It has been said that women do not have it easy, going into middle age. They come up against a hard limit -- the physical end of their ability to have more children. I suspect that this is quite a hard reminder of their mortality, the day that biological clock alarm goes off and announces "time is up." On the other hand, there is a certain security in having the issue decided objectively for you. If you're a woman, and menopause happens, there's no point in considering whether you could afford or want to carry another child or not -- you just can't, and that is a fact which is to be accepted, rather than a decision to be considered.
There is no doubt that men in the same situation, single and about to start their fifth decade in life, face a different road than women do. To be sure, for men, it is a decision of which course to pursue; not a fact of nature, to be accepted, for the most part. To me, that seems somewhat harder. There is of course, another typical difference in circumstances as well, between men and women who are middle-aged and single. The woman usually takes her family with her, when she divorces. The man is left, not just single, but solitary, and faced with the decision of whether he wants to "fall in with someone" whose life and family present him with an "in media res" situation, or whether he wants to build something new, again, and face the same risks and dangers he had before, with no guarantees that this time he will "get it right."
I'm not sure that it is possible to recover something like the family that I had, or if I would really want to "start over" as it were, if it were possible. In the absence of someone who would render this question immediately relevant though, I'm not sure if my suppositions have any validity at all. I do know that there will never be another "first time" for me to start a family, and if I did end up in the position of building something new with someone, I come to the exercise from the other side of a gulf of experience which may, for all I know, be unbridgeable. I'm no longer the young man, fresh out of college and unknowing of what family and fatherhood will be like, full of apprehensions and anticipations and "green-ness." If I did end up in that situation, there is a certain "jaded" quality to the experience I would bring to the endeavor -- I already know what it's like, and try as I might, I will never have that "newness" about me. It's a wonderful and enriching thing, to build a family, but some of the "drama and suspense" of it would not be there, if I were to start again. It's not that I don't think the experience wouldn't be wonderful, beautiful, and thrilling, but I wonder what a potential partner would think of this experience gap. Steely Dan's "Hey Nineteen" comes to mind, disturbingly. Both of us being on the same footing in attempting to create a family will not be an experience that I can share with anyone again. Experience is often times a valuable thing, but really, would a woman still in her twenties or thirties (the wise Ms classytart says half your age plus seven years, as a rule of thumb) really want a guy who's "been there, done that, and got the T-shirt?"
On the other hand, my daughters went to live with their mother, and I am left being "a weekend father" to them, at best, and seem to be watching their lives unfold as opposed to participating in them. This is a hard thing with which to deal. I miss my old role. At best, it feels grotesquely attenuated, like a botched amputation, but... I don't know. Is it really gone, for the rest of my life? I'm not in my daughters' lives, to the extent I once was. They do not spend their days with me, and their weeks, any longer. From my perspective, it is almost as if they have already left home to seek their adult lives and fortunes, even though Jackie is barely a teenager. That's certainly one thing upon which I have gotten the jump on the ex -- dealing with an "empty nest." The ex has finally gotten what she's wanted and for which she's fought for a long time, to be damned near the sole and unquestioned parental decision-maker in the family. I wonder what kind of a role is still left for me in what remains of my family. Sometimes, especially when my daughters have not been to visit in awhile, it gives me a weird feeling similar to what it must be like if they and the ex had instead died. They're just gone in manner I find hard to identify or describe. Somehow, even the idea of being a grandfather to my daughters' potential offspring feels really weird, contemplating that role without the benefit of a grandmother-partner with whom to share it. Our legal system structures divorces as a sop to the foolish egalitarian sensibilities of the populace, but it has no clue what is being wrought in the families its prescriptions impact. Sometimes I am convinced that guys get the short end of the stick in divorce, unless of course, they are the commitment-phobic skirt-chasers who are already adherents of a dissipative philosophy of life. Certainly, the women who would put up with being stripped of their children and effectively cut-out of their families the way the average guy is are in a minority.
Then there is the other route...Why don't I pick on someone my own age. Heh. Well, there's something to be said for that. Certainly it would mean that I end up with a partner who is of the same generation and cohort as me, with a better chance of sharing the same life and cultural experiences that I have, although gen-X theoretically runs from '61 to '81, which is still a broad range. I just happen to be on the front end of my generation. Women my age have an admirable self-knowledge and a beautiful self-confidence about them -- they know who they are, even if they too, are trying to figure out life and what it is they want out of it. That is a somewhat different interaction for me. I've never had anything lasting with a woman older than me. The only experience I've had with that scenario was when I was a young and foolish smitten pup. Heh, after being married to or living with the ex for the last twenty years, that seems like eons ago.
It would certainly be an unusual experience, hooking up with some woman who already had a life and family of her own, though. There would be a lot of experiences we would never have shared. It would be like starting a novel in the middle, where the reader misses where the author introduces and describes the character. There wouldn't have been the long carefree courtship/relationship that happens before children come. There wouldn't be any experience of suffering through the "marriage jitters" together, or going to LaMaze classes, or sitting up with sick children and helping them with homework and reading bedtime stories or going on family picnics together. There would be a world of inside jokes and intimate experiences missing from that scenario, those experiences which are part of the mortar which holds a family foundation together. The ex-wife's squeeze toy may ooze all of the sincere friendship, familial fondness, and fatherly delusions he can muster for my daughters, but he wasn't there in the days when the phrases, "Yah, Moodle!" and "Hi guys! What doin'?" were coined. He is an alien to those experiences -- an interloper into relationships he did not have a hand in bringing into the world. Yes, it's weird to contemplate such situations, with potential companions who already have lives, especially in the case where there would be children involved. If there were, well, that introduces a whole different dynamic and kettle of fish in itself. I have no idea how that dynamic plays out. Definitely in that circumstance, a man is not just dating a woman, but kind of paying court to a group of people, each of whom would have a different perception of him, not all of those perceptions sanguine, possibly. In a lot of ways, this scenario would be stranger than the "starting over" scenario.
I guess not knowing what I want to get into is one of the subsidiary reasons for burying myself in my work, and not bothering to go out and meet people. I guess I just don't have a good handle on where I want to go yet, although single-ness is not all it is cracked up to be, either. I don't know. Maybe solitude needs to be a bit more wearying or acutely painful, before I will take up the issue seriously. Heh heh, my problem is that I am so damned self-contained anyway, that being solitary doesn't really trouble me all that much or that often, no matter how it needles me painfully every once in awhile, in the presence of certain reminders of what I'm "missing." I don't know. Perhaps a bit more time and distance will give me some perspective.