As a columnist for the Sunday Times in London, Shane Watson has spent countless hours detailing her experiences as a woman in this era of Botox, butt lifts and ill-advised miniskirts. In her new book, How to Meet a Man After Forty and Other Midlife Dilemmas Solved, she traces her transition from a happy, middle-aged single woman to a happily married one. Watson spoke to TIME from her home in London.
The title of your book is attention-grabbing, but the majority of what you write is more about a single woman's relationships with herself, her friends and her family rather than dating or finding a man. Why's that?
It was meant to be a catchy hook. I wanted to write something for women in the late-30-something or 40-something category. I was single, and it kind of alters your relationships with other women and with your family. I wanted to shine a little light on that in a humorous way without preaching and just sort of say, "We all feel the same. It's not easy for anyone." I think women are always looking at each other and thinking, Have I got it right? It makes us less sisterly and more insecure than I think we should be. We're not competing.
You also talk a lot about what women should avoid doing how they should avoid dressing a certain way or looking good for their age. What are some of the biggest mistakes that women in their 30s and 40s make in the way they carry themselves?
I didn't want to say you can or can't do this because one of the really complicated things for us is there are no rules. The mistake that lots of women make the only mistake I think you can make really is to think that because you can, you should. I think there is a cutoff [for things], and only you know when that is. So for instance, you can wear shorts when you're 46, but it's important what length they are. Just because you've got amazing legs, I think it's slightly strange to be wandering around the streets in hot pants.
Do you think it's insulting, in any case, to tell people that they look good for their age?
I think everybody wants to look good for their age. I'm not particularly worried about that being insulting. We're forced to think about it in [this] plastic-surgery culture. We don't all have to be those women who have personal trainers and Botox. I think the key is to try and keep it together without looking false and without trying to look too young, just to age gracefully while smoking and drinking and doing all the rest [of the things] that I do.
The Susan Boyle saga is probably a prime example of what you discuss in your book about how people perceive whether a woman looks good for her age.
Everyone was so hysterical about whether she should be made over. The fact is that this is a woman who is like a lot of others out there, but because she was on TV, she suddenly looked like a freak. She is what people look like.
Your description of the early stages of dating didn't seem entirely fun. Do you think dating is always going to be less fun than a relationship that has developed?
I hate dating. I've never been out with anyone who I met by dating them, if you know what I mean. It was either through friends or on a holiday, not the standard date where you go out and sit opposite each other in a restaurant or at a bar. I have girlfriends who said, "You've got to give people a chance. You have to go on another date." I don't really agree with that. When I met my husband, and when I started dating him, it was pretty effortless and a lot of fun. I was completely incompatible with everyone I had experienced before. I sweated out these dates, thinking, Am I doing something wrong? Is it me? Should I be dressed differently? Should I be funnier? Should I be telling less jokes? Drinking less? And actually these feelings are very often because you're not meant to be there at all.
One example you use in the book is singer Kylie Minogue, a famous, single, middle-aged woman who gets hounded by the media despite being a cancer survivor and top-selling artist. The American version of Minogue might be Jennifer Aniston. There is always something about them and their relationships in the news. What is your take on that?
It's incredibly tough being single past a certain age because there's no doubt that we live in a culture where people still think you're not quite a whole woman if you haven't got a man to validate your existence. I have nothing but respect for people like Cameron Diaz, who say, "I might not have kids. Deal with it. And I haven't found a man yet. That's fine." There's Cameron Diaz, Jennifer Aniston, Kylie, the lot of them fantastic looking, fantastically successful, but it's just not good enough for the press.
I do sense that Jennifer Aniston is not particularly happy in her skin. She's an example of someone who is sort of browbeaten by this pressure. You really want to say to them, "Relax and get away from all those men who you think it's better to be with because that proves that you're sexy and in love. Just chill and wait, and the right person will come along."
You mention that late love is great because both parties are more experienced and mature. In your "How to Meet the (Right) Man" chapter, you advise women to follow certain flirting rules to laugh like a mad woman or to avoid talking about yourself. Do you think that's contradictory to the maturity level one would expect?
It's slightly tongue-in-cheek. I do think that the later you meet, the better you'll know yourselves. But the first time I met my husband which was three years before we began dating we didn't hit it off at all. He thought I wasn't interested, and he thought I was a bit of a frosty cow. You have to let men know that you really like them. I didn't used to make an effort because I thought it was a bit humiliating. That's something that happens to women who've been single for a while and they're perfectly happy, [but] they do not want to be seen as the desperate woman at the party.