Candace Bushnell, best known as the author of the “Sex and The City” books that became the hit TV series and a few movies, is back with a new novel based on her own experiences of dating post-divorce in her 50s.
Bushnell discussed what dating and life in general looks like for her and her friends in their 50s, which she described as full of changes and transitions, in a conversation with “Morning Joe” co-host and Know Your Value founder Mika Brzezinski.
Brzezinski explained that Bushnell moved to New York in 1978, at age 19, and resided there until moving away in 2012. She was divorced that same year, at age 52, and later moved back to New York.
As with the “Sex and The City” series, for her new novel “Is There Still Sex in the City?”—released in August —Bushnell said she again plumbed her own life experience as inspiration for the book.
“When I was writing ‘Sex and The City,’ there weren’t supposed to be single women in their 50s,” Bushnell said. “I found myself once again, in my 50s, in uncharted territory. I felt like I really needed my girlfriends, again, to get through this bumpy passage.”
“What did you find? Is there still sex in the city after 50?” Brzezinski asked.
“Yes. But less,” Bushnell said.
“Good, honest answer,” Brzezinski said, laughing.
It’s the answer many middle-aged men have given Bushnell, she said, adding that women of the same age range might say even less than that.
As Bushnell came to terms with her divorce, she recognized that many of her friends the same age were going through major life shifts as well.
“When [you] get to be over 50, you just are burned out,” Bushnell said. “And everything you’ve been doing just feels the same…Then there can be a big kind of emotional break. That could be the death of a parent, it could be the loss of a career….These sort of set a person off on kind of a different journey.”
Brzezinski noted that she herself is 52, and that by that age, “you’ve been through something. Or a lot of things.”
“That’s really what this book is about,” Bushnell said. “If you end up getting divorced in your 50s or your late 40s…for some women they feel like, this is the last chance I may have to possibly meet someone again…finding a new partner is a whole different ballgame in your 50s.”
Bushnell found herself debating what dating in her 50s would look like, just days after news of her divorce was made public. Famed editorTina Brown reached out to Bushnell and suggested she start dating again.
“Honestly, I was 52 — How many years of dating is that, 30 years? 35 years?” Bushnell said. “I was like, I’ve gotta take a break … Isn’t there anything we can tell women to do with our lives than looking for a relationship?...Where’s the message out there for us that now this is maybe your time to really focus on your career and gather your courage?”
Instead Bushnell found the societal message generally focuses on the path for middle-aged women as partners, wives and mothers supporting someone else. She did find that many people in similar situations were seeking romantic relationships.
Bushnell herself did eventually sign up for the dating app Tinder, where she met a man “who was really quite cool”—but she didn’t expect to find a long-term relationship, and she couldn’t find any matches when looking in her age range. When searching for men ages 20 to 33, however, she had “literally hundreds of hits.”
Dating apps seemed to be a “game,” Bushnell said, focused on the “endorphin high” of someone responding to a message.
In her dating and research for the book Bushnell learned the term “cubbing”—referring to younger men pursuing older women—which she called “the exact opposite of the Mrs. Robinson…of the cougar.” Overall, she found these younger men were mostly interested in sex.
Bushnell’s book also references the term MAM, an acronym for “middle-aged madness.”
“It’s what happens when life throws all these things at you at once,” she said. “It’s menopause but it’s also loss. There’s so often the loss of a parent or a good friend in this time. It could be moving, death, divorce, children leaving the nest.”
Many women find in their 50s that “life’s biggest stressors come at you all at once,” she added. “It can have a very profound effect on people emotionally, these losses. So this is a time when, once again…we really need our girlfriends once again to help us get through really all of these ups and downs.”
Bushnell revealed she does have a boyfriend, and she observed generally that relationship priorities change as “everyone slides a little more to the middle” in terms in attractiveness: The cheerleader now looks more average, most of the men are bald and people instead begin to seek traits like someone they can be vulnerable with.
Bushnell also shared that “Is There Still Sex in the City?” will become a TV series, as she sold the concept to Paramount before she had even completed the novel.
Brzezinski concluded the conversation by asking Bushnell to talk about her best advice for women over 50 who are trying to figure out their paths.
“Keep setting goals, keep aspiring, keep trying new things,” Bushnell said. “Tackle new goals. Take it on.”