me then. And so I act like I was then. And every once in a while when it actually comes down to meeting, or having dinner or whatever, I get really nervous.

IZ: After 50, women become different…they get freer. They get more in command of themselves — what they want, what they want to say — in bed. I was thinking about an affair I had with this guy once. He was the boyfriend of a godchild I have in Texas, and after they broke up, he kept coming to New York and calling me and I kept trying to fix him up with young girls I knew. Finally, he said to me: “I don’t want to go out with these girls. I’m trying to go out with you,” which staggered me. I had a wonderful time with this guy 20 years my junior, no strings, nothing emotional – for about a year and a half. And then I ended it because I met somebody I was really emotionally interested in. But it was fantastic to have that kind of control. I hate to say it because it sounds like I’ve reversed into a dirty old man.

JOAN: When I was 39, I had this little affair with a guy who was 12 years younger, which made him 27. He was the son of a family friend and all of New York fell on me screeching, “cradle robber!” He looked like he was 14 years old. The whole thing was hateful and embarrassing and stupid and I couldn’t wait for it to end. And so I never had any pleasure out of that. I certainly didn’t feel in control.

LIZ: Don’t you think that was the times, maybe? Don’t you feel things have changed now? Couldn’t you sleep with anybody you wanted to now, without being nervous?

JOAN: I don’t know. I’m also very scared of getting involved with people.

LIZ: I’ve been pretty scared of getting emotionally involved again, too. I thought I would go to the end of my life without ever trying again, because I had a big heartbreak not so long ago. I’d probably take a chance, I guess, if I really felt something…or if Joni would just give me Bob, and move on to whatever it is she’s on to next.

JONI: Bob is next! Forever. But a phrase comes to mind: “the power of the least interested.” Dalma Heyn, a great friend of mine, says the less interested you are in something, the more powerful you become.

LIZ: Well, that’s what I’m saying…

JONI: One other thing I’m wondering about is — is this true of everyone? With each new relationship, each new man I fell in love with — I became a completely different person sexually.

LIZ: You mean every time?

JONI: Yes. Every different relationship. Now, I can be the aggressor when I was never able to before, and I can be more daring. You learn from what happened the last time, and you can correct the dynamic at the beginning of a new relationship. It is very hard to change patterns once they have been set.

JOAN: Here’s a big question to Liz — every single time a relationship ends, since I’ve been in my 20s, I always think, “It’s never, ever going to happen again. This was the last. Goodbye, cruel world.”

LIZ: I have been trying to live by the Oscar Wilde quote “Love is the illusion that one woman differs from another?” Or I’d say, “…one man.” You’re always heartbroken by the person who dumps you when you’re not ready to be dumped; they’re just the one that happened to get on your wave-length. I’ve always thought that was stupid of me. There must be millions of others out there. You just have to pick yourself up and go out there again.

MARY: Do you think there are lots of people out there that you would be attracted to? I know I’m not attracted to lots and lots.

LIZ: No, I’m not either. And I’m always very amused — being rather “gender indifferent” as I have been — that people always assume if they see me with some woman, that I’m automatically interested in jumping on her. I always think that’s hilarious.

JONI: I just realized, Liz, that you have doubled your chances to have a good time!

JOAN: I love the description, “gender indifferent.”

LIZ: I don’t care what people call me, but I never liked to identify myself as one way or another because I always felt I might be cutting off one of my options.

JONI: I’ve heard you say many times from the podium, “You know, I’ve slept with everyone in this room!”

— THE END —

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