IIn the now legendary Real Housewives of New York scene, 49-year-old Luann de Lesseps is hungover and unapologetic. On a girls’ trip to the Turks and Caicos Islands, a wild night of partying ended with a naked man asleep in the villa rented by the group, much to the dismay of his co-star Heather Thompson. “Be cool,” a carefree Lesseps tells Thompson, strutting around his luxurious lodge dressed only in a bikini, robe and dark glasses. “Don’t be so uncool.”
At home in Sydney, I joyfully watched this drama unfold while lying horizontally on my couch. Ten-odd weeks into another lockdown, there hasn’t been much to do other than inhale episode after episode of reality TV. Boredom and cabin fever have been a fixture of my Covid experience, as I am sure it has been for everyone else. But as a woman in her 30s, I have also struggled with the bubbling anxiety that the pandemic is swallowing the last of my youth and with it the last gasps of possibility and relevance to society. (Yes, I am prone to dramaturgy).
Real Housewives, in addition to being a much-needed source of entertainment, has been an unexpected balm to these frustrations. The franchise, which follows the lives of wealthy women in various regions of the US and the world, features casts mostly in their 40s, 50s and 60s. It is a demographic painfully underrepresented on screen and it often makes itself feel invisible in the real world. In scripted shows, middle-aged women are often one-dimensional supporting characters to their husbands and children, if they are assigned roles. But on the Bravo reality network, they are placed front and center and portray themselves as aspirational – successful, glamorous women leading interesting and fulfilling lives.
Of course, these women are obscenely privileged, with bank balances and opportunities that are not representative of the typical midlife experience. But still, seeing them is a relief. In all their middle-aged glory, the co-stars are having fun, celebrating the holidays, dating, enjoying sex, finding love, and throwing wine at the enemy who just hinted that her husband might be secretly gay. It comforts me to see that not only does the fun not have to end, but the gossip only gets dirtier as you get older.
It’s a gift to see middle-aged women thrive, but I even find reassurance in the tribulations the cast faces. Stick with it long enough and Real Housewives becomes a long-term character study – on the New York series, you stick with many of the main cast for over a decade and watch them go through incredible changes during that time, mostly coming out strong in the other. side. When De Lesseps struts around that Turks and Caicos village, for example, he has recently started anew after a divorce. In later seasons, she will remarry, divorce again, be arrested and go into rehab, before embarking on a new career as a cabaret star. Wealth has not protected these women from sadness or ensured that everything went as planned. But seeing so many of them enjoy incredible second acts after their marriages break up or their children move out is a testament to how much life is left after 40.
In her final season on the show, journalist-turned-homemaker Carole Radziwill, who was left a widow at age 34, has really hit the mark. She has ignored the end of her on-and-off relationship with a hot chef two decades her junior because she prefers to be single anyway, and is training for the New York City marathon, despite never exercising before in her life. . “Carole, 30, definitely couldn’t have imagined Carole, 54, running 35 kilometers,” he laughs in one piece at the camera. Watching her limp over the finish line six-odd hours after the starting gun went off, it was hard not to get a little excited.
Now, after hundreds of hours of Real Housewives, I’m no longer afraid of getting old. Instead, I hope to view my 40s as a disaster, vacationing in an island villa (or its more affordable alternative), somewhere between my first and second marriages. Honestly, it looks great.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism