fordCecilia Ford, who has been a psychologist in private practice in New York City since 1987, has addressed emotional issues for Women’s Voices  in many articles over the years. This week she counsels a woman who has just discovered, to her dismay, the arrogance and misogyny of a man she’s known as a friend for 40 years.


Dear Dr. Ford:

I have a friend of 40 years who is now in his mid-60s. He married once, at 50, and then divorced at 60, leaving his one young child in the care of his younger ex-wife.  Soon after the divorce, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He had the good fortune to find and afford excellent medical care, and has had a good response to therapy.  He owns businesses with loyal managers and employees, so he does not have the stress of intense day-to-day work, which he had earlier in his career—though he could not live easily without his work.

He is in the hospitality industry—the owner of upscale watering holes for the well-to-do; mostly they are wealthy male clients and a sprinkling of unattached women looking for these kinds of men. I had dinner with him this weekend, after an absence of three months, since I had been away for the summer.  I was delighted to see the improvement in his symptoms, but saddened by his incessant conversation about wanting to be introduced to good-looking women not over 48 who weren’t “bitter about a bad divorce or burdened by children.” He then talked about a website where men “bid on young women who will become their mistresses as long as the man can afford to take care of them . . . while they are in college or beauty school” as an option that some of his affluent men friends had chosen.

 I don’t know how I managed to survive the conversation without being honest or rude.  He is 65, has Parkinson’s, and is still unaware that almost any woman would be unwilling to have a relationship with him.  Forget his age and his disease: he is completely unable to sustain a relationship, even though he has that cocktail-hour patois that might get a naïve or desperate woman’s attention briefly.  I really had never seen this side of him before, though I knew that he was always a “bad boy.” Now I don’t want to be around him at all. 

Is this sort of behavior among aging affluent men common?  Do sites called really work?  Is this just prostitution by another name? 



Dr. Ford Responds:

Dear Amy:

There are many complex issues embedded in your question, and they operate on the personal, socioeconomic, and political levels all at once. On an interpersonal level, you find it distasteful to discover that your friend of many years has such retrograde attitudes toward women. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

In this week’s New York Times, Tara Mohr reports that a study sponsored by Fortune found that in performance reviews, women in the workplace were subjected to more criticism than their male counterparts. Furthermore, it is much more likely that a woman will be subjected to criticism on a personal level—words like “strident” or “abrasive” are still used to tarnish assertive females. Mohr’s point is that women have, necessarily, needed to rely on their interpersonal skills much more than do men—sometimes for their very survival:

For centuries, women couldn’t protect their own safety through physical, legal or financial means. We couldn’t rely on the law if our safety was threatened. We couldn’t use our own money to escape or safeguard ourselves and our children, because we could not own property.

The upshot of this is that “being likable, or at least acceptable to stronger, more powerful others, was one of our primary available survival strategies,” writes Mohr. Women have learned this lesson well, and it is still reinforced, over and over, by practices like the ones she reports on in the workplace.

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But these attitudes still prevail in the wider culture as well, and it is not hard to imagine, even all these years after the “second wave” of feminism, in the 1970s, and despite all the many advances women have made, that your friend still harbors such sexist attitudes. He sees himself (unappealing as you may find him) as still holding all the right cards: money, power, and maleness. The fact that he is ill, uninteresting, and unattractive does not figure into his estimation of his sexual desirability. To you, this seems deluded. You cannot imagine that any woman, let alone a much younger one, would be interested in him, and you are shocked that he does not see himself more realistically.

But it may be that you, too, are not being entirely realistic. Unfortunately, sites like SugarDaddyMeet do exist (and thrive, so we must assume that they “work” for some people), and there are women who are willing to date and marry men like him. Is this prostitution, or is it a continuation of a long history in which women “sold” themselves into marriage because they had almost no other options available? Are women like this making a “business deal,” or are some of them also attracted to the power and protection that a wealthy man seemingly provides? These are more questions of personal psychology. Your description of this man makes him sound superficial at best, so even if he does find a woman to be with, she will not be a “partner” in the true and intimate sense. How satisfying such a “relationship” can be is hard for the rest of us to imagine (including many men). But, rest assured, though he may not know it, he will be the poorer for it.

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