Sneaking Past the Lioness

One of the upsides of getting older is passing more easily through the Lioness Gate, the barrier many women build between other females and their prized territory: their lion. Lionesses stand ever vigilant at the Gate, sizing up would-be interlopers and keeping them safely on the other side. And if an attractive woman comes too close, she gets a quick swipe of some very sharp claws.

Until shape-shifting menopause hit several years ago, the Lioness Gate isolated me from the company of couples--I was often excluded from social gatherings and, as a single mother raising a son on my own, lonely.

Today, at age 56, I've seen the Gate inch open thanks, I believe, to aging: my graying hair, a couple of liver spots and a few extra pounds.

I've never been a siren. But when I was younger and at my fighting weight (I'm 5'7, so we're talking high 130s), I looked decent in a pair of shorts and a tee shirt. That's all it takes to arouse the ire of the lioness--especially if she's insecure in her relationship.

I can recall a signature moment. Sitting on the periphery of other parents, families at one of son's interminable Little League games in a white-bread suburb, I chatted with a dad sitting next to me about politics, a mutual interest. The wife was inviting other families over for a swim after the game when she swiveled her head in our direction shot us a death stare. The Lioness Gate slammed shut. Later, I overheard her referring to me as "That divorced mom." Roar.

In my mid-forties, I moved back to my native Manhattan from the burbs and figured that in this more cosmopolitan and sexually diverse setting, I could slip by the gate. I field tested this idea when an old friend--a bro I'd known since Kindergarten and been in touch with intermittently--invited me to his fiftieth birthday party. His wife and I chatted about our shared love of reading and her book club, so on my way out, I asked if they had room for another member. She took in my sleeveless shirt tucked into size eight jeans. "The book club is closed," she pronounced.

Recently, the gate finally has swung open. I moved to a new town and was welcomed into a circle of likeminded transplants, nearly all of them middle-aged couples. To my great joy, we barbecue together nearly every Saturday night, a raucous gathering where adults laugh and throw down beers and bourbon. The men and women tend to separate into two groups, leaving us females to catch up, compare notes on our kids and joke--even about sex! I'm not only given access to speak to the husbands, but I'm Facebook friends with several of them. And the wives are fine with this.

I'm no crone, but I've donated my tank tops to Goodwill. I forego shorts for Talbot's chinos paired with a pop-over top to hide the inch of flab peeking over the waist of my pants. The lionesses are purring. And the invitations are flowing in.