In New Hampshire, I Was Not Invisible

Claire Handscombe

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I’ve read articles about how women feel invisible after forty. But I turned forty a couple of years ago, and I haven’t noticed the difference. I’ve always felt invisible.

Maybe it’s because I’m pretty ordinary looking. Maybe it’s because I’m overweight, though I haven’t always been. Maybe (okay, definitely), I’m too intense for some people — though it’s hard to know how they could figure that out from seeing me sip wine at the bar alone.

Maybe, too, there’s a longer story to tell about how I project vibes of unavailability, having grown up being told I was only allowed to date certain men, and carrying this certainty with me into adulthood — and then spending years longing for a particular man next to whom, I was convinced, all other human beings paled.

I’ve travelled alone quite a lot in the US, eaten alone a lot too, and while couples and groups have invited me to join their tables for meals, I don’t think I’ve ever been slipped a phone number or bought a drink by an attentive man.

But I travelled to New Hampshire to primary-watch last year, and a strange thing happened.

I was no longer invisible to men.

It’s true that I was more open than usual, starting conversations with those around me to find out why they were in Manchester and hear their political opinions. So maybe it was that. I wasn’t reading a book or projecting “do not disturb” vibes. I was engaged with the world around me and open to talking to more or less anyone.

It’s true, too, that I was among my people — there was no question we had at least one obsession in common, that we were all there for the same reason. And it wasn’t, by and large, a very young crowd. We were mostly middle-aged nerds and perhaps, in that crowd, I become more interesting than I seem as I go about my DC life surrounded by twenty- and early-thirty-somethings with ambitions and sharp suits.

The atmosphere was hopeful, too. Buzzy in the best of ways. Primaries are different to general elections, where you’re on the lookout for ambushes from the “other side”. This primary, in particular, with its myriad candidates, doesn’t really lend itself, yet, to a “me versus you” mentality. It’s all pretty fluid at this point. There’s a certain camaraderie, a we’re-all-in-this-together vibe which I’m sure won’t last. (Admittedly, there’s one candidate whose supporters are more combative, but I didn’t meet any of his bros.)

On the first night, I had a long conversation with a man with political opinions very different from mine. I never could figure out whether he was flirting or just pontificating — it could have been both. While I was chatting to him, another guy in a group next to me bought me a drink, laughed with me, touched my arm. The next day, at the same bar seat, a man roughly my age engaged me in conversation about elections and Brexit and the Royal Family, and we talked for two hours. He, too, brushed my arm, and he asked me about myself, and took my phone number. He said maybe we’d bump into each other at the same hotel later.

Maybe, if you’re pretty, or if you’re young, or if you’re used to strangers wanting a piece of you, this gets exhausting. But let me tell you, it felt good.

It felt good not least because I was engaging on the level of ideas. We were talking about nerdy things like process, and we were talking about democracy. We were hoping for better things to come for the country. There was no surface-level chitchat, other than the initial question or two to place why the person was at this bar, in this town, in the midst of this buzz. It was meaningful conversation imbued with flirtatious overtones, which I could enjoy without feeling pressured by it, because the flirtation wasn’t the point. I felt like I was being appreciated for my mind.

It gave me a new confidence, a new spring in my step. I am, it turns out, interesting to men, after all. Perhaps only to middle-aged politics nerds — but that’s who I love spending my time with anyway, so it works out. So thank you, New Hampshire. And thank you, fellow nerds. That was an unexpected gift of this trip.

Image by Daria Nepriakhina via Pixabay

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

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